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Can systemic learning help make a safer world? Unraveling safety of mind and being in physical space

Format: Workshops, RSD10, Topic: Architecture & Planning, Topic: Socioecological Design

Swagata S Naidu and Sucharita Beniwal

As the planet witnesses, humans become unwilling participants in the biggest challenge the current generations have seen in their lives. The pandemic has clearly brought forth proof of how everything is connected at multiple levels and how one small change at the micro-level brings about a massive effect. Mapping, reading and making sense of Systemic interrelationships in the staggeringly complex situation to lead to safety and health has become the highest priority. Systems theory highlights that understanding underlying structures is critical to knowing why systems behave the way they do and reinforces that these structures are a key point of intervention for systems change (Meadows, 2008).

Safety has been one of the most important factors for human system evolutions, be it the design of civilizations, food security or the race towards weaponization. Humans have continually designed to create objects and environments that create a sense of safety and comfort for them. The meaning of safety remains the same, despite changing circumstances and contradictions of scale. In this world physical safety from diseases, natural elements like climate as well as other beings in the real world or virtual world will always be a cause of tension and concern.

In the levels of safety – physical and psychological, the psychological is strongly affected by physical and physical safety is affected strongly by the surroundings and the environment. Moving beyond the home environment of private to safety in the public, this workshop aims to decipher safety in a physical context, through a systemic design tool. A systems mapping helps recognize the often-elusive problematic nodes and their interconnections; as well as develop a holistic understanding of the often hard to grasp and define root causes (Seveldson, 2019). Most importantly, systemic design visualisation and analysis empowers one to determine the most opportune leverage point to make potential interventions (Meadows, 2008).

In this workshop, we explore methods drawn from design to realise how people understand and utilise ‘systems’, in particular to public spaces and how they experience a space both physically and psychologically in context to safety. Through the collective intelligence of this interactive workshop, we would use tools for deciphering safety in physical places.

The tool helps decode the tensions of identity be it gender, social structure, or cultural aspects. The workshop is in a series to encourage designers, planners, architects, geographers, citizens and policymakers to use systemic thinking in design for the planning of safe placemaking. The workshop outcomes will hinge on collaborative synergy and virtual group work, while the heterogeneity of the participants, their individual identities and varied experiences will add multi-dimensionality to the collective understanding of replicating this tool in other contexts.

Workshop format

90 minutes | online | maximum 25 participants | using Miro

Workshop Agenda

10 minutes – Introduction to facilitators + ground rules + workshop intent

10 minutes – Activity on Miro (individual participants)

5 minutes – Introduction to tool and context setting for participants (Part A of Tool)

20 minutes – Participants work individually on scenario matrix; deciphering physical spaces with prompt cards

5 minutes – Introduction for synthesis (Part B of the tool)

20 minutes – Plot in commonalities or contradictions (outcomes)

5 minutes – Discussant rules

20 minutes  –Final sharing and insights


Meadows, D.H. (2008). Thinking In Systems: A Primer. Vermont: Chelsea Green.

Sanders, E.B.N., & van Stappers, P-J. (2013). Convivial toolbox: Generative research for the front end of design. Amsterdam: BIS Publishers.

Sevaldson, B. (2019), What is Systemic Design? Practices Beyond Analyses and Modelling. In Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD8) 2019 Symposium. IIT Institute of Design, Chicago, October 13-15, 2019. Retrieved from

Keywords: safe places, deciphering physical spaces, placemaking, scenario mapping




Citation Data

Author(s): Swagata Naidu and Sucharita Beniwal
Title: Can systemic learning help make a safer world? Unraveling safety of mind and being in physical space
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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Symposium Dates:
First published: 10 September 2021
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