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Design for Care

We Tried to Warn You

Team Design

Flourishing Cities: Toward an Ecological Governance

We held a participatory design workshop at Urban Ecologies 2015 (June 19) to test-run a process with the Flourishing Cities canvas, a system map for citizen co-design for planning future governance commitments and preferred future outcomes The Flourishing Cities framework adapts a design tool from the Flourishing Business Model, a planning system for constructing strongly sustainable business models. The design tool in both cases is a visual organizer for engaging stakeholders in co-creating values-centred operational guidance, in the Cities case, adapted for civil society engagement with urban planners and local governments.  This is based on research work developed from OCADU sLab Strongly Sustainable Business Model group as applied to the flourishing of cities and settlements.

As suggested by the “strongly sustainable” terminology, the normative commitment of the planning system is toward a fullY-integrated social system of an organization with its inclusive societal contexts, human participants, and the natural ecosystem.

A significant design challenge of our time is anticipating the relationships of multiple environmental and social problems as a complex system of nonlinear effects.  Consider how climate change debates stay mired in the unproductive positions of critique or techno-utopian solutionism. Climate change offers us the perfect example of a long-term complex problem system. We are largely arguing about symptoms and how to treat them, as the root causes (if not formal causes) of climate change are in trade, economic investment, and industrial subsidies from generations ago. As we face the consequent effects on human migration, energy, transportation, and urban planning, we remain largely unable to influence the politics of global capital. So even if Canada elects a more climate-friendly government after the disastrous Harper regime, South Asia and China’s development and climate impacts remain untouchable and arguably worse than our last 100 years of aggressive growth.

However, we cannot model or think about nonlinear and atemporal relationships very well, especially in deliberative groups and decision making processes. We need not only better engagement and dialogue processes for citizen deliberative problem solving, we require relevant tools. We are aiming to design a framework from the common language of business model tools, adapted for city and community decision making models.

This proposed visual model enables a participatory mapping of propositions, values, and preferences that might yield significantly better group decisions for sociocultural and ecological development and governance in any planning engagement. The frame for Flourishing is drawn from John Ehrenfeld’s decade of research and promotion of “sustainability as the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever.”

The Flourishing Cities canvas is an experiment in creative engagement for constructing strong sustainability models for city and regional urban governance.

The presentation deck for the workshop (available in PDF).


The workshop in action. This was our first, and I (with the Strategic Innovation Lab) would be happy to develop custom Flourishing City workshops for planners or stakeholder groups. Contact me or join the SSMBG on LinkedIn if you’re interested in this developing area.

Learning from the Global Community of Dialogic Design

Co-Evolving SDD Practice

In several short years, many leaders and institutions now openly acknowledge the necessity for inclusive social transformation. We also now find stakeholders raising the concern that social change must be driven by participatory and democratic processes. We recognize the fact that our third millennium world needs new methodologies and new tools capable of harnessing the collective wisdom of people from all walks of life in order to protect its sustainability and foster up harmony into its evolution. The practice of Structured Dialogic Design is positioned as a powerful tool in this context.

A group of nearly 30 practitioners and scholars met in Limassol Cyprus for May’s international meeting not to revisit the history of the past 40+ years but to “create the history of the future.” The community of scientists and practitioners of the science of dialogic design has now expanded to include people from all parts of the world and a variety of languages and cultures. A dedicated community of scientists, students and practice leaders gathered for a week to deliberate on how to evolve SDD and retain its scientific credibility together with its cultural sensitivity.

As Yiannis Laouris states: “No claim is being made about the superiority of Structured Dialogic Design, even though there is substantial empirical evidence, from more than 1,000 applications in the arena, to this effect when dealing with the management of complexity.”














Laouris and Christakis have emphasized for many years the critical importance of performance in the Arena, of citizen and stakeholder-level action resulting in sustainable, persistent outcomes. All evaluation of quality and effectiveness must be tested by its effects in real discourses and decisions. The Symposium was a necessary, all too rare meeting of the College, the community of practice and scholars.  However, immediately after the week-long meeting, a significance team stayed in Cyprus to plan and deliver five (5) back-to-back Colaboratories. That’s commitment to the Arena.

In my view of the modes and outcomes of practice, I can identify four contexts of Dialogic Design engagements:

  • College – The Community of Practice and scholars who sustain the scientific work, the theoretical development, the scholarly publishing.
  • Lab – The Lab context is the crucible for tinkering with new concepts, building methods upon theory, and the source of methodological innovation. As designers, we might also call this the “Studio” context, because its working with peers and informed stakeholders on designing processes and applications. Unlike the contemporary notion of Social Labs, I see labs as back-room workshops where designers and planners work with problem owners in building new engagement methods and designing better ways to manage and analyze dialogue and its artifacts.
  • Arena – The Arena is the center of engagement, the Co-lab, the place where stakeholders meet and deliberate in a context of communicative action hosted by a team of 3-4 SDD facilitators. SDD organizes a stakeholder designing process in which every member is empowered to decide and to take action in collaborative outcomes.
  • Agoras – Agoras are evolutionary dialogues disclosed by processes of dialogic design.  The new Agoras we speak of are spaces for citizen dialogue, in the continuity of places like the Future Worlds Centre in Cyprus or Design with Dialogue in Toronto. The are becoming possible online, with mixed-methods and staged temporality.

The included presentation was on the relationship of design and design principles to systems practice and SDD.

