ENVR09042 2020 Systems Thinking

General Details

Full Title
Systems Thinking
Transcript Title
Systems Thinking
N/A %
Subject Area
ENVR - Environmental Science
ESCI - Environmental Science
09 - Level 9
05 - 05 Credits
Start Term
2020 - Full Academic Year 2020-21
End Term
9999 - The End of Time
Declan Feeney, Frances Lucy
Programme Membership
SG_SSUST_S09 202000 Postgraduate Certificate in Science in Sustainable Food Systems SG_SSUST_M09 202200 Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems SG_SSUST_O09 202200 Postgraduate Diploma in Science in Sustainable Food Systems

Rising global population is putting increased pressure on the Food and Drink sector to produce and deliver healthy food and drink in way which is equitable, environmentally sound and economically viable. This challenge demands us to think holistically, recognising that our food and water supply exists in a complex web of interdependent activities and relationships. In this module students will explore this interconnectivity and understand how to use tools such as Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and systems maps to critically evaluate system patterns and structures. Students will learn how to use systems thinking to tackle challenges and lead sustainable transition within the context of the global food and drink sector.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module the learner will/should be able to;


Demonstrate the value and application of systems thinking in context of sustainability issues such as food security, climate change and biodiversity.


Communicate an understanding of the complexity of food systems and the importance of interactions between and within such systems


Apply systems thinking tools to challenges in the Agri-food sector.


Assess leverage points that enable problem solving and sustainable transformation within systems


Identify the waste in your production process – The 7 ‘Deadly Wastes’ of Lean and suitable Lean tools to address Lean transformation and the culture of continuous improvement in your process

Teaching and Learning Strategies

The students will be exposed to a blend of learning activities e.g. online lectures (via MS Teams, Adobe Connect or similar), independent learning and directed learning. This approach is expected to address various student learning needs. Moodle will be used to upload educational material (e.g. powerpoint presentations, recordings of online lectures and supplementary reading material) and a means of assessment (e.g. quizzes, uploading assignments and journals). The online delivery may be blended with workshops to bring the learners together to facilitate group learning.

Module Assessment Strategies

Continuous assessment - 100%. Regular assessments may be undertaken via moodle and assignments delivered as per module requirements. Students may be assessed individually or in group environments with a strong emphasis on continual improvement and skill building.

Repeat Assessments

Repeat assessment, where relevant, will involve assignment, assessment that provides evidence that the student has met the subject and topic learning outcomes to the required standard. Assignment guidelines will be provided.

Indicative Syllabus

Demonstrate the value and application of systems thinking in context of sustainability issues such as food security, climate change and biodiversity.

  • Introduction to Systems thinking
    • What is systems thinking? Why systems thinking ? Complex and wicked problems.
    • Examples of complex problems in the food system. 
    • History/evolution of systems thinking and its application.
  • Overview of Key Systems Ideas
    • What do we mean by a system?
    • Basic systems concepts: elements, interconnections, purpose, emergence, feedback, boundaries, tipping points etc.
    • System boundaries & levels space (local, regional, national, global) and time (short, medium, longterm effects)
    • Systemic versus systematic thinking. Types of system/systems traps
  • Sustainability and resilience in systems.
    • Socialecological systems. Circular economies, sustainable bioeconomies
  • Systems transformation 
    • Framing change processes: sustainability transitions, social practices, reflexive governance


Demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of food systems and the importance of interactions between and within such systems

  • Systems thinking and The Food System
    • What do we understand by a sustainable food system?
    • Assessing the sustainability of food systems i.e. regenerative capacity across 3 dimensions - social, environmental, economic
    • Renewables (e.g. fish stocks) and nonrenewables (e.g. fossil fuels, phosphate)
    • Land Use issues(habitat & biodiversity losses).  Environmental Problems – Pollution (air, land, water), Resource Depletion 
  • Applying Systems Concepts to Global Food Systems
    • A holistic view -  understanding climate, socio-economic and cultural factors in identifying key impacts on  and mitigation strategies for sustainable and resilient food systems e.g. Iceberg Model , Food-energy-water nexus
    • Examples of different global food systems e.g. Different global agri models with different challenges and different associated env/social impacts
    • Systems appraisal of the current challenges and problems associated with global food systems. [e.g. changing population, richer diets, cheap food/ food waste, environmental degradation]


Apply systems thinking tools to challenges in the Agri-food sector.

  • Defining choice of a method
    • Which approaches are used and why? Examples and case studies
    • The Learning Organisation – Fifth Discipline  (Senge)
    • DPSIR Framework  & Life Cycle Analysis
    • Systems Dynamics, materials flow analysis.  Transitions management
      • Assessing the leverage points that enable problem solving and sustainable transformation within systems
  • Practical use of systems thinking methods e.g. -  Food Systems Mapping  in a local Bioeconomy
    • Engaging stakeholders, frameworks for Stakeholder Engagement- the importance of multiple perspectives
    • Using Systems Maps (rich pictures/spray diagrams) to get an overview of systems 
    • Influence diagrams, causal loop diagrams etc.


Assess leverage points that enable problem solving and sustainable transformation within systems

  • Sustainability transitions in food systems. 
  • Utilising systems approaches/frameworks to analyse problems within food systems and identify leverage points:
    • What is causing the problem, what interventions are possible, which stakeholders are affected
  • Appraising opportunities for interventions at different points within the system and key factors to ensure sustained transformation.
  • Building reflection/reflexivity into processes.


