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Designing for Transitions in Environment, Economy, and Democracy

Format: Papers, RSD6, Topic: Methods & Methodology, Topic: Policy & Governance

Silvia Mata-Marin, Francis Carter, Dimeji Onafuwa, Ahmed Ansari, and Dan Lockton

Changing behaviour of the systems we’re in

Emerging approaches to designing for societal transitions towards more sustainable futures involve a methodological commitment to mapping and engaging with complex sociotechnical systems—the value of a systemic design approach is being recognized, from the supra-individuality of social practice theory to considerations of systems such as food and business models.

However, much work on systems mapping focuses mainly on representations of actors and relations, when just as important when considering transition is the dynamic nature of the relationships involved and how to intervene within those relations.

There is also the value of a second-order cybernetic approach, recognizing that we are within the systems we are trying to change: “everything said is said by an observer,” “the designer never stands outside the situation. ”At RSD3, Ranulph Glanville noted, in relation to the “typical sort of systems diagrams with boxes here and here and here and here and arrows connecting them” that the systems scientist Charles François “would say, ‘systems people are interested in the boxes and cybernetics people are interested in the arrows.’” In our focus on transition, we recognize that a major role of design is in enabling people who are experiencing the transitions to have the agency to change the behaviour of the systems they are in—to affect those arrows between the boxes, to change their directions, to exploit relations and seed potentialities within situations. While aspects of systems-in-change have been explored, particularly the context and agency of actors in determining their contributions towards systemic goals, we derive an alternative approach to scoping and determining design interventions from alternative theories of change around the concept of efficacy in Chinese philosophy and dunamis [the Aristotelian idea of potentiality and actuality] or potentiality in from Aristotle’s Metaphysics, designing for transition in systems can be seen to involve creating potential future scenarios through a close read of the present and to enact change through the transformation of opportune situations.

In our paper, we examine three cases—relating to Democracy, Economy, and Environment—which think through various aspects of mapping, making sense of, and affecting sociotechnical systems-in-change, dealing with issues of the determination and permeability of boundaries, with power and agency in effecting intra-systemic change, and with accessibility and differences of experience, but with a common theme of manipulating the present in order to seed the future with many emergent possibilities. In Case 1, migrants experience their behaviour being changed by the configuration of the existing system; in Case 2, people experience negotiating where and how to redraw boundaries to change the behaviour of a system, entering into new relations between actors; while in Case 3, people are enabled to perceive and enact their agency in changing the behaviour of the system.

KEYWORDS: gigamapping, systems mapping, transformation, transition dynamics




Citation Data

Author(s): Silvia Mata-Marin, Francis Carter, Dimeji Onafuwa, Ahmed Ansari, and Dan Lockton
Title: Designing for Transitions in Environment, Economy, and Democracy
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 12 October 2017
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Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404