University of Technology Sydney

94665 Complexity and Sustainability

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2021 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Transdisciplinary Innovation
Credit points: 8 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

Requisite(s): 81539 Impossibilities to Possibilities


This subject introduces complexity and systems thinking with a focus on real-world sustainability issues. Students probe the nature and characteristics of complex systems and design interventions that move these systems towards sustainable futures. They explore a variety of mapping, modelling and intervention strategies and apply them to a current and complex sustainability challenge. Through this process, students creatively and rigorously test key qualities they have identified in a complex system and put forward proposals that initiate change for sustainable futures.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

Upon successful completion of this subject students should be able to:

1. Analyse and map complex systems, organisations and/or individuals using language, principles and tools of complexity.
2. Draw from different perspectives, schools of thought and philosophical positions to explore problems identified in a system in its entirety.
3. Compare and contrast judgements and assumptions that are intentionally and unintentionally applied when framing issues of sustainability.
4. Identify and choose appropriate tools, processes and/or frameworks to generate creative interventions in a complex system to enable sustainable futures.
5. Develop proposals that are suitable and compelling for key stakeholders.

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject contributes specifically to the development of the following course intended learning outcomes:

  • Identify and represent the components and processes within complex systems and organise them within relational frameworks (1.1)
  • Select, apply and evaluate various techniques and technologies for investigating and interpreting complex systems (1.2)
  • Explore the relevance and test the value of frameworks, approaches and methods from different disciplines, professional practices or fields of inquiry for gaining insights into particular problems, proposals, practices, contexts and systems (2.1)
  • Communicate, explore, network and negotiate in ways that extend representation of disciplinary ideas or perspectives (3.1)
  • Articulate often-complex ideas simply, succinctly and compellingly to a diverse team or multiple types of audiences (3.4)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

Students map complex systems associated with a current sustainability challenge using a range of visualisation and modeling approaches to identify system components and organise them within relational frameworks, which develops CILOs 1.1 and 1.2. They draw on their disciplinary backgrounds and use a range of complexity concepts and theories to develop a nuanced view of sustainability and propose and evaluate interventions into a complex system that could shift the system in a desirable direction (CILO 2.1). Students have an opportunity to examine the relevance of their proposals and sustainbility perspectives through collaboration, negotiation, experimentation and stakeholder engagement, which contributes to the development of CILOs 3.1 and 3.4.

Teaching and learning strategies

Learning in this subject takes place over six full days in a three-week period via Zoom sessions supplemented with online modules and activities. Students will be learning in a collaborative, immersive, experiential, distanced learning environment where they will engage with academics, invited industry professionals and peers across a wide range of disciplines. Staff, peers and invited experts give formative feedback as students develop their sustainability-focused interventions.

Content (topics)

  • Complexity
  • Systems thinking
  • ‘Soft’ and ‘hard’ systems approaches
  • Sustainability and sustainable futures
  • Interventions in complex systems


Assessment task 1: Sustainability challenge: mapping complexity


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1 and 2

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.1 and 3.1

Type: Case study
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 35%

1200 words maximum (or visual equivalent).

Assessment task 2: Sustainability initiative: designing for complexity


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

2, 3 and 4

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.2, 2.1 and 3.1

Type: Project
Groupwork: Group, group and individually assessed
Weight: 40%

3000 words maximum plus in-class presentation.

Assessment task 3: Making sense of the complex


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

3 and 5

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

2.1 and 3.4

Type: Reflection
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 25%

800 words maximum (plus visualisations).

Minimum requirements

Students must attempt each assessment task and achieve an overall pass mark in order to pass this subject.

Late penalties apply to all assessment tasks as outlined in the FTDiFYI student booklet. Please consult this booklet for other useful information including Special Consideration, Plagiarism, Extension, and Student Support Services.

A minimum of 80% of attendance of classes (as outlined in the timetable) is required.

Required texts

No required texts. Readings and other resources will be provided online.