Beyond “It’s Complex”: How to Understand and Analyze Systems


Date: Wednesday, May 8, 3–6pm Pacific Time | Thursday, May 9, 8–11am AEST

Instructors: Jessamy Perriam & Alex Zafiroglu

Location: Online

Fee: $150 or $100 if you qualify for discounted pricing

In this tutorial, we will explore the concept of a system, and some of the manifestations of systems thinking championed by, and/or adopted and iterated by ethnographers in the past half century. How do we learn to see and act with and within systems? How can we apply this orientation at the outset of projects, through to creation of data, analysis, and measures of research impact? As we orient with system thinking, we will examine the idea of complexity beyond a buzzword or empty modifier; when are phenomena and systems complex (and not just ‘complicated’) and how do we address complexity as we define and execute projects? Using instructor provided case studies and examples attendees will provide from their own practice, we will cover an overview of concepts followed by opportunities to apply systems thinking frameworks for recognising, sensemaking and informing change in systems. Attendees will take away tools they can use immediately in analysis and presenting ethnographic insights.

Learning outcomes include:

  • Recognise common systems and complexity concepts across a range of disciplinary practices including: systems thinking, cybernetic thinking and systems approaches in the social sciences and understand how they shape methodologies and analysis.
  • Identify distinctions between types of systems, and behaviors that distinguish close, open, complicated, complex and types of systems
  • Analyze ethnographic data using concepts and frameworks from systems traditions.
  • Reflect critically on concepts from the tutorial by connecting to their own professional practice and projects

This session consists of a mix of presentation of concepts by the facilitators and exercises conducted in small break-out groups followed by report outs and reflections.

Attendees will gain tools they can use immediately in analysis and presentation of ethnographic insights and recommendations for action based on insights.

This tutorial is suited to all EPIC members and may be particularly valuable for early and mid-career practitioners interested in expanding their data analysis toolkits. Some short pre-readings will be made available one month prior to the tutorial. Attendees are required to come prepared to share an example of a project in which they struggled – or are struggling – with identifying a set of recommendations based on their analysis.


Jessamy Perriam is a Senior Lecturer in the ANU School of Cybernetics. She is a digital sociologist with particular interest in public sector digital transformation, failure, and digital methods. Prior to becoming an academic, Jessamy was a radio and online producer at the ABC and enjoyed telling stories of everyday Australians in Central West NSW and Perth. However, a growing curiosity around technology and society drew her to the UK to join the second cohort of the MA/MSc Digital Sociology program at Goldsmiths, University of London.She has had applied research roles in and alongside the UK government’s digital transformation efforts, writing and producing online and distance education materials for The Open University, and moving to Denmark and turning a weekly lecture session into a talk radio show.

Jessamy Perriam

Senior Lecturer | School of Cybernetics, Australian National University

Alex Zafiroglu is a professor and an ANU Futures Fellow in the School of Cybernetics,at the Australian National University. The School specialising in research and training in the analysis of complex open systems, in generating potential future states and in implementing methods and practices for nurturing conditions, relationships, and dynamics to realise them. Through deliberately transdisciplinary theory generation and practical applications, Alex and her colleagues make space for multiple value-informed futures that hold the dynamics of planetary conditions, the wellbeing of humans, other species and actors, and resources in productive tension. Prior to joining the ANU, Alex was a Principal Engineer in Social Sciences at Intel Corporation where she spent 15 years leading multi-year research and strategic planning activities in research labs and business teams. Alex made significant contributions to the R&D and commercial development of technology across the Advanced Research, Digital Home and Internet of Things divisions.

alex zafiroglu

Professor | School of Cybernetics, Australian National University

How to Register

Buy tutorial tickets when you complete your virtual or in-person registration for EPIC2024. Virtual registration is free for EPIC Members; tutorials are an additional $150 each. For detailed information and to register click the button below.

Fee: $150 or $100 if you qualify for discounted pricing

Class size: Maximum 25 participants

Date: Wednesday, May 8, 3–6pm Pacific Time | Thursday, May 9, 8–11am AEST

Location: Online

Questions? Contact