Strategic Design & Social Systems

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Track moderator: Peter Jones

1. Jonathan VealeThe Civil Servant Systemic Designer: An emerging context for systemic design practice

2. Manuela Aguirre and Josina VinkTransforming Health Care Systems through Design

3. Karianne Rygh, Marc de Droog and Danielle Arets – Systemic Design Interventions: Using systems thinking and design thinking to intervene in systems

4. Linda BlaasværUnderstanding cultural differences

5. Maggie Ollove and Diala LteifIntegrating Storytelling into systems thinking to address conflict



1. Jonathan Veale
The Civil Servant Systemic Designer: An emerging context for systemic design practice

Abstract    Working Paper

Introduction.  Government decisions manifest within the landscape and can greatly affect change within their jurisdiction and beyond. A perfect example would be decisions about regional energy policy. A government’s views about the production, transportation and consumption of energy within their geography notably impacts land development, resource extraction, economic investment, urban design, transportation, climate change, economic competitiveness and the social mix of a region . Energy policy decisions are foundational to complex predicaments, including energy insecurity, poverty, food and water security and social strife. Notable examples abound but this complexity manifests at the human scale towards whole systems and the spaces in-between.Until relatively recently, government policy development, insofar as it was systemic, relied upon hard systems methodology which began with a knowable problem and converged on a solution . This linear and monistic approach brought depth but lacked context of the wider societal, technological, economic, ecological and political system. In simpler times, and in the absence of complex systems methodologies, this approach was the best option for policy development. Consistent with this view, governments organized themselves around discrete policy silos, each bringing an expert depth to their thematic responsibility. This is opportune where increasing specialization leads to new knowledge, but challenged where context is needed to avoid unintended consequences . Complexity as it is now, calls upon government to navigate policy predicaments with a new architecture – one that brings both depth and context for rigorous policy.
This paper examines the emerging context of the civil servant – one entrusted with the public interest by duty and responsibility – who practices within the architecture of government, deploying systemic design methodologies towards the complex predicaments that societies faces. Governments are responding to complexity in policy decisions – design consultants are retained; government staff are trained in designerly ways; and, experienced-designers are employed on in-house consulting teams. These models have the effect of increasing the profile of design practice within government. The model of the Department of Energy in Alberta, Canada is examined with a view towards articulating this emerging context for systemic design practice. The case of a trans-ministry design team applying systemic design methodology around a shared strategic concern is presented


Sketchnote: Patricia Kambitsch




2. Manuela Aguirre and Josina Vink
Transforming Health Care Systems through Design

Abstract     Working Paper

Realizing change within the health care industry is notoriously difficult, not to mention amid the constraints of a historically successful health care institution that has been around for over a century. Recently, design has been gaining a reputation for leading much needed innovation of health care products and services to improve the patient experience. Still, affecting lasting change and addressing underlying issues within health care systems requires a focus beyond isolated care models and an extension of conventional design methods.Within the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, designers are beginning to embed systems thinking and systems approaches into their design methodology in an attempt to seed critical systemic shifts. These shifts support the evolution of clinical systems and re-orientation of the organization enabling it to play a progressive leadership role within the industry into the future. The evolving, collaborative design process involves working across scales to understand complex relationships and experiment with strategic levers throughout the existing systems. It integrates systems thinking in the process of: research, visioning, idea generation, prototyping, synthesis, communication, visualization,and so on, enhancing standard design methods to embrace the complexity of dynamic systems. This necessary extension of design enables the development of holistic, creative solutions that have the potential to make profound and sustainable changes to radically improve health.A number of project examples from the Center for Innovation illustrate how this work is beginning to take shape. The first is a project set out to design the future of the outpatient practice, influencing a shift from a robust and stagnant practice to an adaptive, intelligent practice. The second is strategy work completed for the organization and new center within the enterprise that supports a shift from care to knowledge as the essential offering of the Clinic.
While systemic design is increasingly necessary for the problems the Center for Innovation seeks to solve, this work does not come without its own set of challenges. Some of the key barriers that the Center for Innovation continues to face as it works within the context of a traditional health care institution are:
Change fatigue, Short term thinking, “Culture eating strategy”, Mitigation vs. optimization, Structure driving behavior, Hesitance around disruptive innovation The “prove it” sentiment.
 However, the Center for Innovation has found some significant successes in instances when: innovation comes from within the institution and designers act as facilitators to support the process (e.g. CoDE Awards), as well as when connections and ideas are built over years with the hopes of growing into a much larger movement at an unexpected time and place (e.g. Shared Care Plan).
 As the capacity and methods around systemic design for health care continue to be developed and honed, the future possibilities and potential impact within the field of health care is infinite. This timely practice has the opportunity to not only reshape outmoded health care practices, but also move beyond clinical walls into people’s everyday lives and communities, where health is truly defined.


