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Postgraduate Certificate in Systems Thinking in Practice

The postgraduate certificate course will help you to develop your understanding of the nature of complex problem situations and tools with which they can be tackled. It seeks to change the way in which you think about the situations you face by using insights from cognitive science and introducing established systems tools. You will learn to think more holistically, understanding the roles other people play, taking account of the interconnectedness of all the components making up the problem situation and working more collaboratively. You will examine key systems thinkers which will enable you to relate their ideas to your own practice.

This postgraduate certificate qualification will give you new ways of thinking about and approaching a task or situation. Every person brings with them their own perspective, which means that we all see things in different ways. The discipline of systems thinking gives you the tools to challenge your approach to complex situations; to consider the roles other people play; to assess how all the different components within that situation are related; and to provide you with the skills to think more holistically and to work more collaboratively to avoid systemic failures. These tools have an established track record of success in enabling the tackling of complex, messy problem situations which may cross multiple discipline and skill boundaries. In a recent survey we found that 93 per cent of students felt that the need for systems thinking was increasing in the modern world

The compulsory module, Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change (TU811), focuses on understanding the nature of complex problem situations and the tools with which they can be tackled. The optional modules allow you opportunity to pursue topics of personal or professional interest as a wider context for your systems thinking studies. Typically the options offered are in the fields of business and management, environmental management, development management, information systems and technology management.

Study Mode

Online Education, Distance Learning & External study modes available

Career relevance and employability

The knowledge and skills developed through this postgraduate certificate course will provide benefits in a wide variety of economic sectors to you as well as to your employers or other organisations. Applications exist in any organisation where complex processes exist and where a change is required, including, for example, manufacturing and IT. Managers at all levels will find the ability to approach complex problems from a systems perspective to be a useful addition to their management and leadership skills portfolio. Those who are self employed may also find the knowledge developed enables them to take a more objective and innovative view of the systems they have already created and how to change these for the future.

There is more information about how OU study can improve your employability in the OU's Employability Statement from our Careers Advisory Service. You can also read or download our publication OU study and your career and look at our subject pages to find out about career opportunities.


For this 60-credit postgraduate certificate, you require:

30 credits from the compulsory module

Postgraduate compulsory module Credits Next start
Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change (TU811)

Improve your management skills by exploring different approaches to engaging with complex situations and by developing your understanding of how cognitive processing shapes practice.

See full description.

30 May

30 credits from the following optional modules

Postgraduate optional modules Credits Next start
Business operations: delivering value (T883)

The course aims to equip managers with the skills to make the business processes in their organisation more effective in meeting the needs of stakeholders.

See full description.

30 May
Capacities for managing development (TU870)

This course provides development practitioners with a conceptual framework for analysing development management practice; and develops skills and capacities for analytical thinking and strategic action.

See full description.

30 May
Continuing professional development in practice (U810)

Audit and assess the impact that your continuing professional development (CPD) activity has had on your work, and evaluate ways of sharing your learning.

See full description.

30 May
Creativity, innovation and change (B822) (or version BZX822)

This interdisciplinary course is about managing innovation and change, sustaining a creative climate in your organisation, and promoting imaginative, flexible and practical thought and action.

See full description.

30 May FINAL
Development: context and practice (TU871)

This foundation course for our MSc in Development Management gives a grounding in development studies and explores the meaning and challenge of international development today.

See full description.

30 May
Environmental decision making: a systems approach (T863)

This course uses systems ideas to explore environmental decision-making situations, to make sense of their complexity and to look for feasible changes and action.

See full description.

30 May
Environmental responsibility: ethics, policy and action (TD866)

This course is about understanding and taking responsibility, individually and collectively, for policy and action relating to environmental dilemmas, from climate change to biodiversity loss.

See full description.

30 May
Financial strategy (B821) (or version BZX821)

This course will help middle and senior line managers develop their knowledge of finance and accounting and how they interact, in public and private sectors.

See full description.

