Systemic Design Cases


Design for living in the doughnut: the case of the mobile phone.

Maja van der Velden

Thursday 15:30. Room A4.

lifecycle thinking
mobile phone
planetary boundaries
sustainable design
System thinking (Checkland & Poulter, 2010; Jackson, 1991; Sevaldson, 2011) offers a framework for conceptualising a product as an open system of complex interactions. At the same time, the open system is located within a complex set of planetary boundaries, which form the ecological ceiling for any system on our planet. Research led by scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Center and Australian National University resulted in the Planetary Boundaries framework, which establishes nine “specify precautionary biophysical boundaries within which humanity can thrive” (Steffen et al., 2015).
Economist Kate Raworth (2012, 2017) added an inner circle to the nine boundaries, called the social foundation (see Figure 1). This foundation, based on the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), consists of twelve social aspects. Together, the ecological ceiling and the social foundation create a “safe and just space for humanity”. Economic activity taking place in this space is, by necessity, “regenerative and distributive”. Any other type of economic activity will result in overshooting the ecological ceiling or contribute to a shortfall in the social foundation. How can we design for living the doughnut? I am exploring this safe and just space for people and planet as a design space, taking the mobile phone, one of the most unsustainable, digital consumer goods, as my case.
At the start of 2016, Norway, a country of five million people, had a mobile phone density of 97% (ages between 16 and 65). Even so, two million new mobile phones were sold in Norway in 2016 (Elektronikkbransjen, 2017). The systemic approach taken in my research project informs the understanding of the mobile phone as a product that starts its life in the cobalt mines in Eastern Congo and ends its life among e-waste scavengers and small recycling workshops in India, China or Ghana. Other lifecycles are possible too, but this scenario is quite common. In this perspective, selling two million new mobile phones in Norway in 2016 is a risk to the “safe and just space”. The particulars of this risk arevisualised in a so-called Risk Catalogue. The Catalogue presents the social and environmental risks found in the lifecycle of the mobile phone. By combining systems thinking and lifecycle thinking, it becomes possible to map the effects of design decisions not only in the use phase, as often is the case in critical inquiries in HCI, but also in the resource extraction phase, the manufacturing phase, and the end-of-life phase. Some of the risks can be related directly to design of the mobile phone, while other risks are the effect of other aspects of the product lifecycle, but here design may play an indirect role in sustaining these risks. I my contribution I will map the risks found in the mobile phone lifecycle on the doughnut of social and planetary boundaries and discuss options for intervention through design.Figure 1. The doughnut of social and planetary boundaries 
Checkland, P., & Poulter, J. (2010). Soft Systems Methodology. In M. Reynolds & S. Holwell (Eds.), Systems Approaches to Managing Change: A Practical Guide (pp. 191–242). Springer London.
Elektronikkbransjen. (2017, January 30). Bransjetall og statistikk. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from
Jackson, M. C. (1991). The origins and nature of critical systems thinking. Systems Practice, 4(2), 131–149.
Raworth, K. (2012). A safe and just space for humanity: can we live within the doughnut. Oxfam Policy and Practice: Climate Change and Resilience, 8(1), 1–26.
Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist. Chelsea Green Publishing.
Sevaldson, B. (2011). GIGA-Mapping: Visualisation for complexity and systems thinking in design. Nordes, (4). Retrieved from
Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., … Sörlin, S. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 1259855.


Employing Service Design and Systems Thinking Approaches as tools to support collaboration across a multi-stakeholder initiative: the responsible food consumption exemplar.

Jenny Darzentas, Helen Petrie, John Darzentas

Thursday 16:00. Room A4.