Sketchnote: Patricia Kambitsch



3. Karianne Rygh, Marc de Droog and Danielle Arets
Systemic Design Interventions: Using systems thinking and design thinking to intervene in systems


Today’s design professionals are operating in an expansive, and increasingly complex field. Through working in challenging new contexts, we can see a growing number of designers seeking collaborations with experts in other disciplines and developing a design language, methods and tools applicable to new fields. Previously considered as a trade activity, the design profession is evolving by designers adding their value through design thinking to firms trying to innovate and to societies that are trying to make change happen. (Kimbell, 2011) However, in order to be of value, there is an increasing need for designers to adopt system thinking in their approaches to creating new solutions for complex problems.The notion that designers only design objects, is a dominant view, as Christopher Alexander stated in 1971: “The ultimate object of design is form”. However, it is this notion that is still in the process of evolving. In The Sciences of the Artificial (1969), Herbert Simon identified design as the knowledge that is in the domain of professions such as engineering, management, or medicine and saw design as a rational set of procedures responding to a well-defined problem.Systems thinking has a long tradition in science, constantly revealing new ways to approach complexity, from system analytics to scenario planning strategies. For a long time, system thinking has mainly been used in analytics, in the fields of natural science and business sciences. Therefore, combining systems thinking with the more open and creative aspects of design thinking, is a promising approach for design practice.
 Richard Buchanan’s paper “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” (1992), shifted design theory towards a more generalized ‘Design Thinking’ which he believed could be applied to everything from a tangible object to an intangible system. Buchanan’s version of design thinking is less concerned with individual designers and how they design, but seeks instead to define design’s role in the world.“Professional design, in particular design as practiced within the studio-based tradition of many art schools, is taking a new place on the world stage”, states design researcher Lucy Kimbell. She specifically refers to the fact that design has been implemented in managerial discourse. But do practitioners from the different fields really speak the same language? What can designers bring to management thinking? And in turn, how can designers use tools and methodologies from business thinking?In this paper we will stress the importance of integrating designers in system thinking in order to deal with the wicked issues of our contemporary society. We will apply the framework of system thinker Meadows and the social toolkit of design thinker Lucy Kimbell to develop a new systematic approach dealing with complex issues facing our society.
 Leverage points In order to show how designers can be integrated in system thinking it is necessary to pin point the areas of a system where the effects of designers’ interventions will be of strongest value. We will use the leverage points defined by Meadows (1999) to indicate the places in a system where a small change or tweak, can lead to big changes in behavior or outcomes. Meadows indicated a hierarchy of leverage points within systems, the hierarchy of each leverage point being determined by its effectiveness. Leverage points to intervene in a system, Meadows, 1999 12. Constants, parameters, numbers (such as subsidies, taxes, standards) 11. The size of buffers and other stabilizing stocks, relative to their flows 10. The structure of material stocks and flows (such as transport networks, population age structures) 9. The length of delays, relative to the rate of system change 8. The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to the impacts they are trying to connect against 7. The gain around driving positive feedback loops 6. The structure of information flows (who does and does not have access to what kinds of information) 5. The rules of the system (such as incentives, punishments, constraints) 4. The power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure 3. The goals of the system 2. The mindset or paradigm out of which the system – it’s goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters – arises 1. The power to transcend paradigm
Different professionals, ranging from accountants and business consultants to engineers and strategists, are already working in the field of system change, focusing on one or another leverage point. Designers, however, have been rather absent. We would like to add designers to this spectrum by recognizing that out of all available professionals, designers, as creatives, have a lot to offer when it comes to tweaking the most difficult leverage points.According to Meadows, paradigms are the sources of systems and are therefore more difficult to change. However, all that is necessary for a shift in paradigms is sparking a new understanding within an individual. This is where we believe designers can fulfill an important role. Following recent developments in designing choice architecture (Thaler, Sunstein, 2008), based on incremental knowledge about our human thinking processes (Tversky, Kahneman), we already see a glimpse of this kind of design thinking in a systemic field as economics. Thaler and Sunstein describe examples on how to ‘nudge’ people’s decisions in wicked problems as choosing the right pension scheme or improving school choices.
Another example of a systemic design intervention, is the design research project of Karianne Rygh, ‘Choice Within the Making – Changing Mindsets through Prison Manufacturing’, triggering new understandings both in the inmate and within society. Society shares the idea that inmates are undeserving of anything but ‘lock-up’ and ‘paying their dues’. This idea constitutes a paradigm focusing on punishment rather than the long-term safety of our society. Most prison systems today have one common failure: a large number of re-offenders returning and overpopulating the prisons. Rygh´s systemic design approach to skilled carpentry training within Norwegian prisons, is aimed at reducing the number of re-offenders by using furniture production as a hands-on, informal tool to foster reflective thinking, using time as a tangible form of rehabilitation. As a designer, Rygh saw manufacturing within prison as an overlap between inmates and society, since prison-made furniture is sold to the public. She therefore designed a manual for producing a rocking chair where every step of the process requires the inmate to look back at what he or she did in the previous step, in order to move several steps forward. Triggering new understandings and new modes of thinking can in turn change behavioral patterns and shift paradigms, but for this to happen through the prison system, there needs to be freedom of choice within confinement. Enabling each inmate to include their own form language in a chair while at the same time training them to reflect over their choices within the making, is one approach to a systemic design intervention contributing to the safety of our society and gives added value to the end products being sold outside of prison. With our research we aim to build a framework designers can use to find and use leverage points in order to tweak social and political systems. The framework shall be based on theoretical research, in-depth interviews and case studies within our CRISP (Creative Industries Scientific Program) network, ranging from science to design and business.


