RSD5 Symposium

Systemic Design for Social Complexity

Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD5) Symposium
OCAD University      Toronto, Canada      October 13-15, 2016

Please visit the RSD5 conference site to see the latest program and updates. Register at Eventbrite soon as tickets are limited by the venue sizes and we expect a large turnout!


Since 2012 RSD has advanced the exploration (relating) of a stronger integration between systems thinking and design, coming from their very different traditions, to help people take more effective action toward improving the wicked, interconnected challenges facing our planet. RSD4 held in Banff, Canada September 2015 engaged nearly 200 people together from around the world to explore the “frontiers” and cases in design-led systems design, social transformation and relevant theory building. RSD4 keynote videos are online with the full proceedings now on this site.

Join us in the vibrant metropolis of Toronto, October 2016 for the fifth symposium hosted at OCAD University and MaRS Discovery District to accelerate the convergence of design, social, and technology worlds in co-creating humanized (eco)systems. The theme of Systemic Design for Social Complexity presents the opportunity systemic and service design for contemporary and future-oriented societal concerns.  The theme speaks to the necessity for informed design methodologies to address practices and theories sufficient to design for the unbounded complexity of social systems.

The 2016 symposium promises astonishing keynotes, of-the-moment research, hands-on workshops, engaged thematic panels, and a curated Gigamap/poster gallery. RSD selects contributions each year based on relevance criteria – in general RSD5 deals with the effective design and change interventions in the hyper-complex problems facing governments, sectors, service systems (such as healthcare and immigration), and urban development.

After five years we are finding a solid transdisciplinary foundation for systemic design that distinguishes a vigorous research commitment and a maturing practice.  Speaking to these themes from their own experiences and contributions to systems thinking and design theory/practice we have five keynote speakers confirmed:

Humberto Maturana

humbertoHumberto Maturana Romesin studied medicine at the University of Chile, biology at University College London and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard. He spent time with Heinz von Foerster at University of Illinois’ Biological Computing Lab. Later, returning to University of Chile he joined the Faculty of Medicine, and later also co-founded the Faculty of Science, where he is Professor Emeritus. In 2000, with Ximena Davila, he co-founded Matriztica, a Santiago-based systems and communications organization focused on teaching and consulting. Maturana has received national and international awards, including the National Science Award, in recognition of his work and desire to understand the living (autopoiesis), language and knowing (the biology of language and knowing), the origin of the human (the biology of love), and with Ximena Davila, the biological-cultural matrix of human existence (the biology of culture), among others. Prof. Maturana’s essays “The Biology of Cognition” (1970) and (with Francisco Varela) “Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living” (1979) are seminal works in the history of systems thinking. Also with Varela, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding was a significant and popular work presenting a unified view of autopoeisis and cognition. A recent work Systemic and Meta-Systemic Laws was published in ACM interactions last year.


Erik Stolterman


Erik Stolterman is Professor of Informatics and Chair of Informatics at the School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington. He is also professor at the Institute of Design at Umeå University. Stolterman is co-Editor-in-Chief for the ACM Interactions magazine and Editor for the Design Thinking/Design Theory book series by MIT Press, and on several editorial boards for international journals. Stolterman’s main work is within interaction design, philosophy and theory of design, information technology and society, information systems design, and philosophy of technology. Stolterman has published a large number of articles and five books, including Thoughtful Interaction Design and The Design Way (MIT Press). For years he has kept a remarkable blog, Transforming Grounds.



Aleco Christakis and Maria Kakoulaki


Alexander  “Aleco” Christakis was trained as a theoretical physicist at Princeton and Yale in the post-Einstein era, and discovered the intractable complexity of social systems and concerns in the 1960’s. Aleco has 40 years experience in developing and testing methods for engaging stakeholders in productive dialogue. In the 1960’s he consulted with Konstantinos Doxiadis on the development of Ekistics, the science of settlements, and later conferred with Hasan Özbekhan to advance a methodology for social systems design, associated with the prospectus of the Club of Rome.  He is the author of over 100 papers on stakeholder participation, including How People Harness their Collective Wisdom and Power to Create the Future. He is founder of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras and past President of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (2002). He is member of the Board of the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), Advisor to the AIO and a advisor to the Ambassador’s leadership program for engaging tribal leaders from the USA and internationally. He travels across the globe to facilitate structured dialogues and promote the science of dialogic design.

Maria Kakoulaki joins Aleco for a joint keynote which presents their recent work in prompting the design of local and national democratic movements and practices in Greece and Europe.  Maria is a journalist and documentarian with experience across broadcast and online media, and presents their democracy work in the Demoscopio project in Crete.

Liz Sanders


Liz Sanders, Ph.D. is the founder of MakeTools, LLC where she explores new spaces in the emerging design landscapes. As a practitioner, Liz introduced many of the generative methods being used today to drive design from a human-centered perspective. She has practiced participatory design research within and between all the design disciplines. Liz’s current research focuses on co-design processes for innovation, intervention, and transdisciplinary collaboration. Trained as a Ph.D. psychologist, as of 2011, Liz is an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University’s Design program, after having led design research organizations (including Research at Fitch) since 1981. At OSU she invites students to use co-designing to address the significant social, economic and environmental challenges we face today. Liz is the author (with Pieter-Jan Stappers) of the popular design research handbook Convivial Toolbox.



Paul Pangaro

PaulPPaul Pangaro’s career spans research, consulting, startups, and education. He relocated to Detroit in 2015 to become Chair of the MFA Interaction Design at the College for Creative Studies. He has taught systems and cybernetics for design at School for Visual Arts, New York, and at Stanford University in Terry Winograd’s Human-Computer Interface program. His most recent startup is General Cybernetics, Inc., dedicated to new ways of reading and writing in digital media. He has worked with and within startups in New York and Silicon Valley, in product and technology roles. Paul was hired by Nicholas Negroponte onto the research staff of the MIT Architecture Machine Group, which morphed into the MIT Media Lab. With Gordon Pask as his advisor, he was awarded a Ph.D. in cybernetics from Brunel University in the UK.



The RSD5 Program Committee

Peter Jones – Lead Chair, OCAD University
Jerry Koh – Local Chair, MaRS Solutions Lab, Toronto
Silvia Barbero – 2016 Chair, Politecnico di Torino
Alex Ryan – 2015 Chair, Alberta CoLab
Birger Sevaldson – 2012–2014 Chair, Oslo School of Architecture and Design
Joeri van den Steenhoven – Advisor  MaRS Solutions Lab, Toronto

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