6| Models and Processes of Systemic Design

Proceedings of RSD7, Relating Systems Thinking and Design 7
Politecnico di Torino, Turin, Italy  23th-26th October 2018

Section content 

Barba E., Osborn J.R.
Measuring Sophistication in Systemic Design and Computing

Besplemennova Y., Tassi R.
Systems Thinking for Service Design

Boehnert J.
The Visual Representation of Complexity: Sixteen Key Characteristics of Complex Systems

Chaplin H., Christopherson K.
Re-defining journalism education: using systems thinking and design to revolutionize the future of storytelling

Chung-Shin Y., Renaux J., Chikermane V., Rajani Jaya J.
Co-designing a social innovation model for changemakers

Darzentas J., Darzentas J.
Perspectives on Systemic Design: examining heterogeneous relevant literature to provide a historical and ‘systemically inspired’ review.

Davidová M.
Trans-Co-Design in Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance: The Multi-Layered Media and Agency in Creative Design and Its Processes

Jamsin E.
Computational Models in Systemic Design

Jones P.
Evolutionary Stakeholder Discovery: Requisite System Sampling for Co-Creation

Lockton D.
Old Rope: Laing’s Knots and Bateson’s Double Binds in Systemic Design

Luthe T.
Systemic Design Labs (SDL): Incubating systemic design skills through experiential didactics and nature-based creativity

Maessen C., van Houten S., van der Lugt R.
Future Probing for Prodaptive Organizations

Marines Hernández L. E.
Mapping disciplinary mobility for tackling complex problems

Matic G., Matic A.
Design for Emergence – Enabling Stakeholder Liminal Transitions and Innovation Value Pivoting through Complex Systemic Transformations

Murphy R.
Finding the emic in systemic design: Towards systemic ethnography

Murphy R., Jones P.
Give me the place to stand: Leverage analysis in systemic design

Passia Y., Roupas P.
The contingent city. De-coding the possibilities of the city’s sociospatial metabolism

Perera D.
Wicked Problems, Wicked Humor
Fun machines as a method to frame wicked problems in architecture

Real M., Lizarralde I.
A constructivist and soft view of systemic design
A tribute to Jean Michel Larrasquet’s work

Sevaldson B.
Beyond user centric design

Silverman H., Rome C.
Distinctions and analogies: mapping social system identity

Snow T.
Regenerative Value Systems – Model(s) illustrating flows and transformations of value within production systems

Sweeting B.
Radically Constructing Place

Tekogul I.
Design as adaptation

Thompson W. T., Mesquita Da Silva F., Steier F.
Binocular vision of designing process for whole systems design crossing boundaries

Van Alstyne G., Skelton C., Nan Cheng S.
Systemic Design and Its Discontents: Designing for Emergence and Accountability

Van Gessel C., Van der Lugt R., De Vries R.
Socionas: Bringing the systemic view into the design for health and sustainability

Vargas Espitia A., Guataquira Sarmiento Nataly A.,
Àlvarez Quintero Christian D., Rugeles Joya Willmar R.
Integration of methodologies through an academic toolkit for the design of products services systems for sustainability –SPSS- in colombian contexts

Vezzoli C., Basbolat C.
System Design for Sustainability for All.
S.PSS Design applied to Distributed Economies

Zivkovic S.
The early stage analysis of a systemic innovation lab

Measuring Sophistication in Systemic Design and Computing

Barba Evan, Osborn J.R.
Georgetown University

Systemic Design;
Recursive Design.


Over the past decade there has been a growing recognition among educa- tors that systems, design, and computing, are the three disciplines that best encompass the skills and knowledge workers need to successfully contribu- te in the 21st century workforce (AAAS, 2009; Uri Wilensky and Mitchel Resnick, 1999). Yet, in addition to the many complexities that arise in educa- tion, developing curricula that successful mesh these disciplines introduces new and understudied complexities; particularly, when it comes to integra- ting those curricula into schools and matching them to current educatio- nal standards and metrics. In this presentation, we describe the theoreticalunderpinnings and practical benefits and challenges of our curriculum inSystemic Design and Computing (SDC) based on three iterations of a pilot course.

Our SDC curriculum treats systems thinking as a worldview that can be used to organize knowledge, formulate problems, and evaluate solutions, design as a set of methods for synthesizing and communicating solutions, and computing as a medium for implementing, testing, and deploying tho- se solutions. It is rooted in the idea that teaching students a small set of cross-cutting concepts and skills while training them to apply those skills innew contexts can provide a firm but flexible foundation to build on over thecourse of their lifetimes.

We evaluate our pilot course and evolving curriculum in the context of Learning Progressions (LPs) (Alicia & Alonzo, 2011; Black & Simon, 1992;Rogat, Corcoran and Mosher, 2010), extending that research by defining a quantifiable notion of sophistication in SDC concepts and skills. Using spi- der-graphs to chart student progress along multiple dimensions and deve- loping quantitative measures based on the emergent properties of thesegraphs we have developed a flexible but consistent framework that captu- res and communicates the complexity of interdisciplinary learning withoutsacrificing our ability to track and compare student and cohort progress.Our hope is that by systematically investigating how students progress in their learning of SDC concepts and practices, we can understand the most effective ways to create the coherent, multi-dimensional, and engaging cur- ricular experiences that students need to mature into effective and adap- table lifelong learners.

SDC Progress Variables

Typically, sophistication, the core metric of LPs, is defined by grade-level expectations or disciplinary knowledge, but measuring it has proved diffi- cult and at times controversial. Progress maps [Hess, 2012; Hess. 2008; Wil- son and Draney, 2004) in which student performance is ranked graphical- ly on a continuum, have been praised as consistent, reliable, and practicalmeasures of student performance, with the added benefit of easily commu- nicating results. They have proven useful in providing timely feedback to students and teachers as part of formative assessment, and can be combined with an underlying statistical model for longitudinal and group comparison, something education researchers value highly.

For our pilot course, we used six progress variables that embody a few key concepts in SDC. These are one example and are not intended to be doctri- ne or all-encompassing. Three of these progress variables, system mapping, visualization, and algorithms represent collections of essential skills and knowledge in each SDC discipline. However, the SDC curriculum and LP also aim to teach students how to integrate disciplinary concepts. So, in addition, we defined three progress variables that embody the knowledge and skills for the intersections of each of the disciplines (a similar approach was used by Rowland (Rowland, 1999). The three intersections are Systems+Design, Design+Computing, and Computing+Systems (the “+” indicates deep integra- tion, not simply adding one discipline onto the other) and the associated pro- gress variables are iteration, interactivity, and modeling, respectively. The resulting structure allows us to map student progress across six intercon-nected axes: the three “core” fields of systems, design, and computing plus the three intersections that connect these fields.

Measuring Sophistication

The measurement model we have developed is both a basis for evaluating progress in student understanding and a way of communicating that pro- gress back to students. Our approach uses a multidimensional variation of a progress map employing spider graphs (also called radar charts). The re- sult of connecting individual numerical values on a radar chart is a polygon whose shape gives a holistic picture of the learner at glance (Figure 1). Howe- ver, another important characteristic of these charts, which has been com- pletely overlooked in the literature, stems from the fact that the polygon has emergent properties (area, center of mass, eccentricity) that are readilyapparent in the visualization but difficult to dig out of the data, despite beingstraightforward calculations. These emergent attributes of the polygon pro- vide quantitative metrics for measuring sophistication in SDC.

The area of the polygon in Figure 1 denotes the overall level of the learner’s sophistication, providing a single collective variable that measures student learning along all SDC dimensions, this is a replacement for a course grade or GPA in this system. This value can be used to verify quantitatively that learning is taking place, or combined with the additional variables to reveal a wealth of insights, described below, that are typically hidden by traditio- nal grading systems.

Another emergent property of these graphs, the center of mass (or centroid) of the polygon, shows where a student’s focus and core-competency lies. Calculating the centroid, and using it alongside the origin (center) of the radar chart as foci in an ellipse (see Figure 1) allows us to calculate a third value, the eccentricity. Eccentricity provides a measure of the depth of a stu- dent’s specialization (a “well-rounded” student with equal skill in all areas will have a circle with 0 eccentricity). Students may choose to become more eccentric by specializing in one discipline, or try to balance out by becoming more circular. The point is to provide clear and digestible information for students to make the choice which best suits their goals, while maintaining the ability to compare students and cohorts. Students of equal sophistication (area) can have very different shapes, eccentricities, and centers of mass.

As we deployed the above methodology and measurement model in paral-lel with our traditional grading scheme, we noted many benefits and some drawbacks. Benefits include: tailoring a curriculum, comparing across dif-ferent subject matter, measuring integrated learning, and overall flexibili-ty. While drawbacks include difficulty standardizing across courses, timerequired for mentoring, and students’ desire to “optimize.” These will be di- scussed in depth in our presentation.


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Karin K Hess. 2012. Learning Progressions in K-8 Classrooms: How Progress Maps CanInfluence Classroom Practice and Perceptions and Help Teachers Make More InformedInstructional Decisions in Support of Struggling Learners (NCEO Synthesis Report).

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Systems Thinking for Service Design

Besplemennova Yulia, Tassi Roberta

Systems thinking
Design thinking
Service design
Service design tools

As a discipline that deals mostly with complex, intangible components, service designers have developed a broad toolkit to visualise and interact with the elements that can be difficult to perceive otherwise.

Examining service design tools closely one can see a strong link between them and tools used in systems thinking to visualize behaviours and structures. In fact (eco)system mapping is one of the main tools for service designers, service blueprint adopts swim-lane charts to understand layering of the various channels and actors while providing a service, and user-journey can be seen as a detailed view of the system interactions and dynamics.

However despite the highly systemized nature of service design approach and tools, not all applications lead to a positive systemic impact. And as services (and especially digital services and platforms) play more and more important role in the general economy and the distribution of capital, resources and human flows, we clearly need to think on the larger scale and understand how to augment our tools to comprehend the large-scale and long-term impacts.

Approaching systems thinking from within the service design practice we would like to examine in detail some emerging needs that we should consider when thinking of tools and processes that support our practice:

  • the need of observing systems in dynamics to better understand their behaviour and how they can evolve over time;
  • the importance of understanding the interconnectedness of a given system, its subsystems and other external systems, mapping out all the relationships involved;
  • the need to focus on the long-term consequences of our actions and of the externalities that were not taken care off in the previous solutions, in order to achieve a more positive impact.

In our contribution we would like to show how augmented service design tools can help designers better including system thinking in their everyday practice.

From Personas to Dynamic Personas

Personas are a fictional narrative used to describe the needs, expectations and desires of specific types of users, and come up with ideas and solutions that meet those needs. Dynamic personas extend this concept by looking at how the user behaviour could evolve over time.
This means defining a target for them to reach, or multiple targets, and flash out the possible scenarios in which that persona would or wouldn’t be able to achieve those goals.

We will show how we have applied this tool in a project with Mozilla, to better understand the enabling and blocking factors affecting the way people relate to Internet Health issues.

From System Map to System Loops

System maps are synthetic representations that describe how a system is structured, by displaying all the actors and showing their connections. System loops enrich system maps by always showing the relationship among two actors as an exchange in which they are both giving and receiving something. This means analysing more in depth the dynamics that sustain the system, mapping out tangible and intangible exchanged values and immediately visualising critical issues, gaps and redundancies.

We will show how we used system loops to better understand the relationship between citizens and Public Institutions, to identify all the data, money and document exchanges and how they could be optimized.

From Roadmap to Impact Roadmap

A project roadmap is a very functional tool that allows a company or organization to define all the steps needed to bring a certain service or product to life. An impact roadmap expands the project phases and milestones with additional layers, enlightening possibilities to generate value while moving along the process, as direct or indirect consequence of the main activities and actions. This means reflecting on all the actors surrounding the development of a solution and identifying strategies to generate positive engagements.

We will show how designers can generate value along the execution of a service design process, by sharing a story from a project with American Red Cross in Kenya and South Africa.
These three examples are just the beginning of possible augmentation of service design tools for more sustainable and impactful practice. We started to apply them on our projects, tested them with other practitioners during the recent ArchitectaDay in Torino, and we hope to have the opportunity to further extend this conversation, and expand the systemic service design toolkit.


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Click here to download the working paper

The Visual Representation of Complexity: Sixteen Key Characteristics of Complex Systems

Joanna Boehnert
Loughborough University, UK

Visual complexity
Participatory design
Visual representation

Sustainability practitioners have long relied on images to communicate complexity. Visual communication plays an important role in facilitating learning and collaboration on social, environmental and economic issues that are characterised as complex systems. The Visual Representation of Complexity was a short research project conducted for CECAN (Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus) at the University of Surrey (UK) and completed at the Loughborough University. The research addresses the need for imagery capturing key characteristics of complex systems that will be widely understood across different fields and sectors. The work facilitates learning by helping researchers, policy makers, designers and evaluators with varying degrees of familiarity with the complexity sciences develop a shared understanding of systemic processes. The research identifies, defines and illustrates sixteen key characteristics of complex systems and contributes to an evolving visual language of complexity. The research process involved collaboration between myself and the CECAN research group: Alex Penn, Pete Barbrook-Johnson, Martha Bicket and Dione Hills. This paper describes the research process and reflects on its contribution.

The project started with a research proposal I submitted to CECAN in an open call for proposals in July 2017. My research project was funded as a small project (16 days) to visually represent key aspects of complexity. I started conversations with CECAN project mentors in September 2017. As I worked with the CECAN team exploring potential research processes and outcomes, I modified my initial proposal to accommodate newly articulated concerns and newly identified project goals. A new research process was designed to identify, define and illustrate key characteristics of complexity with surveys, participatory design research and the design of new illustrations. The first step was to identify the specific features to be illustrated. During early meetings and two participatory workshops a total of sixteen characteristics were identified. The key characteristics of complex systems were identified as: feedback, emergence, self-organization, levers / hubs, non-linearity, domains of stability, adaptation, path dependency, tipping points, change over time, unpredictability, unknowns, distributed control, nested systems and multiple scales. Once this initial stage was completed, I sought to gather information from communities within the CECAN network and beyond.

In order to collect ideas from academics, sustainability practitioners and designers with expertise in the visualisation of complexity, systems mapping and design, I brought the research project to the Relating Systems Thinking and Design RSD6 The Environment, Economy, Democracy: Flourishing Together RSD6 conference (at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway, October 18-20, 2017). At RSD6 I was offered a last-minute opportunity to run a participatory session at the plenary with approximately one hundred people. After a brief introduction, I distributed 50 surveys with twelve key characteristics of complexity (four more were added later). I asked the group to work in pairs to visualise each concept. I collected 47 surveys with visualisations for each characteristic. These activities (including pictures of multiple surveys) are documented on the #RSD6 hashtag on Twitter.

I organised the images by collecting all examples for each characteristic on seperate sheets. These were organised by type on two axes based on similarities in visual devices, visual strategies and visual metaphors. Arranging the images in this way enabled the identification of patterns. Most concepts were commonly understood with some similar visual conventions – although there were often other random, unique and provocative outlier interpretations.
These characteristics sheets were then used as a basis for two participatory design workshops in London with the CECAN research group (November 17 & December 15, 2017). I facilitated group crits to discuss the images in detail with an emphasis on encouraging particular interpretations for each characteristic. We did not rely on popularity as the basis on which a final graphic would be designed. In some cases the group wanted an entirely new image. The group sought images that captured the essential characteristics of each concept according to group discussions. Along with facilitating the identification and development of definitions, new examples and learning points with the CECAN research group, I designed new visual outcomes for each of the characteristics (according to instructions from the group over four months). The CECAN research was completed in April 2018 with the outcome of an A1 poster (figure 1).

The research project created space to collect ideas and visualisations, to critically assess visual strategies and to design new visual representations of sixteen key features of complexity. Within this interdisciplinary and participatory design research process, we used visual methods to explore visual proposals and come to enough of a shared understanding of the sixteen key concepts to create a new visual representations of each characteristic. The participatory design process resulted in scope creep as the work expanded with the involvement of people pulling in different directions. The initial brief for this research and my original research proposal were different from the ideas that were developed for the outcomes half way through the project. The name of the project changed from “A Typology of Visual Codes for Systemic Relations” to “The Visual Representation of Complexity: Sixteen Key Characteristics of Complex Systems.” Newly articulated directions emerged as the CECAN research group experimented with images to capture particular interpretations of complexity.

With financial assistance from Loughborough University, I bought the project to RSD7 in Torino, Italy in October 2018 and made the slideshow and collection of images from the RSD6 surveys publicly available. The Visual Representation of Complexity project supports informed decision-making at CECAN and other communities engaged with the analysis of complex problems. The poster with the sixteen key characteristics with definitions, learning points, examples and illustrations can be used as a learning resource for practitioners, academics and students alike. The visual methods facilitated both knowledge production and dissemination. The artwork has circulated widely in the CECAN network, within the Systemic Design Research Network’s (SDRN) Relating Systems Thinking and Design annual conferences (RSD6 and RSD7) and in the wider complexity community on Twitter. The images will be used in an upcoming CECAN publication: the Magenta Book Annex on dealing with complexity in evaluation. The visualisations will continue to support relational ways of understanding complex phenomenon.


Click here to download the working paper

Re-defining journalism education: using systems thinking and design to revolutionize the future of storytelling

Chaplin Heather, Christopherson Kayla
The New School

Systems Thinking
Design Thinking
Wicked Problems
Future of Journalism

The problem 

Journalism education has not kept pace with the growing complexity of the professional practice. 

The first crisis in journalism had to do with transitioning to a vastly more complex digital environment. Now, journalism is struggling to sustain itself amidst outdated business models, fractured audiences, declining trust, and a White House bent on undermining the whole operation. At stake is a vital part of the checks and balances system of a functioning democracy. 

Journalism + Design is a forward-looking, iterative education program preparing students and professionals alike to function in the complex ecosystem of contemporary journalism. We use systems thinking and design practices to help journalists better understand the interconnected nature of the problems they face, both as journalists having to operate within a complex adaptive system as well as practitioners and future practitioners expected to report on and explain the most important stories of our times – climate change, the effects of unfettered global capitalism, income inequality, racism, crumbling democracies. These are all stories of complex adaptive systems, or what Rittel and Webber called, wicked problems – impossible to even name, let alone solve, and with boundaries that blur into other wicked problems (Rittel and Webber, 1973). 

Design and systems journalism initiative 

This abstract seeks to outline the theory and practice behind our efforts to bring design practices and systems thinking into journalism education for both students and professionals. As mentioned above, the problem for journalists is two-fold: 

First, how do we build a sustainable system by which news is gathered, verified, synthesized, and distributed in a way that is independent from powerful interests? Many people talk about “saving the newspapers” or in other ways propping up existing entities. French economist, Julia Cagé, in her book, Saving the Media, argues that what will fix the news is a new, not-for-profit business model (Cagé, 2016). There’s Victor Pickard who, in his piece for The Guardian, recognizes that traditional ways of thinking about the news is not helping the industry, but still recommends a new, non-commercial business model (Pickard, 2009). Our analysis is that what is at stake is not so much the longevity of existing manifestations, but rather ensuring that some system for doing the above-mentioned work itself exists in the future – whatever that might look like. 

Second, how do we prepare journalists to tell the most important stories of our times – those of complex adaptive systems, or, wicked problems? This does not require merely digital skills, which is the strategy of most news organizations. Rather, it requires the ability to understand the forces behind events in the news, the interconnections between those forces, the non-linear natures of how events occur and multiply, and how to identify feedback loops and leverage points. 

A systems approach to redesigning journalism education and professional development is necessary to address these problems. The Journalism + Design initiative involves identifying leverage points for interventions in the education and professional spheres as well as opportunities for inspiring public discourse, such as publishing papers and popular articles, launching a podcast, and convening open workshops with community partners. 

The additional challenge is how to foster a change in attitude among the future of journalism community from one of trying to solve the problem of the crisis in journalism to one seeking to sustain a healthy system of journalism. 

Re-designing journalism education and professional development 

A significant part of the work of this initiative has been the development of an undergraduate journalism major at The New School in New York that marries fundamental journalistic practices and ethics with a systems and design practice. Our definition of design is a set of flexible processes for navigating unknown environments. We define systems thinking as the practice of studying wholes rather than parts in isolation, studying patterns of change overtime and identifying driving forces. 

This work has been primarily done through the Journalism + Design program at The New School. The program started four years ago with seven classes and 30 majors. Today, we offer 27 classes, have nearly 100 majors and see 406 students taking our classes. It has already become the second biggest major in the school. 

The excitement generated by the program among professionals led to the development of workshops and events outside the college, such as systems thinking for beat reporters, basic design process workshops, and systems and design support for projects around complex topics like homelessness, gentrification, and gerrymandering. In addition, the initiative has also begun work fostering systems and design approaches to journalism among community leaders in underserved urban neighborhoods in order to help build informal information networks to serve needs unmet by professional news organizations or the closing of local professional news outlets. 

The aim is to equip journalists with the ability to surface and diversify story ideas and sources, explore complex relationships, be more resilient in the face of uncertainty, identify how the structure of complex systems dictate outputs and consequences, and develop and maintain participatory and collaborative partnerships with non-media organizations and community members. 


In this presentation, we will provide an overview of the theories and intellectual work behind this initiative as well as surface learning to be gleaned from the work itself. This presentation will provide the audience with years of innovative research, curriculum, and insights, and, since playful experimentation is a key tenant of how our program was designed, our presentation will incorporate how our initiative actually operates in the field. More specifically, it will look at how systems thinking and design cooperate, how our program has integrated them into fast-paced, overworked newsrooms, and what this initiative means for sustainable journalism and democracy at large. 



1. Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences,4(2), 155-169. doi:10.1007/bf01405730 

2. Cagé, J. (2016). Saving the Media: Capitalism, Crowdfunding, and Democracy (A. Goldhammer, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 

3. Pickard, V. (2009, July 23). Take the profit motive out of news. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/jul/23/newspapers-internet-adverstising

Co-designing a social innovation model for changemakers

Chung-Shin Yunsun, Renaux Joanne, Chikermane Vijaya, Rajani Jaya Jivika 
Zayed University

Social Innovation
Youth Empowerment
Education systems

As design educators at Zayed University, Dubai, in the UAE we believe in the educational capacities of social innovation and in the exploration of new models and processes of systemic design. Particularly in the field of education, continuous innovation is both necessary and possible if we are to imagine new ways for young people to realize their full potential.

The current higher education system in the Middle East and South Asian regions often represents a socially narrow and dated curriculum that is especially limited in its ability to cultivate empathetic, driven and holistic young leaders and changemakers. Our education system in the UAE has not evolved yet to be imaginative, integrated, or reflective of the complex realities youth experience. Social innovation in education allows for re-imagining how we may create spaces for creative youth engagement and develop models that enable young people to realize their potential as changemakers. The question we explored was ‘How might we co-design an immersive, transformative, and sustainable changemaker pathway for social innovation?’ To do this, we leveraged community initiative and institutional support from Zayed University to build a platform to social innovation named INNOCO (Innovation and Co-design). Simply put, INNOCO actively supports young people interested in building their capacities as changemakers. Hence, it strives to disrupt a linear educational approaches and builds on the need for a paradigm shift in education in the region.

In three (3) years INNOCO has developed a research framework that has been successfully implemented and has already been modeled for a partner project at Zayed University; has facilitated a youth engagement program with participants in UAE and Nepal; and, has chronicled the changemaker journeys of program participants through quantitative and qualitative narratives. Through these cumulative processes, youth explored ways in which they could connect, collaborate and contribute to their larger communities. The proposed paper will detail the following critical aspects of our work with the hope that an engaged audience of educators and systems thinkers may learn from our shared experiences and enrich our collective knowledge.

Values of Co-design and Commitment to Social Innovation

Co-design was and continues to be a guiding principle in our work. We understand it to be an approach that fosters inclusivity, participation and celebration of collective ownership and achievement. Our efforts to implement principles of co-design into all aspects of vertical learning took shape in brainstorming and feedback sessions, open communication with participants through accessible platforms, and in regular meeting sessions to reflect on program activities and identify strength and improvement opportunities. Although the processes for co-design can be slow, complex and highly iterative, we believe it to be a promising pathway to social change allowing community participation. From 2015-2018 our co-design process involved approximately 116 experts, facilitators and organizations from diverse backgrounds and sectors. When done right, co-design can yield lasting, meaningful impacts that permeate through individual, community and systemic levels.

The value we assigned to co-design was also instrumental in deepening our understanding of social innovation. The term ‘social innovation’ has become increasingly popular and can mean different things to different people. We brought diverse voices and perspectives together following the principles of co-design and appreciative inquiry to clarify collective vision and to support individuals for their capacity development. We are committed to social innovation as initiatives that ‘are not only good for society but also enhance society’s capacity to act.’ (Hubert et.al., 2010).

Research framework

Our research model is a human-centered and evidence-informed one titled ‘ME=WE’ that resonates with the Panarchy Theory to understand the systemic and symbiotic relationships between self (ME) and society (WE). The framework focuses on ‘action and reflection’ contributing to social change that one can affect at an individual, community and systemic level (Lampel 2003).

