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Announcing RSD5, Relating Systems Thinking to Design 5

RSD5  Systemic Design for Social Complexity

Relating Systems Thinking and Design 5 Symposium
OCAD University      Toronto, Canada      October 13-15, 2016

The RSD series has advanced an agenda for exploring a strong integration between systems thinking and design to take on the most important challenges facing our planet today. RSD4 held in Banff, Canada September 2015 brought together nearly 200 people together from around the world to explore new dimensions in design-led systems design, transformation and research.  The keynote videos are now available, and the full proceedings are published online.

Join us in the vibrant metropolis of Toronto, October 2016 for the fifth symposium hosted at OCAD University  to accelerate a convergence of design, social, and technology fields toward co-creating humanized (eco)systems. The theme of Systemic Design for Social Complexity represents our continuing focus on advanced systemic and service design for contemporary and futures-oriented societal concerns. All social systems become complex over time, developing resilience, and increasing resistance to structural change. Systemic design challenges typically face multiple dilemmas in defining successful outcomes and orientations to change.

Systemic design approaches negotiate the dilemma of emergence and governance. Appeals to users and constituents are made through bottom-up generative modes of change through leverage and transition, leading to emergent change. And simultaneously – stakeholders in system governance are engaged with top-down modes of strategic design and foresight.

We invite papers and proposals for panels and dialogues that contribute new knowledge and learning from completed case and field research in the following topics:

  • Social System and Transition Design
  • Service Design, Healthcare System Design
  • Complex Sociotechnical Systems
  • Democracy, Policy Design and Modes of Governance
  • Public Services Design and Civic Innovation
  • Theories and Methods of Systemic Design
  • Systemic Business and Organizational Design
  • Sustainability and Socio-ecological Policy
  • Built Environment and Design of Settlements
  • Capacity Building and Development

The call for participation has not been formally announced, but within January we will announce the call for paper abstracts, workshop proposals, and dialogue panel proposals. We will soon annonce our 2016 partners and venues, and continue to engage and answer questions on the SDRN LinkedIn site.

Systemic Barriers to Effective Societal Response to Terrorism

“Organizational learning must concern itself not with static entities called organizations, but with an active process of organizing which is, at root, a cognitive enterprise. Individual members are continually engaged in attempting to know the organization, and to know themselves in the context of the organization. At the same time, their continuing efforts to know and to test their knowledge represent the object of their inquiry. Organizing is reflexive inquiry.” (Argyris & Schön, 1978, 16–17).

Systems Thinkers Toronto turned out a dozen people last week for a demonstration the new SDD dialogue management software and a discussion of dialogic design practice, which can be seen as an embodiment of organizational and social system cognitive organizing.  I teach a basic form of the methodology in my Systemic Design course in OCAD University’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation graduate program. As a core practice of the Institute for 21st Century Agoras these methods have been developed from Christakis and Warfield’s Interactive Management over the last decade. The formal events are recognized and certified as Co-laboratories of Democracy).

The unique contribution of the software is in guiding a group of stakeholders to map out the influence relationships among structured statements in a dialogue. The logosofia system (and the new Cogniscope 3) are slowly replacing the aging CSII software. However, learning the software is not a path to practice, its merely an embodiment of the method which is learned in the course of performance in the Arena (Christakis’ term for convening Co-labs in high-stakes, multi-stakeholder engagements.)  While it usually takes years and mentorship to become a lead facilitator, we are making the engagements themselves more affordable and accessible. Between the Future Worlds Center and the Agoras Institute, we are designing and convening streamlined hybrid sessions that are more accessible to everyday citizens and civic groups. Such a hybrid design-led approach is shown in this opening presentation for an engagement in Berlin.

In our Toronto-based Systems Thinking community of practice we held a walkthrough of the software in a simulation, but holding a real dialogue on the barriers to effective action on global terrorism. Walking through the process of a Dialogic Design Co-laboratory with a dozen participants, we hosted the question of “What barriers do we anticipate that, if addressed in the next 5 years, will most effectively resolve issues of global terrorism?” 