30 May FINAL
Forensic engineering (T839)

This course analyses the problems arising from product failure caused by inadequate materials, poor manufacturing or bad design - and offers guidance on good product design.

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30 Nov
Information systems legacy and evolution (T853)

IS evolution can be seen in two ways, planned and unplanned. This course discusses both, helping you understand their nature and giving you workplace techniques.

See full description.

15 May FINAL
Institutional development (TU872)

Develop the conceptual and practical skills needed to frame, manage and negotiate institutional development, change organisational structures and adopt new norms and values.

See full description.

30 May
Learning from IS failures (T852)

Information systems are particularly prone to failure. This course looks at how to prevent it, in the design, implementation and operation of information systems.

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15 May FINAL
Managing for sustainability (T867) NEW

This course will increase your understanding of delivering and supporting sustainability management in your workplace or support your personal interest in this subject.

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30 May
Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction (TU812)

Develop your understanding of systemic inquiry, systemic action research and social learning in order to extend your skills of project, programme and change management.

See full description.

30 Nov
Marketing in a complex world (B825) (or version BZX825)

Although there are no simple solutions, this course provides the analytical tools needed to make marketing decisions in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.

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30 May FINAL
Problem solving and improvement: quality and other approaches (T889)

This course focuses on the practical application and deeper understanding of many of the methods and techniques associated with modern quality management and systems thinking.

See full description.

30 May
Supply chain innovation, strategy and management (T882)

Supply chains are reshaping contemporary business and affect everyone. This course looks at the complex challenge of managing them, including their effects, using interdisciplinary approaches.

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30 May FINAL
Technology management: an integrative approach (T840)

This course looks at the operational aspects of technology management, studying integrative approaches to innovation and how to manage different technologies for competitive advantage.

See full description.

30 May
Technology strategy (T846)

This course concerns technology strategy in public or private sector organisations. It considers the challenges of technology, introducing different perspectives on the strategy formation process.

See full description.

30 May
War, intervention and development (TU875)

This course analyses the roots of violent conflicts, investigates the processes of peace-building and development, and helps develop the tools necessary for successful intervention.

See full description.

30 May

Subject to the rules about excluded combinations, the discontinued modules B820, B823, B856, B857, BZX820, BZX823, T835, T837, T850, T851, T860, T861, T862, T890, TDXX866, TUXX870, TUXX871, TUXX872, TUXX875, TXX863

Educational aims

In this certificate, we aim to:

  • introduce systems concepts and theories that can be used to make sense of complex situations
  • define the distinctive nature of Systems Practice
  • enable you to use a range of systems methodologies in their own practice
  • equip you with the skills to design and carry out systemic inquiries to improve situations
  • demonstrate the importance of ethics, social learning and critical thinking in systems practice
  • show how multiple stakeholder perspectives can be taken into account in systems practice
  • enable you to contextualise their own traditions and practice among those of others.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

On completion of this certificate you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • the nature of systems thinking, its key concepts and multiple traditions
  • the concept of practice and the distinctive ethical nature of systemic practice
  • a range of systems methodologies
  • the nature of learning and its role as a form of practice.

Cognitive skills

On completion of this certificate you will be able to:

  • understand and represent complex situations holistically and analytically
  • design inquiries and actions to improve situations
  • engage in reflective practice, including an awareness of the links between your own tradition and those of others
  • develop awareness of ethical behaviour in a given situation.

Practical and/or professional skills

On completion of this certificate you will be able to:

  • make effective use of systems methodologies, relating them to past traditions
  • design systemic inquiries with a sensitivity to the context within which you are working
  • build issues of ethics, critical thinking, politics and power into your practice
  • manage relationships with clients and other stakeholders, taking into account the perspectives of all groups.

Key skills

On completion of this certificate you will be able to demonstrate the following key skills:

  • learn in familiar and unfamiliar situations
  • communicate effectively using written and graphical presentations as appropriate
  • seek relevant information from appropriate sources
  • deepen understanding of problematic situations and develop techniques for their improvement.

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