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Syllabus for

Academic year
SEE050 - System interventions for sustainability transitions  
Systemtänkande för hållbarhetsomställningar
Syllabus adopted 2020-02-19 by Head of Programme (or corresponding)
Owner: MPTSE
7,5 Credits
Grading: TH - Pass with distinction (5), Pass with credit (4), Pass (3), Fail
Education cycle: Second-cycle
Major subject: Energy and Environmental Systems and Technology, Mechanical Engineering

Teaching language: English
Application code: 28124
Open for exchange students: No
Block schedule: A
Maximum participants: 20

Module   Credit distribution   Examination dates
Sp1 Sp2 Sp3 Sp4 Summer course No Sp
0120 Project 4,5 c Grading: UG   4,5 c    
0220 Written and oral assignments 3,0 c Grading: TH   3,0 c    

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John Holmberg

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General entry requirements for Master's level (second cycle)
Applicants enrolled in a programme at Chalmers where the course is included in the study programme are exempted from fulfilling the requirements above.

Specific entry requirements

English 6 (or by other approved means with the equivalent proficiency level)
Applicants enrolled in a programme at Chalmers where the course is included in the study programme are exempted from fulfilling the requirements above.

Course specific prerequisites

SEE040 Leadership for sustainability transitions is recommended as this course in part is a continuation of SEE040.


Many of the technical systems in society that engineers engage with throughout their career are facing large changes in their technological development, markets, legislation and user behaviors. In response to ambitious sustainability demands, it is no longer a question of marginal changes of existing systems but rather of replacing existing systems with new configurations. This need is emphasized in the United Nations Agenda 2030 "Transforming our World" with the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The purpose of the course "System interventions for sustainability transitions" is to increase students¿ abilities to work with systems innovation. Students will integrate different perspectives to map out and create in-depth understandings of complex socio-technical systems (e.g. systems for energy, mobility or food). In addition, they will explore solutions that challenge existing systems, and through dialogue with relevant societal actors and researchers, identify leverage points where interventions can contribute to desired change in the systems

The course is preparatory for a potential master thesis in line with Challenge Lab, where regional sustainability challenges on a systems-level are addressed together with relevant stakeholders.

Learning outcomes (after completion of the course the student should be able to)

    1.    Apply basic concepts connected to systems innovation

    2.    Identify, analyse and discuss challenges within current socio-technical systems in relation to future requirements for sustainability with backcasting

    3.    Reflect upon choices of different systems tools, as well as their possibilities and limitations

    4.    Create conceptual models of complex systems

    5.    Identify and define systems boundaries and scales within a system

    6.    Analyse cause and effect from a systems perspective

    7.    Identify reinforcing and balancing dynamic feedback mechanisms

    8.    Make a stakeholder analysis and lead dialogues in multi-stakeholder settings

    9.    Find strategic and relevant leverage points where initiatives can have large effects on a system

    10.    Identify and formulate problems/challenges in complex societal systems


This course combines historical and conceptual developments of systems thinking with practical application in a multi-stakeholder case for regional socio-technical sustainability transitions. The course starts with a general introduction to systems interventions for sustainability transitions including systems innovation, backcasting, transdisciplinarity and multi-stakeholder co-creation. This introduction is followed by deeper engagement with systems thinking including its historical development and central concepts, practiced through a hands-on real-world case in West Sweden.

The case is done in smaller groups and starts by approaching a regional, thematic socio-technical system (e.g. mobility, energy, food) where there are sustainability challenges. A particular system is selected for deeper analysis and engagement. This system is conceptually mapped through static representations to understand both dominant socio-technical configurations and promising alternative systems configurations (niches). Throughout this process dialogues are held with stakeholders in society to iterate and anchor the systems representations in real-world contexts. Here tools such as actor analysis and participatory methods including facilitation and dialogue techniques are central.

Based on the static systems representation and stakeholder dialogue, the most interesting dynamics in the socio-technical systems are further analysed with its relations to the niches. Rough areas are selected where there might be potential for transformative change (systems innovation), either within the dominant systems configurations or for accelerating niche development. A detailed mapping is made in iterative manners to catch feedback mechanisms and other dynamics, to eventually identify leverage points where a small change can have larger effects. The selected leverage points are also based on stakeholder interests and larger trends in society (landscape level) to ensure the societal relevance and feasibility of the leverage point. The leverage points are then formalized into research questions with a selection of appropriate methods within a backcasting framework that can be brought further for a flying start of a master thesis in line with Challenge Lab.


The course is organized based on a combination of lectures, a case and reflection:

  • Theory and Tools: Lectures and literature with introduction of tools.
  • Case Work: A hands-on case where the tools are applied in real-world sustainability challenges in West Sweden.
  • Reflection: A reflection paper on systems thinking encompassing the whole course where you will reflect upon the tools and their use in the case.
In comparison to SEE040, this course focuses on deepening and application of systems-related tools that are used in an extensive case that also can lead towards a research question for a future master thesis.


Course literature available in Canvas.

Examination including compulsory elements

The course is examined through a group case and an individual reflection assignment.

The case stretches the entire course, is made in smaller groups, and consists of smaller submissions throughout the course, and a final submission. In the case, theories and tools from the course are applied in a real, socio-technical system.

The individual reflection assignment consists of an essay where the student 1) describe theories and concepts central for the course, 2) reflect upon their own learning journey when applying the theories and tools throughout the course, and 3) relate the course content to their role as an engineer and their possibilities/barriers in contributing to a sustainable transition of socio-technical systems in society.

Page manager Published: Thu 03 Nov 2022.