Lean and Operational Excellence and Value Stream Mapping

  • Principles of Lean and Operational Excellence
    • Strategy Deployment - the five strategies to becoming lean.
    • Lean transformation and the culture of continuous improvement.
    • Identify Waste in your process – The 7 Deadly Wastes
  • Value Stream Mapping
    • Value Stream Mapping™ (current and future state)
    • Material and Information flows
    • Inventory and WIP


Coursework & Assessment Breakdown

Coursework & Continuous Assessment
100 %

Coursework Assessment

Title Type Form Percent Week Learning Outcomes Assessed
1 Assignment Coursework Assessment Assignment 40 % Week 6 1,2
2 Project Coursework Assessment Project 40 % Week 10 2,3,4
3 Assessment Coursework Assessment Assessment 20 % OnGoing 1,2,3,4,5

Online Learning Mode Workload

Type Location Description Hours Frequency Avg Workload
Lecture Distance Learning Suite Lecture 1.0 Weekly 1.00
Independent Learning Not Specified Independent Learning 5.0 Weekly 5.00
Workshop / Seminar Not Specified Workshop 4.5 Once Per Semester 0.30
Directed Learning Not Specified Directed Learning 0.7 Weekly 0.70
Total Online Learning Average Weekly Learner Contact Time 1.30 Hours

Required & Recommended Book List

Recommended Reading
2019-10-24 Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems
ISBN 081539327X ISBN-13 9780815393276

This comprehensive text provides the latest research on key concepts, principles and practices for promoting healthy and sustainable food systems. There are increasing concerns about the impact of food systems on environmental sustainability and, in turn, the impact of environmental sustainability on the capacity of food systems to protect food and nutrition security into the future. The contributors to this book are leading researchers in the causes of and solutions to these challenges. As international experts in their fields, they provide in-depth analyses of the issues and evidence-informed recommendations for future policies and practices. Starting with an overview of ideas about health, sustainability and equity in relation to food systems, Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems examines what constitutes a food system, with chapters on production, manufacturing, distribution and retail, among others. The text explores health and sustainable diets, looking at issues such as overconsumption and waste. The book ends with discussions about the politics, policy, personal behaviours and advocacy behind creating healthy and sustainable food systems. With a food systems approach to health and sustainability identified as a priority area for public health, this text introduces core knowledge for students, academics, practitioners and policy-makers from a range of disciplines including food and nutrition sciences, dietetics, public health, public policy, medicine, health science and environmental science.

Recommended Reading
2019-04-01 Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity Wiley
ISBN 9781119118374 ISBN-13 1119118379

The world has become increasingly networked and unpredictable. Decision makers at all levels are required to manage the consequences of complexity every day. They must deal with problems that arise unexpectedly, generate uncertainty, are characterised by interconnectivity, and spread across traditional boundaries. Simple solutions to complex problems are usually inadequate and risk exacerbating the original issues. Leaders of international bodies such as the UN, OECD, UNESCO and WHO and of major business, public sector, charitable, and professional organizations have all declared that systems thinking is an essential leadership skill for managing the complexity of the economic, social and environmental issues that confront decision makers. Systems thinking must be implemented more generally, and on a wider scale, to address these issues. An evaluation of different systems methodologies suggests that they concentrate on different aspects of complexity. To be in the best position to deal with complexity, decision makers must understand the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches and learn how to employ them in combination. This is called critical systems thinking. Making use of over 25 case studies, the book offers an account of the development of systems thinking and of major efforts to apply the approach in real-world interventions. Further, it encourages the widespread use of critical systems practice as a means of ensuring responsible leadership in a complex world. Comments on a previous version of the book: Russ Ackoff: the book is the best overview of the field I have seen JP van Gigch: Jackson does a masterful job. The book is lucid ...well written and eminently readable Professional Manager (Journal of the Chartered Management Institute): Provides an excellent guide and introduction to systems thinking for students of management

Recommended Reading
Leading Sustainable Change. An Organisational Perspective Oxford

Recommended Reading
2015 Green Giants Amacom Books
ISBN 0814436137 ISBN-13 9780814436134

What do Brazil's top beauty brand, America's second-fastest-growing restaurant chain, and the world's third bestselling car have in common? They are shattering the myth that acting sustainably and building a billion-dollar business are mutually exclusive. Green Giants examines nine companies that are merging social responsibility with wild profitability-and reveals the six factors responsible for their success, including: Iconoclastic Leadership fueled by deep conviction and a rebellious streak * Disruptive Innovation that uses sustainability to spur the development of radically better products and services * A Higher Purpose that ignites the company-when the mission leads, profits follow * Mainstream Appeal with positioning and packaging stripped of the crunchy clich's that alienate the average customer. This new breed of billion-dollar businesses proves it's possible to achieve enormous success while implementing sustainable principles that help consumers live better lives. Ranging from start-ups to business lines incubated within major multinationals, these companies collectively represent over $60 billion in revenue. What's more-many command wider profit margins and are growing faster than their conventional counterparts. Packed with eye-opening research, exclusive interviews, and enlightening examples from Chipotle, Toyota, Unilever, Tesla, General Electric, and more, Green Giants serves as a blueprint for sustainable success that anyone can follow.

Module Resources

Non ISBN Literary Resources
Journal Resources

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URL Resources

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Other Resources

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Additional Information

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