Program overview

Welcome to the Social innovation for complex problems courses

There are three courses:

  1. Complex systems and problems
  2. Seeing and describing systems
  3. Social innovation and system entrepreneurship

(video) View the welcome video

The courses include video lectures, coaching, and activities to deepen your understanding of the systems in which you live and work. These will give you more capacity to make positive change happen.

This is a completely open online course, free to all, which you can begin at any time and progress at your own pace, returning to segments you wish to review as often as you like. They are also stand-alone courses; that is, there are no monitored discussion boards, student groups, or graded assignments. However, that's not to stop you from forming groups amongst like-minded friends or colleagues, going through the course together, and creating your own discussion groups! This would certainly add value to your experience if you choose to do this.

Registration and course enrolment

The link to register for courses is at the top right of this page. The process only requires that you submit a valid email address and your name, and that you choose a password. You'll then receive a link by email, confirming your registration.

Once you have registered, if you follow a link in the list of available courses you can enrol in that course simply by clicking the enrol me button. There are no time limits to courses or enrolment.


Each course has its own page and, within each, you can navigate by

  1. scrolling down to find everything in its learning sequence, or
  2. clicking on the links in the sidebar to jump to units or to see lists and links of all videos, resources, activities, or coaching segments.

Throughout, we use the following icons to help you navigate easily:

Lecture video
Lecture videos are core course material. They default to HD on desktop browsers. If you're having bandwidth issues, HD can be turned off using the button at the bottom right of the video player. Videos can also be toggled to view full screen. The videos have links to PDF transcripts for your reference.
Resources indicate supplementary material to which you'll get access through links or by downloading or viewing PDFs.
Web video
Web video indicates a link to a video on an external site.
Activity indicates an exercise to complete to increase your understanding and to apply concepts to your situation.
Coaching indicates video coaching to reinforce concepts covered in a video lecture. The videos have links to PDF transcripts for your reference.
TED Talk
TED Talk indicates a TED Talk.

If you run into technical problems or notice a glitch (e.g. a broken link), please contact Nina Ripley at

We would like to thank the McConnell Foundation for their vision and generous support of this project. You can find out all about the foundation and its programmes at


Your course experience will be enhanced if, before diving in, you prepare with some readings that will help you understand key concepts. We'll introduce readings along with the course content to which they most directly relate; but, of course, you can skip forward or go back at any time as you delve into what you find most useful.

We'll focus on those resources that are freely available; but, for those who want to go further, we  also provide information on books for purchase that will go more in-depth, and academic articles which you can find in university libraries (we've provided links to the full citations so you can find them).

Freely available:

If you want to buy:

  • Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed, Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Patton,
  • Edgeware: Lessons from Complexity Science for Healthcare Leaders, Brenda Zimmerman and Curt Lindberg,
  • The Thinker's Toolkit: Fourteen Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving, Morgan D. Jones,
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson,
  • Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, Lance H. Gunderson and C.S. Holling,
  • Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tim Brown,
  • Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use, Michael Quinn Patton,

At the library:

  • Howard Perlmutter and Eric Trist, Paradigms for Societal Transition,
  • Charles Hampden Turner, Charting the Corporate Mind: Graphic Solutions to Business Problems,
  • Frances Westley, et al., Tipping Towards Sustainability: Emerging Pathways for Transformation,
  • Lisa K. Gundry, et al., Entrepreneurial Bricolage and Innovation Ecology: Precursors to Social Innovation?
  • Karl E. Weick, Improvisation as a Mindset for Organizational Analysis,
  • Silvia Dorado, Microfinance Re-imagined: Personal Banking for the Poor,
  • Frances Westley, et al., A Theory of Transformative Agency in Linked Social-Ecological Systems,
  • Julie Battilana, et al., How Actors Change Institutions: Towards a Theory of Institutional Entrepreneurship,