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Last updated:

April 7, 2022


Unlimited Duration


This course includes:

Unlimited Duration

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Certificate of completion

Unlimited Duration


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 change .

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

Course Curriculum

    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • Learning outcomes 00:10:00
    • Strategy making: bells that still can ring 00:30:00
    • Tools, people and their situations 00:25:00
    • Thinking strategically 00:30:00
    • Situations, systems and strategy 00:20:00
    • Systems thinking 00:25:00
    • Summary 00:15:00
    • Introduction 00:10:00
    • Learning outcomes 00:10:00
    • Thinking strategically in practice 00:30:00
    • Modelling and value creation 00:15:00
    • Reflective practice 00:10:00
    • Competencies 00:15:00
    • Practical traps in systems thinking 00:15:00
    • Trap 1 Dealing with reductionism 00:10:00
    • Trap 2 Dealing with dogmatism 00:10:00
    • Trap 3 Dealing with holism and pluralism 00:10:00
    • Your area of practice 00:30:00
    • Summary 00:15:00

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