Co-design for Second-Order Effects and Institutional Change

Author: Evan Barba and Audrey Stewart

Second-order or indirect effects refer to changes within a system that are the result of changes made through direct intervention somewhere else in the system (the first-order effects). Second-order effects can occur at different spatial, temporal, or organizational scales from the original intervention, and can therefore be difficult to predict or control. Some organizational theorists suggest that careful in-situ management of feedback processes can facilitate controlled change from one organizational configuration to another. These structural changes typically occur when a relatively closed and increasingly entropic configuration is reorganized to create a more open and stable configuration, referred to as a dissipative structure. Recognizing that the skill at managing feedback processes is a core competency of design suggests that iterative action-reflection cycles and other design skills are potentially useful tools in achieving organizational change. We describe a case study in which we use a co-design methodology to create and harness the second-order effects resulting from a classroom intervention to produce a dissipative structure at higher scale. We further generalize this approach into a model for achieving systemic change that we refer to as an Instigator Systems approach.

Posted: Jul-2015

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