Start by watching a short video introducing the course content.
Systems and systems thinking
In the first Planetary well-being course, we began our introduction to systems by discussing the factors that influence the stability of systems and the interdependencies between systems. In this second course, we look at the properties and functioning of systems in a little more depth. In the first part of the course, we introduce the basics of systems thinking. A brief overview of the development of the disciplines shows how the division of research into natural and human sciences has made it difficult to develop a common understanding of the relationship between man and nature.
Systems thinking is about focusing attention on processes and the systems in which these processes take place. The relationships between the components and factors of a system and what follows from these relationships are the most important aspects of systems thinking. Systems thinking is essential if we are to try to understand how the world works.
Sustainability issues are complex and involve interactions between many different actors, systems and features of the Earth. While reductionist approaches, which approach the phenomenon under study by first breaking it down into smaller parts, are important for understanding the functioning of certain systems, they cannot solve sustainability issues.
Systems thinking recognises that real-world problems are rarely simple. When we mistakenly assume that complex problems can be reduced to simpler ones, we may favour solutions that appear simple but end up being inefficient, short-lived or creating new and serious problems elsewhere in the system. Recognising that complexity, diversity and constant change make many problems intractable is the first step to developing better measures.
A holistic and creative approach to understanding and working with systems is more likely to lead to proposals for change that prove to be broadly beneficial in the long term. A holistic approach to systems does not mean ignoring the parts of systems, but seeing how these parts contribute to the larger, more complex whole. Because systems thinking emphasises a holistic understanding of systems, it is better able to tackle problems for which reductionist thinking does not provide good solutions.
This first section is divided into five chapters, each of which you will find in its own tab.
At the end of the section, you will be able to test your knowledge in a multiple-choice exam. Please note that the exam contains statements covering the whole section, so study the whole of the first section 1.1 to 1.5 and then answer the exam questions.
Finally, after studying this first section you can test your competence with the exam. The exam is below.
Take the exam in order to pass the first section of the course. The statements in the exam are either true or false. Which one is the right answer?
Just answer the questions, and after you have finished your exam and completed it you will get your test result. You need 8 out of 12 questions to be right to pass the exam. You will get the results and feedback right after finishing the exam.
You will be able to try again until you pass the exam.