Systems Thinking
Service Design
Community based Design
The application of Systems Thinking to support challenging design interventions in situations that are characterised as being highly complex and human-centric is the subject of this paper. Such situations are increasingly acknowledged as major design problem spaces requiring the participation of multiple stakeholders and use of inter/multi-disciplinary thinking tools. 
The situation treated in this paper concerns an initiative to develop innovative directions from different but related disciplines to design services for small communities. This is an ambitious aim in an open-ended project structure that yet still needs to be accountable. What this means is that the project needs to set and meet its own success criteria, when it is not at all clear about: 
• the types of opportunities that will emerge, 
• whether the collaborations across interests / disciplines are in fact feasible, 
• whether the results that are presently envisaged will be commercially intelligible.
One very real expectation is that at a minimum, the whole endeavour will fragment into many small subprojects, each on their own of some value, but none of them able to demonstrate and uphold the vision of the ‘big picture’ (however vague that big picture might be). Again without some measure of cohesiveness to sustain it, the vision underpinning the initiative will fade and die in time. 
What can be done to give some measure of cohesiveness to this initiative? The authors proposed to support the governance of this situation by introducing a Service Design perspective that utilises Systems Thinking. The situation is complex because it is inherently social. The idea has been presented to the participants of the initiative in terms of the value of adopting a shared perspective to their work. There are two parts to this. One is engaging the power of the metaphor of services since the innovation the initiative seeks to create is based on designing services. The other is providing a shared understanding of the initiative using Systems Thinking. That is to acknowledge the problem space as a system, rather than a set of disjointed projects. A shared understanding expressed in systemic terms enables stakeholders to appreciate aspects such as: 
• the identification of as many as possible of the stakeholders 
• the situation is amenable to design interventions 
• the rich interdependencies that are present in a systemic view, and that the approach of an assemblage of small projects will reject or ignore 
• the necessity of negotiating and creating a collective understanding. 
• that there will be outcomes, both favourable and not so favourable, that cannot have been foreseen at the outset, (and that these are the result of the ‘system’s emergent properties’) 
• what systemic notions such as those of ‘requisite variety’, of ‘self-organisation’, of ‘self-reference’ may mean and what they may offer in this design space . 
Adopting the systemic perspective does more than give a shared view, it also gives a shared vocabulary with which to label developments, or to actively seek outcomes. It legitimises the need to network and to spend time on areas where one is not considered an expert, to acquire new knowledge and learn new ways of doing things, and to break down the conventions and cultures that sustain working in siloes with peers and in mutual appreciation of each other’s work, with little time or incentive to look ‘over the fence’ into another disciplinary area, or way of doing things. 
In the case of designing services for small communities the initiative described here recognises that stakeholders are traditionally independent actors with their own individual ways of working. The task is not to adopt a common vision, but to find ways to work within a similar interpretation of the situation and what needs to be done, that is comfortable and worthwhile for each stakeholder. It is commonly acknowledged that it is difficult to move towards some flexibility in previously held ideas and interpretations of a vision, and if not review them, at least lay them open to scrutiny by others. Our fieldwork so far has made use of the co-creating service design paradigm, as robust means to engage participants and work towards the shared systems based perspective. 
In this working paper, we describe the work on one relatively small scale but multi-disciplinary project that involves experts from the domains of computer science and HCI and archaeology. The overarching aim of the project is to leverage the work of groups of amateur archaeologists who organise themselves to collect data, for various purposes. This data is collected in a way that makes sense to the individual groups, but the data itself can be useful to other groups of people, including professional academic archaeologists and historians, as well as interested citizens. 
In the particular case we are looking at a group that has self-organised to collect data about their churchyard cemetery. Their starting point is taking a church graveyard plan of grave plots, and checking that the data about who is buried there is accurate. At weekends and in their spare time, the group meets to make measurements of the plot and its location, to photograph headstones and other ornaments, and to transcribe inscriptions. As they have progressed in their work they have sought the help of other groups with registering GPS locations, with using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) (a kind photography which magically reveals inscriptions not visible with the human eye because of erosion) etc. In addition, various members of the group have accommodated their own interests, for instance one is interested in photography and is the RTI expert, another one is collecting additional data about stonemasons who were responsible for the carving and inscriptions, while yet another interest is in the different types of headstones. As with all such groups, time is of the essence, as the artefacts they seek to record data about are intensely vulnerable to erosion and the passage of time. The group also maintain and run a blogspot, which gives regular accounts of activities and give talks about their work to other groups in a network of such amateur groups. In addition, the blogspot writer is talented at bringing out the human and storytelling aspects of their work, making the blog enjoyable to read. 