Wise and diverse communities across our world adopt this simple philosophy. In Indonesia the

Balinese principle of ‘tattwa masi’ translates to ‘you are we and we are you’. Similarly, the South African philosophy of “Ubuntu” teaches that our humanity is reflected in the achievements and humanity of others, intrinsically connecting the ‘self’ with the collective. This framework also manifests in the Mobius strip, a mathematical phenomena that demonstrates infinite and continuous movement and sprouting growth.

The ME=WE framework acts as a pathway that begins with the individual as a changemaker who engages with their community and systemic change through a continuous cycle of growth, action and reflection. The individual journey mirrors the expansive and moving structure of this framework as they engage in activities grounded in empathy, trust, creative confidence and communication. Through this work, the individual experiences growth points between action and reflection allowing for enriching their knowledge and capacities and deepening appreciative inquiry mode as continuously leaping from ME to WE and WE to ME.

Program Tools

A flexible and imaginative program as a series of independent workshops or an intensive 9-day bootcamp was developed to facilitate socially minded youth engagement. The program objective is to build collective capacity in planning and developing entrepreneurial and/or community-driven service projects. Workshop sessions introduced youth to hands-on and experiential learning through empathy driven tools, storytelling techniques, value proposition canvas, design thinking practices and more.

The INNOCO program was piloted with youth in UAE and in Nepal in varying forms. In UAE (2016-2017) a six month workshop series was implemented where 20 youth experienced learning and collaboration however, participants were not ready to move forward with social enterprise projects. In Nepal (2016 – 2018), the program was initially piloted with select youth and evolved into a 9-day innovation bootcamp with 18 youth. The innovation bootcamp was well-received by youth who continue to be engaged with social change for their communities. The program also included a mentorship component where seven mentors were identified and recruited from Nepal and internationally, matched with youth mentees to foster intimate relationships of learning and expansion. At the end of the Nepal bootcamp, (9) ideas were pitched to a panel of community judges, out of which (7) have emerged as viable projects in development.

Impact Stories

The impacts of our work are illustrated through quantitative and qualitative data collected at different stages of the Nepal run program. While our impact assessment data is primarily qualitative gathered through transcribed one-on-one in-depth interviews, quantitative data was also collected through post program surveys.

Analysis of the quantitative narratives shows that the program was highly rated by participants especially in the areas of bootcamp environment and cultivating culture. These were critical areas for us as we attempted to create an unconventional learning environment and culture that valued co-design where youth could contribute to the process in fulsome ways. On a scale of 1-5 (5 is very satisfied; 1is unsatisfied) participants rated key areas of their experience, below is a snapshot of average rating scores: Workshop Quality: 4.1 / 5; Content Relevance: 4 / 5; Culture & Space: 4.6 / 5; Expectations Met: 4 / 5; Interaction: 4.2 / 5; Creative confidence: 4 / 5.

The qualitative data collected through in-depth interviews was used to develop a set of illustrated changemaker stories to further our Knowledge Translation and Exchange (KTE) efforts. The stories follow youth participants who completed the INNOCO program and demonstrate the transformative change they experienced that led to actions on individual, community and systemic levels.

The seven viable projects that emerged from the Nepal bootcamp, are in there initial developmental or operational phases. This includes a literacy and reading program in a rural community; a homestay for women facing domestic violence; a hydroponic farm; and a kiwi farm and waste management system. The Nepal youth group also realized their vision by registering as the Nepal Youth Innovators (NYI), a space for young people to connect to like minded changemakers and cultivate meaningful connections and collaborations to better contribute to social change.

In summary, the key areas of co-design as an overarching value enabled redefining the ME=WE framework that was then translated into a comprehensive and flexible set of program tools for youth engagement. The impacts of this social innovation model in its entirety is both powerful and promising for future work. The ME=WE framework has already been used as the foundation for another project based at Zayed University that aims to innovate food systems, and at Impact Hub at Georgian University in the USA. The program tools will soon be shared on an online platform for youth, educators and/or academics to easily access and adapt for their local communities. We believe that INNOCO is a strong example of a social innovation pathway that cultivates young changemakers and a study in co-designing alternative forms of learning that disrupt linear models. As one of the Nepal youth participants so aptly states “What we learn in schools is not everything, I want kids and young adults to learn life skills that will bring out the best person that they can be”


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Perspectives on Systemic Design: examining heterogeneous relevant literature to provide a historical and ‘systemically inspired’ review.

Darzentas Jenny, Darzentas John
University of the Aegean

Review methodology
Research agenda

Review Methodology

As the ideas of systemic thinking become more familiar and found in many disciplinary discourses, so there is an increase in work reviewing systemic thought. Existing literature reviews are often conducted from a particular disciplinary standpoint, for instance, management (Mele et al, 2010); engineering (Monat, 2015) . It is as yet too early to carry out a literature review on systemic design. Therefore, although this paper is in the tradition of a literature review, it differs in two respects. The first difference is in the emphasis on giving a sense of a historical perspective (Peruccio, 2017). This allows us to move from the type of literature review whose primary purpose is to draw out key concepts. Rather, we wish to add to the ‘key concepts’ review, a narrative that builds on timelines and contemporary reactions to relevant discourse in the period under study. The second difference, is to use a review methodology based on a systems-inspired literature review (Sylvester et al, 2013). This encourages drawing in a range of literature, and lends support to narrative inferences by making explicit the interrelationships between ideas, timelines and contemporary discourse. 

The rationale for making these departures from traditional review methodologies is that, since systemic design is relatively new, grounding it within a historical perspective is an important contribution to establishing a background. Also, systemic design’s ‘newness’ means that resources are not discoverable using traditional literature review search techniques which rely on pre-defining search terms. However, we believe that a review based on ‘sweeping in’ (Nelson, 2003) heterogeneous relevant research literature will offer a richer set of materials. In short, this review would seeks to map the trajectory of ideas that have been influential in systemic design and related themes ‘entangled’ with systemic design, and by doing this, generate fresh insights into the philosophy, theory and praxis of systemic design.


Since both systems thinking and design have highly inter-disciplinary traditions, it is natural that both should be bound up with many types of work, and that sometimes valuable pieces of research are located in publication outlets that would not normally be directly associated with design or systems, such as with a collection of resources about sustainability (Systemic Learning for Sustainability, 2019) or healthcare (Clarkson et al 2017). Moreover, it may be that the perspective, which may be for example, the collection in which the resource is located conceals viewpoints relevant to systemic design. For instance, we know that participatory approaches are a bedrock of systemic design, yet foundational research on the notion of co-design as collective creativity, leading possible “transformation toward more sustainable ways of living in the future” (Sanders and Stappers, 2008) does not mention systems, although it might be argued that it appears to have absorbed it. Another example is when systems thinking is applied to an area contingent to design, such as creativity: Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist, claims systemic implications on creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). 

Therefore, following relevant themes and topics and also research groups [e.g.,1] is important. This is not done with a primary aim of discovering search terms, – although this can be useful at a later stage for seeking out more resources, – rather, it is mapping themes to an overall emerging picture, so that interrelationships can be reflected upon. This, in turn, leads to more discoveries until a ‘saturation’ point is reached, sufficient for a well-grounded narrative accounting for how certain themes are related and how developments have emerged. This narrative can then give some basis to make assumptions about how they might continue to develop. 

As an example.. 

The trajectory of systems thinking and systems oriented design offered by (Peruccio, 2017) shows how a historical perspective can be illuminating. Between the 1972 publication of the Limits to Growth (Meadows D. el al, (1972)and the Buchanan’s 1992 paper noting an area of design “concerned with complex systems or environments”(p.10) (Buchanan, 1992) there is a gap of two decades. Previous to this, we know that systems thinking was taught in the now famous design educational establishment that was the Ulm school, (1953-68). Also, we know that in this period Design was pre-occupied with self-reflection on the nature of design e.g. ‘designing designing’ (Jones, 2014); with debates about intuition versus positivism, with ‘designerly ways of knowing’  (Cross, 1982). It is strange that systems thinking does not seem to have infiltrated to produce ‘systemic design’ earlier. 

We might speculate, that perhaps it was because of an association between positivism and system dynamics (Coyne and Snodgrass, 1991; Cross, 1993)? In a different discipline, Collopy notes that systems thinking did not implant itself in management (Collopy, 2009) although he attributes this to need to acquire literacy in systems. The question of systems literacy is also part of other discourses around systems thinking, with claims that systems literacy is essential to all research endeavours (Bosch et al, 2007; Dubberly, 2014). 

Design History and Literature Reviews 

Design historians are the acknowledged experts in answering these kinds of questions posed above (Formia, 2017). However, we maintain that literature reviews, especially those framed as we have described, could also be helpful. For instance, within design oriented academic journals, there is an emergence of concern with incorporating wider issues into design. Examples are papers on ‘whole system design’ integrating social, economic and environmental phenomena (Blizzard and Klotz, 2012; Charnley et al, 2011) and the linking of ‘design for sustainability’ (DfS) as design for ‘system innovations and transitions’ (Ceschin and Gaziulusoy, 2016). Many of these papers evolve their systems thinking discourse from exposure to interests in sustainability (stewardship of the planet), or to ‘bumping up against’ complexity in their design work. This correlates the claim that, “design studies today tend to follow an ambiguous version of complexity theory, rendered without citations or methodological influence” (p123) (Jones, 2014). If this is the case, is design simply responding to the pervasiveness of calls for the need for systems thinking, apparent in all kinds of settings (Bland and Bell, 2007; Vexler, 2017)? 

Current work and future directions 

The plan for our work, is to continue to map out themes and timelines, with the aim of also creating a set of resources that can be added to, interpreted (and re-interpreted) to explore the interrelationships of timelines with themes that are found both in and around systemic design. A number of such themes have already presented themselves in our work so far, such as the relationships between service design and systemic design which call for more exploration (Darzentas J. and Darzentas J.S., 2014; Darzentas J. and Darzentas J.S., 2017). Another theme is to examine the antecedents of recent work on systems thinking as a psychological construct (Davis et al, 2018; Randle and  Stroink, 2018) and speculate what this might mean for designing with neurodiversity. More immediately, the suggested synthesis of Design Thinking and Systems Thinking (Ryan, 2014; Pourdehnad et al, 2011) is a fertile ground for more nuanced investigations as evidenced by (Jones, 2014; Sevaldson, 2017). 

It is our hope that we can also engage with the emerging systemic design community, via the new Systemic Design Association, to create a special interest group of like-minded researchers, in order to, for instance, bring in impactful literature from sources that are unknown to the wider community, because of not being published outside of national boundaries, or inaccessible due to language barriers, or being published in non-indexed resources. In this way, we hope our review work will not only lead to publications, but the establishment of a background prompting fresh research questions.


Barbero, S. (Ed.) (2017) Systemic Design Method Guide for Policymaking: a Circular Europe on the Way, Allemandi, (output of the EU funded Interreg RETRACE project)

Bland W. L. &. Bell M. M. (2007) A holon approach to agroecology International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 5(4) 280-294

Blizzard, J. L. & Klotz, L. E. (2012). A framework for sustainable whole systems design. Design Studies, 33(5), 456–479.

Bosch, O. J. H. King, C. A. Herbohn, J. L. Russell I. W. & Smith, C. S (2007)Getting the Big Picture in Natural Resource Management—Systems Thinking as ‘Method’ for Scientists, Policy Makers and Other Stakeholders Systems Research and Behavioral Science 24, 217-32

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21.

Ceschin, F., & Gaziulusoy, I. (2016). Evolution of design for sustainability: From product design to design for system innovations and transitions. Design Studies, 47, 118–163.

Charnley, F., Lemon, M. & Evans, S. (2011). Exploring the process of whole system design. Design Studies, 32(2), 156–179

Clarkson, P. J. et al (2017) Engineering Better Care: a systems approach to health and care design and continuous improvement, Royal Academy of Engineering, ISBN: 978-1-1909327-35-1.

Collopy, F. (2009). Lessons Learned — Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform Future Design Thinking https://www.fastcompany.com/1291598/lessons-learned-why-failure-systemsthinking- should-inform-future-design-thinking

Coyne, R. & Snodgrass, A. (1991). Is designing mysterious? challenging the dual knowledge thesis. Design Studies, 12(3), 124–131.

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Csikszentmihalyi, M (1999). Implications of a Systems Perspective for the Study of Creativity. In Sternberg, R. (ed.) Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 313-338.

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Darzentas, J. & Darzentas, J.S. (2016) Product-Service Systems or Service Design ‘By-Products’? A Systems Thinking Approach Proceedings of the Conference of the Design Research Society DRS2016 http://www.drs2016.org/506

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Innovation Review. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/what_exactly_do_we_mean_by_systems


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Trans-co-design in systemic approach to architectural performance: The multi-layered media and agency in creative design and its processes

Davidová Marie
Welsh School of Architecture

systemic approach to architectural performance
eco-systemic agency
systems oriented design
time-based design
performance-oriented design
eco-systemic urban interventions
non-anthropocentric eco-systemic services

Based on several research by design cases, the paper aims to conclude the mix of diverse media in reference to diverse generative agency in Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance design field. In this field, the design processes and design’s performances are seen as the ‘resulting design objects’. Therefore, the agency involved in both is merged and proceeds parallel within one co-performative eco-system in its fight for Post-Anthropocene. SAAP is a fusion of several process based fields and their media, involving namely:

• ‘Systems Oriented Design’
• ‘Performance Oriented Architecture’
• ‘Prototypical Urban Interventions’
• ‘Time-Based Design’
• ‘Service Design’
• ‘Co-Design, Co-Creation and DIY’

The direction of media mix and time-based design in creative digital design techniques was suggested by Sevaldson already in 2005 (Sevaldson, 2005). However, this new approach contributes to the field by assigning the diverse media to particular biotic and abiotic agency, including trans-disciplinary human co-design participation. This involves: a) the complexity diagramming – a manual analogue and digital tool from Systems Oriented Design (SOD) called GIGA-Mapping, the most designerly way to deal with systems (Sevaldson, 2013), b) digital modelling and c) its full scale prototyping and namely, d) all the performances of all the above mentioned, generated in time. The last ones appear through i.e. airflow, relative humidity, temperature; species such as algae, lichen, butterflies or bumblebees; material properties; or through human trans-disciplinary co-designers, such as general public, landscape ecologists, coders, architects and so on. Therefore, there is a shift from what architectural profession used to be perceived. As a designer, you can only interact with the system, not designing it. Through this interaction, you can co-design and therefore re-design the (eco)system.

Through the properties of the active agency within the co-design are also defined their creative design tools. Therefore, the performances take multiple layers, such as synergy of natural, social and cultural defined in Performance Oriented Architecture by Hensel (Hensel, 2010). Here it involves namely creative trans-disciplinary and trans-social, biological, material, climatic, mechanical or digital performances. 

For example, within human speculative co-design some disciplines or public relate better to drawing or image relations’ connections, the others to physical modelling or prototyping or combinations of all. This needs to be at first point grounded by physical GIGA-Mapping to find the relations of the natural, social and cultural data, thoughts, understandings and speculations. The physical maps can be further on translated to digital maps and digital modelling simulations and afterwards printed and fabricated to meet physical interaction again. This feedback looping interaction is however simultaneously co-designed with the other kinds of agency. The prototype’s performance is co-generated by i.e. relative humidity, temperature, their material properties and organisms that appear in its adjacent environment or directly settles on prototypes. Therefore, the design processes appear to be multi-layered in relation with multiple agency and mixing digital with analogue, biotic with abiotic. The paper exemplifies these processes on several different cases of ‘responsive wood’ (Hensel & Menges, 2006) projects.

The projects focus on trans-disciplinary multi-layered, analogue and digital, collaborative design processes grounded in GIGA-Mapping for prototypes generation. The two are placed to public and natural environment complexity for its interaction. This interaction is engaging co-living and co-creation across the particular urban landscape eco-system and interpretation through multi-genre performers and visitors of its festival EnviroCity. While doing so, the real time performance and its reflection for future project’s stages is co-designed. Though the GIGA-Map serves as a complexity and present prototype’s observation discussion board for reflection, the prototypes serve for environmental material embodied tacit interaction, experience and observation. Being inside these design processes, this project represents Sweeting’s discussion on what can design research practice give to second order cybernetics (Sweeting, 2016).

Some of the prototyping and mapping projects focus more on detailed, other than human, environmental interaction development and its prototypical observation. This is followed by architectural application speculations and its referential studies on traditional architectures (see Figure 1). While the development of the first and very early research stage prototype is followed by GIGA-Mapping of its environmental interactions speculations supported by sampling, the prototyping research takes four feedback-looping paths that are however interconnected with the other two projects: 

a) long term first prototype observations when exposed to environmental settings; 
b) observations of related traditional architectures; 
c) the new prototype development based on condemned weaknesses of the first prototype
d) observations of related traditional architectures and both of the prototypes for planned practice application.

Through the long-term prototypical observation, the development of climate-material interaction and related biotic agency is taking place in time when it is co-designed by the mentioned. In the same time, the new prototype that is trying to answer firstly observed weaknesses is built and observed again. This is within the same time confronted with related historical references of possible applications (see Figure 1) to lead to the planned use in practice. This ‘bottom up approach’ of prototyping is followed by ‘top down’ practice applications speculations and traditional architecture references from extreme climates observations in reference to ‘adaptation to climate change in our location’ (Czech Republic Ministry of the Environment & Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, 2015). 

The studies led to focus on eco-systemic service design through performative eco-systemic ‘prototypical urban interventions’ (Doherty, 2005). Such approach is gaining from collective trans-disciplinary knowledge gathered through multiple stakeholders with co-design GIGA-Mapping. One of the key intervention is responsive wood insect hotel TreeHugger, parasitting on a tree trunk in the middle of a central urban eco-top. TreeHugger is a small object. However, it is applying detailed climate moderation solution through responsive wood concept for variety of insect species’ needs to create their liveable and/or preferred environment. These, in reference to the larger eco-systemic chain are to generate ‘edible landscape’ (Creasy, 2004) for i.e. bats and birds, while another fast food of blossoming plants seed bombs is generated for these insects to become a food. All this is integrated through the multi-genre festival EnviroCity, representing the synergy of natural, social and cultural environment with its generative agendas of recipes for DIY. Therefore, the project on architectural sustainable solution has transformed to the sustainable solution for eco-systems. It is not only bringing solutions through habitation but also through sustainable eco-system of co-living with nutrients resources, the environment of ‘flourishing for all’ (Ehrenfeld & Hoffman, 2013).

The full scale prototyping in reference to co-design process was largely discussed by Capjon (Capjon, 2005). However here, these processes are perceived as a ‘results’ that are co-designed with overall eco-system in time. The field calls for the shift from ‘Cities for People’ (Gehl, 2010) towards the participation of both, biotic and abiotic agency into one co-performative eco-system, the ‘Real Life Laboratory’ (Davidová, Pánek, & Pánková, 2018). This is supported through using the key concept SOD tools such as ‘Rich Design Research Space’, discussing the social and spatial parameters (Sevaldson, 2008) and  GIGA-Mapping, that in this case, serves as a co-design communication and complexity relations mapping tool that is indivisible from prototypical performance and ‘resulting’ observations, reflections and co-design. 

The paper concludes with that there is a necessity of mixing analogue and digital processes based on the involved agency and its position in time and these need to be multi-layered. This is mainly achieved through hands on reflective Research by Design, investigating the ‘eco-systemic prototypical urban interventions’(Davidová & Prokop, 2018), their related historical prototypes studies and their DIY iterations. Therefore, within the field of ‘Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance’ (Davidová, 2017), the design management, the methodology, the collaborative design processes, the design’s physical results and their collaborative performances are fused in one Time Based Eco-systemic Trans-Co-Design. These processes therefore generate the concept of ‘ecological urbanism’ defined by Mostafavi and Doherty (Mostafavi & Doherty, 2016).


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Davidová, M. (2017). Wood as a Primary Medium to Eco-Systemic Performance: A Case Study in Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance. Czech Technical University in Prague. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.17123.45607

Davidová, M., Pánek, K., & Pánková, M. (2018). Spiralling Slope as a Real Life Co-Design Laboratory. In J. Bean, S. Dickinson, & A. Ida (Eds.), AMPS Proceedings Series 12. Critical Practice in an Age of Complexity (pp. 133–142). Tucson: University of Arizona.

Davidová, M., & Prokop, Š. (2018). TreeHugger: The Eco-Systemic Prototypical Urban Intervention. In O. Kontovourkis (Ed.), 6th eCAADe RIS 2018 Proceedings (pp. 75–85). Nicosia: University of Cyprus. Retrieved from http://papers.cumincad.org/cgi-bin/works/paper/ecaaderis2018_103

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Computational models in systemic design

Ella Jamsin
Delft University of Technology

Design for sustainability
Complex systems
Computational modelling
System dynamics
Agent-based models

Some of the most significant challenges of sustainability can be traced back to the complexity of social and ecological phenomena and the difficulty to connect these with design decisions made at the level of products and business models. Such complex systems are especially difficult to assess and influence as they do not lend themselves to simple causality relations and prediction (Boulton et al, 2015; Jones et al. 2014).

A few schools of thought in design are explicitly embracing complexity, such as systemic design (Jones et al. 2014) and transition design (Irwin 2018). Building upon insights from complexity science, they encompass a wide range of design methodologies, such as giga- mapping (Sevaldson 2011), system maps (Irwin 2018), or co-creation (e.g. Sanders and Stappers 2008).

The vast majority of methods described in systemic and transition design literature are qualitative in nature. This is in stark contrast with the methods used in complexity science – or complex systems science. This interdisciplinary field of science has been built predominantly upon the use of quantitative, computational models, a number of which have been applied to social phenomena, e.g.

Network theory enables the modelling of a set of elements interacting with each other, such as people in a social group, employees in a company, or companies in a supply chain (Newman 2010). This type of approach has delivered numerous insights, e.g. on the structure of social networks (Scott, 2017), the organisational needs of engineering projects (Sosa et al, 2004), and the robustness of the internet and the web (Réka et al. 2000), as well as to sustainability questions (e.g. Bodin and Tengö 2012)

System dynamics can be used to model a system of interconnected stocks and flows and their evolution over time. This method has been used to assess scenarios of global ecological challenges (Meadows et al. 1972), as well as to inform business model design (Cosenz 2017), conservation initiatives (Johnson et al. 2012) and pathways towards sustainable development (Hjorth and Bagheri 2006).

Agent-based models provide a way to simulate the dynamics of social systems by placing explicit emphasis on how they emerge from the behaviours of individuals (the ‘agents’) (Van Dam et al. 2012). Their applications include the dynamics of segregation (Schelling 1978, Wilensky 1997), policy analysis (Lempert 2002, Nikolic and Dijkema 2010), and industrial ecology (Axtell et al. 2001).

Systems of differential equations can be used to represent certain phenomena at aggregated levels, e.g. to give a mathematical representation of the response of societies to societal problems (Scheffer et al. 2003).

Such computational models could provide key insights for design for complex systems. Table 1 lists examples of computational models from literature that can be easily connected to a design activity.

If computational models have such a potential for design, why haven’t such methods been promoted in the literature on systemic and transition design? We explore the potential causes of this reluctance through three key questions, and deduct lessons for the development of computational methods in design for complex systems, and therefore design for sustainability.

1. Can humans be modelled?

It is fair to ask whether mathematics can usefully describe social phenomena. Supporting this concern, the field of economics has in the past heavily underplayed the complexity of human behaviours, using drastically simplified assumptions to enable mathematical description (Arthur 1999).

The response to this concern is 2-fold. First, models of human behaviours have greatly improved over the past decades, e.g. through behavioural economics. These improved hypotheses however still need to be made explicit in research, as they often reflect certain values and worldviews.

Second, today’s online tools have given rise to unprecedented data about human behaviours, through the field of computational social science (Conte et al. 2012). The applications to design are worth considering (Lettieri 2016).

Recent research (Moat et al. 2014) demonstrates the growing ability of modern techniques to predict social behaviors and, if this weren’t enough warning, recent news headlines highlight the implied risk that this be used to manipulate people. The ethical considerations of modelling humans should thus always be considered carefully.

2. Are design and modelling practices compatible?

Developing a computational model requires strong critical thinking and rigour. It can thus be more conducive to removing ideas than to creating new ones. Could it stifle the generative, creative thinking that is central to design? Two approaches to avoiding this shortcoming are to carefully think of the phase in which to integrate the use of a model and to leverage intuition and ideas from the designers and stakeholders as inputs into the model.

Data analysis and modelling can be time consuming and require specialised skills, so they can be cost intensive. Budget or planning may therefore motivate their exclusion. What may address this issue is the development of interfaces and platforms enabling the adaptation of existing models to new situations. As an illustration of such solutions, the platform Kumu offers a user-friendly interface for network analysis.

Finally, designers often question whether such models would support the engagement of stakeholders, as they can come across as dry and complicated. Participatory modelling experiments demonstrate that stakeholder engagement can be an integral part of the modelling process (Schmitt Olabisi et al. 2010), as long as the process is developed with this intent from the start.