SDD offers a significant, developed theory base and unlike most systems methods, it is a validated and published method. Yet SDD was never developed as an integrated design methodology, it was formulated from the beginning as a powerful systems approach for multi-stakeholder deliberation and strategic decisionmaking in complex and high-risk domains. What would it take to reconfigure SDD as a design-led multi-stage process for collaborative foresight for social systems planning and design?

We might start by integrating design and research methods from underrepresented creative and social science disciplines, including strategic foresight, participatory action research, organizational design, and developmental evaluation. The pre-Definition and execution phases in particular can be considerably enhanced. Both the Discovery (preceding SDD co-labs) and Action Planning (following co-labs) have significant potential for mixed-method design processes. Today we typically customize a research and facilitation strategy for a client, but do not always measure or compare outcomes or publish findings.  The Cyprus symposium provided a venue for practitioners to share the magic of approaches learned in the Arena.



Service Design for Care Workshop

We have started a quarterly series of healthcare service design workshops at OCADU for stakeholder networks, health providers and health agencies.  With an explicit focus on service design and design-led research in healthcare, we hope to raise awareness of the practices and models for service design in clinical and community care settings.

Workshop 1 – Inspiring health movements in community networks:  Community network innovations

Dr. Rick Botelho, Family physician and U Rochester School of Medicine


Challenge:  How can we mobilize people within their local and extended social networks to socialize health learning and experience to improve population health in the community?

Description:  We address the problem of community health through the approach known as catalytic innovation, creating lightweight modes of peer learning appropriate for different types of social networks (online, neighborhood, community centres). To overcome the scarcity mindset in healthcare, patients become an integral solution to these complex problems. These peer-driven services complement professional services and build growing networks of peer learning and coaching for health improvement.

The Health Coaching Buddies learning process developed by Dr. Botelho represents such a convenient, inexpensive and accessible peer learning system. These processes aim to improve health behaviors such as self-care of chronic diseases, improving health literacy, reducing social isolation and enhancing personal happiness and social well-being. These innovations can be made widely available, using social media, online programs and mobile phones. They are designed to create meaningful learning experiences that aim to accommodate people’s particular worldviews, needs, preferences and life circumstances, instead of making people fit into a particular program, theory, clinical approach or setting.

Objective: The workshop will engage participants to think systemically about population and community health improvement and to design possible interventions for peer support. It will focus on the first two phases of a 3-phase process: inspiration and ideation (but not implementation).

Methods:  Workshop participants will learn how to:

  • Frame the complex social challenge (continuous sharing and promotion of health support in community level)
  • Identify innovation opportunities
  • Visualize and specify service concepts proposed by small groups of participants
  • Formulate, conceive or propose catalytic innovations for community health improvement

Workshop Outcome: Imagine transformational leaders, innovators, organizations and communities working synergistically to:

  • Proactively disseminate peer learning and coaching systems at all levels
  • Align leadership, professional and social movements
  • Build exponential heath movements

Future Evolution of Canadian Governance in the Digital Era

A team of faculty and grad students with the OCAD U Strategic Innovation Lab facilitated a series of civic and expert engagements for an ongoing SSHRC research project on futures of governance, led by PI Evert Lindquist of U Victoria.  The sLab contribution was to iteratively develop a Gigamap, a snapshot of which is shown here. A Gigamap is a large-scale visualization of the systemic relationships in the domain, in this variation of the technique, revealing participant’s understanding of the spectrum of changes influencing and transforming governance in the digital era.  The issue is not one of “digital governance,” instead our focus is on the systemic shifts anticipated within federal, provincial and local governance and citizen experience driven by the rapid alterations brought on by digital cultures.

The March issue of Canadian Government Executive printed and posted a story about the evolving Gigamap our team developed to reflect the contributions from policy experts, innovators, and interested citizens over three invitational workshops. The brief version of the story is available online: Systems evolution: A Gigamap by Greg van Alstyne.

CA Gov Di Gigamap












I teach the Gigamapping methodology to SFI students in our Systemic Design course, and we’ve learned that compelling maps of social systems require a project team to conduct a deep dive of research in the domain, to engage stakeholders and experts to understand the salient drivers, and to critique the developing artifact in iterative studio sessions to evolve the underlying system theory that best explains the observations. We’ve developed this technique from years of parallel discourses and workshops with the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), the lead institution in the annual RSD Symposium for systemic design research. Birger Sevaldson of AHO employs an in-depth studio practice to develop a series of maps as “snapshots of understanding” as they aim to map the complexity of a sponsor’s wicked problem. A large sample of their Gigamaps are displayed on their program website, Systems Oriented Design.

Several workshops were held from 2014-2015 that contributed narratives and “subsystems” to the map, with each contributing content and concepts, including:

A major stakeholder workshop in December, coordinated by the Institute on Governance, supporting by expert “lightning talks”, small group and Open Space workshops. The first Gigamap concept was presented here. employed as a visual template of a Three Horizons model to capture the progression from today’s tensions to tomorrow’s innovations.

We held the January Design with Dialogue on The Co-evolution of Connected Citizens in Canadian Governance, engaging a completely new group of 35 civic innovators in whole group dialogue and small group sessions to elicit influence maps on the important systemic relations for access, privacy, engagement, and open data (these are represented in the loop models inserted within the Gigamap above).

The DwD workshop preceded the major Ottawa summit event, sponsored by SSHRC and IoG, coordinated by the research team for engagement with government executives, public service innovators and academic advisors. Another evolution of the map was used as a template to collect ideas from the participants at the summit, and these were reviewed and developed in a one-day workshop at the Institute on Governance in Ottawa.

Template Gmap