Navigating Designerly Systemic Approaches for Sustainability Transitions

Format: Papers, RSD11, Topic: Methods & Methodology, Topic: Socioecological Design

Svein Gunnar Kjøde

Sustainability Lab, University of Oslo

Contemporary systemic challenges, such as social and environmental issues, force practitioners to rethink their approaches to problem-solving. Systems themselves are, by nature, resilient to change. Their structural and relational dynamics must be deeply understood to enable substantial, lasting change when addressing sustainability issues. Both private and public sectors are now acknowledging the complex, interconnected nature of their operations, which is increasingly reflected in the framing of innovation processes. Accordingly, an emerging field of sustainability research includes scholars investigating the opportunities within designerly approaches (i.e., design thinking, systemic design, and systemic innovation) as promising contributions to the planning and facilitation of sustainability transitions.

Thus, design practitioners increasingly find themselves recruited to central, orchestrating roles in complex sustainability transition processes. In the wake of current academic work on the intersection of sustainability and design, we observe a proliferation of designerly systemic approaches in the form of frameworks, methods, and tools made available to practitioners. So far, investigations into these nascent practical approaches are limited, arguably contrasting their promise to support facilitators and practitioners in application to contemporary challenges.

This paper evaluates three prominent designerly systemic approaches through a lens of key theoretical strands from sustainability-, systems theory- and design research. The author argues that such a structured, evaluative exercise offers an outline to inform the practice of future systemic changemakers and sustainability researchers.

KEYWORDS: systemic design framework, sustainability, transitioning, systemic innovation

Citation Data

Author(s): Svein Gunnar Kjøde
Year: 2022
Title: Navigating Designerly Systemic Approaches for Sustainability Transitions
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 144
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 22 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.

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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.

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