3. Can you model with limited data?

Finally, some powerful computational models rely on very large datasets from online use, such as Facebook or Twitter data (Conte et al. 2012). A design problem however does not start with a dataset, but with a problem to solve. As a result, not every systemic problem will possess such a dataset. Design by definition takes place at an early stage of intervention, before the project itself has delivered data. Are computational models still relevant in these contexts? Here are a few responses to this concern.

First, many designers may underestimate the amount of data available today, when leveraging online media and advanced data analysis techniques (e.g. natural language processing), which can turn large volumes of unstructured documents into structured datasets (Conte et al. 2012).

Second, much can already be learnt form models based on limited data, complemented with plausible assumptions. Uncertain data can also be treated as the source of multiple scenarios (Kwakkel 2013).

Finally, there is an opportunity to approach models in a lean, iterative manner: a first model is built based on theory and hypotheses, which can already help to explore and refine the assumptions of the stakeholders and designers; such a model will in turn inform which data to gather throughout the project, so that more and more refined versions can be developed iteratively.

As the discussion above suggests, there is an opportunity in expanding current design methods with computational models, provided the following considerations:

• Making assumptions explicit and addressing ethics questions,
• Leveraging data from online tools and big data analysis methods,
• Developing simulation interfaces for designers and stakeholders,
• Leveraging designers and stakeholders’ intuition as input into the model,
• Adopting an iterative approach to model building.

The next steps in demonstrating this potential is to build case studies of design projects leveraging computational models. Adequate cases would concern issues affected by social complexity, which means that the interactions between individuals play a key a role in outcomes. Ideally, data sets should be available, either from the start of the project or through its development. Finally, such projects will require stakeholders that are curious and willing to experiment with new approaches.

This paper showed that despite the fact that much of complexity science is based on quantitative, computational models, the literature on design concerned with complex systems refers nearly exclusively to qualitative approaches. It explored some of the key questions that may be motivating this reluctance to leverage computational models of social systems, deducted a set of guiding principles for their introduction in design for sustainability, and proposed next steps to this endeavour.

Given the urgency to address some of today’s societal questions, no stone should be left unturned. Computational models have repeatedly proved their power to shed light on complex social dynamics of importance to sustainability. It is time to explore their application to the field of a design to enable the transition towards sustainable societies.


Arthur, W. B. ,1999. Complexity and the economy. science, 284(5411), 107-109.

Axtell, R. L., Andrews, C. J., & Small, M. J., 2001. Agent-based modeling and industrial ecology. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 5(4), 10-13.

Bodin, Ö., & Tengö, M., 2012. Disentangling intangible social–ecological systems. Global Environmental Change, 22(2), 430-439.

Boulton, J.G., Allen, P.M. and Bowman, C., 2015. Embracing complexity: Strategic perspectives for an age of turbulence. OUP Oxford.

Circle Economy, 2017. Policy Levers for a Low-Carbon Economy. Click NL, 2017. Knowledge and Innovation Agenda.

Conte, R., Gilbert, N., Bonelli, G., Cioffi-Revilla, C., Deffuant, G., Kertesz, J., … & Nowak, A., 2012. Manifesto of computational social science. The European Physical Journal Special Topics, 214(1), 325-346.

Cosenz, F., 2017. Supporting start-up business model design through system dynamics modelling. Management Decision, 55(1), pp.57-80.

Cosenz, F. and Noto, G., 2018. A dynamic business modelling approach to design and experiment new business venture strategies. Long Range Planning, 51(1), pp.127-140.

Davis, C., Nikolić, I. and Dijkema, G.P., 2009. Integration of life cycle assessment into agent-based modeling. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 13(2), pp.306-325.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013. Towards the Circular Economy, Economic and business rationale for an accelerate transition.

Gladwell, M., 2000. The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Little, Brown.

Grodzins, M., 1957. Metropolitan segregation. Sci. Am. 197 33–41

Hjorth, P., & Bagheri, A., 2006. Navigating towards sustainable development: A system dynamics approach. Futures, 38(1), 74-92.

Irwin, T., 2018. The Emerging Transition Design Approach. In Proceedings of Design Research Society Conference DRS 2018: Catalyst.

Johnson, K., Dana G., Jordan N., Draeger K., Kapuscinski, A., Schmitt Olabisi, L. and Reich, P., 2012. Using participatory scenarios to stimulate social learning for collaborative sustainable development. Ecology and Society 17(2), 9.

Jones, P., 2014. Design research methods for systemic design: Perspectives from design education and practice. Proceedings of ISSS 2014, Washington, D.C.

Jones, P., 2014. Systemic design principles for complex social systems. In Social systems and design (pp. 91-128). Springer, Tokyo.

Kwakkel, J. H., & Pruyt, E., 2013. Exploratory Modeling and Analysis, an approach for model-based foresight under deep uncertainty. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 80(3), 419-431.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M., 2008. Metaphors we live by. University of Chicago press.

Lakoff, G., 2010. Why it matters how we frame the environment. Environmental Communication, 4(1), pp.70-81.

Lempert, R., 2002. Agent-based modeling as organizational and public policy simulators.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(suppl 3), pp.7195-7196.

Lettieri, N., 2016. Computational Social Science, the Evolution of Policy Design and Rule Making in Smart Societies. Future Internet, 8(2), 19.

Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. and Behrens, W.W., 1972. The limits to growth. Potomac Associates, New York, 102, p.27.

Milkoreit, M., Hodbod, J., Baggio, J., Benessaiah, K., Calderón-Contreras, R., Donges, J.F., Mathias, J.D., Rocha, J.C., Schoon, M. and Werners, S.E., 2018. Defining tipping points for social-ecological systems scholarship—an interdisciplinary literature review. Environmental Research Letters, 13(3), 033005

Moat, H. S., Preis, T., Olivola, C. Y., Liu, C., & Chater, N., 2014. Using big data to predict collective behavior in the real world 1. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(1), 92-93. 

Newman, M. (2010). Networks: an introduction. Oxford university press.

Nikolic, I. and Dijkema, G.P., 2010. On the development of agent-based models for infrastructure evolution. International journal of critical infrastructures, 6(2), pp.148-167.

Nuss, P., Graedel, T. E., Alonso, E., & Carroll, A., 2016. Mapping supply chain risk by network analysis of product platforms. Sustainable Materials and Technologies, 10, 14- 22.

Réka, A., Jeong, H., and Barabási, A-L., 2000. Error and attack tolerance of complex networks. Nature 406(6794), 378.

Sanders, E. B. N., & Stappers, P. J., 2008. Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. Co-design, 4(1), 5-18.

Scheffer, M., Westley, F., and Brock, W., 2003. Slow Response of Societies to New Problems-Causes and Costs, Ecosystems 6(5), 493

Scheffer, M. et al., 2012. Anticipating Critical Transitions, Science, 338(6105), 344 

Schmitt Olabisi, L. K., Kapuscinski, A. R., Johnson, K. A., Reich, P. B., Stenquist, B., & Draeger, K. J., 2010. Using scenario visioning and participatory system dynamics modeling to investigate the future: Lessons from Minnesota 2050. Sustainability, 2(8), 2686-2706.

Scott, J., 2017. Social network analysis. Sage.

Sevaldson, B., 2011. GIGA-Mapping: Visualisation for complexity and systems thinking in design. Nordes 4

Schelling, T. C., 2006. Micromotives and macrobehavior. WW Norton & Company.

Sircova, A., Karimi, F., Osin, E. N., Lee, S., Holme, P., & Strömbom, D., 2015. Simulating irrational human behavior to prevent resource depletion. PloS one, 10(3), e0117612.

Sosa, M., Eppinger S., and Rowles, C., 2004. The misalignment of product architecture and organizational structure in complex product development. Management science 50(12), 1674.

Templon, J., Cormier, A., Campbell, A., Singer-Vine, J. (2017) Help Us Map TrumpWorld, Buzzfeed (accessed on 29/11/2018).

Tromp, N. and Hekkert, P., 2016. Assessing methods for effect-driven design: Evaluation of a social design method. Design Studies, 43, pp.24-47.

Van Dam, K., Nikolic, I., and Lukszo, Z. eds., 2012. Agent-based modelling of socio- technical systems. Springer Science & Business Media.

van Nes, E.H., Arani, B.M., Staal, A., van der Bolt, B., Flores, B.M., Bathiany, S. and Scheffer, M., 2016. What Do You Mean ‘Tipping Point’? Trends in ecology & evolution, 31(12), 902

Wilensky, U., 1997. NetLogo Segregation model. http://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/models/Segregation. Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

Evolutionary stakeholder discovery: requisite system sampling for co-creation

Peter Jones
OCAD University

Design Co-creation
Stakeholder Discovery
Systemic Design Ethics

Several recent studies have published well-developed practices of co-creation, design facilitation, and stakeholder convening for advanced design collaboration. There may be many systemic design methodologies that prove effective in their consultative or engagement settings. Yet in any design process requiring consensus in participant decisionmaking, non-parametric design contexts I refer to as Design 3.0 and 4.0 (Van Patter and Jones, 2013), we face a practical and systemic problem with stakeholder representation. Unlike product or service design (Design 2.0) we cannot merely sample from a user base to inform design decisions targeting future product releases.

In Design 3.0 and 4.0, the “users” are the system. Real stakeholders are not merely representatives of a social system in which they hold membership, they are committed co-producers of the existence of the system of concern. As in a wicked problem, each selection of stakeholder matters, and they co-create a framing and context that remains path-dependent, that cannot be undone. Vision, context and direction setting are extremely sensitive to initial conditions, and – especially when performed well – may create a lock-in effect with confirmation of beliefs among actors that their choices represent desirable preferences for future system participants.

In systemic design we face the wicked problem dynamic of a changing problem frame with each selection of participants. We can see shifts between each stage of a progressive design process, sustaining an essentially artificial co-creation engagement. These methodologies initiate design co-creation from visioning and problem framing, through system concept formulation, and toward consensus on collective action. All of these activities require stakeholder insight and validation, and much less design guidance and content (as necessary in D2.0 product/service contexts).

Any design process may be irrelevant if stakeholder selection fails to represent the requisite exogenous variety in their social system AND fails to enroll authentic commitment from those selected stakeholders. Because design disciplines are predicated on a tradition of creative problem solving, these functions are often underdeveloped. We do not select and enroll sufficiently well enough to guarantee an effective result.

Western culture now exists in what we might call a late-modernist knowledge society, and we have centred users and stakeholders as the source of knowledge and validation. Human-centering is itself presented as evidence of ethical practice, or at least, a necessary sensitivity to multivocalism in design process. However, the situated placement of (usually) self-selecting participants as representative “voices of the system” can slip into an efficient, unreflective process that escapes responsibility of future consequences of design decisions. We clearly would not decide a consensus for real social system participants. Yet how are we disclosing ourselves as lifeworld-sensitive designers, when we, perhaps even worse, decide who will be the system participants?

Design problematics in the many domains we now touch involve social complexity and the complex multiplicity of stakeholders. If we recognize that stakeholder co-creation is a context for design facilitation, we bring forth skills for different roles than product or service designers. We (systemic designers) are neither authentically domain experts or visionaries in the highly complex fields in which we serve, such as urban planning, healthcare, education, ecological community design, even AI and technology. The search for an authentic commitment, our stake in the game, must be negotiated in our experience and contributions to domains in which design is demonstrated through care, not just performance.

The proposal presents an iterative stakeholder sampling process developed for Dialogic Design (Christakis & Bausch, 2006) and other foresight methodologies, where the undersampling of variety leads to insufficient knowledge and gaps within critical areas of social representation. Based on two design action research cases performed with a large US research lab and Canadian foresight studies, we advance a sampling model that integrates four dimensions:

• Worldview perspectives, based on Latour’s (2013) Modes of Existence ontological typology as a social theory of orthogonal perspectives,
• Diversity and demographic characteristics (including temporal preference),
• Foresight temporality and trend categories, and
• The SDD reference stakeholder model (Christakis and Bausch, 2006).

A model for Requisite Stakeholder Variety enables robust sampling for ontological representation, variety, biases and diversity of knowledge, and exogenous representation commitment (e.g. skin in the game, Taleb & Sandis, 2015). A canonical stakeholder selection model maps selected foresight categories (e.g., STEEP) to worldview ontological domains, and further diversifies by variety attributes including age, culture, gender, and proposed horizon preference. This mapping identifies significant relationships of knowledge and trends across domains and disciplines. At minimum the stakeholder sampling model provides a checklist that exposes possible risks and blind spots in the available composition of stakeholders or experts. The model further provides a schema for identifying values conflicts between worldviews and other attributes associated with known stakeholder interests (such as strategic preferences that planners wish to include).

The requisite stakeholder variety model for stakeholder discovery was designed to address the necessary variety in high-stakes foresight for long-term R&D strategies and as a reference model for anticipatory policy research. We have proposed an approach called evolutionary sampling, that iteratively samples stakeholders from across sets of covarying dimensions identified within the social system being designed. This method also effectively enables planners and sponsors to reveal biases and risks and to trade-off potential leaders, dominant voices, and under-represented minority views within the social system of concern.


Christakis, A.N. & Bausch, K. C. (2006). How people harness their collective wisdom and power to construct the future in co-laboratories of democracy. Information Age Publishing.

Latour, B. (2013). An inquiry into modes of existence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Taleb, N. N., & Sandis, C. (2015). The Skin in the Game as a Risk Filter. In Future Perspectives in Risk Models and Finance (pp. 125-136). Springer.

Van Patter, GK & Jones, P. (2013). Understanding Design 1,2,3,4: The rise of visual sensemaking. In T. Poldma (ed.), Meanings of Designed Spaces. New York: Fairchild Books, pp. 331-342.


Click here to download the working paper

Old Rope: Laing’s Knots and Bateson’s Double Binds in Systemic Design

Lockton Dan
Carnegie Mellon University

Double binds

Bringing systemic thinking into design education—and practice—takes many forms. Work described at previous RSD conferences (e.g. Sevaldson 2017), and in the wider community around systemic design, cybernetics, and related fields such as transition design, has emphasized the value and importance of particular systems concepts and approaches, from the leverage points and stocks, flows, and buffers of Donella Meadows (2008), to the conversation models of Dubberly and Pangaro (e.g. 2015), the materials mapping of Aguirre Ulloa and Paulsen (2017), and the visual approaches of Boehnert (2018). There is, taking a systemic perspective, probably no ‘right’ set of concepts to teach or learn, only a repertoire or vocabulary (Lockton & Candy, 2018)—a requisite variety—of methods, tools, or lenses for examining and exploring systems at different levels of resolution and with different purposes and goals in mind; “All models are wrong, but some are useful” (Box & Draper, 1987).

Among other useful concepts, one pair of ideas from the systems and psychiatry milieu of the 1960s and 70s has proved applicable in provoking design students to consider systemic effects in relation to aspects of interaction with digital technology in everyday life, and enabling new kinds of analyses: R.D. Laing’s concept of knots (1970) and Gregory Bateson’s notion of the double bind (1972). Although originally developed and presented in very different circumstances, the two concepts have certain synergies that make them valuable ‘tools for thinking’ about systems, and can be applied practically to people’s role in contemporary technological examples including issues of data protection, social media, ‘smart’ homes, behavioural targeting, and design for behaviour change, as well as other topics within design practice such  as contextual research with participants, and participatory design.

To summarise the concepts briefly in this abstract: Laing’s Knots is a curious 1970 publication, a slim book formatted in the form of   a volume of poetry, which contains a collection of patterns of human thinking, metacognition, and theory of mind that Laing had noticed in his work as a psychiatrist, and turned into abstracted (but still often poignant) examples. Many of them involve one person reasoning about how another person thinks, or trying to unravel the complexity of, or causalities within, a situation, and there is a good deal of ‘second-order’ thinking present.

These knots are essentially about people trying to understand what someone else understands about them, or in our terms, how someone understands their relationship with a system. But that understanding changes how they relate to the system, and the system in turn then changes the relationship, and a tangle or knot emerges.

For instance, the book starts with:

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.” (Laing, 1970)

Some later patterns verge into forms of concrete poetry which are essentially systems diagrams (e.g. Figure 1), and it is this way into using the concept of ‘knots’ which proved especially useful in an exploratory Master’s level class called Experimenting with Design, taught at Carnegie Mellon for the first time in 2017. Students were introduced to knots through extracts from the book, and challenged to find (and construct) examples of analogous situations in people’s everyday interactions with technology.

For example, in Figure 2, a ‘new knot’ around data sharing and personalization in smart homes is presented (building on ideas from Fantini van Ditmar & Lockton, 2015). Figure 3 shows a knot approach to a common issue in design for behaviour change—a perceived collective action problem.

Students applied the ‘knot’ principle in  conjunction with Bateson’s concept  of  the double bind. In this context, it refers to dilemmas, situations where someone feels—or experiences— being pulled or pushed (metaphorically) in two contradictory directions at once (causing stress, unhappiness, or decision paralysis). 

More precisely, it describes situations where the ‘rules’ of how to act within a system seem to be mutually self-contradictory and any action taken in one direction causes more problems in the other (paralleling aspects of wicked problems, particularly Conklin’s (2006) interpretation). To use an example that students raised, they know they ‘should’ eat more healthily (taking time to prepare), but they also know they ‘should’ spend as much time as possible working. Often the contradiction occurs because each framing of ‘the problem’ is operating at different level of the system, and so uncovering double binds as experienced by people living ‘within the system’ can be a route into understanding how to intervene, or at the very least to map the system from the perspectives of the participants.

In the conference presentation and subsequent paper, I will develop both the theory behind these concepts and how they fit with systemic design, and also discuss practical examples of how students applied the ideas to explore systems perspectives on topics including Facebook targeting advertising, culture around food and fashion, and design for sustainable behaviour. I will also offer some tentative methods for how knots and double binds can be used within participatory design processes and user research with a systemic design focus.


Aguirre Ulloa, M., & Paulsen, A. (2017). Co-designing with relationships in mind: Introducing relational material mapping. Form Akademisk, 10(1), pp.1–14.

Bateson, G. (1972). ‘Double Bind, 1969’. In: Steps to an Ecology of Mind, pp.271–278. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Boehnert, J. (2018). Design, Ecology, Politics: Towards the Ecocene. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Box, G.E.P., and Draper, N.R. (1987). Empirical model- building and response surfaces. New Jersey: Wiley.

Conklin, J. (2006). Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems. New Jersey: Wiley.

Dubberly, H. and Pangaro, P. (2015). ‘Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action’. Cybernetics and Human Knowing 22(2–3), pp.73-82.

Fantini van Ditmar, D. and Lockton, D. (2015). ‘Taking the code for a walk’. Interactions 23(1), pp.68–71.

Laing, R.D. (1970). Knots. London: Penguin

Lockton, D. and Candy, S. (2018). ‘A Vocabulary for Visions in Designing for Transitions’. Proceedings of DRS 2018: Design Research Society conference, Limerick, 25– 28 June 2018.

Meadows, D.H. (2008). Thinking In Systems: A Primer. Vermont: Chelsea Green.

Sevaldson, B. (ed.) (2017). Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD6) 2017 Symposium. Oslo, Norway, October 18–20, 2017.


Click here to download the working paper

Systemic Design Labs (SDL): Incubating systemic design skills through experiential didactics and nature-based creativity

Luthe Tobias
ETH Zurich

Systemic design teaching and learning
Engineering design
Master program
Educational toolkits
Bio-inspired design

What if we were better and faster in finding and implementing solutions supporting the transition towards a more sustainable society and planet? What if engineers and designers were habitually looking into nature’s design solutions when confronted with complex problems? What if transdisciplinary teams were designing from cradle-to-cradle, generating circular opportunities but no waste? What if our educational system were equipped to train systemic design thinking and doing for sustainability to everyone?

Systemic Design Labs empower engineering and interdisciplinary Master students to become change agents for sustainability. Outdoor experiences, biomimicry, fabrication and transdisciplinary partnerships help to develop skills in sustainability, critical systems thinking, bio-inspired creativity, circular design and service understanding, embedding technical work within social-ecological systems. 

Engineering design education is facing growing responsibility for contributing to the global societal goal of sustainability in a world of increasing complexity. Students have to be empowered to proactively design products from a systemic perspective, where ecological life cycle design is integrated with traditional engineering design skillsets, also in relation to social factors and user needs. The Systemic Design Labs (SDL) initiative at ETH Zurich builds on established teaching in engineering design and introduces systemic design thinking and doing in an innovative format based on experiential didactics and outdoor creativity. We developed a new, integrated modular block course for MSc and PhD engineering students, where ecological design skills and service understanding are combined to better cope with the increasing complexity of current and future sustainability design challenges. We use bio-inspired design, fabrication with sustainable materials and product systems mapping as innovative but proven didactics to spur creativity, holistic and critical thinking within a sustainability context. We prototype an educational fabrication toolset for teaching systemic design and sustainability in schools, while engaging in transdisciplinary partnerships for societal impact and gaining realworld experience. 

The SDL is an initiative at ETH Zurich to develop, experiment and implement innovative educational offerings in sustainability and engineering design. Starting from engineering design, SDL integrates the natural sciences and the humanities, eventually reaching out with flexible learning modules to teaching creative, systemic design for sustainability to everyone. 

We showcase a set of new SD courses at ETH Zurich where we built skis, kiteboards, skateboards, educational snowshoe kits and knives in the academic years 2016-2018. The courses were setup to one part as more of a classic lecture and seminar-based courses on sustainability science and systemic design theory; the second part consisted of fabrication parts, experimenting with practical tools to design and prototype. Students showed and expressed high interest and engagement in and beyond the course, with multiple requests for further project opportunities. 

The SDL aims to integrate systemic thinking and doing for sustainability in current engineering design education and practice. SDL crosscuts traditional engineering disciplines to address critical human needs and foster inter-departmental cooperation. We achieve these aims in seven fundamental ways: First, we sensitize students for the potential to developing sustainable solutions for pressing societal problems. Second, we engage students in systems thinking by mapping an engineering design challenge within its greater societal and service context, working interdisciplinary. Third, we spur ecological design thinking and creativity by experiencing nature’s design solutions outdoors, practicing the art and science of bioinspired design. Fourth, we teach life cycle analysis and circular design by working with natural materials, expanding from the current engineering focus on high tech materials and metals. Fifth, we advocate critical thinking for sustainability by letting students design and fabricate an educational snowshoe building toolkit for schools, as an initial example, based on established systemic design principles. Sixth, we transfer the practically derived skills to a complex real-world application of a transdisciplinary (TD) partnership, and seventh, we maximise outreach by spreading the educational toolkits, by offering modular course concepts to partners, and by publishing course movie. 

During one of the new SDL courses and as a main output to increase outreach, students systemically designed and prototyped an educational toolkit. The educational toolkit has three main didactic functions and one general goal: First, students apply their acquired skills and material knowledge on something concrete; second, students prototype and fabricate with a functional and user purpose; third, students not only fabricate, but design the kit with the aim that others can use it to teach systemic design to their students – this requires a self-reflective process; and fourth, the toolkit significantly increases public outreach of the SDL since it is distributed to schools and the broader public. 

The guiding narrative behind the toolkit idea is that of a modular, multifunctional and systemic designed backpack, something practical that most people can connect with. The backpack is useful in daily life and for exploring the outdoors, it aims to take people out in nature as the best teacher in sustainability and systemic design. It can be equipped with a variety of practical tools and things for an exploration, such as snowshoes, a stove, hiking poles, a flask, a wind-powered phone charger, a hand or solar-powered torch, and similar tools. The SDL tools can all be carried in the backpack and are of help in outdoor activities yet designed with careful attention to environmental resources and impact. The backpack and each tool are designed according to systemic sustainability guidelines and thus of value as such. Even more so, for each tool there is an educational kit, so others can use the kit to practice systemic design while at the same equipping their backpack, preparing to explore the outdoors and getting inspired by nature’s creativity. The design of the backpack and its tools is interdisciplinary, having an industrial design component, a material and engineering part, include the consumer/user perspective, and trigger the connection with nature and natural sciences. It motivates people to go outdoors, while the design inspirations are drawn from nature.

Future probing for prodaptive organizations

Maessen Caroline, Van Houten Suze, Van der Lugt Remko
HU University of Applied Science, Utrecht

Future probing
Prodaptive organizations
Complex challenges
Adaptive space


Organizations are struggling to find ways how to deal with the complexity and uncertainty of the (societal) challenges in the current dynamic environment. Linear approaches are considered insufficient to deal with current dynamic, complex challenges (Conklin, 2005; Snowden, 2002).

In order to deal with this, organizations need to improve their adaptivity: to become sensitive to what is happening outside their boundaries, and to act upon external signals in flexible ways. Adaptivity requires a delicate balance between efficiency and innovation (Schwartz, Bransford & Sears, 2005). Organizations that enable an adaptive response open up adaptive space by engaging networks and emergence (Uhl-Bien, 2017).

In the last decades, a more strategic role for design and designers has been found to help organizations to deal with complexity and uncertainty in a dynamic world (e.g. Nelson & Stolterman, 2012), especially because of the constructive approach of creating future artefacts that help experiencing possible futures, by means of for instance prototypes, visualizations, or video.

In this paper we present our approach to open up adaptive space in an organization in a designerly way, and our first learnings when applying this approach in a real-life case example.


