Strategic planning: systems thinking in practice
Strategic planning: systems thinking in practice

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2 Practical traps in systems thinking

The five systems approaches were chosen on the basis of their respective emphasis on purpose and usefulness.

What you read for Activity 1 refers to three general purposes that can be summarised:

  1. understanding interrelationships and interdependencies
  2. practice in engaging with different perspectives
  3. responsibly questioning judgements on interrelationships and perspectives.

Activity 4 Traps in systems thinking

Read 7.2.4 ‘Recognising the possibility of entrapment’ from the Systems Approaches Epilogue [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . How might the traps of reductionism, dogmatism, holism and pluralism be associated with the three purposes of systems thinking in practice?


The traps can be aligned with the three purposes of systems thinking in practice as follows:

  1. understanding interrelationships and interdependencies: associated with trap of reductionism
  2. practice in engaging with different perspectives: associated with trap of dogmatism
  3. responsibly questioning judgements on interrelationships and perspectives: associated with traps of holism and pluralism.

The following section explains these alignments more fully. Items 1-3 above can be understood in terms of three purposes associated with purposeful systems thinking in practice –

  1. understanding inter-relationships
  2. engaging with multiple perspectives
  3. reflecting on boundary judgements.

Purposes 1 and 2 are associated with avoiding traps in conventional thinking. Purpose 3 is associated with avoiding a corollary trap in systems thinking. Each trap can be illustrated in terms of a causal-loop diagram. The three traps are represented below in conjunction with particular systems approaches used for avoiding and/or escaping from, or springing, the trap.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371