Understanding Human Systems

Professors: Cook, Gulden, Yeung
Units: 1.0
Core Course

Policy analysis must be guided by a firm understanding of the systems it seeks to evaluate or improve. The purpose of this course is to expose first year students to some of the key theoretical and analytic frameworks (“lenses”) used in sociology, political science, psychology, anthropology and other social/behavior sciences and how they can inform a better understanding of the micro, meso, and macro features of human systems. In particular, we consider how these perspectives can help identify leverage points in systems and craft viable change strategies for improving system performance.

Our focus throughout is on developing a “big picture” understanding that can help analysts identify aspects of systems worthy of more in-depth examination (e.g., using the suite of rigorous analytic tools you learn in your statistics, operations research, network analysis, and other classes) and to help understand the implications of specific findings. The course is oriented around three general perspectives. First, students will spend the first two weeks learning about general concepts related to human systems. Second, students will learn some key concepts related to the “micro” aspects of human systems, drawing from behavioral economics, psychology, social psychology, and other methodologically individualist fields. Finally, they will learn some key concepts related to the “macro” aspects of human systems, drawing upon organizational theory, sociology, and political science.

We plan to spend the first two weeks setting up the class and discussing general principles of complex adaptive systems in a policy context. The class will then do two blocks of three weeks each, the first focusing on micro aspects of systems and the second focusing on macro aspects. Each of these blocks will culminate in a synthesis session where results can be shared and discussed in the larger context of human systems. Thus, the goal is for all students to come away from the class with an ability to think about how micro and macro aspects of human systems function as a whole.