The presupposition is that a designerly feedforward learning approach, which we refer to as ‘future probing’, will help organizations to become prodaptive, as in being able to anticipate changes and act in preparation of these. The core mechanism in adaptivity relates to feedback. However, in volatile situations mere reacting on changes in the environment is insufficient. A proactive attitude is required and a sense of ownership to actively seek for weak signals of change. To anticipate the changes requires some understanding of the situation and the capacity to ‘read’ future signals that indicate what is about to happen. Like a toddler’s mother, who embraces herself because she picks up the signal that her child is going to jump into her arms (as toddlers do), and because she knows the toddler expects to be caught (as mothers are supposed to do, according to child logic). It helps to have experienced a similar situation before to make sense of the emerging future situation and to be able to make better decisions in the present.

The exploration of possible futures allows a cross-disciplinary group to gain insights and build understanding on future (societal) challenges. Future probing opens up adaptive space by inviting people to step out of operational flow and link up with other disciplines for exploration.

Approach: Combining Future Visions and Pressure on the System

Our two-tier approach consists of first exploring possible future visions by means of concrete manifestations of possible futures (e.g. Gardien, 2006), followed by niche experiments intended to put pressure on a system (e.g. Schot & Geels, 2008), in order to provoke regime change. Chris Ryan (2011) refers to such an approach as ‘eco-acupuncture’: identifying where energy is stuck in the system, then putting pressure at those points in order to allow for the release of that energy. 

The process starts with mapping the current situation, stakeholders, trends and drivers. From a combination of trends and weak signals a range of future visions is explored by making tangible future probes. These are products or services, that represent the projected future in a provocative way, and enable people to experience and discuss how they would deal with such a future and what are underlying values and motives. The narratives and insights are used to develop so called future enriched experiments, to poke the current system to evoke movement.

In this approach learning takes place on three levels:

…about the phenomenon under investigation (knowledge development)
…how to bring about movement in the organization (systemic change)
…about the way that a designerly approach can help the group to take a prodaptive role in this process (professional development)

Case Example: Surfing the Data Wave

Together, the research group Co-design and a provider of ICT infrastructure to Dutch research and education institutes explored futures where data are abundant, along three lines: autonomy, educational big data and data ownership (knowledge development). The intention of the project was to design, lead and communicate a process, that would activate employees to deal with future changes (professional development), and that would start a cultural change in the organization toward a learning, prodaptive organization (systemic change). The details of the approach were developed during the project by a core team of both frontrunners from the organization and codesign researchers. This development was guided by these design values: pushing boundaries, discovery by serendipity, enabling to act and make, cross-disciplinary collaboration, learning from the future. The frontrunners acted as ambassadors of the three themes and reached out to other employees to take part in thematic embassies, based on curiosity and expertise. Furthermore, students were involved for their youthful energy and to look from fresh perspectives. 

Step 1: by mapping the current system a dialogue about trends and drivers, like data accessibility (open, closed), automatization and robotization, instigated the discovery of new frames. Powerful ‘what-if’ questions started alternative world views regarding control and autonomy: “What if technology takes all decisions for and about us?”

Step 2: experiential far-future probes (visionary prototypes) were developed as entry point to this new world. People were asked how they would deal with such a situation. E.g. students were offered a study contract by their university, that lowered their tuition in exchange for controlling all their personal data.
Students appeared open to some kind of fair trade, but demanded that use by commercial third parties would be prevented at any time. 

Step 3: although in this case we did not yet conduct near-future probing experiments, it would be valuable to investigate how students could have more control over and insight in the personal data, that are now kept by educational institutions, for instance in a personal education ID. Currently an employee is researching this in a PhD-trajectory.

Project learnings

When putting the future probing approach to practice, it appeared difficult to let go of current frames and thinking patterns in favor of more radical innovation. Even more cumbersome was to connect activities and insight from the far-future explorations to the present, without complying to the organization’s pull to order and stability. Bootcamps and workshops generate energy among diverse groups of people and this opens up adaptive space (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017) to share and develop knowledge. However, we encountered difficulties in trying to hold this adaptive space to facilitate more continuous innovation. We found both enablers and obstacles:

• Generative tools and visualizations to support the process increased confidence among the participants who were unfamiliar to the process of future probing.
• Alignment of the innovation process with operational processes of both the organization and education (when involving students) can become a huge bottleneck. Making adequate use of the flexible hours in agenda’s, like lunchtime and early breakfast helps.
• Keeping momentum throughout the whole process is challenging. Bootcamps and co-design- sessions ignited a lot of energy and enthusiasm but were considered extra time and put pressure on operational deadlines.
• Both the thematic content (data-revolution) and the novelty of the process (future probing) appeared attractors to engage employees in activities. However, because the approach was new to them, the desire to prototype new solutions to put on market next week often prevailed over learning from ‘visionary prototypes’.

Preliminary conclusion

The future-probing-approach is promising in opening up adaptive space within an organization, because it provides the tension dynamics needed to learn from conflicting perspectives and to create novelty by linking up with people (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017). Both operational and innovation managers need to develop commitment and agree on time spent on innovation. To quote the chief innovation in this case: “it should be voluntarily, but not open-ended”.

To actually enable people and organizations to be prodaptive, we need to expand the future probing practice. Therefore, it is necessary to understand its working mechanism, especially in connecting far- future explorations to near-future experiments. 

The future probing practice at least needs to support participants:

… to recognise and let go of own patterns, dynamics & paradigms (probes as scaffolds)
… to change their daily practice: from focus on outcome to focus on learning (probes as boundary negotiating artefacts)
… to proactively become more adaptive to make the connection (probing experiments)


Conklin, J. (2005). Wicked Problems & Social Complexity in Dialogue Mapping: Creating Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems. Wiley and Sons.

Dammers, E. (2000). Leren van de toekomst. Over de rol van scenario’s bij strategische beleidsvorming. (Learning from the future: the role of scenarios in strategic policy making). Delft, Eburon, the Netherlands.

Gardien, P. (2006) Breathing life into delicate ideas. Philips Design.

Oliver, J.J. and Parrett, E. (2018) Managing future uncertainty: Reevaluating the role of scenario planning. Business Horizons, Volume 61, Issue 2, March–April 2018, Pages 339 — 352.

Nelson, H.G. & Stolterman, E. (2012). The design way: Intentional change in an unpredictable world.

Second edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ryan, C. (2013) Eco-acupuncture: designing future transitions for urban communities for a resilient low-carbon future. Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 50, 1 July 2013, Pages 189 — 199.

Schwartz, D., Bransford, J. and Sears, D. (2005) Efficiency and Innovation in Transfer. In J. Mestre (Ed.), Transfer of learning: Research and Perspectives. Information Age Publishing.

Schot, J. and Geels, F. W. (2008) Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys: theory, findings, research agenda, and policy, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 20:5, 537 — 554.

Snowden, D. (2002). Complex acts of knowing: paradox and descriptive self-awareness. Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 6, Number 2, 2002. Pages 100 — 111.

Uhl-Bien, M. and Arena, M. (2017) Complexity leadership: Enabling people and organizations for adaptability. Organizational Dynamics (2017) 46, Pages 9 — 20.

Mapping disciplinary mobility for tackling complex problems

Marines Hernández Luis Enrique
Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico

Complex problems
Strategic design
Collective mapping

This paper aims to develop a conceptual and methodological framework to facilitate the understanding of cross-disciplinary interactions among heterogeneous working groups that work together with creative purposes to approach to complex problems. This approach requires a self-organization process among actants that regularly originates conflicts in terms of ideology, language, terminology, techniques and methods, —mostly because of epistemological contrasts among fields of knowledge—. These conflicts have direct impact in the coordination of agencies and the formulation or strategies (their variation, selection and adaptation), which enables or obstructs the interactions flow and its productive results.

To achieve the understanding of this phenomena, this paper is based on the following principles: 

• Complex problems solving requires the formulation of systems-oriented approaches that need to be developed collaboratively, so the necessity of applying systemic and strategic design to facilitate cross-disciplinary processes is essential if we are looking to create innovative theoretical and methodological frameworks. 

• Actants’ profiles are not determined by their disciplinary backgrounds, but by their capacity of flowing across institutionalized systems of knowledge, oriented by their interests of agency, and regulated by diverse exchange processes that enable their organization and linkage with other agents through the consumption, production, and application of information and knowledge. This is will be understood as “disciplinary mobility”. 

• GIGA-mapping and other systemic design techniques are useful to represent complex processes that involve a multiplicity of agents, systems and interactions. Using systemic design and visualization as a tool for group-thinking facilitation can help to understand the disciplinary interaction stages and the diversity of actants’ attitudinal profiles that enable or hinder their workflow. (iv) There is a possibility of utilizing spatial metaphors to understand and communicate complex concepts like “disciplinary profiles” and “disciplinary mobility” that essentially represent the flexibility among multiple ways of understanding, being and acting while facing a problem. This paper uses the four dimensions of Neri Oxman’s Krebs Cycle of Creativity (Science, Engineering, Art and Design), to set-up a framework to map interactions across disciplinary territories.

Throughout the paper I will explain how these principles have been applied to create a methodological framework that brings theory and practice into a set of tools that can be implemented within a workshop format called “Knowmap”. The workshop is based on the following insights:

• Arnold van Gennep’s “rites of passage” model is useful to understand the disciplinary interaction process as a journey/experience where the individual experiments an identity transformation while moving from monodisciplinary understanding to a cross-disciplinary way of working. This approach identifies 3 different stages: separation, margin and aggregation.

• Exploring the relationships among the concepts of space, knowledge and power as understood by Michel Foucault, helps to reflect on the way academic disciplines have been historically and culturally constructed, in the same way that nations were created to regulate agents with the distribution and classification of space and identity. This happens as well with human knowledge and the way institutions create frontiers to separate and reproduce modes of knowledge production. This phenomenon has direct impact in the way human agents assimilate these modes as a way of being and doing.

• Finding patterns and creating personas can help our understanding of the different ways of acting while experiencing disciplinary interaction processes. With this purpose, the research illustrates 3 attitudinal profiles: “The local”, an expert on a single discipline; “The tourist”, and interdisciplinary curious with mixed expertise; and “The Knowmad”, a multidisciplinary strategist.

• Visual thinking and systemic design tools can facilitate the understanding of disciplinary interactions as complex experiences constituted by different layers of metaphorical spaces (territories of knowledge, actants’ mindsets, exchange processes, and systemic interactions), thought a rhetoric process to visualize strategic flows, interests, barriers and leverage points.


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Design for emergence – enabling stakeholder liminal transitions and innovation value pivoting through complex systemic transformations

Matic Goran, Matic Ana
Chaordic Design

Innovation adoption
Social systems
Stakeholder resilience

How might we emerge sustainable innovation value within complex systemic transformations?

Researchers observe that “innovation occurs through the combination and recombination of information and knowledge that are old and new” where “innovation is thus an emergent process” (Cooke, 2013). However, emerging innovation in a sustainable manner – whether within markets, communities or organizations – is increasingly viewed as being related to the processes of learning (Harkema, 2003) within complex–adaptive systems (Carlisle & McMillan, 2006), collaboration within multi–stakeholder environments (Sørensen & Torfing, 2011), and value co–creation (Romero & Molina, 2011).

And yet, the innovation initiatives entrusted with emerging sustainable innovation value frequently experience challenges in cross–industry settings – including lack of adoption by the key stakeholders in the natural resource management practices (Shiferaw, Okello, & Reddy, 2009), healthcare organizations (Cresswell & Sheikh, 2013), and policy environments (Douthwaite, Keatinge, & Park, 2001). Innovation is posited to be further complexified by the team climate and performance (González-Romá, Fortes-Ferreira, & Peiró, 2009), and the multi– dimensional aspects of enabling adoption (Pichlak, 2016).

To respond to the outlined concerns around the feasibility of emerging new value through innovation processes, we introduce Design for Emergence – a practical, applied design methodology intended for multidisciplinary teams and practitioners – to enable flourishing futures and increased resilience across systemic scales (Bergström & Dekker, 2014), human psychosocial contexts (Matin & Taylor, 2015) and social support systems (Sippel et al., 2015; Almedom, 2015). We introduce tools and methods for building social coherence (Antonovsky, 1987; Keyes 1998) across systemic scales and levels of analysis (Marr, 1982), with the goal of easing the stressors within ‘liminal spaces’ (Van Gennep, 1906; Turner, 1987) to impact desirable future outcomes and enable individual and organizational transformational journeys.

The Design for Emergence is positioned as a meta–design modality comprised of three core components: 1) Design for Adoption, 2) Design for Resilience, and 3) Design for Transience. Each component is a general purpose meta–design modality with specific canvasses, intended to simplify practical use of theoretical concepts within diverse, complex innovation environments requiring multi–stakeholder collaboration and delivery of broad cross–scale impacts.

Recognizing that the intrinsic and continued participation of key stakeholders is essential for the success of innovation initiatives, as exemplified in co–innovation (Lee, Olson, & Trimi, 2012), the Design for Adoption eases this process by leveraging motivational theory to support both initial and ongoing stakeholder engagements (Pink, 2009).

To maintain energy throughout the implementation phase of an innovation initiative, the Design for Resilience leverages methods for managing liminal journeys (Van Gennep, 1906; Turner, 1987), and uses the ‘Sense of Coherence’ (SoC) mechanism (Antonovsky, 1987; Keyes 1998) to enhance resilience of the communities, organizations and stakeholders involved.

As an innovation initiative nears completion, researchers observe that a change in the underlying value perceptions acts as a stressor (Cullen, Edwards, Casper, & Gue, 2014). To re–imagine the value propositions within the enclosing ecosystem and re–orient stakeholder value–perceptions, the Design for Transience maps how value perceptions change through the levels of analysis (Marr & Poggio, 1982), and leverages the ‘three horizons’ foresight method (Curry & Hodgson, 2008) for exploring the evolution of value perceptions from the experienced present to a perceived future.

A key objective is to be able to leverage practical tools to pivot value perceptions within market changes and complex ecosystemic transformations – to articulate value–propositions that enhance collaborative potential and create alignment with the key stakeholders, customers and communities in a way capable of enabling emergent innovation.


Almedom, A. (2015). Understanding human resilience in the context of interconnected health and social systems: Whose understanding matters most? Ecology and Society, 20(4). https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-08195-200440

Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unraveling the mystery of health: How people manage stress and stay well. San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.

Bergström, J., & Dekker, S. W. A. (2014). Bridging the Macro and the Micro by Considering the Meso: Reflections on the Fractal Nature of Resilience. Ecology and Society, 19(4). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/26269699

Carlisle, Y., & McMillan, E. (2006). Innovation in organization from a complex adaptive systems perspective. E:CO, 8.

Cooke, P. (2013). Complex Adaptive Innovation Systems: Relatedness and Transversality in the Evolving Region. Routledge.

Cresswell, K., & Sheikh, A. (2013). Organizational issues in the implementation and adoption of health information technology innovations: An interpretative review. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 82(5), e73–e86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2012.10.007

Cullen, K. L., Edwards, B. D., Casper, W. C., & Gue, K. R. (2014). Employees’ Adaptability and Perceptions of Change-Related Uncertainty: Implications for Perceived Organizational Support, Job Satisfaction, and Performance. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29(2), 269–280. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-013-9312-y

Douthwaite, B., Keatinge, J. D. H., & Park, J. R. (2001). Why promising technologies fail: the neglected role of user innovation during adoption. Research Policy, 30(5), 819–836. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0048-7333(00)00124-4

Gennep, A. van. (1906). Mythes et légendes d’Australie: études d’ethnographie et de sociologie. E. Guilmoto.

González-Romá, V., Fortes-Ferreira, L., & Peiró, J. M. (2009). Team climate, climate strength and team performance. A longitudinal study. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82(3), 511–536. https://doi.org/10.1348/096317908X370025

Harkema, S. (2003). A complex adaptive perspective on learning within innovation projects. The Learning Organization, 10(6), 340–346. https://doi.org/10.1108/09696470310497177

Keyes, C. L. M. (1998). Social Well-Being. Social Psychology Quarterly, 61(2), 121–140. https://doi.org/10.2307/2787065

Lee, S. M., Olson, D. L., & Trimi, S. (2012). Co-innovation: convergenomics, collaboration, and co- creation for organizational values. Management Decision, 50(5), 817–831. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251741211227528

Marr, D. (2010). Vision: A Computational Investigation Into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information. MIT Press.

Matin, N., & Taylor, R. (2015). Emergence of human resilience in coastal ecosystems under environmental change. Ecology and Society, 20(2). https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-07321-200243

Pichlak, M. (2016). The innovation adoption process: A multidimensional approach. Journal of Management & Organization, 22(4), 476–494. https://doi.org/10.1017/jmo.2015.52

Romero, D., & Molina, A. (2011). Collaborative networked organisations and customer communities: value co-creation and co-innovation in the networking era. Production Planning & Control, 22(5– 6), 447–472. https://doi.org/10.1080/09537287.2010.536619

Shiferaw, B. A., Okello, J., & Reddy, R. V. (2009). Adoption and adaptation of natural resource management innovations in smallholder agriculture: reflections on key lessons and best practices. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 11(3), 601–619. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-007-9132-1

Sippel, L., Pietrzak, R., Charney, D., Mayes, L., & Southwick, S. (2015). How does social support enhance resilience in the trauma-exposed individual? Ecology and Society, 20(4). https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-07832-200410

Sørensen, E., & Torfing, J. (2011). Enhancing Collaborative Innovation in the Public Sector.

Administration & Society, 43(8), 842–868. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095399711418768

Turner, V. (1987). The Anthropology of Performance. PAJ Pu


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Finding the emic in systemic design: Towards systemic ethnography

Murphy Ryan J. A. 
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Systemic design
Case study

An under-emphasized but crucial variable of success in systemic design is the perspective through which a problem system is understood and from which interventions are conceptualized and implemented. While rooted in design (a consciously empathetic discipline; cf. Kimbell, 2011), it is easy for systemic designers to use research practices that may fail to capture and use the perspectives of their stakeholders. ftese approaches risk misrepresenting the stakeholders who contribute to projects and, in turn, they are a danger to the potential impact of these mis-researched problem systems. In this research, I propose an assessment framework to check whether a project effectively deploys research tools and processes that strengthen stakeholders’ perspectives, and I provide a proof of concept of this framework in use through hermeneutic case study analysis.

Systemic design processes that are not executed with the direct and explicit engagement of stakeholders—to the extent of achieving an emic (from within) understanding of the system—may be flawed at their foundation. By fostering recognition of the importance of an emic perspective, and by providing a framework of principles, practices, and processes to accomplish systemic design with this perspective, I hope to ensure that systemic design processes are as accurate and valid as possible with respect to the stakeholders of the system.

ftis is not to suggest that systemic design practice is “too etic” (from outside). In fact, with roots in design, systemic design is often deliberately emic. Systemic designers make use of designerly tools that help the researcher to build empathy with system stakeholders (e.g., soft systems methodology, critical systems heuristics, appreciative inquiry; Jones, 2014). ftey often seek to engage stakeholders in the systemic design process and include reflective analysis of what has been learned in order to assess where deeper engagement with the system is required (Ryan, 2014). ftat said, with the advent of crowdsourcing (the facilitated involvement of the general public in problem solving, usually using online tools; Lukyanenko & Parsons, 2012) and data science (the use of computational tools to analyze and understand large quantities of data; Šćepanović, 2018), data-driven methods may increasingly influence systemic design practice. One recent example sought input from hundreds of people to identify opportunities for change in Canadian post-secondary systems through an iterative online survey (Second Muse, Intel, & Vibrant Data, 2016). ftis data-driven direction is a powerful opportunity, of course, but it underscores the need to develop principles and best practices for assessing and supporting emic understanding as we gain more data from these tools.

In the first phase of this research, I look to the principles and theorists of ethnography to develop a framework for assessing the emic/etic perspective of a given research project. Namely, Geertz’ “ftick Description: Toward an Interpretive fteory of Culture” (found in The Interpretation of Cultures, 1973, chapter 1) provides a foundation for the process of emic research in the form of four iterative steps: (1) acknowledge initial impressions; (2) capture speech, behaviours, events, and artifacts; (3) construct meaning; and (4) self-appraise sufficiency of capture and construction of meaning. Meanwhile, Creswell and Miller (2000) provide a set of five procedural principles for emic validity: (1) triangulation; (2) disconfirming evidence; (3) prolonged engagement; (4) member checking and collaboration; and (5) researcher reflexivity. Taken together, I generate a critical research framework which can be used to assess a given research project’s emic/etic perspective.

In the second phase, I provide a proof-of-concept of this framework (and its theoretical underpinnings) via a case-based assessment of three systemic design projects. Case studies provide an effective venue for learning about the context- dependent manifestations of the phenomena being studied (Flyvbjerg, 2006). One of these case studies is one I have developed through my experience in participating and contributing to the development of the Canadian National Youth Leadership and Innovation Strategy framework, which convened hundreds of youth and youth-serving organizations in order to understand the youth leadership and innovation system in Canada (MaRS Studio Y, 2017). fte second and third case studies are those profiled by Ryan and Leung (2014). In each case, I use identify phenomena representing the practice of emic (or etic) understanding in the research orientation of the work, as acknowledged by the above framework. I examine the step-by-step procedure and any associated notes about the experience of the researchers and participants involved. In each step or experience, I look for evidence of the four steps of emic understanding or the six techniques of emic validation reported above.

In order to interpret and analyze the chosen case studies, I turn to the methodology of phenomenological hermeneutics (Eberle, 2014, p. 196; cf. Wernet, 2014). Phenomenological hermeneutics are appropriate as I have access to the described phenomena of the systemic design projects captured by the chosen cases, but these phenomena are not explicitly captured with reference to emic or etic perspectives—thus some construction of the inherent emic or etic data is necessary in order to make judgments about the perspectives found in the projects.

ftis hermeneutical analysis provides comparative evidence for the emic and etic perspectives used by the researchers in each case. It becomes possible to contrast and critique the principles, practices, and processes employed in each project in order to make a judgment about the project’s resulting emic/etic orientation. From these analyses, a metaphor emerges. Systemic design projects with etic orientations adopt an intensivist approach. Akin to intensive care in medicine, the systemic designers attempt to artificially suspend a system in a room. (Consider board room systems mapping as a trivial example of this practice.) Attempts are made to “get the whole system in the room”, but the system is therefore removed from its context. fte status of inaccessible elements of the system are guessed at and assumed, while other elements are placed in stasis and augmented by facilitation and technology. fte resulting interventions are spun up in this artificial space, but implemented in the system’s context—the systemic design team simply hopes that their assumptions hold and that the artificial suspension didn’t cause too much damage. System design projects with an emic orientation adopt an extensivist approach. fte designers themselves extend into the system. ftey sit with it for a while in order to acclimatize to its culture and learn its patterns. ftey interact with stakeholders and phenomena in context and capture these interactions as they are, as an ethnographer would. fte interventions they develop are (co-) created in place, built into the system’s real networks and activities.

Of course, the challenge with these dueling approaches is that there are important trade-offs. fte extensivist approach takes time and personal investment. What’s more, the intensivist approach can have other valuable outputs: stakeholders of a system see one another and the parts of the system they interact with as a cohesive whole. fte result of this analysis, then, is not an obvious set of best practices. Instead, the emic/etic assessment framework can be used to judge how a research project effectively captures the perspectives of its stakeholders. It breaks down a project into components, each of which provides an intervention point for enhanced emic understanding. Finally, it provokes a reflective conversation, forcing us to ask ourselves where we can do better.


