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Systems Thinking based Design intervention for Supporting Healthy Ageing / Ageing in Place


John Darzentas, Helen Petrie, Jenny Darzentas

This paper presents an approach based on Systems Thinking to create design interventions, demonstrating its use and potential usefulness in the case of providing support for Healthy Ageing. It attempts to clarify and enforce some important steps in Systems Thinking based Design methods.

The paradigm of Service Design used within the Systems Thinking Design provides a platform for demonstrating its use in design problem spaces such as the case of Healthy Ageing. The particular problem space is about caring for older people in order to provide support for Ageing in Place i.e. staying at home autonomously. The apparent complexity of such a concern raises issues such as:

The problem

The larger problem of older people and their needs
Potential design intervention, which these days is expected to the use of technology to complement or even replace carers in providing assistance
What really are the services (tasks, procedures) that are needed and desired,
What are the learning curves

Who are the stakeholders and interested parties
Where is the onus (on technology and its capabilities)
Fear of loss of control

Fear of death
Loss of dignity,
Ceasing to matter
Becoming a burden
Systemic design

how systemic design used to inspire the design of services accommodates large holistic overviews
offers principles and tenets that can be used to guide and inspire search
allows for value co-creation
allows for new perspectives to be created
aids sharing of perspectives and values.
How to see the Whole (Holon)?

One way to see as much as possible of a problem space is to co-create participatively a description of it.
A Rich Picture is a popular approach to represent complex human centred problem spaces. Other approaches such Giga Mapping could be used to capture a Holon of the situation of concern
For instance, for the concept of “Healthy Ageing” the following Rich Picture has evolved as a Holon. The ‘translation’ of that Holon to Systems Thinking language has been proposed and achieved in several ways. A discussion of this very important issue will be presented attempting to demonstrate its complexity.

A system is composed of:

Elements (or parts) (often the most obvious part of a system)
Interconnections (often the flow of information)
Functions (functions are the behaviours expected from elements and interconnections) (typically the least understood, and the ones that affect a system profoundly
This ‘translation’ to Systems Thinking offers the tools of thinking for learning and understanding about the problem space. These tools contain useful notions and tenets such as:

Emergent properties
Variety (requisite variety)
Self reference
Closed (as far their organisation)
Open (as far as energy and matter)
(2nd Order Cybernetics)
Systems also have:

Hierarchical structure
As mentioned above the paradigm of Service Design is used to demonstrate the approach, and in this context Product-Service Systems (PSS) can be considered as it is an influential model in the designing of services. It is a model of designing services that characterises the design intervention by considering the product with the service and using both for adding value to the end result.

However, we claim that products should be considered as by-products-of Service Design (Darzentas et al, 2014). This is because:

the complexity which very usefully characterises the services to be designed is ‘damaged’ by the assumptions that products associated with those services pre-exist, and are not emerging as part of the design process.
capturing as much as possible of the design problem space obviously provides a more robust description of it. Imposing a major constraint on the problem space such as the retaining of the product(s) and assuming that, by default, the product is associated to the service, as in the case of PSS’s (e.g. servitising) does exactly the ‘damage’ mentioned above to the manufacturers, the customers and more generally, the stakeholders.
The hypothesis here is that the product(s) are ‘by–products’ of the service design process.

An example to illustrate the by-product hypothesis:

The design of an accessible cash card for blind users (Product Design).
The design of a number of accessible bank services based on the existing accessible cash card for blind users (PSS).
The design of accessible bank services for blind customers (By-product(s)). These by-products might be an advanced card design and/or again or other accessible means.

In the case of Healthy Ageing a product could have the form of an artifact containing prescription medicine with instructions. A PSS alternative could be the enhancement of the artifact with basic intelligence to remind and guide the user on how to use it.The design of a service to cover the needs of the user in terms of mobility, vision, etc. could be, apart from human assistance, complemented by technology, based for instance, on the use of robots.

Further, in the case of technology-driven services, using robots in ‘Healthy Ageing’ scenarios raises questions as to how desirable it is to have an application or a robotic agent to remind an older person to take medicine, or to have a robot bring a tablet computer to an older person, so they can use it to order groceries. Perhaps these scenarios are driven more by the abilities of the technology in terms of internet connections and mobility, than real needs. Support may start with the services identified by Healthy Ageing scenarios, e.g. help with lifting, with reaching, with sorting. Then the next step would be to find the ‘products’ to support those identified services (and these products can be technologies, people or combinations…).

The paper presents the application of a Systems Thinking based design approach in designing services for Healthy Ageing. Tackling the problem leading to a possible intervention, does not mean that the design of services to be implemented should be based on solely the capabilities of technological support, rather they should take a service approach, and then use whatever technological product, for instance robots, that can best deliver the specified services.

Presentation & paper

Posted October 2017 content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 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) (20XX). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSDX) Symposium.