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ETHx: Beyond Systems Thinking

4.6 stars
14 ratings

To deal with the current global polycrisis, we need cultural and mental transformation. This MOOC is the second of four MOOCs that hybridize science, design and transformative praxis. This joint learning journey is a fluid, intervention-driven, synergistic process addressing complex challenges with regional focus. It entails a critical look at systems thinking, tools to view complexity from above, basics of social network analysis, resilience assessment, circularities, and systemic innovation.

6 weeks
3–5 hours per week
Instructor-led on a course schedule
This course is archived

About this course

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Climate change, biodiversity loss, pan-syndemics and energy dependencies are some of today’s most pressing complex challenges. Much of our economies and societies are exhaustive, vulnerable, and unfair. We need to actively restore and regenerate ecosystems while transforming our economies to become more circular and just. We require new knowledge systems and cultures leading to transformative action as the human impact on earth needs to be fundamentally redesigned.

Scientific knowledge and reasoning are fundamental tools to guide policy decisions, especially in times of crises. Limitations of reductionist science are evident due to lack of widespread action in addressing today's highly complex challenges, which are self-emergent, unpredictable, span across nested scales, depend on societal behavioral transitions, and lack data.

Design offers creative ways of intervening in an iterative way, responding to a current problem by prototyping future pathways. Designerly praxis benefits from science, for example by directing interventions and leveraging relationships based on quantitative data. Neither the analytical and descriptive tools of science, nor the iterative process of design alone are adequate for addressing complex challenges. Combining both cultures and methods of reasoning as a fluid, intervention-based and synergistic process is beneficial for fostering the urgently required regenerative, transformative action.

This MOOC series entitled “Designing Resilient Regenerative Systems” offers four consecutive MOOCs that aim to address these urgent and complex challenges. Participants emerge on a learning journey including emphasis on holistic worldviews, concepts like regeneration and resilience, befriending complexity and uncertainty, methods and hybrid practices of science and design, connecting more with our inner self, and becoming bio-regional weavers within communities of learning and praxis.

This second MOOC focuses on scientific and designerly ways in dealing with complexity: by developing a critical perspective on systems thinking, participants embody their own practice of navigating in complexity through continuously zooming out and in as a view from above. A functional understanding of transformative resilience is complemented with an introduction to social network analysis. We learn about circularities and how to design for circularity, leading us to the final theme of how to innovate in complex systems - systemic innovation.

At a glance

  • Institution: ETHx
  • Subject: Social Sciences
  • Level: Introductory
  • Prerequisites:

    You should

    • be curious to expand from your own expertise and life situation

    • be open for new thinking, philosophical discourse, designerly practice, and real-world infusion

    • be motivated to find your role in contributing to a more resilient and regenerative world

    • be willing to enact within the region you live in, physically, and actively connect with various stakeholders.

    • be open to challenge yourself: mentally, physically, socially.

    The didactics of MOOC 2 are designed to be accessible to a very diverse audience, for current science or engineering students in diverse disciplines, for design students, architects, landscape planners, urban planners, and also for people of praxis, for those of use who have been working for many years and who want to re-connect, expand and re-direct. It is an asset and highly recommended to have taken MOOC 1, but we will provide a bridge to recap some of the essence of the first course, to guide you along the trajectories of MOOC 2.

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English
  • Associated skills: Knowledge-Based Systems, Ecosystem Science, Zooming, Social Network Analysis, Systems Thinking, Resilience, Quantitative Data Analysis, Prototyping

What you'll learn

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This MOOC series is about creating positive impact in complex systems. It is about navigating complexity and uncertainty with new tools and practices, such as “organic emergence:” flexible ways to engage with unpredictable complexity based on tools and social trust, to cope with sudden challenges, to reveal hidden opportunities. Extending your supportive social networks in your own region and in a global context is one major benefit of this program.

