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Postgraduate Diploma in Systems Thinking in Practice

This postgraduate diploma course develops your abilities to tackle complex messy situations. It provides you with the tools to challenge your approaches to complex problems; to consider the roles other people play; to assess how all the different components within that situation are related. It provides you with the skills to think more holistically and to work more collaboratively to avoid systemic failures. The discipline of systems thinking in practice will provide you with the tools and skills to take a more holistic view of situations and to work collaboratively to tackle problems and move towards effective solutions.

This postgraduate diploma 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. 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 first compulsory module for the qualification, Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change (TU811), (which also forms part of the postgraduate certificate), focuses on understanding the nature of complex problem situations and the tools with which they can be tackled. Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction (TU812), the second compulsory module, shifts the emphasis to engaging with others in coming to a common language, common understanding and an agreed way to tackle complex problem situations. The module focuses on the social structures in which you live and work, your experiences of those working groups, communities of practice and networks. It enables you to develop your techniques of systemic inquiry, systemic action research, and social learning to extend your skills of project and programme management.

You also study optional modules of your choice so there is the 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 understanding developed through this postgraduate diploma can be applied in a wide range of business situations. The flexibility in choice of modules allows managers and other professionals from a range of industries covering the private and public sectors to choose complementary modules that will enable them to tailor their learning. Relevance can be found particularly in the manufacturing and IT sectors, as well as in most organisations where an understanding of complex situations is required. This qualification can be useful for those who wish to demonstrate their capacity to manage more complex situations and problems or by those already working in systems and processes who may need to update their skills. Those who are self employed may also find the knowledge developed by studying this combination of modules provides the opportunity 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 120-credit postgraduate diploma you require:

60 credits from the following compulsory modules:

Postgraduate compulsory modules 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
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

And 60 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.

See full description.

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.

See full description.

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.

See full description.

30 May
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.

See full description.

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.

See full description.

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 diploma, we aim to:

  • Introduce systems methodologies, concepts and theories, and apply them in the context of a domain of interest chosen by you e.g. alleviating environmental problems, building sustainable communities, designing and building information systems, the management and provision of local authority services, developing effective governance, etc.
  • Define the distinctive nature of Systems Practice, and relate it to your domain of interest.
  • Guide you in your application of Systems techniques to 'real-world' situations.
  • Equip you with the skills to design and carry out systemic inquiries and to engage with others to improve situations in your chosen domains.
  • Demonstrate the importance of ethics, social learning and critical thinking in systems practice.
  • Enable you to contextualise your own traditions and practice among those of others, drawing on your chosen domains.

Learning outcomes

The qualification provides opportunities for you to develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding, qualities, skills and other attributes in the following areas:

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • the nature of systems, its key concepts, methodologies and multiple traditions
  • the concept of practice and the distinctive, ethical, nature of systemic practice
  • a holistic approach to the context of your chosen domain of interest
  • systemic implications for your domain-specific tools and frameworks drawn from your domain of interest.

Cognitive skills

On completion of this diploma you will be able to:

  • make effective use of key Systems methods and concepts
  • work with key Systems methods in the context of your domain of interest
  • work with methods and concepts from compatible approaches in the context of your domain of interest
  • develop awareness of ethical behaviour in a given situation.

Practical and/or professional skills

On completion of this diploma you will be able to:

  • design systemic inquiries, using and building upon appropriate methodologies
  • appreciate the perspective of stakeholders, taking an ethical and critical approach
  • apply Systems techniques to 'real-world' situations in the context of your domain of interest.

Key skills

On completion of this Diploma you will be able to:

  • learn in familiar and unfamiliar situations and translate that knowledge to other contexts
  • 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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