Boundaries as Connection Points: Expanding systemic design methodologies through an “elastic toggling” process

Format: Papers, RSD11, RSD11: Methods and the worlds they make, Topic: Cases & Practice, Topic: Mapping & Modelling, Topic: Methods & Methodology, Topic: Policy & Governance

Haley Fitzpatrick1,2 and Tobias Luthe1,2,3

The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (1) | MonViso Institute (2) | ETH Zurich (3)

Artificial boundaries continue to disconnect us from our inner selves, each other, and the broader biosphere we inhabit. One example of this inability to transcend boundaries is highlighted by sustainability science researchers: the conundrum in current transdisciplinary research on the overemphasis of complex problems themselves rather than the collaborative processes needed to address them. The systemic design offers promising co-creative methodologies to better design such complex collaboration processes and reimagine boundaries as zones of connection rather than separation. However, despite the broad, transdisciplinary focus of the systemic design, greater integration of diverse methods and practices that stem from different ways of knowing and being is needed. Therefore, this presentation demonstrates how a proposed process of elastic toggling between diverse worldviews, methods, practices, and contexts can be operationalized for broadening awareness and participation in sustainability transformations. As part of on-going PhD research in systems-oriented design, initial findings will be presented on how the process is being iterated and applied across three international mountain communities. The process uses different practices and approaches (including co-creative gigamapping, synthesis maps, social network analysis, resilience assessment, land use analysis and immersive place-based experience) in the attempt to weave together design, science and transformative praxis. Throughout the PhD research thus far, the elastic toggling process has allowed for iteration and adjustment between each of these approaches in an emergent and structured manner and to adapt to the ever-changing contexts and increasing complexities of engaging in real-world communities. Along these lines, this contribution aims to expand the discussion around systemic design methodologies by unpacking the boundaries around the usage of primary vs secondary data, different knowledge types, qualitative vs quantitative methods and the co-creative vs individual data collection and analysis processes. The hope is that such critical dialogue around these topics can help mobilise greater synergies across different ways of knowing and being to activate more inclusivity and interconnectedness in collective sustainability transformations.

KEYWORDS: knowledge systems, mountain communities, narrative, complexity, social-ecological systems, sustainability science, immersive experience

Citation Data

Author(s): Haley Fitzpatrick and Tobias Luthe
Year: 2022
Title: Boundaries as Connection Points: Expanding systemic design methodologies through an “elastic toggling” process
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 094
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).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested citation format (APA)

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

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

The Organising Committee reviews and assesses workshops and systems maps & exhibits with input from reviewers and the Programme Committee.

Editor: Cheryl May
Peter Jones
Ben Sweeting

The Scholars Spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

The Systemic Design Association's membership ethos is to co-create the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.


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