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Testbeds: Implementation Cycles in Systems Oriented Design_2023

Format: Papers, RSD12, Topic: Architecture & Planning, Topic: Cases & Practice, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Ingerid Helsing Almaas, Camilla Therese Hansen, and Eva Hugenschmidt

Interventions in complex systems require designers and their clients not only to design early, as well-established design methodology recommends but also to implement early. In a linear model of implementation strategy, this may seem a contradiction – how can you implement without having a fully conceived solution? In this paper, we will suggest that in fact, design does not come before implementation: design and implementation are circular activities that depend on and inform each other.

Design disciplines are familiar with iterative approaches to the transition from design to a finished product or service. Modelling, prototyping and user testing are commonplace in many development processes. But in some domains, such as building construction or the planning of large-scale engineering solutions, prototyping is very complicated or actually not possible, and linear implementation practice – commonly from problem statement to research to conclusion to solution design to implementation of the chosen solution – still dominates, even where the complexity of the situation requires a systemic approach.

The paper will explore what happens in three examples of complex projects when you take a different path: rather than regarding implementation as the carrying out of a fixed plan, you assume that implementation – the making real of what is planned – starts before the plan is completed, and becomes a process that feeds further planning and is allowed to change the project along the way. Implementation is approached through a process of real-life testing of crucial aspects of the project by introducing a testbed, which allows for the accumulation of real and valid experience in the project team, as well as the emergence of unexpected and innovative solutions. In three case studies, we explore how this approach has unfolded in different domains where linear processes still dominate.

In contrast to familiar testing procedures such as prototyping or various “labs”, a systems oriented design (SOD) testbed is not introduced to test proposed solutions but to impact real-life complex situations and collaborations where a solution is not yet in sight.

In all three cases, linear planning is challenged by a creative and dynamic learning process with a wide range of participants, designed to generate and capture insight and experience that is partly provoked by the process itself. In the testbed process, the experts are valuable not just for the knowledge they already possess but also because, together, their expertise enables them to learn faster, aiding the acceleration of the implementation cycle.

Seen in this way, implementation is not the final stage of a process, but a recurring phase in a cycle of interventions and responses in a complex real-life system. Ultimately, the cases force a fruitful discussion of the concept of ‘implementation’ itself and the boundary between the ‘planned’ and the ‘real’.

Keywords: implementation strategy, systemic intervention, systemic design, process design, architecture, engineering, agile framework

RSD Topics: Architecture & Planning, Cases & Practice, Methods & Methodology

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Citation Data

Author(s): Ingerid Helsing Almaas, Camilla Therese Hansen, and Eva Hugenschmidt
Year: 2023
Title: Testbeds: Implementation Cycles in Systems Oriented Design_2023
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/implementation-cycles-systems-oriented-design
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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