The initial aims of the academic stakeholders were threefold: to understand the aims of the group and see what technological interventions might support the existing practices (of recording data and inputting into a system) and how these should be designed so as to be valued by users (easy to learn and use, and better than existing paper-based collection methods(HCI); to see how the data collected might be formatted so that it fits with the already existing metadata schema for such data so that the and then can be searched over (Archaeology); and to see how best to support this team, and other such communities, in their endeavours (Systemic Design). 
From our point of view, our design problem space was that of stakeholders who were working well independently, and contributing to the large vision, although not in any well-formed way. We had a sense that although the group might disband and go their separate ways once this project was over, although the experience was already spawning interests that could be developed further by individuals, as well as inspiring others to join them to form new communities. 
What is of interest to the systemic design community was the use Systems Thinking to learn and understand and capture a Holon which includes these communities. That way, amongst other things, the motivations of the stakeholders are be uncovered. As a result it should be possible to map these to form new directions, or to give voice to previously unexpressed aims and interests. After meeting, the group by themselves, reflected on their activities and summarised them as follows: 
With the fresh viewpoint, we can begin to really appreciate how far we have come – our little team of enthusiasts has been able to combine a range of skills, knowledge, and interests to bring together a fascinating project with multi-faceted perspectives which happily complement each other nicely: 
• Updating and amending the parish church records 
• Raising awareness of the churchyard as a local heritage asset 
• Developing and sharing skills in RTI photography 
• Revealing and recording previously unreadable monumental inscriptions 
• Providing information in response to family history enquiries 
• Developing a successful working partnership between local people, church members and local heritage groups 
• Developing and researching specific interests – stone masons, iconography, cultural significance of memorials, changing artistic styles of local memorials 
• Engaging with the local primary school 
• Offering graveyard tours as a way of promoting interest in local history 
It is with such a set of ideas that the design interventions might go forward to help to implement some of these directions. Accordingly, technological support can be designed to be multi-purposed, serving both some of the soft, but extremely important, objectives (developing successful working partnerships between local people, church members and local heritage groups) while implementing clear hard goals (a common way of updating and amending parish records about graveyards). 
Taken back to the multi-stakeholder innovation initiative, this project serves as an exemplar for other small scale community projects. In systemic terms, the project has, through the interests of the stakeholders, recognised, amongst other things, emerging themes and properties in their world: 
• the Embsay research group primarily working on updating and amending parish records, but who as individuals themselves have many other co-existing interests and motivations: 
• the academics, coming from different disciplines, also with differing expectations about methodologies and end goals. 
Getting together to articulate the big picture raised the work from being simply technological support in terms of a handheld application to support the current needs of recording data, to understand the possible directions. The next step is to formulate ways to move the big picture into design interventions, inspired by the paradigm of service design (i.e. services are the main output, even if these are delivered with technological support). For this, the boundaries, interrelationships and functions of each of the directions need to be articulated, in order to understand where the interdependencies lie, and how some functions may affect interrelationships. For instance, an insistence on using a handheld app to collect field data may obviate the need for the transcribing work. However, this could mean the sessions that take place in people’s homes, especially when the weather is bad, will not be necessary, and will break down this teamwork aspect. 
The expectation is, that if each of the small community projects is able to report back, not just on the implementations they have developed, but on the results expressed in systemic terms (boundaries examined, elements considered, interrelationships revealed, and functions (or activities) existing or desired, then there is a possibility to compare projects and potentially apply findings from one to another, in order to create and maintain collaboration that is both initiative-wide and of practical use. 
Acknowledgements: We thank the Embsay Research Group


