Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment COURSEWORK - 3000 WORD REPORT  100%
Supplementary Assessment 3000 WORD ANALYSIS BASED ON A DIFFERENT CASE STUDY  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Evaluate the underlying drivers of, and feedback processes within, changing systems;

2. Evaluate the likely effects of management and policy interventions on a social or environmental system;

3. Critically review how human behaviour gives rise to unsustainable activity;

4. Critically discuss the requirements for societies to be sustainable;

5. Critically evaluate the process of promoting and maintaining sustainable societies.

Brief description

This module concentrates on addressing three main topics:

  • How human behaviours give rise to unsustainable activity;
  • Current thinking about the requirements for societies to be sustainable;
  • How transformation towards more sustainable trajectories can be promoted and maintained.
These main topics will be explored within the framework of systems thinking. It will include discussion of sub-topics such as social-ecological resilience, uncertainty in decision-making; perverse policies; theories of transformation and adaptive governance. It will provide an overarching view of sustainability within which students will be able to hang their own area of specialization. Students will explore this framework from the perspective of their own discipline through the assignment. It therefore has relevance to students from a range of schemes, including Tourism Management, Tourism and Recreation, Countryside Management, Countryside Conservation, Sustainable Rural Development etc.

The work will be based on a conceptual analysis of the reinforcing and negative feedback processes in a social-ecological system that is of direct relevance to the students' background (e.g. tourism, countryside management). The work will require students to analyse underlying feedback processes to explain the likely impacts of a management or policy intervention. This will necessarily require students to demonstrate their understanding of how the human behaviour gave rise to the problems, what is required to ensure resilience of the system in question, and how resilience can be maintained over the long-term.


1) How human behaviours give rise to unsustainable activity:
  • The problems of uncertainty arising from the dynamic complexity of social-ecological systems;
  • Perverse policies and decision-making;
  • Disengagement from ecological feedback
2) Current thinking about the requirements for societies to be sustainable:
  • Resilient Ecological systems;
  • Resilient Social Systems.
3) How transformation towards more sustainable trajectories can be promoted and maintained:
  • Panarchy - the theory of how ecological and social systems collapse and reorganize transformation;
  • Promoting transformation;
  • Adaptive governance.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will be developing critical thinking skills in being able to understand feedback in dynamically complex systems. This ability will be assessed during the report.
Information Technology Students will learn the Vensim package for drawing conceptual diagrams of systems. These diagrams will be an essential component of the report.
Problem solving Through the analysis of feedback in systems and developing appropriate strategies to deal with them This will be based on classroom-based workshops, and will be assessed in the report.
Research skills The report will require students to identify appropriate material to include in their report, to analyse feedback processes and find additional supporting material.
Team work Much of the project work during the practicals will involve working in groups (although the final assignment will be conducted by individuals)

Reading List

General Text
(2005) Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and human well-being Island Press Primo search Diamond, J (2005) Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive Allen Lane Primo search Gunderson, L H and Holling, C S (2002) Panarchy: understanding transformations in human and natural systems Island Press Primo search Steffen, (2006) Stronger evidence but new challenges. Climate change science 2001 - 2005 Department of the Environment and Heritage, Government of Australia Primo search
Recommended Consultation
Carpenter, S and Folke, C (2006) TRENDS IN ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION Ecology and transformation 21 : 309 - 315 Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6