framing and taming complexity through systems thinking

Problem Framing CanvasTemplate canvas prompts and handbook elaboration aimed at helping people to understand and address problems / opportunities more effectively.Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation
Developing a Systems Thinking Lens for Collective LeadershipA guide to systems thinking and how to adopt a systems thinking approach as part of public policy work.Collective Leadership for Scotland
A Systems Literacy ManifestoAn advocation for general literacy in systems vocabulary, approaches, and tools with recommendations on education and practise. Recommended in view of increasing tangled messes / wicked problems.OCAD University
Systemic Thinking for Policy MakingSummarises how systems thinking can improve policymaking, focusing on: new economic paradigms, approaches and methodologies; the environment and sustainable development; social and economic change; and systemic risk and resilience. OECD
Applying systems thinking to project managementA series of blog posts addressing application of systems thinking to project management (inc identifying the right problem, solution, and project and executing the project right).APM
Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for ManagersIntroduces systems ideas and application to management problems. Proposes creative combination of approaches to assist managers in organisational improvement. Mike Jackson
Z7 - What is Systems Thinking?A summary guide produced by INCOSE UK covering background, benefits, behaviours and essential concepts of systems thinking.INCOSE UK
Systems Practise WorkbookProduced as a help and guide for people working on complex problems (e.g. local / global social change). Workbook format features a systems practise journey map with stepped application prompts, examples and illustrations.The Omidyar Group
Pallette of Systems Thinking ToolsIdentifies a number of categories and complementary systems thinking tools which may be used to elicit deeper insights to given systems interests.The Systems Thinker
Iceberg ModelPromotes multi-perspectival / layered problem / issue analysis, beyond immediate events to associated patterns, underlying structures and mental models.Untools
Introduction to Systems ThinkingIntroduces systems thinking principles and practise. Provides language and tools needed to start applying systems thinking in your own organisation.The Systems Thinker
Introduction to Systems Thinking for Civil Servants: Driving Improved Outcomes in Complex SituationsA UK Gov publication which introduces select systems thinking concepts and tools to support civil service policy development. Promotes awareness of systems thinking approaches and application to complex problems.UK Gov
Systems thinking: How is it used in project management?Summarises APM research on the use of systems thinking in project management. Promotes application to complement traditional linear approaches.APM
Socio-Technical Systems Engineering HandbookA publication by St Andrews University addressing methods and techniques that help in understanding socio-technical issues affecting systems development. Summarises ~20 years of R&D and is aimed at practitioners and researchers.St Andrews University
Systems Thinking ToolsA compendium of systems tools prepared by Burge Hughes Walsh which enable systems thinking by generating and organising information about given systems / situations of interest.Burge Hughes Walsh
Systems Thinking HabitsAn interactive resource provided by the Waters Center for Systems Thinking. Provides prompts to help understand how systems work and how actions taken can impact results seen over time. Encompasses a spectrum of strategies that foster problem-solving and encourage questioning.Waters Center for Systems Thinking
Systems Thinking Knowledge AreaAn authoritative reference which defines the essential concepts, principles and patterns of systems thinking with extended elaboration and links.SEBoK

