Getting started with Systems Thinking

Peter Scolley looks at the resources available to help actuaries understand and learn about Systems Thinking and using it to take practical action

There are plenty of materials available to learn about Systems Thinking and understand the tools and terminology used. Here we highlight some of the materials that allow an introduction to the topic.


The Schumacher Institute provides a series of short videos that give a good overview of Systems Thinking and the concepts involved. In total this is around 90 minutes of viewing.

Schumacher Institute – Systems Learning – videos

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries hosted a session presented by Dr Anthony Hodgson which covers the factors needed when thinking systemically.

Dr Anthony Hodgson – Systems Thinking and Tragedy of Consciousness

Free Open University courses

A good overview course is Open University’s free Introduction to Systems Thinking in Practice course. The OU estimates that this takes about 8 hours to work through including performing the exercises.

OU Course Systems Thinking

The Open University also has a follow-on course which is more detailed.

OU Course Mastering Systems Thinking

Introductory books

The books mentioned below provide a longer but more detailed introduction to Systems Thinking. They are excellent reference materials when conducting work using systems thinking.

Donella H Meadows’ book, Thinking in Systems: a primer 2008, is widely acknowledged as an excellent introduction to Systems Thinking. It covers the basics, how systems work and why they work so well, and the problems that can emerge. Critically it covers how to influence systems so that practical action can be taken.

Thinking in Systems: a Primer 

Eric Beinhocker’s The Origin Of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics 2007, looks at the economy from a Systems lens. This provides the view that the economy is more like an ecosystem than the static models portrayed by traditional economic theory.

The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the radical remaking of Economics

Systems Approaches to Making Change: A Practical Guide  is one of the primary textbooks from the Open University MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. It provides a comprehensive view the tools and terminology used in Systems Thinking.

Systems Approaches to Making Change

A more detailed set of reading can be found here.