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Managing complexity: A systems approach – introduction

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Do you need to change the way you think when faced with a complex situation? This free course, Managing complexity: A systems approach introduction, examines how systemic thinking and practice enables you to cope with the connections between things, events and ideas. By taking a broader perspective complexity becomes manageable and it is easier to accept that gaps in knowledge can be acceptable.

At the end of this free course you should be able to:

  • reflect on your purposes and expectations in doing this unit;
  • record in your Learning Journal your initial and developing understandings of what the course is about;
  • use your Learning Journal as an on-going record of your developing understandings, expectations and experiences;
  • use your Learning Journal to record your reflections;
  • begin taking responsibility for your own reflections;
  • use reflection to understand some of your own preferred styles of working;
  • draw a rich picture of a complex situation, review it, identify traps you have set for yourself within it, locate yourself and draw yourself in it;
  • identify any stakes you have in a complex situation and any traps these stakes might set for the systems practitioner;
  • identify some systems-with-purpose in a complex situation;
  • draw a systems map, review it, and use it to prompt further questions;
  • identify the main objectives in drawing a diagram and the outcomes of systems maps, multiple-cause diagrams, rich pictures and control-model diagrams;
  • identify defects in systems maps and multiple-cause diagrams;
  • draw an influence diagram;
  • draw a multiple-cause diagram;
  • evaluate your diagramming skills;
  • use a sign graph to explore the relationships between variables in the case study;
  • draw and use a control-model diagram as a diagnostic tool
  • develop your awareness of your own practices and their measures of performance;
  • begin to use metaphors as a means of exploring your own systems practice;
  • develop, and take responsibility for, your own understanding of complexity;
  • distinguish between messes and difficulties and explain the implications of treating complex situations as being either one or the other
  • discuss complexity in the context of messes and difficulties;
  • list the properties of an observed system;
  • understand some of the implications of recognising the role of the observer and their own tradition;
  • appreciate some ethical implications of being a systems practitioner;
  • distinguish between systematic approaches and systemic approaches;
  • identify examples of formulating a system of interest;
  • appreciate the experiences that gave rise to the development of soft systems methodology;
  • discuss the way a systems practitioner manages the engagement with complexity;
  • discuss the importance of being aware for a systems practitioner and the implications of not being aware;
  • discuss the importance of contextualising systems approaches;
  • distinguish between purposiveness and purposefulness;
  • distinguish between a tool, a technique, a method, and a methodology, in a given context; and recognise the importance of the context in making this distinction;
  • recognise the four distinguishing features of a systems practitioner engaging in practice and the implications of not maintaining each of these four features;
  • make connections with the history of lineages of systems thinking and practice.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 75 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 1st August 2012
  • Advanced level
  • Posted under Systems (Computer)
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Managing complexity: a systems approach – introduction


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This course aims to develop skills of thinking systematically and creatively about issues of complexity. It enables you to appreciate and manage these issues in ways that can lead to improvement. It adopts the most recent and innovative advances in systems thinking and applies them to topical areas of concern. It is designed to help build your capacity to manage complexity and to develop a deep understanding of contemporary systems thinking. It may be helpful to study OpenLearn units T551_1 Sytems thinking and practice and T552_1 Systems diagramming before tackiling this unit.

This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Managing complexity: a systems approach (T306) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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