TitleObjectives / OutcomesProviderDuration
Systems Practise
  • Map a complex system to gain clarity
  • Identify specific points in the system where you can make a big impact
  • Create leverage hypotheses to describe how you will aim to create systemic change
  • Develop a framework for learning and adapting over time as your system changes
Acumen Academy8 weeks
Habits Course #1: Beginning Your Systems Thinking Journey
  • Identify the five basic life systems you will find throughout all of the TTS courses
  • Understand what we mean by “systems thinking” and a “system”
  • Define different elements, changes and goals within your system of interest
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #2: Makes Meaningful Connections Within and Between Systems
  • Make meaningful connections within and between systems
  • Identify important connections within your own system of interest
  • Begin to understand complex cause and effect relationships
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #3: A Systems Thinker Seeks to Understand the Big Picture
  • Understand what it means to see the “big picture”
  • Identify the big picture of your system of interest
  • Learn system boundaries and how to balance boundaries within a broad view of a system
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #4: A Systems Thinker Changes Perspectives to Increase Understanding
  • Practice seeing/telling from a different perspective
  • Reflect on your own deeply-held beliefs and consider how they influence your perspective
  • Learn about dialogue as a discipline and the difference between “hearing” and “listening”
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #5: A Systems Thinker Considers How Mental Models Affect Current Reality and the Future
  • Develop your own mental model awareness
  • Understand how the Iceberg framework helps us to surface mental models and how these mental models reinforce our beliefs and actions
  • Explore the impact of mental models within systems
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #6: A Systems Thinker Observes How Elements Within Systems Change Over Time, Generating Patterns and Trends
  • Observe change over time in systems
  • Recognize change, patterns and trends in your own life and system of interest
  • Make patterns and change visual by creating behaviour-over-time-graphs (BOTGs)
  • Explain (“tell the story”) of your BOTGs
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #7: A Systems Thinker Surfaces and Tests Assumptions
  • Consider multiple viewpoints on an issue, particularly when each view is supported by evidence
  • Weigh each side of a controversial claim
  • Surface and test your own assumptions
  • Use the Ladder of Inference to surface your beliefs and recognize how they influence your actions
  • Use behaviour-over-time graphs to test your assumptions
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #8: A Systems Thinker Recognizes that a System’s Structure Generates its Behaviour
  • Explore and understand system structures
  • Recognize structures in your system of interest and how adjusting structures may influence outcomes
  • Become aware of what it means to be a “system designer” and think of ways to implement structures that will create change
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #9: A System Thinker Identifies the Circular Nature of Complex Cause and Effect Relationships
  • Understand and identify circular cause and effect relationships as feedback
  • Recognize how and when feedback reinforces behaviour
  • Use causal loop diagrams to show causal relationships that exist between elements in a system
  • Know the difference between reinforcing and balancing causal relationships
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #10: A Systems Thinker Recognizes the Impact of Time Delays When Exploring Cause and Effect Relationships
  • Recognize everyday time delays and time delays in your own life
  • Identify time delays in causal loop scenarios
  • The impact (both positive and negative) of time delays
  • Understand the Tragedy of the Commons Archetype as a demonstration of the effect of time delays
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #11: A Systems Thinker Considers Short-term, Long-term and Unintended Consequences of Actions
  • Consider short and long-term consequences in various scenarios
  • Understand “fixes that backfire” and apply this understanding to casual loop diagrams
  • Weigh benefits and trade-offs when making decisions
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #12: A Systems Thinker Considers an Issue Fully and Resists the Urge to Come to a Quick Conclusion
  • Practice identifying short and long-term consequences of actions when making a decision
  • Be aware of potential pressures that could lead to reaching conclusions
  • Apply considering an issue fully and the benefits and trade-offs of decisions to systems of interest
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #13: A Systems Thinker Pays Attention to Accumulations and Their Rates of Change
  • Understand and identify accumulations in your system of interest
  • Recognize how rates of change in a system affect accumulation
  • Identify the connection between accumulations and reinforcing feedback
  • Learn the basics of a stock-flow map and use it to demonstrate behaviour in your system of interest
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Habits Course #14: A Systems Thinker Uses Understanding of System Structure to Identify Possible Leverage Actions
  • Understand what we mean by “leverage” related to systems
  • Determine leverage actions in various scenarios
  • Use a causal loop map to identify leverage
Waters Centre for Systems Thinking1 hour
Systems Thinking: Understanding Sustainability
  • engage with the domain of sustainable development
  • contextualise any experience in the domain of sustainable development
  • critically read, interpret and analyse some accounts of environmental, development and sustainable development issues and situations
  • identify systems of interest in some sustainable development situations
  • identify types of hierarchy that are meaningful in the domain of sustainable development.
Open University15 hours
Mastering Systems Thinking in Practise
  • challenge systematic thinking and systematic approaches to understanding and working with complex situations
  • explain how and why different systems of interest can be defined and described within complex situations
  • recognise that each person brings with them their own perspective on a situation and to work with those multiple perspectives
  • relate key ideas, techniques and approaches in systems thinking to professional practice when working with complex situations
  • plan how to take the study of systems thinking in practice further for professional development
Open University24 hours

Systems Thinking and Complexity in Health: A Short Introduction


Provides a summary narrative and animated illustration of systems thinking in health sector, addressing interrelationships, perspectives and boundaries.

Missing the Iceberg – avoiding project failure through killing or redefining it in time


APM Systems Thinking SIG present a framework of prompts and allied practises / mapping tools to capture, communicate and resolve issues in P3M delivery.

Systems Thinking in project management: A case study in success for the NHS


Systems Thinking, Project Management, Case Study

System Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World


Systems Dynamics, Systems Thinking, Modelling, Tools, Simulation

Systems Thinking: A Crucial Skill in an Uncertain World

Blackmetric Business Solutions

Systems Thinking, Complexity, Business Analysis, Techniques

The True Value of Systems Thinking

The Inquisitive Analyst

Systems Thinking, Business Analysis

Soft systems methodology introduction by Kees Van Haperen

OR Society

Systems Thinking, Context Analysis, Requirements Elicitation, Rich Pictures, CATWOE, IPO, Soft Systems

Mind the Gap: Overcoming the Dangerous Systems Thinking Capabilities Gap

Critical Systems Institute

Systems Thinking, Capability Development

Bridging the Systems Thinking Capability Gap

Critical Systems Institute

Systems Thinking, Capability Development, Methodologies

Negotiation, Persuasion and Conflict for Systems Engineers


Behavioural Competencies, Stakeholder Management, Conflict Management, Active Listening, Negotiation, Persuasion

There is No (Real) Systems Engineering Without Systems Thinking


Systems Thinking, Systems Engineering

Covid 19: Understanding the context using systems thinking techniques


Systems Thinking Techniques, Context Analysis, Causal Loop Diagrams, System Archetypes, Risk Management

Systems Thinking Speech

Dr. Russell Ackoff

Systems Thinking

Peter Senge: Systems Thinking for a Better World

Aalto University

Systems Thinking

Last updated: 2023-05-11