Systemic Design Toolkit

Peter Jones Co-Creation, RSD, Systemic Design

The Systemic Design Toolkit was developed by Namahn’s Kristel van Ael and her team for initial workshopping at RSD5 in Toronto. We launched the Toolkit at Relating Systems and Design 7, October 2018, after a year or so of partnering with Phillipe Vandenbroeck from ShiftN, Alex Ryan of MaRS Solutions Lab, and myself with Systemic Design Association. Civilian and educational versions of the Toolkit are now in process and used in training.

The Toolkit encompasses the progression of knowledge building over the course of 7 RSD conferences, with the methods tested in workshops and now graduate coursework, at OCADU’s Strategic Foresight and Innovation and at U Antwerp, Belgium. The Systemic Design Toolkit is based on design principles and original systems science foundations. to show how methods cannot replace the evolution of one’s own systems thinking competencies in social and systemic design.

I recently presented a brief workshop on the SD Toolkit at Systems Innovation 2019 in Barcelona and a Toronto public discussion at Systems Thinking Ontario. The Barcelona workshop was very well attended, which is always a challenge then to both summarize the concepts and techniques as quickly as collective brain bandwidth allows, and then to facilitate (singly) a hands-on workshop with a dozen tables of 4-5 each. A testament to the take-up of the ideas was how well most of the teams were able to generate useful constructs using 2-3 canvases in 30 minutes, for the challenge of “reinventing self-directed education as an alternative to universities.”

The Toolkit provides a collection of nearly 30 methods designed for co-creation in stakeholder workshops or small group synthesis. Popular systems tools such as multi-level system maps and causal loop diagrams are aligned to specific steps in a well-defined methodology. A 7-step sequence of interactions suggests the journey for use in a full cycle of analysis and proposal building for a complex social system.

The sequence is suggested as a process of inquiry, not a replacement of a given design thinking process. The top 3 steps are supported by well-tested system methods, the bottom 3 steps are design and design research oriented. The systems steps promote systems thinking with design ideation, and the design steps infuse systemic principles with design methods. The approach allows a team to switch between system framing and inquiry and human-centred design approaches. The final step 7, Fostering the Transition, draws on Geels’ transition model and Three Horizons (retrieving its earlier use in futures envisioning).

On the Toolkit website you can register to access a presentation and canvases for the SD Toolkit. The full resource and materials are provided with training programs provided by the founding organizations.

Finally, I might also suggest that when working with systems theory, design principles, and the pragmatics of real projects, relying on a toolkit alone is insufficient. The magic of such a practice happens when we learn the applications of a small number of methods useful in particular applications. We can grow our own methods that include the SD tools, as we work with stakeholders to resolve the complexity in our own wicked design problems.