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Photo: Sara Svennevik

All workshops were held Wednesday 9th October 2013 at AHO

1.  Doctoral Symposium Workshop   Alex Ryan, PhD

2. The experience of becoming a member of a systemic design team  Harold Nelson & Robert Sandusky

3. Language Patterns of Systemic Design: Designing with Dialogue    Peter Jones

4. Dancing with Complexity     Adrian Paulsen and Jonathan Romm

5.  Systems Thinking + Design Thinking   Peter Coughlan and Colleen Ponto

6. Teaching Systems Thinking to Designers   Birger Sevaldson



1. Doctoral Symposium Workshop    Alex Ryan

The Doctoral Symposium Workshop organized 9 PhD students from 3 universities to review their dissertations from a systemic design perspective. An initial survey of the participants revealed that most had an extensive background in design but relatively little experience in systems theory/thinking. Therefore, a one hour lecture and facilitated discussion of systems theory was held to develop a shared understanding of systems.

Each participant provided an overview of their research, emphasizing open questions and issues rather than results and answers. At the end of each presentation, the other participants asked questions and captured insights on post-it notes, which were grouped and used as a basis for further discussion. In particular, follow-on discussion provided constructive suggestions for integrating systems thinking and design within each dissertation. Participants were encouraged to identify linkages between the different PhD projects, which despite their different domains and focal scales, could be seen as related within the broad theme of the symposium.

Outcomes of the workshop included:

  • Participants received external feedback and suggestions on their most significant open issues;
  • Participants received tailored literature references and ideas for integrating systems thinking with design in their projects;
  • Participants increased their understanding of systems thinking;
  • Participants gained an appreciation of the research their peers are performing; and
  • Participants networked with other PhD candidates.



2. The experience of becoming a member of a systemic design team

Harold Nelson & Robert Sandusky

This workshop adopted a sequence of systemically integrated exercises to simulate the different transformational states a group of individuals experience as they transition between being a gathering of individuals, to being a cohesive group, to being a productive team, to becoming a high performance design team. Participants experienced the essence of such transformation along with an intellectual framework tying the experiences into a coherent systemic whole.

Participants were presented with a series of guiding schema for the overall workshop and for each of three exercises. The exercises were a combination of individual and group work. The exercise were critiqued on how well participants thought they did meeting the objective of the exercise, which was to experience a change in interrelationships of an emerging systemic design team. The workshop was focused on creating an experience of three significant transformations in the evolution of a design team. It also included each individual reporting out reflectively the essence of their experiences—i.e. what would each participant take away from having had such experiences with others?

Full report




3. Language Patterns of Systemic Design: Designing with Dialogue  

Peter Jones

An interactive experience of dialogic design to explore a complex challenge, developing participant contributions from framing to findings, creating a systemic design map of the challenge and initial interventions. Dialogic design is a social systems design methodology based on systems sciences and grounded in the reality of strategic practice, supported by more than 3 decades of development and research.

Jones Language workshop AHOBased on both systems thinking and group behavioral principles, a series of inquiries are engaged to evolve learning and insight into a challenge. Based on Churchman’s inquiring systems, a series of language patterns are selected to navigate the variety of perspectives in the problem field. Collaborative influence mapping represents dialogue outcomes as a hierarchy of possible leverage points. Visual reflection brings design options created by the group to life in an initial systemic design. A final mapping process relates dialogue content, participant values and proposed strategic pathways through the network.

Participants defined the framing and question, generating ideas related to systems thinking and design, and clarifying perspectives in dialogue and visual mapping. The following sketchnote suggests the outcome of the workshop, along with photos of the experience.


Sketch Jones Language workshop

 Sketchnotes by Patricia Kambitsch


4. Dancing with Complexity  

Adrian Paulsen and Jonathan Romm, Halogen

Our world has always been complex, but in an increasingly competitive market we can no longer ignore it. Join us when we get lost in the woods, find a way through it and dance with complexity.


Photo: Adrian Paulsen

A rough guide to how we dance with complexity along with our clients. In this workshop we will share a sample of out process flow, a selection of mapping approaches for visual sense making and best practices on process planning. In addition, one of our case-partners will participate with a real-world case which we will map and work on during the work shop.
Recommended read before the workshop:  “Dancing with Systems, ”Donella Meadows

Improve your confidence and ability not only to deal with complexity but also enjoy working with it. We know that even the simplest of projects has some degree of complexity, and we want to help you explore a framework that makes sense of it all.  Together we take one step towards making “the elephant in the room” a bit more approachable.

Workshop report ­ Dancing with complexity – 2013




5.  Systems Thinking + Design Thinking:
Integrating Two Approaches to Solve an Organizational Challenge

Peter Coughlan and Colleen Ponto

Peter and Colleen returned to RSD2 with and advanced full-day workshop, sharing a process that integrates systems thinking and design thinking approaches to address real-world challenges. Working with local clients identified before the workshop, the workshop guided a capacity crowd to frame a challenge, identify potential leverage points, and generate potential interventions to help the client respond productively to their challenge. Throughout the day, participants were introduced to tools and methods from systems thinking and design thinking, and adapted these tools to help a local organization address a genuine need.

Photographs from the workshops are generously provide by Manuela Aguirre on Flickr.