We quickly ran through the following steps in simulation:

  • Triggering question (TQ) formation
  • Nominal group – responses to TQ
  • Entering responses into logosofia
  • Clarifubg statements upon entry
  • Selection of highest priority challenges
  • Structuring – Voting on relative influence
  • Mapping and final dialogue

I wanted to share the kind of deeply-thought responses that emerge when we take a more systemic approach to structured dialogue and attempt to focus attention on sources and motivations rather than manifestations and grievances:

• Attention to terrorist acts is disproportionate to the impact.
• Youth lacking healthy source of epic meaning.
• Psychological force of prior harms unreconciled.
• Inhibition within liberal democratic culture to take necessary steps to effectively eradicate perpetrators.
• Cultural ignorance of the roots of colonialism.
• Disappearing state monopoly over public values & communication.
• (Dictionary of definitions) Lack of agreement of definitions acts of terrorism
• Isolation of moderate groups of same ethnicity or faiths
• Cultural or political compulsions to escalate retribution
• Inequitable access to systems of education (polarization)
• Degrowth process of global economic forces (inequitable dist of wealth)
• Lack of true globalization (arbitrary geographic identities)










As you can see its a shallow map, as we didn’t have the time to include and map out all responses – this was a trial run, and the first round of responses. But the seriousness of the setting and the clarity of process in SDD reinforces a more thoughtful approach that brings forth group attempts to reach source issues that are also personally meaningful to the author proposing the issue.

Finally, the discussion yielded by the dialogic design trial brought serious reflection to the fore.  Here the predominant reasoning was that “terrorist acts” are the means to achieve other strategies. They have little to do with Islamic ideology, but leverage the fear factor associated with the unknown of cultures and “the other,” keeping the press at work reinforcing our notions of the fearsome other. The deepest drivers in the relational network, even in this quick run, show that unreconciled prior harms (blowback) and our own “cultural ignorance of the roots of colonialism” have deep causality with a deeply alienated young demographic in the originating cultures. If such a tool could be used for serious policy design, we might stand a chance of recovering our cosmopolitan values of an evolving human civilization, instead of living in a decades-long state of constant siege resulting from selfish policy choices at the hands of our own elected fanatics 13 years ago.

RSD4 – Relating Systems Thinking to Design

The RSD symposium series has been held each year for four years now, sponsored by AHO (Oslo School of Architecture and Design) from 2012-2014 and this year in Banff. Organized by a four-person team of co-chairs, a group of great reviewers and capable volunteers, we’ve kept the symposium intimate and lightweight, affording a memorable experience. We’ve had extraordinary keynotes, again this year and as the Proceedings for each year show. This year, as the last two years we held 36-38 strong presentations, with a focus on quality design-led research in systemic design. We had 8 workshops held across all 3 days, an experiment in varying the tempo and level of engagement throughout each day.

Although this year’s proceedings are still in process (we integrate papers, abstracts, sketchnotes and PPTs) we have videos and presentations from the keynote speakers to share. We have a tremendous trove of documentation and we’ll organize a compelling story over the next two months to renew the experience and learning.


The keynote videos are now available:

Don Norman – Can HCD Help with Complex Sociotechnical Systems?  

Ann Pendleton-Jullian – Designing for Emergence Working on Radically Contingent Problems.

Mugendi M’Riitha – Renewing Africa’s Quest for Sustainable Energy.   

Ursula Tischner  – “Crowd” based Systemic Design and Innovation for Sustainability

Lia Patricio – A Framework for Co-creating Service Platforms (PDF)

For 2016 (Oct 13-15) my school, OCAD University, will be the hosting institution in Toronto, affording an even larger response between our large university communities and easy access to global travel.



Presentation by Yunsun Chung-Shin Photograph by Peter Jones 

Healthcare Design as Extraordinary Service

Lisa Norton, a professor in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, conducted an interview with me earlier this year for Integral Leadership Review and also published it on her own Design Being.  Titled Healthcare Design as Extraordinary Service, its available both online and as a PDF article. Several paragraphs are included herein to bring this back home to Design Dialogues. She opens with:

Leveraging systems thinking, human-centered design, and information architecture, his Redesign Network serves the emergence of healthcare service systems capable of taking better care of human beings. By developing schemas for more comprehensive understanding of systemic conditions, Peter Jones is defining new intersections and innovation spaces in healthcare and information-intensive services. In the following interview, Dr. Jones shares first-person reflections and insights on patterns in organizational leadership and influence, as well as his hopes and concerns for the future of healthcare systems design.

