Designers, systems thinkers, and change-makers must navigate a world they do not fully understand, with the looming potential for unintended consequences arising from their actions. Their work requires the incorporation of multiple and often conflicting viewpoints with and about a diverse range of stakeholders, tapping into the most reliable information available and considering long timelines. Even with the highest standards of praxis, strategies can be flawed, ineffective, and can even make the problem worse.
This presentation derives from a Major Research Project completed at OCAD University that sought to investigate how self-identified agents of change understood the ethical obligations and responsibilities relating to their work. Two lines of inquiry are inherent to this presentation—knowledge and uncertainty and epistemic ethics. Change initiatives will necessarily be based on what those charged with undertaking them know and believe. An introduction to how knowledge, or the lack thereof, can be classified is offered to ground this work within the larger epistemological context.
The ethical context of this work relates to an epistemological context as well, rather than a moral one. Epistemic humility is offered as an aspirational virtue that could be embraced by designers, innovators, and change agents as they conduct their work, and epistemic arrogance is described as a vice to be avoided.
KEYWORDS: systemic design, ethics, epistemic humility, uncertainty, knowledge, epistemic arrogance