Creswell, J. W., & Miller, D. L. (2000). Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry. Theory Into Practice, 39(3), 124– 130. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip3903_2

Eberle, T. S. (2014). Phenomenology as a Research Method. In U. Flick (Ed.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis (pp. 184–202). Los Angeles, Calif. [u.a.]: Sage. Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.unisg.ch/228374/

Flyvbjerg, B. (2006). Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 12(2), 219–245. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800405284363

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays (Vol. 5019). Basic books. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=BZ1BmKEHti0C&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=%22what+to+include,+and+h ow+reverently+to+treat+what+is+included%22+%22only+those+of+my+essays+which+bear,+directly+and%22+%22i+n


Jones, P. (2015). Design Research Methods for Systemic Design: Perspectives from Design Education and Practice. Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the ISSS – 2014 United States, 1(1). Retrieved from http://journals.isss.org/index.php/proceedings58th/article/view/2353

Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking Design ftinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285–306. https://doi.org/10.2752/175470811X13071166525216

Lukyanenko, R., & Parsons, J. (2012). Conceptual modeling principles for crowdsourcing (pp. 3–6). ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2390034.2390038

MaRS Studio Y. (2017). A strategic framework for youth leadership & innovation in Canada: Insights from the 2016 National Youth Leadership and Innovation Strategy Summit. Toronto, ON. Retrieved from http://www.studioy.marsdd.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/MaRS_NYLIS-strategic_framework_Final.pdf

Ryan, A. (2014). A Framework for Systemic Design. FORMakademisk–research Journal for Design and Design Education, 7(4). Retrieved from https://journals.hioa.no/index.php/formakademisk/article/view/787

Ryan, A., & Leung, M. (2014). Systemic Design: Two Canadian Case Studies. FormAkademisk – Research Journal of Design and Design Education, 7(3). Retrieved from https://journals.hioa.no/index.php/formakademisk/article/view/794

Šćepanović, S. (2018). Data science for sociotechnical systems – from computational sociolinguistics to the smart grid. Aalto University. Retrieved from https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi:443/handle/123456789/30187

Second Muse, Intel, & Vibrant Data. (2016, May 11). What Your Data Says: Post-Secondary Education Mapping Survey Highlights. RECODE. Retrieved from http://re-code.ca/whats_happening/watch-recode-webinar-what-your- data-says/

Wernet, A. (2014). Hermeneutics and Objective Hermeneutics. In U. Flick, The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis (pp. 234–246). 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road London EC1Y 1SP: SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446282243.n16


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Give me the place to stand: Leverage analysis in systemic design

Murphy Ryan 1, Jones Peter 2
1, Memorial University of Newfoundland
2, OCAD University

Causal loop diagrams
Semi-quantitative methods
Network analysis
Causal decomposition

A key component of many systemic design processes is the development and analysis of systems models that represent the issue(s) at hand. A system is a collection of interdependent social, technological, and environmental phenomena. Models of systems often take the form of Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs—sometimes referred to as influence diagrams) in which phenomena are graphed as nodes with connections between them indicating an influencing relationship. These visual modelling techniques provide systemic designers with a mechanism for stakeholder collaboration, problem finding, and generative insight (i.e., sticky note ideation makes everyone feel heard, appears democratic, and often results in emergent themes and ideas). These functions are valorized in design thinking, and they provide real value in garnering momentum and achieving common mental models in complex problems. They give systemic designers powerful resources for use in visual argument.

However, while we believe these tools are useful, we also believe their true potential is unfulfilled. The properties of complex systems (and of how people engage with them) present a number of issues that introduce bias and chance into this process (Norman & Stappers, 2015). Given a model, systemic designers work through what they observe and interpret, engage in dialogue about what is important, and look for patterns (one category of which is archetypes, in which phenomena following certain patterns tend to produce similar emergent behaviours; Braun, 2002). While some principles and processes exist (see Jones, 2014), identifying leverage points and designing solutions tends to happen by “muddling through” a problem. This means solutions are developed and implemented in opportunistic form, through satisficing rather than optimizing (Norman & Stappers, 2015; see also Simon, 2008, chapter 2). Thus, we find a critical value gap: models are used in visual argument, but they could be used to augment those very arguments founded on evidence and logical relationship analysis.

We propose the application of semi-quantitative analytics to systemic design models to go beyond visual argument, offering a powerful toolkit for:
Comprehensive system mapping for complex sociotechnical systems (including the development of reference models that can inform synthesis/Gigamaps, or that can be used as their own arguments);
Network-based analysis to uncover key structures, relationships, and latent leverage positions of modelled phenomena;
Analytical mapping of problem systems and sorting out multicausality; A toolkit for cross-impact analysis between problematiques; and A “reality check” on strategic foresight proposals (by mapping temporal changes in networks and problematiques, we can better predict signal -> trend outcomes).

With these analytics, models may be rethought in terms of the logics of leverage to reconcile this value gap.
We introduce (or at least renew emphasis) on centrality analysis (metrics derived from social network analysis, evaluating the relative importance of mapped phenomena through measuring the structure of the directed graph made by the phenomena) and decomposition heuristics (algorithms derived from systems dynamics that analyze the directed graph structure to reveal the causal and loop hierarchy of modelled systems) in systemic design.

To demonstrate the application of centrality analysis, we map the interconnectivity of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their targets based on the work of Le Blanc (2015). By using metrics adopted from social network analysis, we are able to differentiate between goals and targets of differing levels of importance based on the structure of the map. Phenomena closeness (how proximate a given element is to the rest of the map) provides a ranked list of key indicators of change in the mapped system. Eigenvector (how well-connected an element is to other well-connected elements) analysis provide a ranked list of highly connective forces in the system: potential leverage points. These metrics therefore help identify which goals and targets to watch and which to intervene on the process of creating systemic change in the SDGs.

To demonstrate the application of decomposition heuristics, we create a level partition (a hierarchy of causal structure of a map) and a loop inclusion graph (a hierarchy of feedback loop subsystems nested within one another) from feedback loops modelled in previous work on education systems change (Murphy, 2016). The level partition only decomposes the system into two levels, showing the strongly connected nature of the modelled phenomena in the system at hand. The loop inclusion graph, however, shows that certain feedback loops dominate the feedback loops they are contained within. Understanding—and intervening upon—these dominant loops should take precedence over their subsidiaries.

The potential value in combining these tools should be clear. Decomposition heuristics can be used to break down the structure of modelled systems, making clear hierarchies and isolated systems within systems that sometimes disappear in the hairball complexity of these models. Likewise, centrality analytics can indicate key indicators, leverage points, bottlenecks, and other useful phenomena in the system. Taken together, isolated, dominant subsystems with high rankings on centrality measures tell systemic designers exactly where to stand in order to move their systems.

The resolution of this value gap is particularly important as we see growth in the use of systemic design—and the technologies that support its practice. In order to develop models of systems that accurately represent the many stakeholders involved in the system, systemic designers must draw on diverse sources to collect and organize as much data as possible (Jones, 2014; Stroh, 2015). Fortunately, thanks to the development of recent technologies and practices such as crowdsourcing (the development of participatory systems that involve publics in a collaborative project, usually directed by a project owner; Lukyanenko & Parsons, 2012) and data science (a set of techniques and theories that help distill insight from data; Šćepanović, 2018), the collection and organization of large amounts of data will become ever easier.

This brings us to an important paradox. Larger, more complex, data-driven models are likely more representative, as they capture more perspectives and nuances than simpler models. At the same time, larger, more complex models are harder to learn and understand (Rossi & Brinkkemper, 1996), and therefore they are also harder to use in the development of solutions. Thus, the tools we propose come at a crucial moment for leverage analysis in systemic design. Their advancement and provisioning could elevate the potential of the tools at the core of the discipline. With this careful rethinking of the logics of leverage, we might make better arguments for change, finding the place to stand from which to move the world.


Archimedes. (2018, January 11). Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Archimedes

Jones, P. H. (2014). Systemic Design Principles for Complex Social Systems. In G. S. Metcalf (Ed.), Social Systems and Design (pp. 91–128). Springer Japan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-4-431-54478-4_4

Lukyanenko, R., & Parsons, J. (2012). Conceptual modeling principles for crowdsourcing (pp. 3–6). ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2390034.2390038

Le Blanc, D. (2015). Towards integration at last? fte sustainable development goals as a network of targets. Sustainable Development, 23(3), 176–187.

Murphy, R. J. A. (2016). Innovation Education (MRP). OCAD University, Toronto, ON. Retrieved from http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/1344/

Norman, D. A., & Stappers, P. J. (2015). DesignX: Complex Sociotechnical Systems. She Ji: fte Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 1(2), 83–106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2016.01.002

Ozbekhan, H. (1970). fte predicament of mankind: A quest for structured responses to growing world-wide complexities and uncertainties (Original Proposal to the Club of Rome). Geneva, Switzerland: fte Club of Rome. Retrieved from http://quergeist.net/Christakis/predicament.pdf

Rossi, M., & Brinkkemper, S. (1996). Complexity Metrics for Systems Development Methods and Techniques.

Information Systems, 21(2), 209–227.

Šćepanović, S. (2018). Data science for sociotechnical systems – from computational sociolinguistics to the smart grid. Aalto University. Retrieved from https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi:443/handle/123456789/30187 

Simon, H. A. (1996). fte sciences of the artificial (3. ed., [Nachdr.]). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Stroh, D. P. (2015). Systems ftinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Tzetzes, J., & Kiessling, G. (1826). Iōannou tou Tzetzou Biblion historikēs tēs dia stichōn politikōn, Alpha de kaloumenēs. F.C.G. Vogel.


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The contingent city.
De-coding the possibilities of the city’s sociospatial metabolism

Passia Yota, Roupas Panayotis

253 Design Patterns
Christopher Alexander
Spaces Of Possibility
City’s Dimensions
Elementary Units
Sociospatial Metabolism


While the continuous flow of events – within the complexity and dynamic systems theory – seems to be a given, we still cannot tell the exact nature of future events, prior to their emergence. This research aims to establish a code for the city as a semantic system that models cities and monitors their sociospatial metabolism. In setting the general schema for its ontology, the research disregards the difference between the observable and the nonobservable as well as the anthropocentrism this distinction implies (DeLanda 2013). In this context the city is composed of both the actual and the virtual, the “city as is” and the “city as it could be”, respectively. As they both inform and enhance the city’s identity, its production is to be explained through a process ontology format without the need for a designing author.

Such an autopoietic system Humberto Matura and Fransisco Varela classified as a ‘machine’ which is ‘organized as a network of processes of production of components, continuously realizing the network of processes that produced them’ (Maturana and Varela 1980) thus able to process information over time. As this information is both actual and virtual, the concept of a code is introduced as a mediator mechanism. The material agency of this productive process, key to Deleuzian ontology, is described as a bifold process which constantly informs itself, including a “convergent phase of selection” and a “divergent phase of design” (Spuybroek 2008: 189).

For the convergence phase – one to inhabit the virtual domain – a code of Design Patterns (Passia, 2016) is organized by gathering information that is relevant and providing its topological structure, one that concentrates on the relations instead of the components. A movement towards quality, order and organization. In the divergent phase – one to inhabit the actual domain – an affective mechanisms’ index (Roupas, 2016) is organized to guide the actualization as the code germinates and transforms into actual spatial structures with geometric and qualitative properties. (Spuybroek 2008: 189) A movement towards quantity, matter and structure.

Convergent phase: the code’s organization

To propose a framework for the code’s organization, we introduce Christopher Alexander’s (Alexander et all. 1977) 253 Design Patterns as the code’s elementary units. Each Design Pattern is a diagram that describes form through a set of rules or criteria, expressing a relation amongst a particular context, a particular system of forces that is repeated within the context, and a spatial configuration that allows these forces to balance. Design Patterns’ internal structure, already quite fluid and dynamic, is essential for the code to simulate two important processes: the process of representation – that is to gather and store information about the city – and the process of self-organization – that is to develop organized structure and adapt it to cope with the changing fields of information (Cilliers 1998).

In that respect, Design Patterns are introduced onto a surface in space as assemblages pointing to modes of information transmission (Wilden 2011: 220). On that surface they are free to assemble and reassemble anew, as they use their ability to communicate at different spaces, levels and scales. Through a two part population-thinking process their regularities and tendencies are documented and protocols of interconnected networks of communication are established. (image 01) These two parts of the populationthinking process agree with Henri Bergson’s distinction between difference in kind and difference in degree (Bergson 2014: 23). Mapping their difference in kind describes the city’s dimensions as Design Patterns’ assemblages while mapping their difference in degree defines its dimensional gradients as degrees of Design Patterns.

As Design Patterns start populating this autonomous surface, the manifold gets activated and energized. At the end of the first part of the process, the manifold will have four spaces of possibilities pointing them as the city’s four dimensions, each inhabited by specific Design Patterns:

interiority vs. exteriority
integration vs. separation
concentration vs. decentralization
similarity vs. heterogeneity

After the second part, each dimensional space will be organized according to four varying degrees of intensity called dimensional types, where the same Design Patterns will be employed to produce the full array of all degrees. (image 02)

Through this bifold process, we have defined a number of attractors for the city’s code: its four dimensions as the genera of exteriority, cohesion, integration and differentiation, and also the intensive boundaries of their internal variation. Through the attractors, it is possible to explain the city’s identity in relation to networked patterns of communication between its elementary units, themselves consisting of degrees of intensity (Passia, 2016).

Divergent phase: the code’s structure

Entering the divergent phase and while the code maintains in full its topological organization, it transforms its structure to become formative by replacing its elementary units. To allow for the material structures to remain open and thus able to create variations of oneself, an affective mechanisms’ index is created, a map of the affective capacity of spatial objects at different scales, from design objects to buildings and urban configurations. Those spatial structures are theorized as assemblages, that is systems composed of interacting parts. And since all assemblages are parts of larger assemblages, their components’ ability to engage is contingent. (Meillassoux 2012:10)

In order to analyze and produce spatial assemblages of that kind, we point to their more stable characteristic: which is their ability to affect and to be affected. (Deleuze & Guattari 1987:xvi) In mapping the assemblages’ affective ability, spatial objects are analyzed in two axes. (Delanda 2006: 13) The first axis focuses on the relations that the assemblage’s material and expressive components develop in order to enter the assemblages. The second axis records the processes known as A-signifying signs or A-signs, (Guattari 1995: 54) which are the triggering mechanisms able to stabilize or destabilize the assemblage and thus allow its parts to assemble anew. These mechanisms are introduced as intensities that transform the object beyond meaning, beyond fixed or known cognitive procedures. They belong to a molecular level which is populated by modulations, movements, speeds, rhythms and spasms. (Lazzarato & Melitopoulos 2012: 240) As a-signs cannot be isolated from matter, we thus point to affects as the result of the a-signs’ capacity to trigger the selection of one action possibility – affordance – among many.

To that end, approximately 100 a-signs have been mapped via the analysis of numerous contemporary spatial objects of various scales, including works of art and installations. In that respect an affective mechanisms’ index is created (image 03), one where all the a-signs are listed as an index of techniques that could enhance the affective capacity of the final design object. Each a-sign is now connected with the list of affects it triggers and which thoroughly defines it. And vice versa, as the same affect can be triggered by different a-signs, the design object is allowed to lie in a perpetual state of becoming. Through the affective mechanisms index we are now able to analyze and direct the design objects’s final form while at the same time establishing the mechanism to measure its continuous transformation.

To define spatial objects, A-signs are categorized in terms of their aesthetic power to affect and to be affected and are placed onto the respective dimensional areas of exteriority, cohesion, integration and differentiation. On the basis of the general categories of form, structure and surface, different part’s degree of contingency are evaluated and measured. (image 03) By replacing Design Patterns with A-signs we introduce affects as material information that is immanent in the spatial object while at the same time they confer no meaning; they only convey some information without semantic content. The affects’ ability to merge with the material world without mediation allows them to avoid the realm of representation. With this codification we are able to control the final form of the design object while at the same time establishing the mechanism to measure its continuous transformation.


Having the same code with different components – Design Patterns and A-signs – we are able to construct a machine that connects the convergent phase of selection with the divergent phase of design. Through this bifold process, we have defined a number of attractors for the city: its four dimensions as the genera of exteriority, cohesion, integration and differentiation, and also the intensive boundaries of their internal variation. Through the attractors, it is possible to explain the city’s identity in relation to networked patterns of communication between its elements, themselves consisting of degrees of factors. At the same time, through the a-signs we have actively connected the convergent and divergent phase. In the code we organize for the city, the elements and the relationships exist in the same continuum thus effectively bridging the gap between the actual and the virtual city. The code we have organized for the city resembles Deleuze’s abstract machine : ‘a map of relations between forces, a map of destiny, or intensity, which proceeds by primary non-localizable relations and at every moment passes through every point, ‘or rather in every relation from one point to another’.’’(Deleuze 2016: 36).

Appendix of images

  1. Work in progress: Map of Communication 03_12 criteria list
  2. Work in progress: Map of Communication 04_the city’s 4 dimensions
  3. Work in progress: Extract of Affective Mechanism Index
  4. Work in progress: Code table with A-signs


Bergson, Henri, Paul Nancy & Dowson Mary (2014). Matter and memory. Kent: Solis Press.

Cilliers, Paul (1998). Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems.
London: Routledge, UK.

Deleuze, Gilles, & Guattari, Félix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, Gilles, & Hand, Sean (2016). Foucault. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota

Delanda, Manuel (2006). A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social
Complexity. London and New York: Continuum.

DeLanda, Manuel (2013). Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. London and New York: Continuum. USA.

Guattari, Félix (1995). Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm. Trans. Paul Baines and
Julian Pefanis. Power Publications: Sydney.

Lazzarato, Maurizio & Melitopoulos, Angela (2012) Machinic Animism. Deleuze and Guatarri Studies 6, 2, 240-249.

Maturana, H. R., Varela, F. J., & Beer, S. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition the realization of
the living. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Pub.

Meillassoux, Quentin (2012) Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Meaningless Sign. Lecture at Free University, Berlin, 20 April, 2012. accessed https://
cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0069/6232/files/Meillassoux_Workshop_Berlin.pdf accessed

Passia, Yota (2017) Typology of urban circumstances. Diploma project. National Technical
University of Athens. Postgraduate courses, Program Architecture – Spatial Design,
Division A: Research in Architecture, Architectural Design – Space – Culture.
http://dspace.lib.ntua.gr/handle/123456789/45195 accessed 13/12/2018

Roupas, Panagiotis (2016). Assemblages: The point of inflection. Diploma Project. National
Technical University of Athens. Postgraduate courses, Program Architecture – Spatial
Design, Division A: Research in Architecture, Architectural Design – Space – Culture.
http://dspace.lib.ntua.gr/handle/123456789/45361 accessed 13/12/2018

Spuybroek, Lars (2008) The architecture of continuity essays and conversations, V2_/NAi Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Wilden, A. (2011). System and structure: Essays in communication and exchange.
London: Routledge.


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Wicked Problems, Wicked Humor
Fun machines as a method to frame wicked problems in architectur

Perera Dulmini
Dessau Institute of Architecture (DIA),
Anhalt University of Applied Sciences

Wicked Problems
Second-order systems theory
Design education

“ The jester is brother to the sage”- Arthur Koestler

“Wicked problems” as defined by Horst Rittel in his pivotal text Dilemmas in a general theory of planning (1973), to this date provides a significant mode of rethinking questions of complexity in architecture. Recent interest in alternative instruments to frame complexity due to various forms of crisis (environmental, economic, refugee, etc.) and the resulting discussions on new instrumentalities or more specifically what John Law (2004) identifies as after method (ways of dealing with mess) opens the need to rethink the discourse on research methods and their relation to wicked problems in architecture. Although Rittel’s original paper has led to research projects in many fields such as sociology, organizational learning, information theory, software design, product design etc., apart from a small number of researchers such as Champory Rith and Hugh Dubberly (2007) there is very little direct discussion on wicked problems in architecture. In addition, while most people identify Rittel’s work in the context of information theory, information systems, conversation theory they pay less attention to the broader systemic component and humanities related aspects of his work. In this paper I will discuss a studio experiment with a device called “Fun machines” as a method of rethinking wicked problems in relation to architecture.

Systems which are identified in the context of the studio as fun machines are in fact carefully constructed timely architectural devices as a reaction to cultural agitants in forms of multiple crisis in the spheres of labor, migration flows, housing, environmental, educational. Whilst Rittel’s discussion on the nature of wicked problems is at the crux of the theoretical framework, in addition it engages with two other types of discourses to formulate a theoretical framework. Firstly it engages with the “ non- trivial machine” as identified broadly by the second generation of systems theorists (Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask) and the systemic notions of “information” and “heuristics” that the second-order systems framework engenders. The studio also draws on 1960/70s appropriations of these concepts within architecture by systems practitioners such as Archigram and Cedric price. Secondly, it engages with the philosophical discourse on humor as identified in the work of Sigmund Freud (humor and the unconscious), Henri Bergson (humor and the social), Gilles Deleuze (the connection between sense and nonsense), and Arthur Koestler (bis-association and the techniques of humor in problem framing).

Drawing on the aforementioned theoretical framework the pilot studio focused on wicked problems in the context of East Germany more specifically Dessau and the surrounding socio-political and environmental contexts. The wicked problems chosen by the students were transferable across other East German cities. The problems of migration, Germany’s efforts to balance these migration trends with the push of refugees towards the East, the lack of proper jobs and social infrastructural systems in, the disconnection between educational sites such as the University of Applied sciences in the former Bauhaus compound and the wider context of the city, the attitude towards outsiders or migrants, media and education systems in the GDR period and there contemporary effects, were chosen as starting points to their investigations. The resulting heuristics of the fun machines and their representations in the form of a comic strip has four specific features themes in relation to some of the core concerns laid out in Rittel’s 1971 paper.

  1. The fun machine as a device facilitates the non-taming of the wicked problems. It exposes the multiple feedback loops of complexity in these problems and allows the architect to reframe these processes in a recursive manner. For Rittel wicked problems were another way of rethinking the discussion on the significance of instrumental knowledge in architecture. Particularly instrumental knowledge as something that does not deal with “what is” (science) and “what it means” (humanities) but rather as something that relates to “ what matters” (pragmatics). Fun machines create mattering maps.
  2. Paradox or contradictions are significant components of wicked problems. When converted to a tame problem, these contradictions are reduced to simple problem statements. Using Koestler’s notion of “bis-association” the fun machine utilizes paradoxes as a productive factor in the generation of the machine. Discordant codes, hidden incongruities are made explicit. According to Rittel design emerges through conflict and controversy. The fun machine is a conflict/ controversy map.
  3. The fun machine plays with language. According to Rittel wicked problems need to be reframed constantly. The fun machine utilizes word play in its many forms ( pun, witticism, perversions of rhythm and rhyme to engage in re-languaging of the identified problem.
  4. The fun machine allows for a Clowning of the self and the construction of alter egos. It operates as a tool for designers to rethink their own subject position and agency. This idea of clowning allows one architect to assume multiple voices at the same time and voice the contradictory positions within the designing self. This method of not taking yourself seriously allows for other voices and criticisms that are part of the design framework to become apparent.

More specifically the project is part of a broader research and education experiment on rethinking the encounters between architecture, systems theory and wicked problems. It is an attempt to reframe ways of teaching Rittel’s concept of wicked problem and its relevance to contemporary discussions on research methods in architecture. The fun machine is not only a device to rethink how wicked problems are framed through humor but also remain as a way of introducing the concept and discourses of systemics to graduate students of architecture as a core discourse in there academic program or design studio education. In the presentation I will flesh out the discussion developed in 3 earlier paragraphs as 3 sections with special reference to the pilot studio project (including the drawbacks). It is hope that this will generate a broader conversation on ways of developing the project further. In a complex world where wicked problems become an inevitable part of the everyday life of an architect it is hoped that the fun machines will provide young architects with a tool for thought, action, activism, and if nothing else a method of survival in times of frustration.


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A constructivist and soft view of systemic design
A tribute to Jean Michel Larrasquet’s work

Real Marion 1, Lizarralde Iban 2
1, University of Arts, London 

Soft systemic
Constructivist epistemology
Cognitive sciences

“Les vérités sont des choses à faire et non à découvrir, ce sont des constructions et non des trésors” – (P. Valéry)

Several French authors have contributed to enlarge the knowledge on a soft and constructivist view of systemic thinking in the last decades.

The theory of complexity by Edgar Morin (2005) persisted to be the more complete and exhaustive critic of positivist approaches, underlying the need for embracing complexity, giving up on the necessity for absolute objectivism while opening a path exists between idealism and realism postures.

Morin, (1999) specially described the Complex thinking as a building with three different floors: Information, as well as cybernetics theories would be on the first floor. Second floor would be occupied by auto-organization and dissipative structure theories. The third floor would lodge three principles developed Edgar Morin: (1) The dialogic principle means that two contradictory principles are united not to overcome the contradiction but to consider the complexity of the tension that this contradiction provokes. (2) The recursion principle is based on a procreative loop, meaning that the subject is a product of the system and at the same time the system is created by subjects’ actions. Subjects do not only receive information from the system, they build a representation and creatively transform the system. (3) Finally, according to the hologrammatic principle, “the part is in the whole, but the whole is in the part”. For instance, society is composed by human beings but the society as a cultural construct is represented in each human being.

Based on this theory, Le Moigne (1994) and the cognitive science authors of enaction theories went beyond the bounded rationality (Simon, 1982), and introduced a new vision of thinking about systems warning designers that systems are interpretations (or cognitive construction) depending on the observer(s). For them, information and knowledge are not identical, as well as knowledge and action are not interdependent. “Knowledge” is an enaction of a system and a mind (Maturana et al., 1970) (not an accumulation of information) and an action that comes into new phenomenon (not a prerequisite for action) (Benasayag, 2006,). Knowledge is about modifying cognitive constructions to create clearness in experimentations and practices. A system cannot be known without acting and transforming it (Piaget, 1998) therefore design research and practices can be seen as means to operate research for action (Avenier et al., 2007).

In systemic design, soft-systemic approaches have been developed (Checkland, 2000) within a constructivist epistemology, considering models not as hard copies of the reality or representations that allow a prediction, but as intermediary objects (Jeantet, 1988) that will support design processes for building effective actions.

Numerous sociologists and designers also participated in the observation of complex processes of innovation and have been defending the importance of social dimension in such processes. For Alter (2002), innovation processes involve the co-evolution of systems, mental representations and relationships between stakeholders. With the Actor Network Theories, Akrich et al., (1988) proposed not only a frame to observe the co-evolution of processes of technical artifacts and social structures but also defined the notion of “translation” referring to the complexity of creating relationships when building innovating networks: stakeholders are constantly creating narratives that could create convergence or divergence between the diverse interests, enrol and disengage new actors.
Complexity, Constructivism, Enaction, Translation are key notions that institute the pillars of systemic thinking. Efforts are still needed to diffuse and embed them into actual organizational and design practices.

