Module code: SOCM055

Module Overview

Many issues in the social world involve the interaction of multiple factors from different domains which may be difficult or impossible to quantify. Often knowledge about an issue will be distributed between different types of stakeholders, who may not communicate meaningfully. Successful interventions or management in these circumstances require collaboratively generated whole system understanding. This module will introduce students to the innovative participatory systems mapping methodology being developed by researches in the Centre for Research in Social Simulation in the Department of Sociology, which allows researchers to bring together diverse knowledge and stakeholders in order to construct shared causal maps of an issue or system. The module will introduce students to the theory behind, and analytical approaches to, systems maps, as well as significant time spent in hands-on practical workshops building a map of their own. Time will also be given to considering the wider value and use of participatory modelling approaches such as systems mapping. Figure 1 shows an example systems map.

Figure 1: A systems map of the bio-based economy (BBE) energy production system

We will start with a quick introduction to the approach and the module. We will then spend three full days constructing and refining maps of the students’ areas of interest, with short lectures dotted throughout on background, approaches to analysis, and participatory modelling. The group construction of the map will also be interspersed with group reflection sessions considering the intersubjective process of participatory causal mapping. These will allow students to develop the understanding and ability to construct, or facilitate the construction of, effective maps, and gain an understanding of group dynamics during participatory processes and how these might impact on models produced.

Module provider


Module Leader

BARBROOK-JOHNSON Peter (Sociology)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

JACs code: X210

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Workshop Hours: 20

Independent Learning Hours: 130

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

This module will give a thorough grounding in how and where to use systems mapping approaches, develop practical skills and encourage critical reflection.

Indicative content includes:

  • Theory

    • Background on fuzzy cognitive mapping, causal mapping, and dependency modelling approaches

    • Analysis approaches (including simple dynamic modelling, network analysis, map interpretation for scenario exploration and intervention design combining quantitative analysis and stakeholder beliefs) and their strengths and weaknesses.

    • Broader consideration of the use and value of participatory modelling

  • Model construction

    • Practical skills and tools to build, verify and refine a systems map alone or in a group.

Practical hands-on workshops will provide students with experience of

  • Building, verifying and refining a map of an area of students’ interest, alone or in a group

  • Reflection on the facilitation process

  • Observation of, and reflection on, group dynamics during model construction

  • Preliminary observation and discussion of map structure and potential implications

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework Two-part systems mapping report consisting of a write up of module workshops and further critical analysis (3500 words) 100

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate:

A detailed understanding of the process of collaboratively constructing systems maps, the contexts in which they might be used, possible analysis methods and the implications of modelling in a participatory fashion. Students will also be able to demonstrate the ability to critically reflect on the use and analysis of systems maps in a variety of contexts, either through a detailed quantitative or qualitative map analysis, or proposal for map use in a new context.

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

A two-part coursework report containing a report of the systems mapping exercises undertaken during the module and an, individually defined, extended critical analysis. The report will be approximately 3,500 words long. Part 1 will consist of a report of the systems mapping exercises undertaken during the first 3 days of the module. Part 2 will be defined by individual students, but will take one of three forms:

  1. A formal, detailed, technical analysis of a Systems Map built during the 3 days of the module contact teaching, with associated write up and critical reflections.

  2. A qualitative analysis of the map built during the 3 days of contact time, and the process of constructing it, drawing out policy or research implications, and reflecting on the interactions of those involved in constructing it.

  3. A proposal for how systems mapping might be used in a new research, policy, or practice area (not considered during the 3 days), including detailed consideration of how a mapping process would be used, strengths and weaknesses, challenges and potential for innovation.

Formative assessment and feedback

Students will participate in extensive workshop exercises during days 1-3 of the short-course, with discussion and feedback from the module leaders on the development of practical skills. Workshops will have built in group reflection sessions giving students the chance to reflect on and discuss in depth the process in use with each other and the module leaders. Day 4 of the course is devoted to independent study, where students will be able to make initial progress on their assignment. All students will be invited back to the classroom on day 5 where there will be additional opportunities to receive formative feedback from the leaders and other students.

Module aims

  • • Provide a clear description and defintion of systems mapping and related approaches, the contexts in which it can be used and how it fits in relation to other social research methods and modelling approaches.
  • • Give students the practical ability to construct their own maps or to faciltate groups in constructing maps.
  • • Provide students with a range of analysis methods which they can deploy on maps as appropriate.
  • • Provide students with a basis on which to critically reflect on the approach, its stengths, weaknesses and value in different areas of social research, practice, and policy.
  • • Give a space for students to reflect more broadly on the use and value of participatory modelling approaches.

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Demonstrate a critical understanding of the ideas behind systems mapping
002 Build a map on their own
003 Facilitate a group to build a map
004 Understand when a map might be used, and how it fits in with other methodologies
005 Be able to critically engage with existing research using this and similar methods
006 Be able to analyse and interpret maps

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to:

Give students a thorough grounding in how and where to use systems mapping approaches in understanding and managing complex societal issues. Students will be given a theoretical background in both the method, its use in participatory contexts and the ways in which maps can be analysed and used as thinking tools and means of developing shared understanding in a variety of different contexts. Theory will be placed in context and rendered meaningful by being embedded within hands on practical workshops. These will provide students with the skills and practical experience required to produce effective systems maps alone or within a group. Each day will conclude with a critical reflection session, allowing students to develop an understanding of the potential pitfalls and impacts of group dynamics and facilitation approach on outcomes.

The learning and teaching methods include:

]This course is taught intensively over one week. A mix of lectures and hands on workshops will feature across days 1-3, followed by a day for independent study and initial assignment preparation. Students will return to the classroom on day 5 for a chance to receive formative feedback on their assignment plans from the lecturer and peers.

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: SOCM055

Other information


Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Social Research Methods MSc 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2019/0 academic year.