Lisa writes: “In the developed world, every citizen is impacted on several levels by their proximity to or distance from, care services and health support. Design for Care reframes the objectified “patient” and “user” categories as health seekers. By reframing the patient role as health seeker and differentiating health seeking, (understood as ongoing and continuous throughout life) from information seeking, Design for Care makes space for a diverse range of individuals with multiple intentions. “These are patients receiving care for complex co-occurring illnesses, people improving their sleeping patterns, individuals struggling with the care needs of their family members. In nearly all cases, we have something in common – we are all seeking to improve health toward a felt homeostatic balance, the experience of a recognized sense of ‘normal’.”

I see two emerging thrusts in design for systemic change and sets of questions they suggest. One relates to clinical organizational change: How can we expand the functions of care within clinical organizations to enhance the design of service and the experience of care? How might design move from IT and other non-clinical services to the front lines? The other to health systems level: How can we design to engage and promote extraordinary care in our societies? How can we help clinicians move healthcare innovation from process improvement into a realm of “extraordinary service?”

Apparently I had a lot to say about organizational design and the relationship to new healthcare practices and new distributed models such as the ACO. Perhaps channeling Russell Ackoff’s Democratic Corporation here, I’m proposing a similar self-organizing approach of teams within (large span) hierarchies.

There are few truly flat organizations. The “hierarchy vs. network” theme is archetypal, but structure is not a solution. Networks are not flat by any means; they are lumpy and energized by power bases. Many hierarchies allow their departments to behave as if flat. Rather than characterizing by dichotomies, we might consider every system as a mix of structures, often shifting, but in slow motion. Large product companies often have vertical market segments and product lines that require separate teams and external networks, such as the large firm in We Tried to Warn You. And they are able to “learn lateral” when necessary, even in a traditional managed hierarchy.

In terms of systemic design within organizations I’ve advocated a planned combination of top-down and bottom-up strategies of soft system design. My approach connects front-line projects with broad organizational and community goals. Through structured dialogue and creative workshops, we can help stakeholders in management and in patient-facing services to discover a shared framing of goals, boundaries, and roles to align their projects toward preferred system outcomes.

Healthcare practices are very resilient, they are trained and standardized so that many clinicians can be interchangeable and perform well under a range of conditions. Changing clinical practices, workflow or procedures requires strong evidence and a clear argument, retraining and evaluation. It’s the same thing when introducing a new EMR or IT system. Healthcare organizations are designed in a sense to resist change; they hold strong norms of practice due to the constant demand to serve their communities. Therefore when consultants (and designers) want to promote innovation and change and they don’t live and work inside healthcare – hospitals or practices – their proposals will likely fail. We are not all on the same team. Clinicians have a primary duty as caregivers – what is our duty of care to the caregivers? Perhaps as designers we can see possibilities those working in the domain cannot, but that doesn’t give a mandate for change from the outside.

Healthcare is risk-averse by design. It is (in Jane Jacobs’ terms) a guardian moral system, as opposed to a system of commerce or trade. Most consultants, designers and IT people come from companies with a commercial moral system, and their operating values may be inherently at odds. Is it ethical for “us” to advocate they act like creative entrepreneurs? Technology interventions can have the effect of embedding a foreign values system, and once embedded, received without consensus.

In my experience, creative competencies can be established within organizations in a developmental way, but preferably not through direct “culture change” initiatives. Cultures change when internal practices reflect new values within ways of working. These practices, habits really, become communicated and valued across departments and enable significant improvements in complex work processes. I don’t believe that my role as a systems designer is to change culture however, it’s a designerly arrogance to believe we can change cultures as outsiders. We haven’t personally done that work in our own organizations, and even when I have, it was in an insider’s role of peer-led stewardship, not as a hired consultant. So how can we pretend our process design is the answer to complex sociotechnical work challenges? The best we can do is to facilitate dialogues and help internal teams design strategies for near and longer term transformations.