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Relating Systems Thinking to Design 4

At the Frontiers of Systemic Designtcp_exterior

Relating Systems Thinking & Design 4
Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada Sept 1-3, 2015
Abstract Deadline: Now 12 April, 2015

For 3 years the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) symposium has convened scholars, design researchers, and serious practitioners to articulate and demonstrate the shared value of a transdisciplinary field with applications across all complex systems and services. We invite participation for RSD4 from all those working at the frontiers of systemic design – those leading real projects informed by systemic and complexity theories, and those researching systemic behaviours within real-world complexity, services and systems.

For over 70 years both systems and design fields have developed largely outside the academy, but also largely separated, with too few notable thinkers discovering the implicate connections. Design has been largely biased by a practical materialism and driven by theories of use and human-centredness. Systems theory has been biased by its abstract nature, and lack of attention to designerly ordering and practicality.

At the frontiers we are searching for those stories and experiments into new territory, stories of survival and sustainment, narratives of complexity unfolding into new terrains of application or discourse. We seek abstracts for presentations on real world projects that have led design into new fields, frontier domains, and both small steps or quantum leaps. These cases could demonstrate how systemic design has contributed to a case, how it adapts to the unique situation or how a case has employed systemic approaches.

At the frontiers we do not expect many success stories, as these are too often premature or are lacking the scale addressed at the system boundaries. We are perhaps seeking hopeful research from the arenas and agoras of real practice, as well as “beautiful failures” that help us learn to better navigate the frontier. Rigorous analyses and histories of failures of expanded design projects are of interest, given the fact that the failures most often seem to come from the misreading of boundary conditions, values and power, and entrenched domains, cultures or technologies unfamiliar to the system designer.

The expansion of design requires intensive learning processes and real time adjustment and application of methods and approaches. The frontier requires not only cases, but trued methods, well-researched theories, and artful fusions of design practice and system science. RSD4 calls for a focus on real experiences and cases but also asks for contributions on theoretical and methodological analyses and discussions drawn from action research and personal experiences (phronesis).

Three types of contributions are suggested:

  1. Case studies of design-led projects involving clear systemic impacts and principles
  2. Research supporting systemic design applications and validating theoretical claims
  3. Workshops for collaborative discourse or sharing new methods and practices

Instructions for Submission

Please submit an abstract by April 12 of no more than 1000 words via EasyChair.  Clearly mark your submission as either a Paper or Workshop before the first sentence of the abstract. For workshop proposals, select and  mark the category of workshop:

  • Methodology (systemic design methods, practices, processes, or skill-building)
  • Challenge (a real world challenge for participants to explore with systemic design during the symposium)
  • Theory (a theoretical discourse on an open question in systemic design research).

Accepted paper abstracts will be invited to submit a presentation and working paper to the symposium. Accepted workshops will be asked to prepare background reading and an outline for a half-day workshop to be held over the first two afternoons of the symposium.

All presentations will be published online as proceedings. Selected papers will be invited after the conference to publish a full paper in an international peer reviewed journal (announced at the Symposium).
On behalf of the Systemic Design Research Network,

Alex Ryan, Birger Sevaldson, Peter Jones, and Jodi Forlizzi
Co-Chairs, Relating Systems Thinking and Design 4

Care as Design Practice

Simplifying a complex set of concepts into a central image. We might conceive a core value of caring as ontological, a mode of existence that human-centred practices may share with medicine, nursing, counseling, social work. This way of being might be central to design as service to society, humanity, and direct clients and stakeholders.


And we might recognize that every level of structure endorses care differently. The outcomes of care for persons, as practice, as an organization, or the functions of what we believe to be system level are not coordinated by language or method. Whereas the theory of the (20th century) firm was driven by returns on assets and knowledge that required strategic alignment to achieve cycles of returns – perhaps a 21st century model of organizing for ecologies of care might align these levels of structure to a values of care – including financial sustainability – as a form of care coordination. Care as goal and as method becomes a design practice, involving whole persons in systems of related concerns resolved by interactive human-centred systems of engagement and service.

Remembering our friend Ranulph Glanville

Ranulph Glanville presented his last major talk as our keynote speaker at RSD3 in Oslo, October 16, 2014 – the talk, and Ranulph, was historically rich, colourful, inspirational, intimate and witty. Dr. Glanville passed away Dec 20 after a brief stay in hospital following a rapid turn in the progression his cancer.  Although he studied under Gordon Pask for his first Brunel doctorate in 1975, I think of Ranulph as a first-generation systems thinker, since he was doing relevant work in the 1960’s.  He was an architect, cybernetics scholar, professor, and designer.  He was very active in the cybernetics community, the 5-year term President of the American Society for Cybernetics and a lifelong researcher and brilliant raconteur in the scholarly worlds he participated in. Ranulph wrote at least 170 published papers (other accounts suggest over 300), and was a significant influence on the new generation of systems and cybernetics scholars.

His posted CV is informative and shows a huge breadth of work. His page offers a number of papers, some of his most recent, but remained impersonal and uninformative, reflecting his disregard for the so-called social era of communications.  Ranulph’s Wikipedia entry looks impressive at first glance, but is woefully incomplete and sparse. Ranulph was a compelling live orator, and these summaries do not share links or references to his lectures and influential presentations. Ranulph did not participate in the contemporary social media frenzy (something he seems to share with most leading cybernetics scholars), yet he was quite social in the shared world of actual human activity. He and his wife Aartje freely spent hours with the RSD organizers, speakers and colleagues while in Oslo, telling stories, challenging ideas, meeting attendees.

I first heard of his passing from Ray Ison, president of the ISSS, who also wrote: “According to his wife Aartje, Ranulph died relatively free of pain and suffering. Over the past year Aartje and Ranulph have faced his fatal illness together, with admirable courage, and as undeterred in their regular day to day life as possible, traveling together, adding an extension to their home, and working tirelessly to support and enrich others.”


Caring for the Future: The Systemic Design of Flourishing Enterprises

Presented at OCADU Research Rendezvous, Nov 17, 2014


Human commerce utilizes the most significant share of natural resources and produces the largest aggregate impact on the earth’s environment. As a consequence of modern employment and work cultures, commerce, corporations as opposed to governments, also construct much of the social contract and social organizational forms in developed societies. Sustainable development movements to conserve resources and to democratize or enhance organizational practices have called for culture change or transformation.

However, these approaches have not yielded results that will significantly enhance human flourishing in the face of globalized commerce, which has no common governance system. We suggest that the goals of alignment toward sustainable development or so-called corporate sustainability are misguided and systemically depreciative, as they purport to sustain activities that foreseeably accelerate ecological degradation. We propose a modeling practice for stakeholder design of strongly sustainable enterprises for the intention of whole system flourishing across living ecosystems and organized social systems. This systemic design approach to business transformation functions at the level of the business model. We claim that business model design affords the highest leverage across all modes of organizing for collective cultural adoption ecosystemic practices.