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Unit information: Advanced Systems in 2015/16

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Unit name Advanced Systems
Unit code CENGM0001
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Academic Year (weeks 1 - 52)
Unit director Professor. Mike Yearworth
Open unit status Not open

Either CENGM0007 Research Methods 2 or

  • successful completion of an M-Level unit in qualitative research methods (which will have to be checked for suitability by the unit director for RM2)


  • complete a directed reading exercise which will cover research material presented and discussed in RM2 (which will be provided by the unit director for RM2)


School/department Department of Civil Engineering
Faculty Faculty of Engineering


This unit is at the heart of the Systems EngD and is integrated with Research Methods 1 (CENGM0006) and Research Methods 2 (CENGM0007). It develops understanding and awareness and deals with specific generic tools in the softer aspects of systems that have been introduced in Research Methods 1 and 2, such as grounded theory, ethnography, and action research; together with qualitative data gathering and analysis approaches. It builds further on, and deepens and widens, the philosophical underpinnings of systems and systems thinking research introduced in Research Methods 1, deals with the personal skills required to provide leadership and manage change and introduces Problem Structuring Methods, Hierarchical Process Modelling (e.g. PeriMeta) and System Dynamics. Advanced Systems presents new and in-depth material to soft systems that allows REs to reconsider/update/enhance and bring additional rigour to soft systems aspects of the initial research plan developed in Research Methods 2.

  • To develop a “softer” systems perspective of complex engineering problems and in particular develop an appreciation for a subjective viewpoint (Checkland’s “process of inquiry is systemic”)
  • To appreciate the range of systems interventions and Problem Structuring Methods (PSMs) in the systems literature and where they can be applied, understand their philosophical underpinnings in functionalist and interpretive stances and the implications of plural and coercive contexts
  • To understand the relationship between research methods and systems interventions and PSMs; for example the relationship between Soft Systems Methodology and Action Research
  • To prepare engineers to lead and manage change in industry including an understanding of negotiation techniques and the need for an ethics based approach

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit the student will be able to:

  • describe and apply a systems approach to technical and managerial thinking
  • identify modelling issues including world views
  • describe and map out organisational processes using problem structuring methods and visualisation
  • build relevant causal loop diagrams and system dynamics models
  • describe and use tools for the measurement of the performance of processes
  • begin to lead change
  • identify the ethical dilemmas encountered in business, and with respect to their research use the ideas of principled negotiation
  • develop in-depth understanding of socio-techical aspects in engineering projects

Teaching details

Interactive lectures (engineers relate their own experience in dealing with issues that arise), seminars from outside experts, and workshops and team exercises.

Assessment Details

  • A pre-module essay on selected books from the reading list reflecting on the ideas presented, identifying common themes that run through the different views of the world presented, and a critical view on what the RE agrees with, and disagrees with. (10%). Word count = ~1500
  • An assignment based on, and with reference to, the frameworks and meta-methodologies presented and debated in Advanced Systems that discusses how the methods, models, tools, and techniques of systems thinking can be applied to the RE’s EngD project. The assessment is expected to develop the RE’s research plan produced in the prior Research Method 2 unit and reconsider soft systems aspects in the light of material discussed in the unit. (90%, word count ~3000 )

For both assessments the RE is expected to take a critical and well-referenced approach at a level expected in a doctoral level thesis.

Reading and References

  • CHECKLAND, P. (1999) Soft systems methodology : a 30-year retrospective ; and, Systems thinking, systems practice, Chichester, John Wiley.
  • FLOOD, R. L. (1999) Rethinking the fifth discipline : Learning within the unknowable, London, Routledge.
  • Either JACKSON, M. C. (2000) A Systems Approach to Management, New York, Kluwer Or JACKSON, M. C. (2003) Systems thinking : creative holism for managers, Chichester, John Wiley.
  • SENGE, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, London, Random House.
  • STERMAN, J. D. (2000) Business dynamics : systems thinking and modeling for a complex world, Boston, [Mass.], Irwin McGraw-Hill.
  • VENNIX, J. A. M. (1996) Group Model Building: Facilitating Team Learning Using System Dynamics, Chichester, Wiley.