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Introduction to Complexity Science

Admission Requirements
Bachelor’s degree in any academic subject

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, the student is able to:


  • Describe Complexity Science and how Complex Systems are relevant for a sustainable future;
  • Describe biodiversity using complex system thinking approaches.


  • Use the Geographic Information System (GIS) and interpret the results obtained;
  • Use problem-solving techniques in complexity science;
  • Critically review and use system thinking methods;


  • Review academic papers and write report on complexity science
  • Write policy reports in complexity science.


Aim of the course

The aim of this course is to introduce complexity science to master’s students, helping them achieve a good understanding of what complex systems are and why they are relevant to interpret the world from a scientific perspective. Moreover, this module aims to introduce the concept of sustainability of the systems, their resilience and robustness.

The “Introduction to Complexity Science” course is designed to explore the features of complexity and its science. The main characteristic of this module is to allow students to understand the basics of complexity and how everything in our world is connected through complex systems.

The study of complexity is increasingly being researched and taught within university courses given the many complex issues society has been facing. What has been witnessed in recent years, especially with the climate and biodiversity crises, is that individual elements of a system influence and depend on each other. And these interactions involve additional different systems, displaying common features. Complex systems knowledge is considered innovative and useful to understand the complexity of our human society, as well as the natural world, and how everything is interrelated. Studying complex systems is therefore crucial for a better understanding of our world.

This course is designed as a   self-directed study, and research. During the course, some examples of practical applications of cities and health are shown, so as to give students some practical material to practice complex systems ways of thinking.

The module is divided into the following lessons:

  1. Introduction to complex systems: what complex science is, how it has evolved and why it is relevant.
  2. Introduction to sustainability: what is sustainability, why it is relevant in the study of complexity, and how are the two linked.
  3. Introduction to Planetary Boundaries and exploring the biodiversity and climate crises.
  4. Resilience, robustness, and sustainability through systems thinking.
  5. Regime Shifts and Tipping Points applied to forecasting.
  6. Introduction to research methods when working with complex systems (GIS, quantitative and qualitative research methods)


Mandatory readings

  • IPCC Reports -
  • Ostrom, E., 2009. A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science, 325(5939), pp.419-422.
  • Meadows, D.H., 2008. Thinking in systems: A primer. Chelsea green publishing.
  • Ritchie, J., Lewis, J., Nicholls, C.M. and Ormston, R. eds., 2013. Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. Sage.

Recommended readings

  • Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S.E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E.M., Biggs, R., Carpenter, S.R., De Vries, W., De Wit, C.A. and Folke, C., 2015. Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), p.1259855.
  • Urry, J., 2015. Climate change and society (pp. 45-59). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Teaching Methodology

The teaching methodology used in this course consists in:

  • Lectures;
  • E-learning;
  • Online seminars;
  • Independent Study.

ECTS Credits
4.5 ECTS

I semester

Examination methodology

Assessment will take the form of:

  • Group presentations;
  • Active participation in class and seminars;
  • A 2000-word essay.

The “Introduction to Complexity Science” course is relevant to the aim of the Joint Curriculum since it provides students with knowledge on Complexity Science and complex systems thinking, explaining what they are and how they are important to understand sustainable development. This course enables students to untangle the interconnections of our world and to understand that sustainability can be achieved only using a systemic approach.

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