COLridor at Zvonařka: Co-Design and Co-Living for Sustainable Futures.

Marie Davidová and Kateřina Zímová

Thursday 16:30. Room A4.

systemic approach to architectural performance
systems oriented design
performance oriented architecture
non‐anthropocentric architecture
The old garden of log-house Zvonařka with adjacent Nusle Stairs is Prague’s nature like bio-tope with remarkable diversity (see Figure 1) and together with the adjacent railway, parks and gardens generates rare bio-corridor within the city centre. As it is located in one of the most expensive residential areas, the pressure on its building development is high. In 2011 a large apartment-complex design was submitted for permit, arguing for keeping the greenery character due to its green roofs (RH-Arch, 2011). Neither previous, nor recently proposed metropolitan plan lists the area for protection (Institute of Planning and Development Prague, 2016). From the personal conversation with its creators, the Institute of Planning and Development Prague has its interest in increasing city’s density, not extending its bio-corridors and bio-diversity. The plan is neither co-designed with ecologists nor with local communities or NGOs. It is created purely by urbanists, marking the areas in the plan from the table. As also confirmed by the Concept of Metropolitan Plan Justification, the plan does not consider “details“ (Kubeš et al., 2014). It also states that for the reason of being behind the range of land planning, the design is not done in respect of European Commission’s strategy of Green Infrastructure (European Commission, 2010), but instead, the term Landscape Infrastructure is used (Kubeš et al., 2014). This term is not respecting the complexity of the strategy. First author’s architectural NGO Collaborative Collective (Collaborative Collective, 2012, 2016) fixed through cooperation with second author’s ecology support and evaluation focused NGO CooLAND (CooLAND, 2016a, 2016b) first ecological pre-study (Zímová, 2016) for reasoning its relevance, building on and submitting detailed investigation for funding. 
Within spring semester 2017 a fully transdisciplinary systems oriented co-design studio course will be led by Collaborative Collective and CooLAND among the Faculty of Art and Architecture at TU of Liberec (architectural and environmental design students), the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences (forestry and wood engineering students) and Faculty of Living Environment (ecology students), both at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, the Faculty of Humanities Studies at the Charles University (students of social and cultural ecology), local community and the local environment (see Figure 2). This ‘GIGA-mapping’ (Sevaldson, 2011, 2015) and ‘full scale realisation prototyping studio’ (Davidová & Sevaldson, 2016) will focus on supporting the local bio-tope by building shelters for habitat of i.e. bats, insects or homeless people. The design process, prototyping and further local development will fully engage local specific environment together with the local community. In this sense it is not only participation but co-design . Here the co-design method involves both, biotic and abiotic agents within so called ‘Time Based Design’ investigated by Sevaldson (Sevaldson, 2004, 2005, 2017) where the project does not end by the building finalisation. This project is to motivate humans to co-live with other species and among each other across the social differences. The common events such as honey harvest from planned bee-hives should support the eco-system through ‘urban prototypical interventions’ (Davidová, 2004; Doherty, 2005). This ‘non-anthropocentric architecture’ (Hensel, 2013, 2015) was concluded by first author’s previous study on performance to be at the end also most beneficial for humans (Davidová, 2016). It is therefore alarming that though the UN agenda for 2030 sustainable development is calling for collaborative partnership of all stakeholders and fight of poverty while being determined to ensure that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature to reach prosperity (United Nations, 2015), its goals are so anthropocentric, that ‘Cities and Communities’ are discussed in separate goal (United Nations, 2015, 2016a) from bio-diversity, discussed in ‘Life on Land’ goal (United Nations, 2015, 2016b). These goals are not in any sense cross-referenced. As opposed to this human-centred approach, this project is to demonstrate the relevance of consideration of human settlements as being part of overall eco-system. Through generating public awareness and pride for the local specificity and community, we believe the bio-corridor will be marked into Metropolitan Plan and no future building development in the precious garden will be enabled. Through this ‘Ecological Urbanism’ that involves ‘anticipation, sensing, curation, collaboration, production, interaction, mobilisation, measures, adaptation and incubation’(Mostafavi & Doherty, 2016) , our politics is going from the bottom up! 

Co-designing a real-world laboratory for systemic design in the Italian Alps: how complexity shapes the process.
Tobias Luthe
Thursday 17:00. Room A4.
sustainability transitions
place-based research
boundary objects
scaling effects

Real-world laboratories (RwL) are part of a dynamic family of sustainability research settings, i.e. living laboratories, urban labs, or social innovation labs. They share the idea to use experiments in real-world settings to understand and shape societal transformations towards sustainability. RwL create spaces for transdisciplinary research, developing and experimenting with potential solutions to complex sustainability challenges. They provide opportunities for informing global sustainability through place-based research and systemic design, and help define context-specific pathways towards sustainability.

On the case of the RwL MonViso Institute (MVI) in the Italian Piedmont mountains, demonstrated on a number of concrete examples and experiments, we explore the RwL approach for improving the understanding about systemic design and social-ecological transformations and how they differ from current modes of research. We pinpoint challenges and opportunities to inform the transfer to global sustainability from place-based, context-specific pathways towards sustainability, applying the RwL concept of combining transformation, experimentation, transdisciplinary (TD) collaboration, long-term orientation, transferability, learning and reflexivity. The interdependency of these characteristics is showcased by different experimental settings at the MVI, for example with University groups engaging in TD and systemic design research on-site, while critically reflecting, presenting and cognitively evaluating results and effects with local stakeholders and international audiences on a global scale.

The systemic design process of building the MVI as RwL and demonstration hub for systemic design is complex and guided by this complexity. We illustrate this on a number of examples: for instance, balancing local traditional knowledge, local building regulations and necessary innovation in building materials and techniques is both systemic design and a later-used demonstration of it. The doing and the demonstration of systemic design are interwoven and feedback into each other, which make the SD process quite complex, leading to conceptually less-systemic design decisions that actually only demonstrate the reality in doing systemic design in a real-world setting. Thus, the inherent complexity that becomes obvious only in the doing is shaping the process of developing the MVI. Further examples are funding or social inclusion, while all are connected.

Finally, we reflect on the MVI design as RwL applied to different scales of transformations. The specific challenges and benefits imposed on the MVI RwL, given its location, provide insights into labs as boundary objects and on their typologies to connect sustainability research and systemic design across scales.