Employing Choice Infrastructure and Choice Posture to Achieve Positive-Sum System Outcomes -9


Ruth Schmidt

Stable systems are not necessarily healthy ones. Many ostensibly stable systems in organisational, commercial, and civic contexts are instead characterized by “zero-sum” dynamics, in which supply is assumed to be scarce rather than abundant, forcing participants to compete over a finite set of narrowly defined valued assets rather than attempting to satisfy their deeper and more pluralistic preferences. This state of scarcity and competition has significant influences on how choices are prioritized and made, suggesting that insights from behavioural science — which provides a perspective on how people consider options and make trade-offs when deliberating and making decisions under uncertainty — can contribute to understanding behaviours in zero-sum situations. Further, it indicates that combining behavioural insights with an understanding of system-level functions to illuminate strategies for reframing value definition and exchange can reframe zero-sum conditions into “positive-sum” ones.

However, where behavioural design typically functions at the immediate moment and discrete unit of decision-making in the form of “choice architecture,” achieving positive-sum outcomes may demand paying greater attention to what we might call choice infrastructure or the ways in which system conditions provide the underlying plumbing for determining and exchanging value. In addition, encouraging positive-sum outcomes will also benefit from understanding how individuals’ specific and non-generic stances on value inform their personal choice postures or inclinations and predispositions toward what is valuable to them.

This paper proposes that considering how behavioural insights inform choice infrastructure and choice posture can augment current systems and behavioural design approaches for achieving more equitable, positive-sum solutions to system challenges. It then examines Chicago’s transportation policy related to fines and fees through these lenses to demonstrate how they might be applied to real-life challenges.

Keywords: systemic design, behavioural design, choice infrastructure, choice posture, zero-sum, positive-sum

Pre-proceedings drafts are available for RSD11 participants to review. The corresponding paper number is at the end of the title. The papers have been peer-reviewed, and the authors have made revisions. Following RSD11, authors will have a final period to revise their work from the feedback received at RSD before the proceedings are formally published.

Posted September 2022 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.