Ray Ison, Gyuchan Thomas Jun, and Rebecca Cain
In 1970 the new UK Open University (OU) appointed a Dean of a Faculty of Technology created in his image: a Faculty combining disciplines of analysis with disciplines of synthesis. To effect the latter, departments of Design and Systems, each with foundation chairs, were created. I was the third Professor of Systems to be appointed; the then Professor of Design was on my appointment panel, and I had just prepared and delivered a paper (based on research in semi-arid Western NSW) entitled “Towards Participative Ecodesign.” I expected collaboration to flourish. Alas, it did not. —Ray Ison
Drawing on Ray’s 50+ years of experience in preparing and delivering systems and design education at the OU (UK), Britain’s largest university, this fireside conversation aims to explore and tease out the issues that have made it difficult for design and systems academics and practitioners to arrive in this present moment in a conversation framed as systemic design. The group seeks to illuminate issues that might constrain or enable praxis in the pursuit of purposeful educating of systemic designers and/or systems thinking practitioners capable of taking design turns in doing what they do.
Ray Ison was appointed Professor of Systems at the Open University (OU) in 1994. He is a member of the Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) program involved in researching and teaching, particularly team co-authoring and presenting Post-Graduate modules such as “Managing Change with Systems Thinking in Practice” and “Evidencing Systems Thinking in Practice.” These are developed and presented within the OUs MSc and Systems Thinking Practitioner Apprenticeship awards.
Beginning in 2016, he imagined and facilitated the means to professionalise STiP within the English apprenticeship scheme (achieved in 2020). He has also led and/or contributed to a range of major research, scholarship and teaching programs and projects as part of the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice (ASTiP) Group. His research and scholarship span the biophysical and social and are primarily interdisciplinary, international and collaborative. He is recognised for his work on systems praxeology within rural development, sustainability management, systemic governance and the design and enactment of learning systems, as evidenced in an extensive number of publications—his latest book, co-authored with Ed Straw, The Hidden Power of Systems Thinking. Governance in a Climate Emergency was published in 2020. Prof. Ison is the current President (since 2019) of the International Federation for Systems Research (IFSR); he has also served as President of ISSS (International Society for the Systems Sciences) and as a Trustee of the American Society of Cybernetics. In 2022 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Systems Society of India for contributions to the transformation of society with a systems approach.
Dr Gyuchan Thomas Jun is a Professor of Socio-technical System Design at the School of Design and Creative Arts, Loughborough University, UK and a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist. He is a design educator, system researcher, and participatory design facilitator—and an award-winning animation and film producer working in human-centred system design and system safety. His expertise is in applying systems thinking approaches to healthcare incident investigation, quality improvement and AI-based innovation in healthcare. He is currently leading an NIHR-funded research project applying machine learning approaches to effective care coordination for people with learning disabilities (2022-24), DECODE.
Rebecca Cain is a Professor in Transdisciplinary Design and Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Vibrant and Inclusive Communities at Loughborough University. She advocates for the power of design to improve our human and planetary well-being. Driven by human-centred thinking, she has 20 years of experience in building diverse transdisciplinary research teams to tackle complex problems from disciplinary perspectives blending design, engineering, architecture, science, social science, psychology, business, philosophy and healthcare, and always in collaboration with non-academic stakeholders. She founded and directs the HOME Centre for Doctoral Training—a transdisciplinary research centre using creative methods to rethink homelessness. She co-edited the book Design for Wellbeing and has fourteen years of board-level roles within the Design Research Society, most recently as Chair. She sits on the Learning and Research Committee at the Design Museum, and is a Fellow of the RSA.