In this second MOOC “Beyond Systems Thinking” you acquire a critical understanding of systems thinking, and develop your toolset for dealing with complexity. You learn to embody “view from above” practices, a continuous zoom in zoom out technique to navigate in complexity - physically and theoretically. You deepen a functional, transformative perspective on resilience, and learn the basics of social network analysis, a powerful method to design in complexity. You extend the current notion of a circular economy to multiple types of circular flows and their applicabilities across spatial and governance scales. Finally, you explore different examples of systemic innovation and relate such illustrations with your own “Quest”, your own endeavor, in your own regional context.

Exciting real-world illustrations will take you to Hemsedal Norway, Annecy France, Ostana Italy, and Mallorca Spain. This offers a comparative understanding of communities and regions undergoing sustainability transitions across different contexts, cultures, climates and geographies.

The MOOCs’ didactics are designed to combine time- and place-independent virtual learning through pre-recorded conversations, both accessible as movies and audio files, readings, and practical engagement in nature. Virtual content stimulates physical and social interaction in the bio-region where the participants are living. Systemic Cycles takes us on a conscious exploration of place and circularities on a bicycle, to playfully learn systemic design methods, to weave together local and regional networks and to explore the inner self through physical activity. An accompanying visual mapping process called Gigamapping acts as a designerly way to co-create your own learning journey and connect across the MOOC series to your final transformative design project. Your personal QUEST guides you through your learning journey. Weekly live tutorials in an online forum offer opportunities to discuss and brainstorm with teachers.

Week 1 (Critical) Systems Thinking: Develop a critical understanding of systems thinking.

Week 2 The View from Above: Acquire physical-mental practices for zooming in on what matters most.

Week 3 (Social) Networks: Methods to engage people and communities.

Week 4 Resilience: How to design for transformation.

Weeks 5 - 8 break

Week 9 First live conversation in 2023; no new module released

Week 10 Circularity: Designing circular flows across systems scales.

Week 11 Systemic Innovation: How to intervene in complex systems.

Week 12 Time to finish

Learner testimonials

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This is the first iteration of MOOC 2. Testimonials will be provided here after the first run.

Frequently Asked Questions

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What is an example for a key skill to develop?

You learn the notion of Organic Emergence: Complex systems are inherently dynamic and unpredictable, their properties are emergent and uncertain. An organic way to deal with emergence is to build personal and collective capacity to navigate and transform wisely in the face of uncertainty. One aspect is to be able to trust in having the tools to cope with sudden challenges, as individuals from within, and as part of communities. It is about seeing opportunities, unmanifest potential, and beauty, about being ready to listen, get the beat, discern the patterns of place and culture and respond appropriately.

For whom is this MOOC (series)?

Really, for anyone who is curious and open to do the best we can to cope with crises, to navigate complexity, to co-create more livable futures. If you are a student or a practitioner, if you learned science, engineering, design, architecture, landscape or urban planning, if you are a politician or an entrepreneur, an employee in public services or an accountant: systems are relevant to anyone, and anyone is part of designing resilient regenerative systems. Are you ready to take full responsibility for your own creative agency in how we co-create a regenerative future? Join us!

How much time do I need to invest?

MOOC 2 is made of six weekly modules, one theme per week, stretched over a period of eleven weeks with sufficient time to accommodate personal schedules. Per week, the time invest in average should be between 3-5h/week.

What do I get from it?

New, for sure fresh, diverse and different: thinking, methods, practices, motivating illustrations, ideas, regional connections, supporting community, and inspiring ways forward.

Who are the teachers?

Diverse experts in their fields who walk their talk. University professors, designers, builders, politicians, mountain guides, consultants, entrepreneurs, architects, visionairs, students, and you in the form of learning tandems.

What are the didactics?

We use virtual tools like short movies, podcasts, readings, recorded lectures. We meet teachers for live tutoring. We use visual dialogic tools to guide our learning progress. We nudge being outdoors, in real, physical, alone and with people. We ride our bicycles, we speak with people, we map flows, and we experience flow. We practice time alone in nature, we write, we record short movies, we design, we do science, and we engage in a final transformative design project.

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