Sketchnote: Patricia Kambitsch


4. Linda Blaasvær
Understanding cultural differences


“Understanding cultural differences” is a design project that is based in Systems oriented design, using Gigamapping as the main tool to achieve a holistic view. The design solution evolves within Service design and Interaction design, and is an application for mobile devices: “Cultural Experience”.The system under study is the Norwegian military.
I have tried to find out how the military prepare the young Norwegian soldiers for meeting a foreign culture when they are about to travel in International operations (INTOPS) for the first time. I question if they have enough training to understand the cultural differences they will meet before they leave for military service abroad, and if designers can provide relevant solutions. Designers are not often invited to contribute in such complex and political oriented themes, and I wanted to explore the role of the designer in such a landscape. I want to show that we, as designers, have tools to visualize systems and issues, and that we can discover potential solutions, other than with an academic approach. And that those solutions can be valuable, and that design is a field to be reckoned with when trying to solve complex problems.
Topic: “How can designers help provide Norwegian soldiers with the preparation they need for International service?”
Design practice in new areas: I was first introduced to this theme in a broader sense through the Systems oriented design course at AHO, led by Birger Sevaldson, spring 2011. We got a client from UNIDIR (research centre within the UN system), Dr. Derek B. Miller. UNIDIR research various methods to obtain peace and security in post conflict areas. During that semester I found this specific potential area to investigate in my Diploma assignment. This very project would not exist without a systems perspective on a larger system such as UN challenges. That system design project led me to this task, trying to create a design solution for Norwegian soldiers in International service.
Background: Soldiers traveling in International service for the first time do not only meet a war situation; they also face a foreign country and a foreign culture. The challenges inherent in manoeuvring in a foreign country, to meet and communicate, not only in a foreign language but also in the context of different norms and values requires a robust training of the soldiers. This is something the Norwegian military of course takes seriously. But discussions in Norwegian media gives reason to believe that soldiers traveling in International service is not always so well prepared to meet a foreign culture as we might hope.
I have been in contact with people in the military. The result was based on research, interviews with veterans of Afghanistan (also Macedonia, Lebanon), and second-hand information, such as resources from the Internet and various literatures.
Result: The solution became an application, “Cultural Experience”. It is designed for Norwegian soldiers in international service, so they can learn about foreign culture. The prototype is made with an example of service in Afghanistan. The target audience is soldiers travelling for the first time, and the main user is approximately 20 + years old. An application for a handheld device is a useful tool because, it is accessible and the user group is accustomed to the medium and use it daily. And in this case, the soldiers are working shifts and would benefit from a device they can use when it is suitable.
The application includes learning from veterans with experience from international service. They share their experience of encounters with another culture during service abroad. Inexperienced soldiers can reap the experience of others with the aim of reducing misunderstandings and avoid difficult situations. Veterans possess vast amounts of experience inexperienced soldiers can benefit from. But how can young, inexperienced soldiers have access to this knowledge? My response to this has been to design an application that provides “lessons learned”.
The application aims to be a solution that engages, and providing valuable experiences a venue to reach inexperienced soldiers.
Conclusion: Perhaps one can never be well enough prepared in such situations, and it is difficult to predict what awaits one. But I believe that inexperienced soldiers can benefit from what I have called “lessons learned”, in the application “Cultural Experience”.


