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Systems Thinking: Reality is Messy

Meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The liveability of our cities. Equitable social and financial institutions. They’re all complex challenges and they all require a different approach. These are challenges for change-makers who deeply understand complexity. Systems thinking gives us powerful ways to engage with messy situations.

In this introductory course, you will discover the fundamentals of system thinking by understanding how to recognise complexity. This will lay the foundation for discovering practical tools to improve the seemingly intractable problems of today.

3-5 hours
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About this course

Do you ever reflect on the challenges of today and imagine options for better futures? As we increasingly recognise the complexity of our world, the challenges we face require new approaches.

What we need are ways of thinking that can effectively work with complexity, such as systems thinking. Systems thinking gives us tools, approaches and skills to deal with messy, complex situations, both professional and personal. It opens pathways towards more sustainable futures.

In this introductory course, you’ll learn how complicated situations are vastly different from complex situations or projects. This will equip you to take the next steps to experiment with systems thinking tools in later modules where you’ll apply them to the messy situations faced by you, your organisation or your project.

The full course will help you understand the value of systems thinking when engaging with challenging real-world situations. You'll learn about the ways of thinking, sensing and being in the face of a complex world.

The course content represents 20 years’ collective UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) knowledge and expertise, which builds on the inspiration of a large number of systems thinkers. Our team of 70 researchers and 35 postgraduate students continue to innovate and apply systems thinking tools and approaches to improve real life complex situations.

The full course structure will deal with the following areas:

  1. Reality is messy: What types of situations are we dealing with? (Part 1)
  2. What is a complex system?
  3. Strengthening our systems thinking
  4. Worldviews and paradigms: looking deeply into ourselves and our societies
  5. Apply systems thinking in your world

Course structure

  1. Recognising your situation: simple, complicated, complex or chaotic
  2. The five characteristics or dimensions (scale, certainty, stability, clarity and boundedness)
  3. A process for dealing with messy situations: probe, sense, respond
  4. Emergent behaviour and complex situations
  5. Complexity as a process of continual learning

Why you should do this course

  • Explore the need for complex thinking in sustainability
  • Understand the foundations of systems thinking
  • Learn how to recognise complex situations
  • Get a head start on the full Systems Thinking course where you will: work through case studies; explore situations from systems perspectives; identify the characteristics of a system; apply systems thinking tools to situations; develop new awareness and reflection skills; and get a deeper understanding of reality, causality and your self
  • Get access to UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures collective experience and expertise
  • Develop some of the fundamental knowledge for UTS’s Master of Non-Profit and Social Enterprise Management

Meet the experts

Want to be part of the solution? Learn about systems thinking and its role in a better future

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