6. Teaching Systems Thinking to Designers

Birger Sevaldson


Photo: Birger Sevaldson

Report on “Workshop on Teaching Systems Thinking to Designers”, Nov. 9, 2013, Relating Systems Thinking & Design 2013, AHO – Oslo School of Architecture & Design

Reporter:  David Ing

On November 9, a dozen attendees at the RSD 2013 meeting came together to reflect on shared issues and experiences around teaching systems thinking to designers.  This workshop was initiated by Birger Sevaldson, with the following description:

Teaching systems thinking in general is a challenge. Teaching it to design students has its own challenges and potentials. On one side designers tend to be object oriented while systems thinking is more geared towards being relation oriented. On the other side designers have the wonderful ability to visualize?

The workshop will discuss and exchange experiences from teaching systems thinking for designers. We hope to collect ideas and concepts as well as sources and references and to brainstorm on possibilities. Hopefully we can create a group that keeps in touch also after the symposium and that recruits more people.

After a round of self introductions, the group was asked to contribute ideas to the questions:

  • What are the most pressing questions that people have?
  • What are the patterns?



Photo: Birger Sevaldson

Ideas that organically emerged, and were discussed included:

1. The switch from being object-oriented to relations

  • Design has traditionally been centered on objects.  Systems thinking centers on relations between parts and wholes, i.e. part-part, part-whole, and whole-whole.  As the domains in which designers work increasingly expand from products to services and social interactions, the thinking towards relations becomes more important.

2. Clarity in the purpose of systems thinking for students

  • The motivations for students to change their thinking may not have been made clear to them.  Systems thinking may be included early in foundational curriculum, and learners may not appreciate the value at the outset.  If the benefits of systems thinking are explained in advance, students may be more receptive to adopting and applying the ideas.

3. Problem definition and problem design:

  • Systems thinking may be a strategy (or approach) to be applied to certain types of problems.  Are there characteristics to describe when systems thinking might be helpful or appropriate?  Is there a problem with students’ thinking before being taught systems thinking that can be identified?

4. Boundaries on systems thinking content to be taught:

  • What is the breadth and depth of systems thinking to be conveyed, particularly in foundational courses.  If the students are around 19 years of age, how much can be covered initially, and how much might be learned with greater maturity.  Do we start with the art of systems thinking, and progress in the deeper sciences of systems?

5. Tools to teach systems thinking:

  • What tools are available to aid in systems thinking?  Are the tools targeted at mature systems thinkers, and too complicated for beginners?  Are there simplified, straightforward tools available?

6. Working systems principles:

  • Does systems thinking have a standard set of principles that could be applied to a problem at hand?

7. Currency of systems thinking content:

  • Much of the teaching of systems thinking is anchored in content originating in the 1970s and 1980s.  This is a pre-Internet, pre-globalization world that predates today’s undergraduate students.  The systems thinking community has continued to expand (e.g. resilience science, service systems science) and develop intellectual content that may be more relevant to today’s issues.

8.  Engagement of designers into systems thinking:

  • Designers may or may not see themselves as problem-solvers who engage directly in systems interventions.  In complex situations, more effort might be required in the diagnosis in the knottiness of wicked problems, where systems thinking is often brought to bear.

9.  Teaching systems thinking content within 4 to 5 weeks:

  • If the time frame for education is compressed into a few short weeks, what content can be conveyed?  What is the depth and breadth that is reasonable to be covered?

10.  Terminology to be communicated, particularly when the student’s primary language is not English

  • The vocabulary associated with systems thinking could be clarified.  Students may be challenged with appreciating the concepts and terminology when the instruction and references are in English, and their native language is not.  This may be an issue with the context of the references and teaching materials themselves, as systems concepts (e.g. parts, wholes, function, structure, process) are very old, and seem to be present in many languages (e.g. an experience working with Chinese workshops through an English translator seemed straightforward).

11.  Teaching with cultural reference:

  • Is systems thinking relevant to today’s students?  Can teaching materials be updated to resonate with the current world?  Sustainability and globalization are issues relevant to today’s students, but do teaching materials cover that?

12.  Too much emphasis on systems tools, and too little on systems thinking?

  • Are designers too focused on products and artifacts?  Systems thinking can be positioned as a way of thinking, with methods and applications as supporting rather than primary emphases.

13.  Systems thinking as a way for transdisciplinarity:

  • Systems thinking is often positioned as an antidote for disciplinary thinking, as community evolve into silos of vocabularies and concepts.  Should transdisciplinarity be an emphasis for motivating systems thinking?

14. An epistemology of systems thinking?

  • Is there more philosophical work on systems thinking that should be surfaced?  Some work has been done within the systems sciences community (e.g. episteme, techne and phronesis) and the systems engineering community (e.g. systems ontology and praxis).

15. The context(s) for systems thinking?

  • When should systems thinking emerge as a path worth pursuing?  What are the boundaries for systems thinking (for designers)?

The half-day workshop, scheduled at the beginning of RSD 2013, was not intended to answer the variety of questions and concerns raised.  This context did, however, bring together individuals who have had many shared experiences in guiding students to appreciate systems thinking.  The conversations sparked at the workshop fed into deeper inquiries for the days that followed.

Continuing discussion from the workshop has been targeted for online discussion at!forum/systemicdesign .

Attendees at this workshop included:  Birger Sevaldson (organizer), David Ing, Diala Lteif, Janne Reitan, Wolfgang Jonas, Michel de Blois, Tim Sheiner, Tore Gulden, DeAunne Denmark, Praveen Naheer and Dinesh Korjan, Jenny Darzentas, John Darzentas and others.

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