Module: Making sense of a changing world

Module details

  • Module code

  • Module leader

  • Module Level

  • Module credits

  • Min study time

    150 hours
  • Contact hrs

    15 hours plus 15 hours module orientation (distance learning), 80 hours directed and independent distance learning via a range of student activities, 40 hours assessment preparation
  • Teaching Period

    Semester 1 or 2

Module content

Making sense of a complex and uncertain world is an essential skill in business and policy environments, given the dynamic interactions between natural, economic and social systems at global, local and corporate levels. The module is designed: (1) to develop your skills and knowledge that will enhance your decision-making in order to act in a complex and uncertain world; and (2) to provide frameworks and strategies to navigate complexity and adapt to rapid change.

The module begins by examining the idea of sense-making, which at face value may seem straightforward but can have immense implications in the design and management of institutions, organizations, businesses, policies, teams, technologies. Sense-making frameworks are explored and critiqued as decision support tools in complex, dynamic and challenging situations. The module then provides tools and skills for the critical analysis of systems, particularly those that are complex and adaptive (with multiple interactions between people and nature). Societal concerns such as sustainability, food security, animal welfare, economic crises, technological innovation, and market functions are all components of a complex system. The properties of such systems will be critically examined, including from the perspectives of: network analysis; the role of multiple interactive adaptive agents; non-linear dynamics and scaling; self-organization and emergent behaviour. By understanding complex system problems you will be better able to manage your business, know what to look for, and decode them to enable adapt accordingly. Finally, throughout the module, our own behaviour and biases are explored. Business managers, entrepreneurs and policy-makers, for example, face very real risks.  These risks in analysis of complex societal concerns, heuristics and biases may determine the difference between the success, mediocracy or failure of a business, strategy or policy.

Module outcomes

To achieve credit for this module, students must be able to:

  1. Identify and analyse the key ideas behind complexity, sustainability and the interactions between the natural economic and social systems
  2. Critically analyse the complexity and sustainability influences on enterprises at a global, local and corporate level
  3. Critically evaluate sensemaking on agri-food business about societal concerns such as animal use, environmental impact and food security.
  4. Critically reflect on complex policy environments (i.e. government, industry and civil society) and the interactions between business, media and other stakeholders.


Assessment Description Weighting
First Sit Coursework: Reflective learning journal (3,000 words) 100%
Referral (capped at 40%) Coursework: Reflective learning journal plus, for re-submissions, commentary on improvements (3,250 words) 100%

Key texts

  • Arthur, W.B., (2013). Complexity economics: a different framework for economic thought. In W. B. Arthur (ed.) Complexity and the Economy, Oxford.
  • Beinhocker, E.D., (2006). The origin of wealth: Evolution, complexity, and the radical remaking of economics. Harvard Business Press.
  • Boulton, J. G., Allen, P. M., & Bowman, C. (2015). Embracing complexity: Strategic perspectives for an age of turbulence. OUP Oxford.
  • Chapman, K., (2015). Complexity and Creative Capacity: Rethinking Knowledge Transfer, Adaptive Management and Wicked Environmental Problems. Routledge.
  • Dequech, D. (2011). Uncertainty: a typology and refinements of existing concepts. Journal of economic issues, 45(3), 621-640.
  • Dow, S., (2016). Uncertainty: A diagrammatic treatment. Economics, 10 (3), p.1.
  • Hidalgo, C., (2015). Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies. Basic Books.
  • Holland, J.H., (2014). Complexity: A very short introduction. OUP Oxford.
  • Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks: Theories, concepts, and findings. OUP USA.
  • Kahneman, D., (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.
  • Kurtz, C. F., & Snowden, D. J. (2003). The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world. IBM systems journal, 42(3), 462-483.
  • Madsbjerg, C. (2017). Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm. Hachette Books.
  • Newman, M., Barabasi, A.L. and Watts, D.J., (2011). The structure and dynamics of networks. Princetown University Press.
  • Snowden, D.J. and Boone, M.E., (2007). A leader's framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review, 85(11), p.68.