The French Bask author, Jean Michel Larrasquet (1950; 2018) was amongst the action-researchers applying complexity and systemic theories in his practices of activist, manager, prospective researcher and professor.

He was co-founder and president of the “Projectics” society for 20 years. Projectics is a community that question the complexity of human action within organizations through an annual conference and a revue that promote new and original angle on the topic, publishing articles in English, Spanish and French.

He also co-initiated a master of systemics from 2012 to 2015 proposed to managers. The training was composed by a 320 hours program, mixing plenary sessions and tutoring, based on 5 different modules introducing complex system management, systemic modelling, agile methodology, creativity and business model tools, inter-culturalism and soft systems approaches, open and sustainable management.

He was the president and an active member of the Bask Study Society “Eusko Ikaskuntza3”. This institution was created in 1918 to take up in a comprehensive and integrated way the social challenges of the Basque Country, considering its territorial specificities and going beyond the administrative, ideological and social obstacles. He was managing recent prospective works using design thinking tools to imagine and encourage reflections on strategic societal challenges like resource depletion, tradition and language preservation, health in different rural or semi-rural territories.

He co-created an original program of incubation for social innovative projects named ETICOOP4 in partnership with a major cooperative bank of the region, so project holders did not have to pay any fee for training and coaching. The program is supporting projects based on cooperative values, innovation and territory through common courses reaching 120 hours and 2 years of individual tutoring. Participants particularly enjoyed being challenging by external experts as well as their peers on key entrepreneurship themes like business modelling, financing plan, communication…

Through this contribution, authors would like to outline the contribution of French systemic thinkers that have not been systematically translated in English and therefore are rarely referred by the actual Systemic Design community. More especially, we want to give a special tribute to the legacy of Jean-Michel Larrasquet that has highly participated in supporting processes enhancing the adoption of a complexity and systemic thinking into design practices, for people, organizations or territories (Larrasquet, 2006; Larrasquet and Lizarralde, 2010; Larrasquet, 2012; Larrasquet et al., 2016; Lizarralde et al., 2011; Real et al., 2017). Specific highlights will be provided in the paper to disseminate the wisdom he acquires and transmits through his interrelated academic and practical works:

“Complex organizations are networks of people embedded in territories and cognitive’s processes constructing transitions with sense-making, ethics, care and emotions”.


Alter, N. (2002). 1. L’innovation: un processus collectif ambigu. In Les logiques de l’innovation (pp. 13-40). La Découverte.

Akrich, M et al. (1988) A quoi tient le succès des innovations ? Annales des Mines.

Avenier, M. J., & Schmitt, C. (2007). La construction de savoirs pour l’action (pp. 140-170). l’Harmattan.

Benasayag, M. (2006). Connaître est agir. Paysages et situations, Paris, La découverte.

Checkland, P. (2000) Soft Systems Methodology : A thirty yaer retrospective, Systems Research and Behavioral Science, Volume 17, Issue Supplement 1, Version of Record online: 15 Nov 2000

Jeantet, A. (1998). Les objets intermédiaires dans la conception. Eléments pour une sociologie des processus de conception. Sociologie du travail, 291-316.

Larrasquet, J. M., Pilnière, V., & Jayaratna, N. (2016). Discovering the nature of complexity involved in the innovation processes. International Journal of Technology Management & Sustainable Development, 15(2), 133-144.

Larrasquet, J. M. (2012). Crise, coopératives, innovation et territoire. Projectics/Proyéctica/Projectique, (2), 157-167.

Larrasquet, J. M., & Lizarralde, I. (2010). Complexité, systèmes et apprentissages. Une réflexion liée à la conception et à l’innovation. In Proceedings of the Ergonomie et Informatique Avancee Conference (pp. 123-128). ACM.

Larrasquet, J. M. (2006). Projectique: à la recherche du sens perdu. Paris, L’Harmattan.

Larrasquet, J. M. (1997). L’entreprise à l’épreuve du complexe: contribution à la recherche des fondations du sens (Doctoral dissertation, Lyon 3).

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Lizarralde, I., Larrasquet, J. M., & Coutts, N. (2011). Design and innovation in the face of complexity. Projectics/Proyéctica/Projectique, (2), 199-211.

Maturana, H and Varela, F. (1970) Autopoiesis and cognition, the realization of the living, Boston Studies on the Philosophy of Sciences, D. Reidel publishing Company. Morin, E. (2007) On complexity. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

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Real,M., Larrasquet, J-M., Lizarralde, I.(2017). A Complementary View on Complex and Systemic Approaches. “Systemic Design Method Guide for Policymaking: A Circular Europe on the Way”, Umberto Allemandi publishing

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Schmitt, C. (2017). De la complexité à un modèle de management alternatif: hommage à Jean-Michel Larrasquet. Projectics/Proyéctica/Projectique, (3), 7-8.

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Beyond user centric design

Sevaldson Birger
Oslo School of Architecture and Design
University of South East Norway

User Centric Design
User Oriented Design
Design Thinking
Systems Oriented Design
Anthropocentric design

This presentation will bring forward a criticism against the dominating attention to user centric design and discuss it from a perspective of systemic design.

User centred design has gained an important position and attention in the design world and beyond. The spread of design thinking into management and engineering as well as the public sector has contributed to this. It has been useful and appropriate to bring these fields to a better understanding of user needs and their experiences.

This development has largely been beneficial for the consumers, the users of systems and operators of machines. The development has been driven by its obvious congruent market orientation. Being user oriented is also good for sales. It can be coupled to branding and experience design easily. The current focus in service design on user experiences has driven this further.

User oriented or user centric design has hence become a leading beacon for many. In design practice as well as in schools user orientation is, a priori, taken for ethical good. Also other professions like engineering and management have adopted user orientation within the concept of Design Thinking (Boland & Collopy, 2004) (Brown & Katz, 2009). The concept of user centric design has been discussed and questioned by Restrøm (Redström, 2008) clarifying the difficulties in the concept, proposing that the user is a fiction, designed during the design process. Baumer who points to the blurred division of users and non-users (Baumer, 2015) and Wagenknecht defines the role of the unwantedly affected non users, the affected bystanding that comes with marginalization and passivity (Wagenknecht, 2017). This paper intends not to add to this discussion and refinement of the understanding of user centric design. Rather I want to take a step back, to a birds eye view, and raise the criticality towards the design methodologies and theories that put the idea of the user at the centre on the costs of other concerns. The frame of the abstract does not allow to elaborate on the nuances of this critique. The intention is to develop and refine this in the next steps towards a full paper.

The critique against a user centric design approach might contain several points addressed below. For each of them one could point to practice cases that would demonstrate e.g. sustainability etc. and more advanced approaches. However, the dominating user oriented approach in design is structurally not including these issues. It puts one aspect in the centre and this has unavoidably come at the expense of others.


User centric perspective applied in design are by their nature anthropocentric. This means that it is centred on the needs, perspectives and approaches setting humans individually and humankind in the centre. In times when our planet is threatened by human activity, continuing to propagate a human centric worldview is no longer adequate.

Not sustainable

From the anthropocentric worldview unavoidably follows unsustainable development and a further build down of our fundament to sustain life on earth. Action for sustainability is not a naturally integrated result from the worldview but is an addition to the human centric worldview.

Not agent based
A human centric approach is weak when it comes to agency. The notion of agency in design is used with great confusion. I use the term exclusively for a person acting on behalf of another person, or other entities, non-humans and environments. Agency in design becomes ever more important, to include secondary users, affected bystanders or non-users, or non-human beings that are affected by the design intervention often in unintended ways.

Does not care for the people in the production process

Amongst the secondary users, most often forgotten, are the people involved in the production process. Seen from a systems perspective, the purpose of a company is manifold even if it is not expressed so. Creating jobs is an important aspect that also contributes to distribution of wealth. One could claim, depending on the analyses, that from a systemic perspective the root purpose of companies is to create jobs.

Highly commercial

A user / consumer centric approach tends to be highly commercial. It comes at the cost of other perspectives, e.g. community dominated perspectives or other societal perspectives.
It does not cater for unintended consequences
A user centric perspective is inherently un-systemic and thereby is not able to cater for the unintended effects of our interventions.

Beyond user centric design

The idea of user and use reduces the potential complex relationship between object and actor (Latour, 2005) to a question of the object serving the user. The roles seem to be fixed: The providers of objects (and services) to the ones that receive them (the users). The users role in such a scenario is relatively passive. Though this notion of division of roles is challenged by service design theory, where the user is allegedly co-designing the service in the moment of consumption, and the notion of participation and co-design inherent in user oriented design methodology, still the user is normally perceived as congruent with the consumer.

Hence while inherently portrayed as an approach that reinforces a democratic design, by listening and involving the user it is not what it seems. User oriented or user centric design tends to reinforce the power divide in the liberalistic market economy and is politically not on the side of the disempowered but reinforces the means of the empowerment to increase their profit.

Susan Gasson implies a critical approach to user centric design and suggests “human centered design” as a …. dialectic between organizational problem inquiry and the implementation of business process change and technical solutions. (Gasson, 2003) This indicates a design strategy that still keeps the human in the center but that has multiple perspectives.

A multiple perspective approach in design is needed and needs to be developed further as a systemic design strategy. A fragmented and distributed approach, where, in the outset, everything is equal, is probably not the way to go. We need rather to have multiple centric design approaches where user centric design is one of several lenses. Others would be human centric and citizen centric design, design ethics, social systems, sustainability, technology politics and organizational design, economic issues and more. Most important we need to investigate possible side effects and unwanted outputs from the systems we design.

In a multi-centric design approach, some issues need particular attention:

1) How the perspectives are related and how they might be strategized and orchestrated. For that we need a systemic design approach. We provide such a framework in SOD (Sevaldson, 2009, 2011) and tools to cope with it in e.g. gigamapping

2) The notion of agency comes in the forefront.


Baumer, E. P. S. (2015). Usees. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 3295–3298). ACM.

Boland, R. J., & Collopy, F. (2004). Managing as Design. Stanford: Stanford university Press.

Brown, T., & Katz, B. (2009). Change by design : how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: Harper & Collins Business.

Gasson, S. (2003). Human-centered vs. user-centered approaches to information system design. JITTA: Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application, 5(2), 29.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Redström, J. (2008). RE: Definitions of use. Design Studies, 29(4), 410–423.

Sevaldson, B. (2009). Systems Oriented Design. Retrieved January 1, 2009, from http://www.systemsorienteddesign.net

Sevaldson, B. (2011). GIGA-Mapping: Visualisation for complexity and systems thinking in design. In Nordic Design Research Conferences, Making Design Matter. Helsinki: NORDES. Retrieved from http://www.nordes.org/opj/index.php/n13/article/view/104/88

Wagenknecht, S. (2017). Beyond non-/use: The affected bystander and her escalation. New Media & Society, 1461444817708775.


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Distinctions and analogies: mapping social system identity

Silverman Howard 1, Rome Crystal 2
1, Pacific Northwest College of Art
2, Business Innovation Factory

Social attractors
Analog mapping
Regime shift canvas

Systemic design focuses on issues of greater “scale, social complexity and integration” than service or experience design (Systemic Design Association accessed 2018). Given the rapid emergence of the systemic design field, attention has focused on theoretical and methodological development (Jones and Bowes 2017). In this paper, we contribute to this development by formalizing a method, grounded in complexity/resilience theory, for mapping social system identity.

From complexity/resilience theory, we adopt the “landscape” and “attractor” metaphors for conceptualizing stability and change in social systems (Sheffer 2009, Byrne and Callaghan 2014). In this approach, existing or potential social systems can be characterized as “regimes,” with dominant regimes described as business-as-usual and alternatives as niche or innovation regimes (Westley et al. 2011). To further develop this approach, we characterize social systems in terms of identity (Vickers 1980), and then relationally analyze social regime identities in terms of their underlying social factors or logics (Thornton et al. 2012). In these terms, a social attractor can be characterized as a constellation of logics, the “attraction” to which, among social actors, individually and collectively, serves to stabilize the regime (Silverman and Hill 2018).

Based on this model, we describe a method (and suite of techniques) for mapping analogies and distinctions in selected and bounded social systems and scenarios, as constructed by design strategists and/or by group-process participants. While this method is itself quite straightforward, its application encourages systemicity both in the models that can be developed and in the dialogs and deliberations that can be facilitated. In order to situate this method within a systemic design toolkit, we compare it with the methods described and illustrated by, for example, Sevaldson (2012/2017) and Jones and Bowes (2017), as well as with the wider literature on analogy making and comparative analysis (e.g., Hesse 1966, Hofstadter and Sander 2013).

In 2017, seeking to standardize and accelerate adoption of one mapping technique, we developed a “regime shift canvas” (Silverman et al. accessed 2018). This canvas is based on a bricolage of the landscape model with the design “bridge model” (Dubberly et al. 2008). In this bricolage, the “model of what is” in the bridge model represents a business-as-usual social regime and, by analogy and/or distinction, the “model of what might be” represents an alternative social regime or scenario. This canvas can be used in a variety of ways: as a prompt to individual creativity, as a basis for group facilitation, and as a heuristic device that informs the use of other analytical, group process, and/or foresight techniques.

This standardization also highlights the limitations of a singular technique and artifact (i.e., “canvas”). We discuss these limitations, and then describe additional techniques for mapping social system identity. Each of these techniques is illustrated herein, with examples drawn from the referenced literature and from student mappings developed in masters degree-level design programs at Pacific Northwest College of Art. In effect, these techniques represent variations on the bridge model, and we diagram each of them as such.


Byrne, D., and G. Callaghan. 2014. Complexity theory and the social sciences: the state of the art. Routledge, London, UK.

Dubberly, H., S. Evenson, and R. Robinson. 2008. The analysis-synthesis bridge model. Interactions (XV.2).

Hesse, M. 1966. Models and analogies in science. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, USA.

Hofstadter, D., and E. Sander. 2013. Surfaces and essences: analogy as the fuel and fire of thinking. Basic Books, New York, NY, USA.

Jones, P., and J. Bowes. 2017. Rendering systems visible for design: synthesis maps as constructivist design narratives. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 3(3):229-248.

Scheffer, M. 2009. Critical transitions in nature and society. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, USA.

Sevaldson, B. 2012/2017. GIGA-maps samples. Accessed 05 May 2018
at: http://www.systemsorienteddesign.net/index.php/giga-mapping/giga-mapping- samples.

Silverman, H., and G. M. Hill. The dynamics of purposeful change: a model. Ecology and Society 23(3):4. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol23/iss3/art4/.

Silverman, H., C. Rome, and R. Henkel. Regime shift canvas. Accessed 24 OCT 2018 at: https://www.regimeshiftcanvas.org/.

Systemic Design Association. Accessed 12 DEC 2018 at: https://systemic-design.net/sdrn/.
Thornton, P. H., W. Ocasio, and M. Lounsbury. 2012. The institutional logics perspective: a new approach to culture, structure, and process. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Vickers, G. 1980. Responsibility – its sources and limits. Intersystems Publications, Seaside, CA, USA.

Westley, F., P. Olsson, C. Folke, T. Homer-Dixon, H. Vredenburg, D. Loorbach, J. Thompson, M. Nilsson, E. Lambin, J. Sendzimir, B. Banerjee, V. Galaz, and S. van der Leeuw. 2011. Tipping toward sustainability: emerging pathways of transformation. Ambio 40(7):762- 780.


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Regenerative Value Systems – Model(s) illustrating flows and transformations of value within production systems

Snow Tom
Agence design Context EURL

Value Chains
Circular Economy
Political Economics
Institutional Economics; Production
Moral Values
Division of Labour
Natural Systems
Systemic Design


Value Shifting

The word ‘value’ is derived from the Latin valere, which means ‘to be strong or worthy.’ Since this origin, ‘value’ has developed new connotations:
[Value] “The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.

  • The material or monetary worth of something.
  • The worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it.

(Values) Principles of standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life.”

The emphasis, in economics, on moral values, and economic scientific value, has evolved from an initial focus mainly on values in early societies, as social interactions dominated, to a greater focus on value in modern societies, as economic interactions have come to dominate (p19 Heilbroner et al., 2012). According to Heilbroner (1985 p107-118), in the early nineteenth century with the rise of Utilitarian philosophy, values became null and void as Utilitarianism asserted that:

“…whatever served the individual served society. By logical analogy, whatever created a profit (and thereby served the individual capitalist) also served society, so that a blanket moral exemption was, so to speak, extended over the entire range of activity that passed the profit-and-loss test of the marketplace.” Heilbroner (1985)

Up until the mid-nineteenth century, economists believed that a clear objective theory of value was a prerequisite to having a clear appreciation of the prices of services and goods in the economy.

However, after the mid-nineteenth century, the understanding of economic value shifted towards one of ‘subjectivity;’ where the price which is paid by the consumer (who has subjective ‘preferences’) in the ‘market,’ determines the value of the goods or service, which are now regularly conceptualised as being ‘scarce’ (p7 Mazzucato, 2018).

Modern economics has, according to Mazzucato (p8, 2018), all but left the study of value behind (in all its forms). What resides, such as theories of ‘share-holder value,’ ‘adding value,’ and ‘value chains’ (Porter, 1998) are often found in greater presence in modern business schools, than in the study of economics.

The business strategist, academic, and writer Michael E. Porter defines value as the following:

“In competitive terms, value is the amount buyers are willing to pay for what a firm provides them. Value is measured by total revenue, a reflection of the price a firm’s product commands and the units it can sell. A firm is profitable if the value it commands exceeds the costs involved in creating the product.” Porter (1998) p38

Competitive Value Chains

Arguably, one of the most famous studies and visual models of a ‘business view’ of value, was developed by Michael E. Porter, which he explains in his book ‘Competitive Advantage.’

Porter (1998) describes a model, that has two main levels of abstraction, the ‘macro view,’ is called ‘The Value System’ (Figure 2); and the ‘micro view,’ which Porter (1998) calls ‘The Generic Value Chain’ (Figure 3).
Porter (1998) states that, it is here, at the level of the ‘Generic Value Chain,’ that the most effective form of analysis can be made:

“The relevant level for constructing a value chain is a firm’s activities in a particular industry (the business unit). An industry- or sector- wide value chain is too broad, because it may obscure important sources of competitive
advantage.” Porter (1998) p36
Therefore, Porter (1998) therefore, that it is within ‘The Generic Value Chain,’ a form of minimal unit or cell, where internal production processes can be disaggregated (isolated and separated) into a sequence of discrete tasks (divisional ‘silos’ of labour and or mechanical processes), where they can then be analysed for improvements (relative to competitivity).
Porter does not suggest that these distinct internal ‘building blocks’ are independent of one-another; acknowledging instead, that they are interdependent activities – with specific forms of ‘linkages’ and ‘interrelationships,’ shown in Figure 4 and 5.
Need for more Systemic Models

Due to planetary wide issues such as climate change, and the destruction and pollution of eco-systems, for example, ; there is an amplified imperative for production firms (i.e., industry, agriculture, forestry and fisheries) to evolve how they do business.

And so, the reductionist emphasis on the Business Unit by Porter (1998), with its linear, disaggregated representation (at least in the visual models), combined with a predominant focus on competition and subjective value, without any explicit or implicit inclusion of moral values, may not be so relevant (or at least, sufficient) for this transition. And so, this is arguably the reason why there has been a plethora of systemic/holistic models over the last few decades.

Possibly the most internationally recognised model in this ‘systemic’ field to date, is the ‘circular economy system diagram,’ (Figure 6) developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The model builds on a central linear value chain a more expansive system of material feedback flows.
Prior to the CE diagram, there has been other ‘circular’ models, such as the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ model by Walter Stahel (Figure 7), or the ‘Comet Circle TM,’ developed by Ricoh., Ltd (Figure 8).
Also, there are input-output diagrams, promoted by the ZERI (and others,
including the Systemic Approach Foundation for instance (Figure 9).‘Input-output’ can also be used as a tool for designing new material flows through integrated production systems.

These models mentioned thus far, focus on material flows and transformations, however, there are also models within this theme that are based around embedded capitals/systems (which often also include material flows).

For example, ‘The Five Capitals’ (Figure 10), the ‘Vision – Pursuing the Ideal Society (Three Ps Balance TM)’, shown in Figure 11, and the ‘Embedded Economy’ diagram (Figure 12). There has also been a model developed by Alexandre Lemille, within his ‘Circular Humansphere’ (Figure 14), that also integrates some social priorities within the ‘circular economy system diagram.’ And Kate Raworth has also developed
another model, known as ‘The Doughnut,’ (Figure 13) which brings fundamental human needs and planetary boundaries together into one vision. The overall purpose of many of these visual models, is to illustrate some of the key elements (and the relationships) and, sometimes, the potential strategies which are available. These models can also describe different visions of the economy’s place and role in our societies, and their relative (perceived) importance.

2 The Developed Regenerative Value Systems Model

2.1 Resources Renewal – All land and ocean regenerative practices used when producing resources (e.g. bio- chemicals, fibres, and foods). Practices that also build healthy soil, ocean ecosystems, or regenerate local water and mineral cycles, bio-diversity and resilience for instance.

2.2 Systems Renewal – All regenerative practices that are used to develop natural, cultural, and economic systems within a region. Large scale land regeneration projects, social networks and festive activities, social financing and policy work for instance.

2.3 Resources Conservation – All product eco-design, production machines, and the structures in which production and transformation takes place. These structures are interdependent ‘Holon’s.’

2.4 Systems Conservation – This includes product-life-extension processes, product-service-systems, and the integration of related goods and services. These systems keep materials flowing for longer and reduce asset redundancy, whilst increasing overall efficiency of the system.

2.5 Resources Cascading – All systems that use residuals for further production activities, creating new income streams. This includes biological materials, gases or liquids, heat, or minerals for instance.

2.6 Systems Cascading – The outputs of one firm becoming the inputs of others – across industries and across firms. This includes biological materials, gases or liquids, heat, or minerals for instance.

2.7 Holistic Principles – This is the central node, the place where the context can be understood, shared, and transmitted. Where decision making can be viewed from, when actors are in the other nodes.


Harris, Sam (2010) “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values,” Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY 10020, USA

Heilbroner, Robert L. (1979) ‘Beyond Boom and Crash.’ W. W. Norton & Co., New York, USA.

Heilbroner, Robert L. (1985) ‘The Ideology of Capital,’ The Nature and Logic of Capital, Norton, NY, U.S.A.

Heilbroner, Robert L. (1997) ‘Teachings from the Worldly Philosophy.’ W.W. Norton & Company. New York, U.S.A.

Heilbroner, Robert L. (7th edition 2000) ‘The Worldly Philosophers.: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers.’ Penguin Books, U.K.

Heilbroner, Robert L. and Milberg, William (13th ed.2012) ‘The Making of Economic Society.’ Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 07458. USA.

Hodgson, M. Geoffrey (2001) ‘How Economics Forgot History: The problem of historical specificity in social science.’ Routledge, London.

Korzybski, Alfred (1933), ‘Science and Sanity. An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.’ The International Non-Aristotelian Library Pub. Co.

Kuhn, Thomas (1962, 50th Anniversary Edition 2012) ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,’ University of Chicago Press, U.S.A.

Lovelock, James (1995 Second Edition) ‘The Ages of Gaia: A biography of our living Earth.’ Oxford University Press, U.K.

Mazzucato, Mariana (2018) ‘The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy.’ Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Random House Books, UK.

Milberg, William and Winkler, Deborah (2013) ‘Outsourcing Economics: Global Value Chains in Capitalist Development.’ Cambridge University Press, U.K.

Porter, Michel E. (1985, New Edition 1998) ‘Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance,’ The Free Press, NY, U.S.A.

Raworth, Kate (2017) ‘Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist.’ Random House Business, U.K.

Roncaglia, Alessandro (2006) ‘The Wealth of Ideas: A History of Economic Thought.’ Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.

Samuelson, Paul Anthony, Nordhaus, William D. (19th ed. 2010) ‘Economics.’ McGraw-Hill/Irwin, International Edition, New York, U.S.A.


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Radically Constructing Place

Sweeting Ben
University of Brighton

Radical constructivism
Second-order cybernetics

Place—what it means to be somewhere, or to be from somewhere, and how we then construct this as an idea and in built form—is a common thread running through the many systemic crises of our time. It is both a value under threat from globalisation, networked technologies, gentrification, and ecological and humanitarian disasters, and at the same time a contributing factor to political and social tensions that are intertwined with these issues, becoming visible in the reinforcement of borders and in current tendencies towards ever more specific units of political identity and nationhood. As an emerging theme in recent RSD conferences (e.g. Karl Otto Ellefsen’s keynote at RSD6; Perin Ruttonsha’s workshop at RSD5), place is an issue where systemic design and architectural theory can fruitfully contribute to each other. This is, however, not as straightforward as it might appear.

