Systems Practice

Learn to use a systems thinking approach to move from “impossible” to impact

Course Details

  • Price: FREE
  • Start Date: February 25, 2020
  • Time: 5 hours/week
  • Duration: 11 weeks
  • Partner: The Omidyar Group

What You’ll Learn:

  • Map a complex system to gain clarity
  • Identify specific points in the system where you can make a big impact
  • Create leverage hypotheses to describe how you will aim to create systemic change
  • Develop a framework for learning and adapting over time as your system changes


Striving to create enduring change in our complex, dynamic world can feel daunting — and sometimes downright impossible. With so many interconnected forces at play, it’s easy to get discouraged by detours, false assumptions, roadblocks, and dead ends.

Systems Practice is a way to make sense of complex environments and uncover the dynamics that have the greatest potential for impact. This course will lead you through each step of understanding a system, analyzing it to find points of leverage, and learning how to adapt in a changing environment. You will also gain access to a portfolio of step-by-step tools, processes, and mindsets to apply to your current and future work. This course is ideal for professionals working on complex problems across any field of social impact.

Format and Timing:

  • Team-Based Course: We strongly encourage (but do not require) that you form a team of 2-8 people to take the course with. It works best to find friends or coworkers who can meet in person. Need to find team members? You can post to the discussion forums a month before the course starts.
  • Platform: NovoEd (+Acumen developed the course. We host this course on the NovoEd platform.)
  • Timing: This course will be open for 11 weeks. You can work through the materials at your own pace during the time the course is open. There are no required times for you to log in. There will be suggested deadlines for you to complete each assignment. The final deadline is the final day of the course.

Course Syllabus

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  • 35 instructional videos featuring Rob Ricigliano, The Systems and Complexity coach for The Omidyar Group
  • A 94-page Systems Practice workbook produced by The Omidyar Group and Daylight Design
  • 7 workshop guides that break down each stage of a Systems Practice
  • 7 reading guides featuring in-depth case studies
  • Free access to the platform for systems mapping for course participants
Section 1: What is Systems Practice?
  • Video: Why Use Systems Practice?
  • Video: Introduction to the Course from Rob Ricigliano
  • Video: What is Systems Practice?
  • Video: Stories of Systems Practice
  • Video: Misconceptions about Systems Practice
  • Video: Types of Problems to Address with Systems Practice
  • Video: Launch Your Systems Practice
  • Reading: Why We Need Systems Practice
  • Discussion: Frame Your Systems Challenge
  • Activity: Complexity Spectrums Chart
  • Activity: Define Your Systems Challenge
Section 2: Set A Guiding Star and Near Star for Your System
  • Video: Systems Thinking Mindsets
  • Video: Setting Goals for Systems Change
  • Video: Examples of Guiding Stars, Near Stars, and Framing Questions
  • Reading 2: Systems Practice in Action with Case Studies
  • Activity: Developing Your Guiding Star and Near Star
Section 3: Explore Forces in Your System
  • Video: Explore the Forces in your System
  • Video: Enablers and Inhibitors
  • Video: Upstream and Downstream Effects
  • Video: Structural, Attitudinal and Transactional Forces
  • Reading: Explore Forces in Your System
  • Activity: SAT Analysis
Section 4: Build Loops and Discover the Deep Structure
  • Video: Tell the Story of Your Loops
  • Video: Uncover the Deep Structure
  • Video: Examples of Uncovering Your Deep Structure
  • Video: Big Picture Reminder: Why Use Systems Practice?
  • Reading: Uncover the Story of Your System
  • Activity: Create Loops
  • Activity: Discover the Deep Structure
Section 5: Map Your System
  • Video: Build Your Map
  • Video: Avoid Getting Stuck
  • Video: Craft Your Systems Narrative
  • Video: Socialize Your Map
  • Reading: Map Your System
  • Activity: Build Your Map
  • Activity: Craft Your Narrative
  • Activity: Socialize and Iterate Your Map
Section 6: Find Opportunities for Leverage
  • Video: Discover Opportunities for Leverage
  • Video: Tips for Finding Opportunities for Leverage
  • Video: Develop Leverage Hypotheses
  • Reading: Find Opportunities for Leverage
  • Activity: Develop a Systemic Problem Statement
  • Activity: Find Opportunities for Leverage
  • Activity: Articulate Leverage Hypotheses
Section 7: Build a Systems Strategy
  • Video: How to Pick the Right Leverage Hypotheses
  • Video: Fast and Slow Variables
  • Video: Scaffold Your Learning
  • Video: 4 Drivers of Success in the Systems World
  • Video: Adapt Quickly
  • Video: Parting Words from Rob
  • Reading: Build a Systems Strategy
  • Activity: Evaluate Fit
  • Activity: Maximize Potential for Leverage
  • Activity: Develop Key Performance Questions
  • Activity: Learn from the System
The course already started. Can I still enroll?
You can enroll up to 2 weeks after the start date of the course.
When will the next course be offered?
We offer our courses a few times a year. Sign up for our emails to be notified of the next time the course will be offered.
Do I get a certificate for this course?
You will earn a Statement of Accomplishment if you complete 5 of 6 assignments, including the final assignment, by the last day of the course.
How do teams work?
We recommend you find friends or colleagues for your team that you can meet with in person each week. Each team member should register for the course individually. You’ll then be able to form your team on the NovoEd platform once the course begins.
Do I have to complete the course with a team?
While we believe taking the course with a team will give you the best experience and chance of completing the course, it is possible to complete the course individually if you wish.
What should I expect from the assignments?
You will create a Life Map, develop your own personal story, integrate it into a larger presentation, and record your presentation for feedback from your classmates. You should allocate at least one hour a week to complete each assignment.

Supported By

The Omidyar Group is a collection of companies, organizations, and initiatives focused on empowering individuals to cultivate a thriving world. The Omidyar Group applies the systems approach to many complex issues and has assembled a dynamic team, led by Rob Ricigliano, to coach and support its initiative teams.

Rob Ricigliano has been in the field of conflict management and complex negotiations since he attended Harvard Law School almost 30 years ago,  engaging in numerous peacebuilding efforts in the social impact field.

What People Are Saying

"Systems Practice is something we recommend to our partners a lot. This is a great crash course into the principles of it."

Pauline N, USAID.