Sketchnote: Patricia Kambitsch


5. Maggie Ollove and Diala Lteif
Integrating Storytelling into systems thinking to address conflict

Abstract    Working Paper

No problem space is new. All that is encountered has formed with layers of history, (in)action, failure, and insight. If we ever had the capacity to understand complex problem spaces in a linear fashion, that time is now over. The human situation has become hopelessly complicated. Environmental degradation, economic recession, socio-political fragmentation, and rapid population growth have created a complexity of our present that must balance burdened pasts alongside shifting nonlinear uncertainties. In a time when revolutions are started in the digital world and local tensions are broadcast globally with exceeding speed, design should not remain stagnant. It must evolve alongside the pace of development, it must prove its relevance within complex problem spaces.In order to situate itself within complexity, design must offer alternatives to confusion through structure and tools that analyze and find insight within difficult problem spaces. In other words, design should find understanding within complexity. Yet, admittedly, designing within this complexity is unprecedented; the understanding of which surpasses the human mind. As a result, tools and methods have been developed to guide a depth of understanding to rival the complexity of the present and merge interrelated practices.Explored since World War 2, systems thinking is a methodology that comprehends how individual parts fold into the whole. It supersedes previous methods of understanding through “analysis (to gain knowledge of the system by understanding its parts) with synthesis (explaining the role of the system in the larger system of which it is a part). Analysis is useful for revealing how a system works but synthesis reveals why a system works the way it does. The term synthesis, however, should not be mistaken as a simple coming together or fluid process of understanding. Rather, systems thinking should be respected as a tool to complicate, rather than simplify. It is a way to diagnose or understand at the greatest scale, while examining the what is in all of its detail and nuance. And this is in no way simple or clarifying.
Yet, to not reveal why a system works the way it does would create superficial designs. When systems thinking is applied to spaces of design the intricate layers and subtle moments within complex problems are exposed. The unknown is acknowledged and not ignored, and the details are pertinent and not besides the point. With this large scope of cognition, design can respectfully enter conversations about the so-called ‘wicked problems’ as first named by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber. Defined in their nominal article, wicked problems are those most malignant, tricky, and unsolvable problems. As opposed to tame problems, wicked problems are formed through multiple intertwined elements lacking clarity or distinction. Wicked problems test the capacity and possibilities of design. When the relationship between systems thinking and design is activated, wicked problems can be tackled with creativity, design thinking, structures to map changing contexts, the organization to locate counter-intuitive solutions, and the potential to identify unintended consequences.
Perhaps the need for systemic understanding as well as the frustration that can result is never felt more readily than it is in complex conflict. The most wicked of problem spaces are often found in complex conflict. In conflict mediation, conflict is defined as an interaction of interconnected people pursuing multiple opposing goals. Specific to systems thinking, conflict can be understood as a lack of alignment or consciousness of the system, whether this be an individual not understanding her position in the larger context or the system not responsive to the needs of the individual. The idea to be amplified is that conflict is multi-layered and forms from perception, action, and feeling. These individual characteristics are compounded within complex conflict that is a combination of the tensions of multiple people or perspectives and often overshadow any single individual. Systems thinking has been introduced to sort through the complexity of differing perspectives in conflict.
