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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Edinburgh Futures Institute : Edinburgh Futures Institute

Postgraduate Course: A Systemic Approach to Sustainability (fusion online) (EFIE11176)

Course Outline
SchoolEdinburgh Futures Institute CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryA challenge facing society at both local and strategic scales is to fashion solutions in complex social and spatial situations that respond to the three pillars of sustainability: environment, society and economy. This course provides the knowledge and understanding to handle complex situations in a holistic and rigorous manner, through the deployment of systems thinking methodologies. Students will embed their learning about systems thinking and its underlying principles by applying them to a case study challenge of their own choosing tailored to their own context and background.
Course description This course provides a systems thinking approach to address complex challenges in sustainable development. Complex situations are characterized by multiple perspectives about what needs to be done, introducing complexity and uncertainty in situations that undergo constant change. How can cities reconcile their physical growth with resource conservation or how can rural areas achieve mobility and opportunity in a sustainable way?

A series of online seminars and presentations will introduce Systems Thinking. At the same time, students will actively engage with the course through their identification of a particular complex problem or challenge based on their own backgrounds and context. In online and on campus intensive sessions, chosen scenarios and taught methodologies are brought together with students constructing informed strategies and proposals to address their problem framing.

The course explores:
- Theory, concepts and methodologies relating to complexity and systems thinking.
- Case Study analysis of a chosen wicked problem as a challenge scenario
- Collaboratively scoping a systemic approach to the given challenge
- Proposing and reflecting on strategies that address the wicked problem.

The student completes the course with the submission of a report that presents a feasible and acceptable proposal about how to handle their chosen critical case study.

Students bring their own experiences of and ambitions for sustainable development in their own home environments with opportunities for the course as a whole to learn from a diversity of approaches and challenges. By sharing a methodological approach, students are able to learn together how systems thinking can bring about beneficial change in online and on campus environments.

Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) - Online Fusion Course Delivery Information:

The Edinburgh Futures Institute will teach this course in a way that enables online and on-campus students to study together. This approach (our 'fusion' teaching model) offers students flexible and inclusive ways to study, and the ability to choose whether to be on-campus or online at the level of the individual course. It also opens up ways for diverse groups of students to study together regardless of geographical location. To enable this, the course will use technologies to record and live-stream student and staff participation during their teaching and learning activities. Students should note that their interactions may be recorded and live-streamed. There will, however, be options to control whether or not your video and audio are enabled.

As part of your course, you will need access to a personal computing device. Unless otherwise stated activities will be web browser based and as a minimum we recommend a device with a physical keyboard and screen that can access the internet.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  6
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 100 ( Lecture Hours 2, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 2, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 8, Online Activities 4, Formative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 2, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 80 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Summative Assessment:
The course will be assessed by means of the following assessment components:

1) 1000 Word Report (50%)

Summative Report (1,000 words): focuses on the results of the investigated problem - it explains the challenge scenario, selection criteria, its complexity and its solution space. The report draws upon the material and learning experience of the course.

2) 1000 Word Reflective Text (50%)

Reflective text (1,000 words): focused upon process - a reflection on skills acquired, and their application to the student's world of experience. Reflecting on the learning experience associated with applying the methodology and associated tools, concepts and methods covered.

The assessments will be submitted two weeks after the intensive session.
Feedback 1) Formative feedback through online peer discussion group and online drop-in clinics will be provided to assist students in selecting their challenge scenario prior to the intensive.

2) Formative feedback will be provided during the intensive session as described in section 10. This will be both from the lecturer and through structured peer feedback.

3) Students will receive formative feedback based on the draft assessment items in the post-intensive phase of the course.

Summative feedback will be provided upon the marking of the assignments.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the principal theories, concepts and principles relating to the notion of complex situations and their handling with focus on sustainability.
  2. Critically evaluate and apply this knowledge to complex social issues.
  3. Understand the importance of communication in the process of handling complex situations.
  4. Lead and manage the process of handling complex situations.
Reading List
Essential Reading:

Bititci, U.S. & Spanellis, A. (2023). Systems thinking for Business and Management. London: Kogan Page.

Bryson, J. M., Ackermann, F., Eden, C., & Finn, C. B. (2004). Visible thinking: Unlocking causal mapping for practical business results. John Wiley & Sons.

Checkland, P. (1999). Systems thinking, systems practice. John Wiley & Sons, ltd.

Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Recommended Reading:

Eden, C. (2004). Analyzing cognitive maps to help structure issues or problems. European Journal of Operational Research, 159(3), 673-686.

Er Kara, M., Ghadge, A., & Bititci, U. S. (2021). Modelling the impact of climate change risk on supply chain performance. International Journal of Production Research, 59(24), 7317-7335.

Forrester, J. W. (1994). System dynamics, systems thinking, and soft OR. System Dynamics Review, 10(2-3), 245-256.

Monat, J. P., & Gannon, T. F. (2015). What is Systems Thinking? A Review of Selected Literature Plus Recommendations. American Journal of Systems Science, 4(1), 11-26.

Nguyen, N. C., & Bosch, O. J. H. (2013). A Systems Thinking Approach to identify Leverage Points for Sustainability: A Case Study in the Cat Ba Biosphere Reserve, Vietnam. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 30(2), 104-115.

Shaw, D., Smith, C. M., & Scully, J. (2017). Why did Brexit happen? Using causal mapping to analyse secondary, longitudinal data. European Journal of Operational Research, 263(3), 1019-1032.

Wilkinson, A., & Kupers, R. (2013). Living in the futures. Harvard Business Review, 91(5), 118-127.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Knowledge and Understanding:
- Students will be expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the interdisciplinary contexts in which sustainable development strategies can be applied.

Skills and Abilities in Research and Enquiry:
- Students will be able to create, identify and evaluate options in order to solve complex problems in multidisciplinary contexts.
- Students will be able to demonstrate a capability for analytical thinking to synthesise, critically and methodically appraise thoughts, in order to understand critical issues in sustainable development.
- Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of relevant ethics and values, self-awareness, mental flexibility and openness in relation to sustainable development and data discourses.
- Students will be able to show skill in understanding particular contexts and identifying key leverage points for effective sustainable strategies.

Skills and Abilities in Personal and Intellectual Autonomy:
- Students will be able to seek and value open feedback in order to work in co-operative environments with expert and non-expert participants.

Skills and abilities in Communication:
- Students will be able to be effective communicators, able to engage and influence through presenting ideas and data in creative and immersive ways.
- Students will be able to deploy skills, understand and explain the complexity of sustainability in global and local environments,

Skills and Abilities in Personal Effectiveness:
- Students will be able to set objectives, have self-motivation and an ability to plan and prioritise work effectively.
- Students will be able to be responsive to quantitative evidence and qualitative thinking; be flexible and proactive to changing circumstance.
- Students will be able to embrace, complexity, counter-intuition and paradox, create resilient sustainable strategies.

Technical/Practical Skills:
- Students will be able to create strategies and development proposals in a structured and incisive way using a range of media.
KeywordsComplex Problem Solving,Sustainable Development,Systems Thinking,EFI,Level 11,PG,Sustainability
Course organiserDr Agnessa Spanellis
Course secretaryMiss Yasmine Lewis
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