Human-Centered Systems Thinking

A holistic approach to problem solving starts with people
Preview Course
People are at the heart of every complex human system--but they’re often the most overlooked. Effective problem solvers today know how to visualize the larger dynamics of the system while staying grounded in the needs of people. In this course, you’ll learn to combine the analytical tools of systems thinking with the creative mindsets of human-centered design to make sense of complex systems challenges. Explore mapping tools to identify the right places to focus, surface insights about your stakeholders, and pick the most impactful solutions to experiment with so you can go beyond the obvious and design lasting solutions.
Course Outcomes
  • Gain techniques for mapping complex systems and identifying the root causes of a problem.
  • Establish a shared view of the system and reframe problems from different perspectives to uncover new solutions.
  • Find the right problems to solve and pick the best solutions to experiment with.
  • Deepen your understanding of your organizational systems by taking an iterative approach to testing solutions and gaining insights.
Course Themes
Decision Making Collaboration Systems Thinking
Format Online Cohort Course
Start Date
Quantity
Duration 5 Weeks
Time 4 Hours/Week
Price
Regular price
$599
Sale price
$599
Unit price
per 
Download Syllabus

What You'll Learn

Week 1: Overview

Gain an overview of the course and IDEO’s approach to human-centered systems thinking.
Watch a sneak peek
  • Human-Centered Systems Thinking – A sneak peek of the course
1 Video Lesson
  • Zooming In and Out - Bringing a human-centered lens to systems thinking.
1 Assignment
  • Define Your Systems Challenge: Choose a systems challenge from your work to help you practice and apply the mindsets and methods outlined in this course. Define your challenge in the form of a question. If you do not have a systems challenge at work, you can choose one as a model.

1 Discussion:
  • If you're familiar with systems thinking, what are some ways that you bring this mindset to your work? If you're not, how might your work benefit from a systems view?

Week 2: Visualize the System

Explore a variety of mapping tools to make sense of complex situations, uncover the root causes of problems, and create a shared view of the system.
3 Video Lessons
  • Uncover the Connections - Make sense of the relationships and interactions
    between stakeholders.

  • Make it Visible - Break down a complicated process

  • Go Beneath the Surface - Focus on solving the root causes of a problem

1 Assignment
  • Create a Systems Map: Choose one type of systems map based on your systems challenge and create the first iteration of it to share with your peers. Reflect on what you learned from the process.

3 Discussions
  • What are some other types of maps and tools you use to make sense of complexity?

  • What strategies do you use to align different perspectives and build a shared understanding?

  • Have you noticed any patterns of behavior in your own work? What might be the underlying structures or mindsets that contribute to these behaviors?

2 Resources
  • Three Ways to Map a System: Get guidance on how to choose the best map for your systems challenge.

  • Systems Map Gallery: Get inspired by examples of how others have visualized their systems.

Week 3: Humanize the System

Discover creative techniques to surface insights about stakeholders, reframe problems from different perspectives, and spot opportunities for solutions.
3 Video Lessons
  • Listen to the System - Uncover the needs, challenges, and motivations of the people in
    your system

  • The Power of Perspective - Unlock new ways of seeing and thinking

  • Look for Leverage - Look beyond the obvious solution

1 Assignment
  • Conduct a Stakeholder Interview: Choose one stakeholder from your systems map and conduct an in-depth interview. Then reframe your systems challenge and identify an opportunity for redesign.

3 Discussions
  • Think about the last system you interacted with. What was your experience and how did it influence your perspective?

  • What are techniques you like to use to help you get a new perspective on a challenging problem or situation?

  • Think back to a situation where a small shift, either in your personal or professional life, had an outsized impact. What was the change and how did it affect you and/or others?

Week 4: Redesign the System

Get practical tips for how to pick the most impactful ideas, experiment with the levers of design, and prototype solutions with real people.
4 Video Lessons
  • Activate the Levers of Design - Redesign systems in small but effective ways

  • Prioritize for Impact - Evaluate the impact and feasibility of different solutions

  • Experiment with the System - Test your ideas and deepen your understanding of your system

  • Surface your Learnings - Draw out insights from your prototype

1 Assignment
  • Test Solutions: Pick 1-2 ideas around each design lever and then choose 1 that is potentially high impact and easy to implement. Build a small prototype, test it out, and reflect on the outcome.

4 Discussions
  • Prototyping helps us explore how a system works, feels, responds to change. Of the three, which resonates the most with you, and why?

  • Which levers do you have the most control over in your organization? Which have you used to create positive change and improve outcomes?

  • Think about a time when you or others made a decision or implemented an idea that had unintended consequences. What was the outcome?

  • What is one small experiment you could try today that would be meaningful to learn from?

2 Resources
  • Prototyping Primer: Get familiar with the process of prototyping.

  • Prototyping Gallery: Get inspired by examples of how others have approached prototyping.

Week 5: Looking Ahead

Learn about the importance of creating learning loops to gather feedback and identify early signs of progress.
1 Video Lesson
  • Systems Change by Design - Expanding your sphere of influence.

1 Assignment
  • Envision the Future: Imagine that you learned from your experiment, and kept iterating and experimenting over a period of time. Write a story from the future about how you were able to shift the system toward a better outcome.

1 Discussion
  • After learning about the mindsets and methods of human-centered systems thinking, are there any big complex challenges that you feel inspired to take on?

Meet Your Instructors

Deirdre Cerminaro

Executive Design Director, IDEO

Deirdre is an Executive Design Director and co-lead of the Systems & Strategy practice at IDEO. As a former architectural designer with a background in business and psychology, she has a knack for breaking down complex systems and finding simple levers to drive lasting change. She is passionate about bringing a human-centered lens to intractable systemic challenges, especially in education where much of her work has focused at IDEO.

More About Deirdre

Collaborate with a Global Community

Loved by Learners Across the Globe

Sarah Zaner
Sarah Senior Director KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society
Sean Hewens
Sean Principal Pneumatic.Studio
Sally Madsen
Sally VP Design Strategy Fidelity Investments
Hernan Carranza
Hernan Chief Innovation Officer Intercorp
Human-Centered Systems Thinking
Cohort Course

“For me, the most exciting application of human-centered design is when it is aimed at reimagining the complex systems of our society—like education or healthcare—that are full of promise but also fraught with inequalities. This is also the space where systems design is needed the most.”

Sarah
Human-Centered Systems Thinking
Cohort Course

“I've never met a designer who is able to fuse the crafts of systems thinking and human-centered design more effectively. Deirdre effortlessly sensemakes complex systems. And perhaps most importantly, she's a teacher and a leader who is a master at enabling others to embrace the skills and mindsets of systems design”

Sean
Human-Centered Systems Thinking
Cohort Course

“Public education, decentralized finance, the energy ecosystem—these are examples of systems too complex and distributed to shift through a top-down solution. Deirdre is a dynamic systems designer who shares her knack for simplifying the complex and uncovering human-centered opportunities for change.”

Sally
Human-Centered Systems Thinking
Cohort Course

“Deirdre is both process driven and intuitively insightful when it comes to systems design. She has helped us design complex systems at the service of reimagining a better learning systems for all Peruvians... she just rocks!”

Hernan

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