INMR98-Organisational Dynamics: Systems Thinking in the Digital Age

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:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2023/4

Module Convenor: Prof David Lane

Type of module:

Summary module description:

Information is everywhere – but how should we use it? This module is about using information to make decisions which steer an organisation effectively. The module is relevant to all students interested in policy analysis.

Digitalisation and globalisation have created tidal waves of data and globe-spanning organisations. The result is that it is hard to know what information to use to make decisions and hard to know what the consequences of our decisions are. Organisational dynamics – what could happen as time rolls forward - are hard to understand, hard to anticipate. Whilst all managers know that their organisations are complex, inter-connected things, they lack the cognitive ability to activate this knowledge when making hard choices.  

This module provides a set of systems tools for individuals and management teams to use which help improve thinking about organisational change and policy interventions, and so create and steer organisations of all types.  

The examples studied range across countries and sectors and the module draws significantly on the research and practical experience of the Convenor.


How should we use information in our decision making? How can we test whether the policies we use will steer the organisation in the way we wish?  

The aim of the module is to provide an introduction to ‘System Dynamics’, an approach which uses systems maps and simulation models to understand the complex inter-relationships in organisations and how they lead to organisational dynamics. The approach helps users to explore the consequences of different strategies and to manage complexity. 

The module considers policy problems from business, public-policy making, epidemiology/ecology and elsewhere. It is structured in two parts. The first will introduce students to ‘Systems Thinking Mapping’. Using qualitative systems maps, students will learn to think in terms of complex inter-relationships and 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 ‘Systems Modelling’ - fully specified computer simulation models. Students will be taught: how building a model creates understanding in management teams; and how experimenting with a model supports rigorous analysis of policy options by helping us ask ‘What would happen if I did this?’ questions. 

Assessable learning outcomes:

On successful completion of the module, students will have the knowledge and skills necessary to apply Systems Thinking Mapping to policy problems encountered in their work. Students will also have a grasp of what Systems 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:? 

  • Understanding the source of ‘behaviour over time’

  • Role of causal theory building in policy analysis 

  • Symbols and conventions of Systems Thinking Mapping 

  • Using Systems Thinking Mapping to explain organisational behaviour 

  •  Policy analysis using systems thinking 

  • Symbols and software for Systems Modelling 

  • Policy experimentation using simulations models,? 

  •  Managerial applications of Systems Modelling. 

Global context:

The module will be useful for all students but is of particular relevance to students who have worked in organisations (companies, governments, charities) dealing with complex international issues, or who aim to work in such organizations. 

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 Mapping and Systems 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. These all with the intent of enriching and developing student understanding in a self-paced way.? 


Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 18
Practicals classes and workshops 12
Guided independent study:      
    Wider reading (independent) 36
    Wider reading (directed) 36
    Advance preparation for classes 24
    Completion of formative assessment tasks 30
    Essay preparation 24
    Reflection 20
Total hours by term 0 200 0
Total hours for module 200

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 qualitative systems thinking (= mapping) 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 Systems 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 Monday of week 26, Spring Term.

Coursework 2 is due week 35, Summer Term.

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:

The below information applies to students on taught programmes except those on Postgraduate Flexible programmes. Penalties for late submission, and the associated procedures, which apply to Postgraduate Flexible programmes are specified in the policy “Penalties for late submission for Postgraduate Flexible programmes”, which can be found here: 

The Support Centres will apply the following penalties for work submitted late: 

where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days; 

where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded. 

The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: 

You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.  

Assessment requirements for a pass:

Using the appropriately weighted sum of the two coursework 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 the written assignment with different cases being used. 

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

Last updated: 30 March 2023


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