One of the most influential works on place within architectural theory is Christian Norberg-Schulz’s Genius Loci (published 1980). In this and related works, Norberg-Schulz turned towards phenomenology and in particular Heidegger’s later philosophy. This enabled him to move from the abstraction that is characteristic of his earlier writing to understanding architecture in more concrete and qualitative terms.

Phenomenological approaches such as that taken by Norberg-Schulz have been in retreat in architectural theory in recent decades. This has followed significant criticisms that are especially pertinent to contemporary discussions of place:
the theoretical underpinnings of phenomenological approaches to architecture are entangled with the nativism that is currently resurgent in our politics;
the regionalist approach that phenomenology has motivated has been co-opted by the global capitalism that it had sought to counter;
the tendency of phenomenological accounts of architecture to downplay the spatial consequences of social and economic factors is not tenable from a contemporary standpoint. Thus, while the phenomenological approach to place that has been pursued in architectural theory may have much to contribute, it is bound up with some of the very issues that are in need of being addressed.

In this paper I explore an alternative theoretical basis for understanding place.

Although Norberg-Schulz is perhaps best known for introducing Heidegger into architectural theory, he also makes use of a diverse range of other references. While this is especially the case in his earlier work, many of these sources are still prominent in his thinking even after his turn towards phenomenology. These include Jean Piaget, who I focus on here. Piaget’s ideas have, in parallel, been a significant influence on the development of the epistemological position known as radical constructivism (and the overlapping field of second-order cybernetics) through Ernst von Glasersfeld and Ranulph Glanville amongst others. In this working paper, I reformulate Norberg- Schulz’s discussion of spatial experience in radically constructivist rather than phenomenological terms, building on the role that Piaget’s ideas have in his thinking and the connections that these ideas make possible.

This shift allows for a significantly different understanding of place, emphasising the personal and interactive qualities of spatial experience rather than the properties of spaces in themselves. This avoids some of the complications that arise with phenomenological approaches and may be used to initiate new connections to fields where constructivism has been influential, such as cybernetics, systems thinking, and design research. This, in turn, allows for some of the less tangible issues that are bound up with contemporary conflicts over place—such as the design of technologies and services—to be understood in similar terms to place itself.


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Design as adaptation

Tekogul Irem
Illinois Institute of Technology

Systems thinking
Complex adaptive systems
Fitness landscapes
Emerging technologies

Design, as a practice that operates within artificial systems, draws upon a multiplicity of knowledge domains situated within entangled technical, economic and social systems. As a result of operating within the high level of complexity of entangled systems, the object of design expands as it shifts from nodes in the system to lines and to meshes. According to Latour (2008), design has moved from being a superficial layer added to objects to be interwoven in the processes that constitute ‘things’, which are assemblages of human and non-human agents in a system. Design has grown in comprehension, so that it became so it became integral to the inner meaning of things and extended to include larger assemblages so that “cities, nations, cultures, bodies, genes and the nature itself” can all be designed. New capabilities that are enabled by radical technological changes allow not only deciphering the complexity of ‘living things’ across scales -from genes to the nature- but also designing them. This paper proposes that new models and frameworks, which draw on evolutionary models, can facilitate navigating emergent design spaces.

Biotechnology, deemed as the dominant technology of our century (Dyson, 2007) is the convergence of life, physical and engineering sciences. Biotechnology ecosystem is an example of an open innovation system that is comprised of heterogeneous networks that weave small, science-based biotechnology companies, investors, and nonprofit research organizations into a community which operates based on the principles of aggregation, self-organization, and soft-assembly (Powell and Owen-Smith, 2004). The convergence of separate knowledge domains not only increases the number of application areas but also changes how research is being conducted. Because of the blurring disciplinary and institutional boundaries, the distinction between pure and applied research is becoming obsolete while knowledge domains are reconfigured towards supporting added value applications through use-inspired basic research and vision-inspired basic research (Roco et al. 2013).
Design attributes affordances to a product for known and unknown use in order to create value. However, Akrich argues that the actual uses of technologies are much more complex than what is inscribed in technical objects as ‘a framework of action together with the actors and the space in which they are supposed to act’ (1992). According to Heskett, design is an interface between the context of production and the context of use in which the value is created (2017). In the context of production design establishes the connections between technological opportunity, social institutions and economic value. In the context of use, the design product is put into context by its users. Hence, utility and meaning are constructed, whose relationships are mediated by the product. The structures that constitute the context of production and the context of use are not fixed but highly adaptive and contingent as these contexts co-evolve. In the development of emerging technologies, these structures start adapting once the technologies are put in the context of use. For example, the inclusion of the wider group of users often propels the formation of new networks and in turn new application areas.

Since the potential application areas of emerging technologies are not always obvious, evolutionary models could give insights into how value could be created through design. Fitness landscape model enables visualizing the attributes that contribute to fitness and the distribution of fitness across the topography. Thus, the model can also inform how the agents will move across the landscape to increase fitness, in other words, to adapt. Evolution is a process of search over fitness landscapes in which the topography determines the likelihood of success (Kauffman, 1992) which is determined by the agent’s ability to adapt to the landscape and it is dependent on both the attributes of the agent and its interdependencies to other agents in the ecosystem. Fitness landscape model could give insights into understanding the development and evolution of emerging biotechnologies.

This paper proposes a model for value creation which builds on complex adaptive systems and fitness landscapes theories to navigate the unfamiliar design space. Drawing on Heskett, proposed three—dimensional fitness landscape (Fig. 2) is defined by “economic value”, “technological opportunity” and “social institutions”. In unfamiliar design spaces, such as those defined by changes in biotechnology, fitness cannot be achieved purely by hill-climbing. As Norman and Verganti (2013) state hiII-climbing could be an effective strategy in finding local peaks, but there is the risk of becoming trapped in a valley or on a local peak. Radical changes in the landscape create higher peaks, however, it is difficult to locate the peaks in unfamiliar design spaces. Thus, to reach the highest peak a combination of hill-climbing and other ‘adaptive walks’ has to be employed.
The are several approaches to designing the adaptation. First Levinthan and Warglien (I999) propose that by “designing the surface on which adaptation processes take place”, the quality of the adaptive process could be altered rather than directing the behaviors and actions of each individual. Because the major determinant of a fitness landscape is the density of interdependencies of interacting agents within a system, the primary landscape design activities would involve the manipulation of these interdependencies. Thus, the ecosystem would be influenced to change without having to manipulate individual agents.
A second approach would involve increasing the adaptation capacity of individual agents through design. Design could be employed as a generative process to increase the diversity of efforts in innovative search, which would help to generate more recombination possibilities of technologies for application and reconfiguring internal structures to adapt to environmental changes. In the case of biotechnology, successful adaptation will require a combination of both approaches since most of the innovation capacity relies on both distributed networks of production and the unique set of capabilities of the individual agent while the ecosystem in which innovative search takes place is influenced by social institutions and economic value.


Akrich, Madeleine. “The de-scription of technical objects.” (1992): 205-224.

Dyson, Freeman. “Our biotech future.” The New York Review of Books 54.12 (2007).

Heskett, John. A john heskett reader: design, history, economics. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

Kauffman, Stuart A. “The origins of order: Self-organization and selection in evolution.” Spin glasses and biology. (1992): 61-100.

Latour, Bruno. “A cautious Prometheus? A few steps toward a philosophy of design (with special attention to Peter Sloterdijk).” Proceedings of the 2008 annual international conference of the design history society. 2008.

Levinthal, Daniel A., and Massimo Warglien. “Landscape design: Designing for local action in complex worlds.” Organization Science 10.3 (1999): 342-357.

Norman, Donald A., and Roberto Verganti. “Incremental and radical innovation: Design research vs. technology and meaning change.” Design issues 30.1 (2014): 78-96.

Roco, M. C., et al. “Converging knowledge, technology, and society: Beyond convergence of nano- bio-info-cognitive technologies.” Dordrecht, Heidelberg, New York, London 450 (2013).

Owen-Smith, Jason, and Walter W. Powell. “Knowledge networks as channels and conduits: The effects of spillovers in the Boston biotechnology community.” Organization science15.1 (2004): 5-21.

Binocular vision of designing process for whole systems design crossing boundaries

Thompson William Travis 1, Mesquita Da Silva Flavio 2, Steier Frederick 3
1, 3, University of South Florida
2, Fmsdesign Associate Consultants

Systemic design
Whole systems design
Design thinking
Communication as design
World Café

In the spirit of honoring Bateson’s metaphor of binocular vision (1979), this proposal brings together two design scenes for comparison in the mind of the reader as a way of generating new connections relating design and systems thinking as they played out (and are playing out at the time of this writing) in practice together with stakeholders and others in international and intercultural design contexts. The two comparative design scenes we explore are the Generation of Peace Project in the state of Ceara, Brazil, where more than 10,000 co-researchers sought to foster cultures of peace statewide, and the design of a Design Thinking course in the Honors College at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. Connecting these two distinct scenes are not only shared practices rooted in design and systems thinking but also the World Café (Brown and Isaacs, 2005; Steier, Brown, & Mesquita da Silva, 2015), a group communication process facilitated in each scene that later also emerged as a conversational bridge connecting the scenes.

As a first scene for binocular vision, the setting is Brazil’s Generation of Peace Project, a cooperation between the State Department of Education of Ceará (SEDUC), Brazil, and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), aimed at building networks of a culture of peace between 700 high schools and their communities. The focus on peace in a broad sense, promoting inclusion and respect for diversity, directly and indirectly involved almost 500,000 youth and their families as well as over 16,000 teachers and school administrators, in creating and maintaining a culture of peace. The voices of most societal segments brought in conversation facilitated by the World Café across the whole process of inception and development of the project made it possible to reach more than 200 high schools in less than a year. On the fourth year, in 2014, the project certified 509 schools that presented evidence of building peace on a daily basis, accounting for almost 75% of the entire school system explicitly engaged in the movement. The syncretization of the concepts, tools, and methodologies of systems thinking and the vision, values, and philosophy of ecological thought, elegantly organized in Stephen Sterling’s (2003) thesis, gave rise to the conditions that allowed for the schools to contribute to the project’s evolution according to their local characteristics, sharing the same framework with the other schools while providing unique experiences. Hence, “Generation of Peace” is a result of a whole systems design approach (Mesquita da Silva, 2017).

As a second scene for binocular vision, the setting is in the United States, in the Honors College at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, Florida, where college leadership sought to bring about change together with their students across a number of different dimensions of student life, ranging from the design of a new, dedicated Honors College building to the redesign of students’ curricular processes. To begin that work, students were invited as co-designers together with college leadership and faculty in bringing about change in the College and the larger campus environment through recursively designing their (our) Design Thinking course. These student co-designers were also invited to consider their observing frames (Steier and Jorgenson, 2003) in relation to their learning together with others, and have engaged so far in diverse design projects ranging from enhancing support of refugees moving to the Tampa Bay area to designing green spaces in USF’s Marshall Student Center, and they are regularly engaged in redesigning the course – ranging from reflection-in-action during group activities in a single class setting to inviting redesign of the course as a whole at the end of the term.

By looking at these two scenes in “double vision,” a number of key principles and patterns emerged for us that both connect these local contexts and offer opportunities for further inquiry as more general design principles. Most notably, in this proposal we highlight the recursive connections among design and communication, including how communication emerged as a key focus of design along with the other “objects” of design (Thompson, Steier, & Ostrenko, 2014) in both scenes, and also highlight an emergent need across both scenes for focus on cultivating learning from a whole systems perspective.

In attending to communication as a designable aspect of the larger design efforts for both scenes, we extended Glanville’s observation (2012) that design is a conversational process among designers by opening conversations through World Cafés and other group processes with stakeholders and designers together as a way of bridging multiple levels of communication – similar in spirit to Bateson’s development of the “orders of learning” frame (1972) – affording focus on both communication process and content such that a new, “third language” might be cogenerated by designers and stakeholders together, leading to new opportunities for learning and shared understanding about local design contexts.

Building on this attention to communication process as a designable aspect for design teams and stakeholders together, we also brought forward the integration of action and inquiry from both second-order cybernetics and action research (Greenwood and Levin, 2007) as a frame of colearning- suggesting that the learners in a design scene include both the designers AND the stakeholders, as well as the larger whole of designers and stakeholders together, as they jointly work toward whole systems design. Through this mutual learning and languaging together, new frames and metaphors emerged cogeneratively with new perspectives on shared possibilities for action.

In bringing these systems and design thinking principles into practice through hundreds of meetings we co-facilitated across both of these scenes, ranging from hosting World Cafés for cultivation of peace in Brazil to facilitating students’ learning related to design research in a Design Thinking course, this proposal highlights the importance of transitioning design “meetings” from a frame that primarily foregrounds products over processes and roles over activities to a frame that affords a focus on relationships through joint attention to communication process and on mutual learning toward whole systems design.


Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Bateson, G. (1979). Mind and nature: A necessary unity. New York: Dutton.

Brown, J., & Isaacs, D. (2005). The World Café: Shaping our futures through conversations that matter. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Glanville, R. (2012). A (Cybernetic) Musing: Wicked Problems. Cybernetics and Human
Knowing, 19, 163-173.

Greenwood, D., & Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to Action Research: Social research for social change (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Mesquita da Silva, F. (2017). Generation of Peace Dialogues: How the World Café Approach to Community Understanding Led to Cultures of Peace. Fielding Graduate University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. 10601890.

Steier, F., & Jorgenson, J. (2003). Ethics and aesthetics of observing frames. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 10, 124-136.

Steier, F., Brown, J., & Mesquita da Silva, F. (2015). The World Café in action research settings. In H. Bradbury (Ed.), The SAGE handbook of action research (pp. 210-218) (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Sterling, S. (2003). Whole systems thinking as a basis for paradigm change in education:
Explorations in the context of sustainability (Dissertation dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. (C821111)

Thompson, W. T., Steier, F., & Ostrenko, W. (2014). Designing communication process for the design of an Idea Zone at a science center. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 42, 2, 208-226.

Systemic Design and Its Discontents: Designing for Emergence and Accountability

Van Alstyne Greg 1, Skelton Carl 2, Nan Cheng Sylvia 3
1, OCAD University
2, Centre for City Ecologies
3, Element AI


“Any machine constructed for the purpose of making decisions, if it does not possess the power of learning, will be completely literal-minded. Woe to us if we let it decide our conduct, unless we have previously examined the laws of its action, and know fully that its conduct will be carried out on principles acceptable to us! (Wiener, 1950)”

In this paper we seek to advance the discourse and prospective impact of systemic design through challenges and opportunities centred in perspectives from psychology and ethics. We argue that systemic design is adolescent. It has a growing sense of its power and potential, yet it is prone to clumsiness and yawning lapses. To advance its role in fostering inclusion and flourishing, how might we lead systemic design to greater maturity, responsibility, self-awareness, in a word, to accountability?

We assess that systemic design is on track to fulfill its potential as a holistic practice and discourse, akin to an advanced form of service design. Yet for this to happen the community must undertake more careful processes of development. Systemic design needs to balance its ambition and confidence with humility and ethical commitment. Toward this end we propose that systemic design covet skills, insights and awareness from its ‘aunts and uncles’. We indicate that greater use of psychology is needed to inform descriptive work, and more ethics is needed to uphold normative purposes.

We advocate developing systemic design theory and practice through the further introduction of concepts from social and group psychology, as well as ethical governance. This groundwork is timely and needs-based, as it sheds light on potentially manipulative techniques at the intersection of choice, persuasion, influence, politics, and other nonlinear, societal forces. Our proactive goal is to better equip systemic design to address complex problems at the level of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including equity, diversity and inclusion. We examine developments at the intersection of democracy, social media and automation that are highly unsettling, including the use of Facebook users’ data by Cambridge Analytica in the context of the Brexit campaign and the 2016 US election. In this light we articulate an urgent and remedial call for the systemic design community to develop and uphold a code of professional ethics and conduct, not unlike those adopted by engineers, doctors, management consultants and planners.


We ask, has psychology successfully lent its wisdom to other disciplines? Indeed, behavioural economics is one pathway that has found significant value and traction. This project, which synthesizes demonstrably irrational human motivations and biases into the brittle, positivist models of classical economics, has begat a more resilient and mature hybrid. We take encouragement from experiment and exploration in arenas that hold strong interest for systemic design: policy, governance, community development, economic cooperation, innovation.

To better understand inherent systemic design’s risks, and establish historical and critical context, we ground this study with reference to early twentieth century work, including Norbert Wiener, considered “father of cybernetics,” and Freud’s American nephew, Edward L. Bernays, portrayed as “father of public relations.” More than any single figure Bernays understood and anticipated spaces and practices of persuasion including marketing, public relations, and consumer psychology. In the early twentieth century Bernays pioneered forms of ‘advertising without advertising’, that is to say product placement.

His works provide considerable architecture for modern mass culture. From their titles alone we may glimpse both the power and pitfalls of industrial, design-fueled techniques of persuasion: Propaganda, 1928; Public relations, 1952; The Engineering of Consent, 1955. Our brief critical review reveals that Bernays ideas are unsettling in their relevance to contemporary concerns and its frank assertion that democracy requires guidance and constraint by a shadowy elite. Bernays’s work has never been well known to the public. This is all the more surprising considering his long and influential shadow. We argue that his work is critical to understanding the use and misuse of persuasion for social purposes. Bernays describes ‘engineering consent’ as follows:

“Use of an engineering approach—that is, action based only on thorough knowledge of the situation and on the application of scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support ideas and programs. (Bernays, 1955)”


We lay out tactical scaffolding for the psychological maturation of systemic design through a discussion of projects led by the authors. Here the values, design principles and choices demonstrate alternatives to the twentieth-century manipulation model and to other inherited, status quo approaches. Skelton outlines the open software platform Betaville, a massively participatory, editable, urban mirror world project elaborated by an international network of partners and collaborators. Van Alstyne presents Strategic Innovation Lab, a large, decade-old Toronto-based social lab dedicated to envisioning possible and preferable futures through participatory foresight. Our strategic goal is to better prepare the systemic design community for two purposes. We want to address complex problems at the level of UN SDGs, including reduction of poverty, hunger, inequality, consumption, and GHG emissions, while boosting wellbeing, sanitation, social justice, innovation, and strong institutions. More troublingly we want to stem and mitigate consequences arising from broad design and deployment of automated and augmented systems in which emergent dynamics lead to unsettling social and political effects.

This work extends and deepens the theoretical framework “Designing for Emergence” (Van Alstyne & Logan, 2007), presented in RSD5 Toronto (Van Alstyne & Logan, 2016). Understanding innovation and knowing how we might give rise to desirable, emergent processes within systems requires us to understand emergence — bottom-up forces of morphogenesis. As one exchange at RSD6 pointed out: We don’t design systems, we design pathways through systems. In summary, the purpose and process we are advocating for the systemic design community is to advance our maturity and thereby our positive impact for the many, not the few. In other words, we want to learn to act more responsively and responsibly, to do both risk-taking and risk-management. Is this enterprise deeply intertwined with psychology and ethics? Clearly. Does this describe the primary opportunity and challenge facing Systemic Design as a community? We think it does.


Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda [the public mind in the making]. New York, NY: Horace Liveright.

Bernays, E. L. (1952). Public relations. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Bernays, E. L., & Cutler, H. W. (1955). The engineering of consent. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Lambert, S., Curtis, A. & Kelsall, L. (Producers), & Curtis, A. (Director). (2012). The Century of the Self [Motion Picture]. UK: RDF Television BBC.

Latour, B. (2008). A cautious Prometheus? A few steps toward a philosophy of design (with special attention to Peter Sloterdijk). In Proceedings of the 2008 annual international conference of the design history society (2–10).

Skelton, C. (2014). Soft City Culture and Technology: The Betaville Project. New York, NY: Springer. Skelton, C. (2013). Who’s Your Data? Places Journal.

Van Alstyne, G., & Logan, R. K. (2016). Designing for emergence: Integrating systems & design.

Van Alstyne, G., & Logan, R. K. (2007). Designing for emergence and innovation: redesigning design. Artifact, 1(2):120-129.

Van Alstyne, G. (2005). From Induction to Incitement: Inside the Massive Change Project. What people want : Populism in architecture and design, 189–205.

Wiener, N. (1950). The human use of human beings: Cybernetics and society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Click here to download the working paper

Socionas: Bringing the systemic view into the design for health and sustainability

Van Gessel Christa, Van der Lugt Remko, De Vries Rosa
Hogeschool Utrecht

Co-creation sessions
Personas, socionas
Systemic design
Systemic phenomenological
Design for healthcare


One of the key ingredients of a designerly approach is to stay connected to the real life, human perspective, even if the design process calls for high levels of abstraction and modelling. Designers design well with pictures/stories of real people in their heads, rather than with statistics (Sleeswijk Visser et al, 2005). Persona’s (e.g. Cooper, 1999; Pruitt & Adlin, 2006) have become a commonly used method across the fields of design: using rich narratives of constructed people, based on real user data as a compass in the design process.
Even though this is a valuable approach, the human-centeredness can also be a pitfall in designing within complex situations, as the focus on the individual experience of people can lead to underconceptualizing the problem and, and in-turn sub-optimal ‘quick-fix’ solutions. (Jones, 2013).

Within design for health, a lot of attention has been given to behaviour change, and behavioural design (e.g. Fogg, 2009, Lockton, 2010, Cialdini,2015, Hermsen et al, 2016), which focus on the individual (oftentimes the patient). Dynamics within the care network around the patient are referred to as social context. However, these dynamics between people strongly influence behaviours of people within healthcare, and designerly interventions directed to break these patterns could be much more effective than bombarding individuals with persuasive interventions.

Besides an awareness of processes and dynamics involved in a healthcare, and awareness of the larger system at hand, we noticed that both designers and healthcare workers could benefit from a sensitivity towards systemic patterns and dynamics in the small, to enable them to sense, interpret and act based on this. This led to the following research question: In what ways can designers get insight in the hidden dynamics in care systems and how can they maintain and include these insights throughout the co-design process?


In this paper we present socionas as a tool to aid designers to incorporate the systemic view into the design process. Postma (2012) first coined the term socionas in her search for a method that allows for designing for person-person-product interaction, as she found that tools for user-product interaction did not attend sufficiently to the social consequences of interacting with products. Her approach is based on Activity Theory (Engeström, 1987) and Stanislavsky’s System (1961) as anchoring theories in order to develop a method for designers to empathize with their users and the social context in which they operate.
We adopt the term socionas, but use them in a slightly different way, referring to a way to capture variations in prototypical dynamics in social systems (such as care networks) and enable designers to work with the systemic level, while not losing sight of the individual. Basically, a sociona consists of a visual description of the dynamics in a system of people/functions (a family, a care network around a patient on a micro level and stakeholder setups on a macro level), anchored by brief personas as actors in the dynamic (see fig. 1, bottom right for an example).

In identifying the dominant patterns, we adapt a systemic phenomenological approach (Hellinger et al, 1998; Stam, 2012), using constellations to identify and manifest hidden dynamics. For more information on constellations and its use in systemic design see our contribution to RDS6 (Van der Lugt, 2017).

Case example in healthcare: active after stroke

We applied socionas as a guiding principle in a project on stimulating stroke patients to stay active after suffering a stroke.

Research indicated that self-reporting of amounts of movement does not provide enough and accurate feedback. A very sensitive motion sensor can give this feedback to both patient and therapist. Technically pretty straightforward, but in what ways could this product service system be designed in such a way that it will stimulate movement over a long period of time (3-6 months)? A team of healthcare (stroke) researchers, physical therapists, engineers, behavioural scientists and product- and interaction designers engaged in a co-design project in order to develop the product-service system
(see fig. 2).
Because the dynamics between patient, physio therapist and primary care giver(s) appeared to dominate the recovery trajectory, we developed first a variety of personas of these three roles and then combined these into recurrent pattern dynamics. This led to a series of 5 socionas that were used
throughout the design process.
A case exaple in sustainability: creative producers

A second case in which we used socionas concerns energy transition: The Creative Producers project.

In order to obtain information about the ambitions of residents regarding energy transition and their knowledge, needs and willingness to invest in their home it is important to know them and their social networks. By mapping this for a number of representative networks in the neighborhood, you gain more insight into the situation and you can determine strategies to start energy transition at a micro level.
At a macro level it is even a challenge to start a project in a municipality. Determine the necessary stakeholders whom all in their own expertise may or may not be involved, while struggling to manage interest, needs and everyone’s role in the project. The sociona can also be used in these situations to map the network system of representative stakeholders. Again, a person is not exchangeable; due to someone’s role, interests or character, other relationships and interactions may arise that may or may not benefit the project. A few citations from a participant can clarify this:

“It has to do with personalities. A person from a residents’ collective was very open and who welcomed us immediately. This influenced the success of the project”.

“There was a very involved alderman who could talk to the residents in a human way and was very confident at the same time”.

“At Alliander a person had lost the urgency and drive within the project, this caused difficulties. Only when a new person was put on the job, is resolved.“

In the Creative Producers project we used the socionas tool in a session with social designers who were responsible for the human side of energy transition. The designers were able to visualize dynamics with simple persona cards (see figure 3).
Interesting was that each designer used it differently (see figure 4). One more at micro level, the other more at macro level. Both immediately led to insights of system dynamics and generated inspiration for intervention strategies.
Visualize dynamics

To support the designers in focusing on the dynamics rather than the individual it can be helpful to visualize the socionas. On the basis of the example below it becomes clear how dynamics in a sociona can be made visual.

