INMR76-Managing Complexity Using Systems Thinking and Strategic Modelling

Module Provider: Business Informatics, Systems and Accounting
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites: A good understanding of algebra and functional relationships is vital. For students to derive the most benefit from the course, familiarity with simple differential equations and some previous experience of model building would also be helpful.
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Prof David Lane


Type of module:

Summary module description:

Systems approaches which can address the dynamic complexity of management situations and support improved thinking about policy interventions.


The aim of the module is to provide an introduction to ‘System Dynamics’, an approach to policy analysis which uses maps and models to explore the organisational consequences of different strategies and to aid in the management of complexity.

The module considers policy problems from business, public-policy making, epidemiology/ecology and elsewhere, and is structured in two parts. The first will introduce students to ‘Systems Thinking’. Using causal loop diagrams (CLDs) students will be taught to think in terms of causal mechanisms so as to: (i) explain why organisations behave over time as they do; (ii) develop alternative policies which generate different behaviours. In the second part students will be introduced to the benefits of ‘Strategic Modelling’ - fully specified simulation models. Students will be taught: how the formulation and parametrisation of a model creates understanding in management teams; how experimentation with a model supports rigorous analysis of policy options.

Assessable learning outcomes:

On successful completion of the module, students will have the knowledge and skills necessary to apply Systems Thinking to policy problems encountered in their work. Students will also have a grasp of what Strategic Modelling could contribute to a policy debate and be able to use such models to explore policy alternatives. 

Additional outcomes:

Students will see real-world problems in terms of causality and consequence and be able to deal with the interaction of multiple factors when considering strategic questions.

Outline content:

Across its two parts the module introduces students to the following subjects: 

• Role of causal theory building in policy analysis

• Icons and conventions of Systems Thinking using CLDs

• Building CLDs to explain behaviour

• Policy analysis using CLDs

• Symbols and software for Strategic Modelling

• Policy experimentation using simulations models, 

• Managerial applications of strategic modelling.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module will take a ‘skills development’ approach, focussing on giving students the opportunity to become familiar first with the ideas and then with the practical applications of Systems Thinking and Strategic Modelling. 

A range of teaching and learning methods will be employed. The classroom sessions will employ a mix of lectures, individual and group exercises, student presentations, and the use of dedicated System Dynamics software with a graphical interface. Students will be directed to the UoR Library resources to support and extend activities in class. A list of readings will be available before the module commences, readings will be set during the module and subsequent readings also recommended, all with the intent of enriching and developing student understanding. 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 18
Practicals classes and workshops 12
Guided independent study 170
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 70
Oral assessment and presentation 30

Summative assessment- Examinations:

None. Assessment is by coursework only, the first (oral) in groups, the second on an individual basis

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Assessment for the module will consist of two elements.

  1. Working in assigned groups, students will use CLDs to analyse policy options. This assignment is assessed via group presentations during the classroom element of the course.


  2. Working individually, students will write a 3000 word (+/-10%) report assessing the contribution that Strategic Modelling can make to management thinking, using two cases to illustrate and support their argument. This assignment is due after the classroom element.

Coursework 1 written materials and presentation are due on the Wednesday of week 26.

Coursework 2 is due 24th May 2019 (full-time students), 14th June 2018 (part-time students)

Formative assessment methods:

The course is very interactive. This means that lecture sessions provide many opportunities for student contributions, and the discussion of their ideas. The scheduled classes and workshops are structured around problem sheets and model-based tasks and the sessions therefore afford extensive opportunities for feedback at a group and individual level.

Penalties for late submission:

Penalties for late submission on this module are in accordance with the University policy. Please refer to page 5 of the Postgraduate Guide to Assessment for further information:

Assessment requirements for a pass:

Using the appropriately weighted sum of the two coursework marks, marks Students will be required to obtain a mark of 50% to pass the assessment.

Pass criteria - To achieve a pass students must exhibit a satisfactory understanding of the module’s ideas, combined with some critical engagement with, and an application of, those ideas to real world examples. 

Distinction criteria - To achieve distinction students must exhibit a deep understanding of the module’s ideas, combined with a strong critical engagement with, and an application of, those ideas to real world examples in a highly creative and rigorous manner. 

Reassessment arrangements:
Reassessment will be by re-submission of coursework.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

1) Required text books: 2) Specialist equipment or materials: STELLA software 3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear: 4) Printing and binding: 5) Computers and devices with a particular specification: 6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

Last updated: 20 April 2018


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