But, isolating systems thinking in complexity conflict leaves an absence. It remains too large-scale and does not incorporate individual sentiments, reactions, and empathies; the very means through which persons – the individual parts of the system – identify with conflict across many scales and contexts. To counter this a focus on the individual and subjective within conflict is necessary, along with the inclusion of the connection between multiple perspectives that form the collective subjective. This was tested through several recent case studies with different organizational structures, including conflict in hierarchical organizations, conflict in grassroots organizations, citywide conflict and even the conflict of identity surrounding Lebanon. What was found is that without the capacity to include individual subjectivities, systems thinking loses the ability to find a complete diagnosis of a problem space and therefore the design of viable, substantial solutions. Even more, as shown through the case studies when individual subjectivities are located with the broader system, previously overlooked insights are found. Even more, deriving systems thinking directly from subjectivities strengthens and encourages systems mapping or diagrams and enables a more complete, but still political and biased understanding of the problem space. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but neglecting the parts cannot create a whole. Only in this way can problem space (even of the most complex conflict) reach a consequential level of diagnosis that forms from a comprehension of the present that can be reframed with concrete insights to reveal emerging design potential.
 For systems thinking to work within design praxis, holistic viewpoints need to be connected to subjective perspectives and individual stories. Without this connection, the most integral piece of conflict is missing; the stories that create the system of conflict. A story, at its most basic, is a moment in time. Through the collection of many moments or stories the larger narrative can be found and then be analyzed through systems thinking to lead to thoughtful, necessary diagnosis that needs to be the basis for thoughtful design praxis. As Rittel and Webber concluded, “the formulation of a wicked problem is the problem! The process of formulating the problem and of conceiving a solution (or re-solution) are identical, since every specification of the problem is a specification of the direction in which a treatment is considered.” Focusing on the connection between systems thinking and individual stories is a methodology of problem formulation. It is design for diagnosis, not solution.
 The placement of design in complex conflict necessarily requires the overlap between methods of several incompatible processes: systems thinking and stories. Acknowledging the need for this overlap introduces the need for design within conflict; design has the capacity to balance the inconmensurable within a designed artefact. In fact, “reconciling incommensurate requirements is an essential aspect of design.” Design must be introduced to explore and negotiate the connection between systems thinking and storytelling. With its hopeless complications the world no longer needs design to solve problems. A more pressing need is design’s ability to function as the interpreter and translator of the chaos of complex conflict, but only through the integration of systems approaches and individual subjectivities. By respecting that problem spaces are inherently multi-layered, complex twists of ever changing systemic thought and subjective stories, design praxis needs to evolve into a cognitive and dialogic field that is reshaped through integrated praxis. Embracing the subjective, the individual, the whole, the systemic, the political, and the empathetic, design can be the means to understand first and act second.

Sketchnote: Patricia Kambitsch





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