A Systemic Co-Design Iceberg: A systemic perspective in the ever-evolving practice of empathic co-design

Format: Papers, RSD11, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Wina Smeenk

Inholland University of Applied Sciences

Societal challenges have become increasingly pressing. They affect us all: citizens, designers, and researchers. Truly understanding and tackling them is difficult because no single stakeholder nor organization is responsible for them, and everything is connected, interwoven, and in a current state of change. Moreover, there is mutual interaction and entanglements between people, non-humans, and technology. Next, systemic challenges based on the relationships, interactions, and experiences between stakeholders and their environments are dynamic. They evolve. Subsequently, it is hard to see the playing field. This makes challenges orphaned and stakeholders unable or unwilling to make all kinds of important decisions. This ambiguity leads to a lot of uncertainty. Combined with blind spots, implicit world views, tacit mechanisms, and latent values, this hinders change and limits social innovation capacity. Which raises the question: how to gain agency to individually act as a stakeholder in these complex challenges in a way that adds up to the collective?

Nowadays, design and, more specifically, systemic co-design are increasingly seen as possible approaches. Since design can deal with uncertainty, it is optimistic and inquisitive in nature. Moreover, supported by abduction logic, design makes creative leaps that can lead to radical change. Even more, a co-design and empathic approach allow for inclusivity by identifying and sharing stakeholders’ differences and interests, as well as shared perspectives and ambitions. This enables the creation of new bonds—potential new value networks—and co-imagining alternative futures. Yet, to make this empathic co-design potential work, the design profession must shift along with our transforming world.  Design, therefore, needs to adopt new methodological and flexible strategies that support stakeholders in adaptively and empathically responding to dynamic contexts and collaborations. The main question arises: how to create a systemic co-design culture, approach, and structure that opens up stakeholders to reveal implicit world views, values, and mechanisms that will support their agency and provides for more inclusive, radical, and shared opportunities for change.

In this paper, I hypothesize that this requires working beyond methods that connect empathic co-design with a systemic perspective. I, therefore, contribute two new concepts. First, I introduce using explicit ‘sphere of life’ mechanisms as an ingredient in design abduction. Second, I argue that an ‘iceberg’ consisting of systemic co-design elements might give guidance to multi-stakeholder coalitions in identifying individual and collective latent values. Together they can lead to multi-value creation and systemic change in inclusive value networks.

KEYWORDS: societal impact design, abduction, multi-value creation, systemic change, value networks, iceberg, spheres of life, (implicit) values, mechanisms

Citation Data

Author(s): Wina Smeenk
Year: 2022
Title: A Systemic Co-Design Iceberg: A systemic perspective in the ever-evolving practice of empathic co-design
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 084
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 23 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


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Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

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