“Patient Alex (78 years old) had suffered from a stroke a few years ago. He has been very confused since then. He regularly visits the physiotherapist (Charlie, 38) who gives him all sorts of instructions that he needs to be more active. His wife Eva (71 years old) is a caregiver, Alex likes that. Eva is very protective; at home she takes on all the tasks. “You just sit down, I’ll make you a cup of tea”. When Alex comes back, therapist Charlie can see immediately, Alex didn’t do well at home. “Yes, of course you did not do all those exercises, I can see that right away.” Charlie tries to push Alex, but also tries to help by informing him simple tasks that make him more active, such as taking the mail out of the mailbox, climbing stairs or do some grocery shopping. Alex nods in agreement. At home, however, a completely different situation arises. Eva takes over all tasks right away. When Alex starts about what the physio said, Eva says: “But that does not work at all, what if you fall … I will not be able to catch you.”
Alex does not even start talking about it anymore, it is not worth the hassle. Besides that, he also likes to be cared for.”
Figure 5 shows the current group more or less “static” dynamics. Working towards a more dynamic attitude or introducing a fourth actor (the latter can be a person, but also an intervention), as can be seen in figure 6.
Discussion of the results

Constructing the socionas together in the ACTS case functioned as a boundary event (Stompff, 2012) in which collective sensemaking lead to socionas, which then functioned as boundary objects throughout the design and development process. Both designers and healthcare professionals were able to keep referring to these dynamics as a reference point whilst designing and developing prototypes.
The approach fit both the task at hand and the way both designers and healthcare workers approached the challenge. Play-acting enabled them to share their experience, to empathize and ideate. The socionas connected these experiences with literature research and stories of patients. Within the co-design process, being aware of the dynamics between patient, therapist and caregiver and making this tangible was a very helpful tool for the development of the intervention.

In the Creative Producers project, there was limited time, the tool was only used with the designers themselves. Involving the persons in question in the development could be very valuable. However, at these complex situations, a large number of personas leads to a vast number of socionas, which becomes too complex to grasp. Also, in the level of socionas it is important to stay aware of the prototypical nature, being fully aware that you will not be able to represent all dynamics. How to describe the most striking or persistent ones? A final question is how to keep the socionas even more ‘alive’ and work with them structurally throughout the design process. How to sense variations in system dynamics and how to allow socionas more ‘stage presence’ in the co-design process.


Cialdini, R. (2015). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Toronto, ON: HarperCollins
Publishers Ltd.

Cooper, A. (1999). The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why high tech products drive us
crazy and how to restore the sanity. Indianapolis, IN: Sams Publishing.

Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by Expanding: An Activity-Theoretical Approach to
Developmental Research. Helsinki, FI: Orienta-Konsulit.

Fogg, B. J. (2009, April). A behavior model for persuasive design. In Proceedings of the 4th
international Conference on Persuasive Technology (p. 40). ACM.

Hellinger, B.,Weber, G., & Beaumont, H. (1998). Love’s hidden symmetry: What makes love work in relationships. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Co.

Hermsen, S., Van der Lugt, R., Mulder, S., & Renes, R. J. (2016). How I learned to appreciate
our tame social scientist: experiences in integrating design research and the behavioural
sciences. In: P. Lloyd & E. Bohemia, eds. 2016 Design Research Society 50th Anniversary
Conference, 4, 1375–1389.

Jones, P. (2013). Design for Care, Innovating healthcare experience. Brooklyn, NY:

Lockton, D., Harrison, D., & Stanton, N. A. (2010a). The Design with Intent Method: A design tool for influencing user behaviour. Applied Ergonomics, 41(3), 382-392.

Lugt, R. van der (2017). Open mind and open heart: Exploring the dynamics in stakeholder
networks in complex co-design projects. Paper presented at RSD6 Conference. Oslo,
Norway. 17-19 October.

Postma, C. (2012) Creating Socionas: Building creative understanding of people’s
experiences in the early stages of new product development. Doctoral Thesis. Delft
University of Technology.

Pruitt, J. & Adlin, T. (2006). The Persona Lifecycle. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann

Sleeswijk Visser, F., Stappers, P.J., Lugt, R. van der , Sanders, E.B.N. (2005). Contextmapping: experiences from practice. CoDesign, Vol. 1, No. 2, June 2005, 119 – 149.

Stam, J. J. (2012). Fields of connection: Systemic insights into work and organisations
Groningen: Het Noorderlicht.

Stanislavski, K. (1961). Creating a role (E. Reynolds Hapgood, Ed.). London, UK: Menthuen
Drama, A&C Black Publishers Ltd.

Stompff, G. (2012). Facilitating team cognition. How designers mirror what teams do. PhD
thesis Delft University of technology. Download at teamcognition.org.

Integration of methodologies through an academic toolkit for the design of products services systems for sustainability –SPSS- in colombian contexts

Vargas Espitia Adolfo 1, Guataquira Sarmiento Nataly Andrea 2, Àlvarez Quintero Christian Daniel 3, Rugeles Joya Willmar Ricardo 4
1, 3, Universidad De Investigaciòn Y Desarrollo -Udi-
2, Open Source Circular Economy Days
4, Ontificia Universidad Javeriana

Systemic design
Education for sustainabilityProduct-Service Systems for sustainability SPSS Product-Service Systems for sustainability SPSS

The design for sustainability in colombia

Colombia, one of the countries in the world with the greatest wealth in natural resources (Arbeláez-Cortés, 2013; Sánchez, 2002), it has presented an unprecedented deterioration in the last two decades of multiple factors, of which, for the purposes of this research project will expose the lack of strategies to train professionals that respond to complex socio-environmental problems. (Márquez, 2001; Posada, 2007; Sánchez, 2002).

To attack this problem, Colombia has implemented the National Policy of Environmental Education (PNEA) and “Bases for a quality policy of higher education in Colombia”, both strategies are committed to environmental research from different disciplines and their close relationship with the training processes, seeking in this way that the proposals respond to problems of the real context. (Molano Niño & Herrera Romero, 2011) .

Regarding the program of industrial design, its history at the national level begins with courses taught in 1966 and formalized between 1973 and 1977 (Camacho-lotero, 2014; Fernández, 2008), subsequently and hand in hand with the trend of environmentalization of the disciplines (Andrade Vicente, Frazão, & Moreira da Silva, 2012; Ceschin & Gaziulusoy, 2016; Fuad-Luke, 2009; Luffiego García, 2000). Design of the SiNaDi is a national program created, seeking to “generate the necessary conditions to advance towards an inclusive and sustainable society culturally, environmentally and economically” (Torres, 2015,p.45). This new vision of the program has demanded changes of pedagogical paradigms (De Miguel, 2005) and consequently academic courses of eco-design began to appear in the different curriculum of the design programs supported in the experiences of the exterior (Tukker, Haag, & Eder, 2000), in all cases, there have been valuable contributions but lacking an articulation with the national reality”. For this reason, the research question is posed: IS IT POSSIBLE TO DEVELOP A TOOLKIT THAT SUPPORTS TRAINING PROCESSES IN DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABILITY, RECOGNIZING THE PARTICULARITIES OF THE COLOMBIAN CONTEXT? Based on this premise, the process discussed below is addressed.

About the dsxc toolkit

According to Geli de Ciurana (2005) “The environmentalization of curriculum university should consider” complex thinking, flexibilization, and curricular permeability, contextualization (time and space), constructivism, consideration of cognitive, affective and action aspects of people, integration of theory and practice, critical and projective thinking, didactic development and better spaces for participation”. Starting from this premise, the DSxC is designed as a toolkit that supports academic processes of the sustainable design by grouping, organizing and presenting 10 different methodological frameworks, under the premise that the participants build their own process.

Therefore, to group and organize the methodological frameworks, a review of 10 of the methodologies is carried out (Shedroff, 2009) around Design for Sustainability considering first of all those that address the problems in a systemic way (Aguayo, Estela, Lama, & Soltero, 2011; Bovea & Pérez-Belis, 2012; Ceschin & Gaziulusoy, 2016; Crul, Diehl, & Delft University of Technology, 2007a; de Pauw, 2015; Jones, 2014; Navarro, Rizo, Ceca, & Ruiz, 2005; Pigosso, McAloone, & Rozenfeld, 2015): PRODUCT SYSTEM SERVICE DESIGN FOR SUSTAINABILITY -SPSSDE-, SYSTEM DESIGN, BIOMIMICRY, CRADLE -TO- CRADLE –C2C-, CIRCULAR DESIGN , METHOD OF SCENARIOS -BACKCASTING-, HUMAN CENTERED DESIGN -HCD-, LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT – LCA -, DESIGN FOR EXCELLENCE -DFX- and PERMACULTURE.

Regarding the Colombian context, the COLOMBIAN ATLAS FOR SUSTAINABILITY is developed in which is presented all the collected information -government platforms,
studies, statistics, reports, big data- that allow a first approach to understanding the context according to the tool and the methodologies exposed.

On the second hand, to present the DSxC toolkit, researching and analysis of similar tools has been carried out (Crul, Diehl, & Delft University of Technology, 2007b, Guild, 2011, IDEO.org, 2008, Starkey, 2016, Vezzoli et al. ., 2014) in the search for the best possibilities for the presentation of information to the university academic community; This analysis shows the need to propose a physical document that presents the generalities of the process supported in a virtual platform that delves into detail the information of interest.

About the methodological frameworks and their contributions

After reviewing the methodologies, the following assessments are briefly concluded: THE SYSTEMIC DESIGN (Luigi & Bistagnino, 2009) provides principles and strategies to understand complex situations with a strong focus from visual communication; the SSPSDE (Vezzoli et al., 2014) is a rigorous and systemic exercise that presents a large number of strategies focused on the design of products associated with services; the CRADLE TO CRADLE -C2C- (McDonough & Braungart, 2002) implements a vision from closed production cycles and corporate responsibility; BIOMIMICRY (Benyus, 2002) provides a conceptual framework based on natural principles; HUMAN CENTERED DESIGN -HCD- (IDEO.org, 2008) Its main focus is the collaborative work, specifically in the methods to identify and characterize the actors as well as how to relate and make them participants in the project; DFX -DESIGN FOR EXCELLENCE- (Watson, Radcliffe, & Dale, 1996) is a compendium of functional strategies designed for the different phases of the life cycle of the product that can be used during the conceptualization and verification stage; LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT (Orrego, 2012) it is a widely used methodology with multiple approaches whose main objective is the analysis of negative impacts; CIRCULAR DESIGN (Moreno, De los Rios, Rowe, & Charnley, 2016) focuses on the development of proposals under the criteria of the circular economy; the BACKCASTING (Mendoza, Sharmina, Gallego-Schmid, Heyes, & Azapagic, 2017) allows us to plan a future scenario based on desirable variables including the prospective planning to achieve it, and finally the PERMACULTURE (Mollison et al., 1991) with its deep vision about sustainability provides an ideological course.

In total, 264 methods belonging to the 10 methodologies have been reviewed and categorized, of which 69 are concentrated in the research stage, 68 in the concept stage, 60 in the detail stage and 21 for the delivery stage, adding 46 design principles for the SSP approach. These are cataloged to facilitate the decision of the applicator in different criteria such as presence of online format, degree of complexity, degree of intervention,
execution time, qualitative/quantitative approach and use according to CVP, it is also grouped into sub phases of the DSxC ; in RESEARCH, it focuses on context, actors, problems/needs, case studies, and results; in CONCEPT, systems concept, systems design, SSP concept and results; in DETAIL, SSP design, evaluation, detail design and results; and finally in DELIVERY, planning, media strategy, iterations and results.

Dsxc, a kit “step by step”

In practice, the kit has 2 complementary versions: printed and online, the printed version is a quick guide and infographic with presentation of basic concepts about methodologies and their processes, list of methods, advice and warnings of use, and the online version which presents a detailed extension of the topics, links to the primary sources, links to the free formats -creative commons- downloads and multimedia supports. See table 2.
Participants in the process receive a step-by-step explanation on their first approach with the kit, then they begin to acquire the basic knowledge needed to develop a sustainable design process, once they obtain these pre-knowledge, they must choose the criteria for the development of the process – see Table 1-, then start the “process construction” selecting the methods according to the design phases. Throughout the process, the kit will accompany the participants by providing context data, advice, warnings, links, etc.


Education for sustainability from the academic processes typical of industrial design should be oriented to work on real processes -this criterion would imply a knowledge of the local realities in which it develops-, a limited time -defined by academic times-, a constructivist vision -allow the student to be part of the construction and supported in didactic processes that facilitate the implementation of scientific theory- this, together with the appropriation of the community in the territory, the university social responsibility and the capacity of the students in the generation of SPS that stimulate the sustainable growth of society.


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Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.

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System Design for Sustainability for All.
S.PSS Design applied to Distributed Economies

Vezzoli Carlo, Basbolat Cenk
Politecnico di Milano

Sustainable Product-Service System (S.PSS)
Distributed Economies (DE)
Design for Sustainability
Open and copylef

One major issue attached to the transition towards a sustainable society is that of improving social equity and cohesion in low and middle-inco- me contexts, for an environmentally sustainable re-globalisation process characterised by a democratisation of access to resources, goods and servi- ces (Assembly, UN General, 2014). Regarding such transition, Sustainable Product-Service System (S.PSS) has been studied since the end of the 90th (Mont, 2002; Goedkoop et al, 1999; Tischner, Rayan and Vezzoli, 2009; UNEP, 2002; Vezzoli et al, 2014) as one of the most promising offer/business models.S.PSS has been recently defined as: “an offer model providing an integra-ted mix of products and services that are together able to fulfil a particularcustomer demand (to deliver a “unit of satisfaction”), based on innovative interactions between the stakeholders of the value production system (sati- sfaction system), where the ownership of the product/s and/or its life cycle responsibilities remain by the provider/s, so that the economic interest of the providers continuously seeks environmentally and/or socioethicallybeneficial new solutions.” (Vezzoli, 2018)

Distributed Economies (DE) is another model studied since 2005 (Johansson, Kisch and Mirata, 2005; IIIEE, 2009) as an alternative economic structure to the dominant Centralised one promising for locally-based sustainabi-lity (Johansson, Kisch and Mirata, 2005); DE has been recently defined as“Small-scale production units, located by or nearby the end-users, whether individuals, entrepreneurs and/or organisations/institutions, i.e. the produ- cers are the same end-users or nearby them. If the small- scale production units are connected with each other to share various forms of resources and/or goods (physical and knowledge-based ones), they become a Locally Distributed Economy Network, which may in turn be connected with ne- arby similar networks. If properly designed they are promising to promote locally- based sustainability, i.e. Sustainable Distributed Economies (S.DE).” (LeNSin Polimi team, 2018)

The paper discusses an innovative system approach to sustainability, i.e. the win-win potential of coupling S.PSS and DE for a sustainable society for all, which is the Research Hypothesis of the LeNSin (the international Learning Network of networks on Sustainability) project, funded by the EU Erasmus+ programme involving 36 universities from Italy, Finland, Netherlands, Uni- ted Kingdom, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. The Research Hypothesis runs as follow: (Polimi, 2015)

A S.PSS applied to DE is a promising approach to diffuse sustainability in low/middle-income (all) contexts, because it reduces/cuts both the initial (capital) cost of DE hardware purchasing (that may be unaffordable) and the running cost for maintenance, repair, upgrade, etc. of such a DE hardware (that may cause the interruption of use), while increasing local employment and related skills, as well as fostering for economic interest of the producer/ provider to design low environmentally impacting DE products, i.e. resul- ting in a key leverage for a sustainable development process aiming at de- mocratizing the access to resources, goods and services.

Shifting the concern of the design role, the following Research Hypothesis (Polimi, 2015) has been studied by envisioning a new system design role to design for S.PSS applied to DE.

Within the LeNSin project, different types of DE have been classified as(LeNSin Polimi team, 2018): Distributed energy Generation (DG), Distributed Manufacturing (DM), Distributed production of Food (DF), Distributed Wa- ter management (DW), Distributed production of Software (DS), Distributed production of Information/knowledge (DI), and Distributed Design (DD).

Both Research Hypothesises have been explored and characterised within the LeNSin project with the following process: each of the 36 partner insti- tutions carried out literature review on the topic, followed by a coordinated case study analysis; the results of those activities were shared between all partners in a meeting and trough the project web platform. These activities were followed by 5 seminars held in Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, China and India, where the partners gathered academics, companies, NGOs, govern-mental institutions, etc. This led to the a refinement and characterisationof the Research Hypothesises. All produced that far were the bases for thedesign and implementation of the first round of 5 pilot courses held in thenon-European partner countries, where local and European teachers were involved in the teaching and evaluating boards. All of the learning resources (syllabus, videos of the lectures, slides, case studies, tools, etc.) have been sha- red with other partners right after the end of each course. A second round of pilot courses was then carried out with the same logic in different universi- ties and with different guest EU teachers and observers. At the end, a total of 10 pilot courses were carried out, each of them evaluated by a questionnaire given to both students and professors. A method with a set of design tools for System Design for Sustainability for all (SD4SA) is now available.

The paper gives a particular attention to the description of a Sustainability Design-Orienting Scenario for S.PSS applied to DE, as introduced by the po- larity diagram below.

Finally, the following new role of designer is presented (Polimi, 2015)


“design of S.PSS applied to DE, i.e. the design of the Systems of Productsand Services that are together able to fulfil a particular customer demand(deliver a “unit of satisfaction”), within the DE paradigm; based on the de- sign of innovative interactions among locally-based stakeholders, where the ownership of the product/s and/or its life cycle responsibilities remain by the provider/s, so that economic interests of the provider/s continuo-usly seek both environmentally and socio-ethically beneficial new solu– tions, i.e. solutions accessible to all”.

The paper contents are innovative as both the understanding (and the de- scription) of the win-win potentials of S.PSS applied to DE; and the related system design approaches, skills and tools are new. Those outcomes resulted from a process where their validity and characterisation have been carried out by a well- integrated groups of worldwide researchers. Finally, all the learning resources on the knowledge-base and know-how developed in the project are uploaded on the LeNS web platform, where they could be downloaded free of charge, with an open and copy-left ethos. The outcomes achieved are already innovative and relevant, but at the same time, it is cle- ar that new research activities are needed to better identify the win-win characteristics of S.PSS applied to DE as well as the approaches and the skills for a new generation of designer adopting a system approach to effectively address the sustainability challenge.


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UNEP, 2002. Product-Service Systems and Sustainability. Opportunities for sustainable solutions. (Ed.) United Nations Environment Programme, Division of Technology Indu- stry and Economics, Production and Consumption Branch, Paris.

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Vezzoli, C.A., 2018. Design for Environmental Sustainability: Life Cycle Design of Pro- ducts. Springer.

Johansson, A., Kisch, P., Mirata, M., 2005. Distributed Economies – A new engine for in- novation. J. Clean. Prod. 13, 971-979. doi:10.1016/j.jclepro.2004.12.015

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Click here to download the working paper

The early stage analysis of a systemic innovation lab

Zivkovic Sharon
University of South Australia

Systemic design
Systemic innovation Lab
Wicked problems


This paper documents the early stage development of a South Australian systemic innovation lab that is using Wicked Lab’s FEMLAS process as its lab methodology. Systemic innovation labs are a lab type that has been purposefully designed to address wicked problems. While systemic innovation labs and the FEMLAS process incorporate the core set of principles that have been proposed for systemic design, they differ from traditional systemic design in two ways: instead of taking a systems thinking approach they take a complex systems approach and instead of their design component being centred on solving problems it focuses on the development of initiatives that assist system transitions.


Systemic Innovation Labs

The complex wicked problems that the world faces need to be addressed through self-organising governance networks (Meuleman, 2011, p. 104). These networks require enabling conditions to be established in order to maintain the coordination required for emergent self-organisation, adaptive capability (McKelvey and Lichtenstein, 2007), systemic innovation (Davies et. al., 2012) and transitions to new improved states (Goldstein et al., 2010, p. 104).

Systemic innovation labs are an ideal mechanism to strengthen self-organising governance networks. They are a hybrid lab model that incorporates and synthesises key features from other lab approaches that are recommended for addressing wicked problems: they focus on addressing complex problems, take a place-based transition approach, enable coherent action by diverse actors, involve users as co-creators, support a networked governance approach and recognise government as an enabler of change (Zivkovic, 2018).

A range of principles have been embedded into the systemic innovation lab model including the core set of principles that have been proposed for systemic design and principles from solution ecosystem and systemic innovation approaches (Zivkovic, 2018). The core principles proposed for systemic design are: idealization, appreciating complexity, purpose finding, boundary framing, feedback coordination, system ordering, generative emergence, continuous adaptation, self-organizing and requisite variety (Jones, 2014, p. 106). Solution ecosystems consist of all the initiatives in a geographical area that are addressing any of the interdependent causal factors that underpin a wicked problem (Eggers and Muoio, 2015) and systemic innovations are ‘a set of interconnected innovations, where each is dependent on the other, with innovation both in the parts of the system and in the ways that they interact’ (Davies, et al., 2012, p. 4).

While systemic innovation labs incorporate the proposed principles for systemic design, they differ from traditional systemic design in that they take a complex systems instead of a systems thinking approach. Systems thinking and complex systems approaches are based on different intellectual traditions (Castellani, 2018) and have different ontologies (Snowden and Stanbridge, 2004). Systemic innovation labs also differ from traditional systemic design in that the focus of design is not on designing interventions to solve problems but rather on designing initiatives that have the required characteristics to enable system transitions (Zivkovic, 2018).

Development of the Lab Methodology

The need for Wicked Lab to develop a lab methodology was identified during the evaluation of Wicked Lab’s Complex Systems Leadership Program. Wicked Lab’s program incorporates an online Tool for Systemic Change, and both the program and tool support systemic design that is informed by complex systems theory, and solution ecosystem and systemic innovation approaches. The evaluation highlighted that Wicked Lab’s program and tool would have a greater impact if they were components of a systemic innovation lab methodology (Zivkovic, 2017).

Concepts and techniques from four complex systems leadership theories are embedded into Wicked Lab’s program and tool. Complex systems leadership theories are leadership approaches that are based on complexity sciences (Hazy et al., 2007, p. 2). As a problem solving approach, they do not focus on finding the one way to solve a complex problem. Instead, their focus is on providing a framework within which stakeholders can learn, interact and adapt to maximise their effectiveness in solving complex problems (Geyer, 2003, p. 254).

The Complex Systems Leadership Program consists of three units of study which are undertaken online during a six-month period. Unit 1 focuses on participants understanding the characteristics of wicked problems and why a complex systems approach is required to address them. In Unit 2 participants gain an understanding of initiative characteristics that assist communities to strengthen their adaptive dynamics and undertake transitions, and in Unit 3 they gain an understanding of initiative characteristics that assist governments to support transition approaches.

During each of the program’s units, participants use Wicked Lab’s online Tool for Systemic Change to address a wicked problem of their choice in a geographical community of their choice. In Unit 1, participants define the boundary of their solution ecosystem: the geographical boundary and the wicked problem, and enter into the software all of the initiatives within that geographical boundary that are addressing any of the underpinning causal factors of their targeted wicked problem. In Unit 2, for each of the initiatives that were entered into the software in Unit 1, participants identify if the initiative has any of the initiative characteristics that assist communities to transition to a new state that has increased coherence and performance. During Unit 3 participants identify if any of the initiatives have initiative characteristics that strengthen the interface between community and government systems.

To progress the need for a lab methodology that was identified during the program’s evaluation, Wicked Lab has developed the FEMLAS Lab Methodology which incorporates the capability building of its Complex Systems Leadership Program and the mapping, analysis and reporting functions of its online tool. FEMLAS is an acronym that stands for the six stages of the FEMLAS Systemic Innovation Lab methodology: Form, Explore, Map, Learn, Address and Share. At the Share stage of the process there is an iterative loop: after completing the Share stage, the four stages from Map to Share are repeated periodically.

Case Study

The South Australian Systemic Innovation Lab case study that is described in this paper focuses on climate adaptation and is a partnership between the Natural Resource Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges agency of the South Australian Department for Environment and Water and the City of Marion. Wicked Lab’s FEMLAS process is being used as the lab’s methodology.


Schuurman’s (2015) three levels of lab analysis: macro, meso and micro are used to analyse the case study. The macro level is the lab’s core team which consists of a diverse range of stakeholders to ensure that the complexity and interconnectedness of the wicked problem is represented. The lab’s meso level consists of the solution ecosystem of initiatives and the organisations that are collaborating on these initiatives. At the micro level the focus is the specific lab methodology: Wicked Lab’s FEMLAS process. Semi-structured interviews are undertaken with key stakeholders involved in the lab’s establishment to undertake this analysis.


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Meuleman, L. (2011), ‘Metagoverning Governance Styles: Broadening the Public Manager’s Action Perspective’, In Interactive Policy Making, Metagovernance and Democracy, edited by J. Torfing and P. Triantafillou. Colchester: ECPR Press.

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