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Field Notes: Tensions between systemic design and systems engineering


Evan Barba

As an emerging interdiscipline, systemic design remains in tension with existing disciplines that share its theories and methods. Articulating these tensions is an important step in differentiating systemic design from what has come before. Systems engineering is one such established discipline; one whose unit of analysis (the system) and purpose (designing) are similar to those of systemic design. Yet, these disciplines differ considerably in their work practices, goals, and domains. By analyzing both differences and similarities, this work aims to generate a better relational understanding between the two. Initially, I discuss some epistemological points of distinction that demonstrate how the two disciplines emphasize different aspects of systems and design to define very different types of problems and solutions. Then I will contrast how differing methods employed by these disciplines arise out of their different philosophical positions. Finally, I suggest some ways that methods from systems engineering might be adapted for use in systemic design with specific benefits for stakeholder engagement and modelling that can help advance the adoption of systemic design approaches in areas that are traditionally the purview of systems engineering and vice versa.

Keywords: Systems Engineering, methods, methodology, epistemology

Posted September 2021 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.