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Strategic planning: systems thinking in practice

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Strategic planning: systems thinking in practice is a free, two-part course introducing core ideas of systems thinking in practice for managing and improving complex situations. The ideas correspond with three core activities of, firstly, understanding inter-relationships, secondly, engaging with multiple perspectives, and thirdly, reflecting on boundary judgements.

The two parts of the course complement each other by way of introducing elements of systems thinking in practice; with Part 1 focusing more on the ‘thinking’ and Part 2 veering more towards the ‘practice’.

This course provides a detailed account for five key systems approaches.

These approaches are:

  • system dynamics (SD)
  • viable system model (VSM)
  • strategic options development and analysis (SODA)
  • soft systems methodology (SSM)
  • critical systems heuristics (CSH)

Note: This short OpenLearn course is not teaching how to use the five systems approaches listed above. The course gives a general introduction to the approaches and what they may have to offer in support of systems thinking.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course TU811 Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change81336 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip82337)] .

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • define systems in terms of inter-related entities seen from a particular perspective as agents of strategic (purposeful) change

  • distinguish ‘systems of interest’ as bounded conceptual constructs for understanding and improving real world ‘situations of interest’

  • appreciate systems thinking in practice as involving understanding inter-relationships, engaging with multiple perspectives, and reflecting on boundary judgements

  • appreciate systemic failure in terms of entrapments with conventional strategic thinking towards reductionism, dogmatism, as well as entrapped claims towards holism and pluralism

  • recognise tools associated with five well established systems approaches

First Published: 18/05/2016

Updated: 17/12/2019

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