The world in which we live is changing. Our planet grows warmer. Some regions are burdened by flooding, others endure drought and even fire. Forests shrink as wealth and income inequality grows. People suffer. Faced with the enormity of all this, what do we do?
Our times beg of us to more effectively engage with the systems in which we live. This five-week online course Making Sense of Systems will start participants on the path towards this learning. The course runs from February 28 through April 3, 2020. The first week offers a foundational overview of systems terminology, and grounds that theory with a practical case study. Subsequent weeks follow this same format, building on prior material to deepen participants’ understanding of systems and their capacity to thoughtfully pursue system change. Online discussion forums and weekly Zoom conference calls allow participants to engage with one another and with the instructor. Participants may craft a systems intervention plan for an issue of their choosing as a class project and present it in the final week.
Scroll down to read more details about the course goals, course content and schedule, pricing and refund policy, and how to register.
No one becomes an expert in systems theory and systems thinking in five weeks. That said, Making Sense of Systems is designed to build competence in the language, concepts, and practicalities of systems analysis and to provide a solid foundation for further study. Participants in this course will have opportunities to learn how to:
- Define and apply key systems terminology,
- Translate real-world issues into simplified systems maps,
- Identify leverage points within systems and plan interventions,
- Reflect critically on the strategies and tactics used by activist and advocacy groups,
- And craft a systems intervention plan for an issue of their choosing.
Course Content and Schedule
On February 21, 2020, a Welcome page will be made available to participants in the course. This page will introduce LearnDash (the learning management system I use to run courses) and offer a discussion board to post questions as folks figure out the technology.
Each week of Making Sense of Systems includes one or more segments where new concepts are introduced, and a final segment that features a case study illustrating the practical applications of those concepts. I designed each week’s curricula to take about an hour to get through, including reading and videos. Some weeks might take a bit more time, others a bit less. Time spent in discussion forums and the weekly Zoom call is in addition to this, as is additional reading for those who want to follow various links offered to source material. The course schedule follows:
Week 1: Introduction (February 28-March 6): This first lesson introduces basic system vocabulary and core concepts: systems, resources, stocks, flows, relationships, causality, nested systems, agents, goals, and outcomes. It also introduces systems mapping, a basic tool for systems analysis. This week’s case study focuses on the human holobiont, the assemblage of species large and small that collaborate to create the human being.
Week 2: System Regulation (March 6-March 13): This lesson explores how systems self-organize and regulate themselves. This week’s case study investigates how feedback loops regulate our planet’s climate system and how certain human activities undermine that regulatory capacity.
Week 3: System Change (March 13-March 20): This lesson explores two models of system change, the ball & trough model and the adaptive cycle. This week’s case study looks at system change writ large by investigating factors linked to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.
Week 4: System Intervention (March 20-March 27): This week introduces the iceberg model of systems intervention as well as strategies put forwards by Donella Meadows in her work. The concepts of paradigms and worldviews are introduced. This week’s case study focuses on how the human nervous system regulates itself and how nervous system dysregulation impacts human social behavior and lays the foundation for many social and environmental problems.
Week 5: Living in Systems (March 27-April 3): This week introduces (or reintroduces) participants to concepts that attempt to guide how we engage with systems, including sustainability, resilience, robustness, resistance, and adaptation. This week’s case study contrasts two alternative organizing principles: sustainability and adaptation.
Participants may also choose to work on a project that involves using concepts and tools from this course to craft an intervention plan for an issue of their choosing. Participants will present their results, in video or written form, in our final discussion forum.
Each week the instructor will host a 90-minute Zoom conference call for participants who wish to participate. A Doodle Poll will be released to enrolled participants on February 21 to schedule these. Participation is optional, and the calls will be recorded and made available to all enrolled participants.
Course Pricing and Refund Policy
In an effort to keep Making Sense of Systems as financially accessible as possible, I offer it on a sliding scale.
- Low income: $49 for the five-week class (just under $10 per week)
- Middle income: $99 for the five-week class (just under $20 per week)
- Upper-middle income: $149 for the five-week class (just under $30 per week)
- High income: $199 or higher ($40 per week or more)
Because cost of living varies geographically and because I expect participants from many parts of the world, I have not defined income ranges associated with the above categories. Participants can decide for themselves where they fit and pay accordingly when they register. This is on an honor system. I will not attempt to verify your income. You are not limited to entering only the amounts listed. You can pay any whole dollar amount.
Participants can receive a full refund of their tuition cost if they withdraw on or before March 6, 2020. Participants who withdraw from March 7-March 13 will receive a 50 percent refund. After March 13 no refunds will be given except for extenuating circumstances.