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Justyna Swat and Dan Lockton

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” Anaïs Nin, from The Seduction of the Minotaur, 1961—but see also discussion of the history of this idea.

Worldviews are an important concept, inherent in one way or another in a number of frameworks and approaches related to systemic design, including transition design and causal layered analysis, as well as broader cultural, political, philosophical and psychological perspectives. Manifesting worldviews is, by some definitions, something along the lines of interrelated sets of beliefs and assumptions about the world, a frame of reference in which everything presented to us by our diverse experiences can be placed—a belief system.

Manifesting worldviews as belief systems

Belief systems are systems, but we don’t often see them explored in this ‘systems’ sense, linking individuals’ psychology to the wider constellations of sociotechnical and ecological understandings and beliefs within which we are situated. In systems thinking and cybernetics, the idea of the worldview can take on a particular significance because we are very conscious that the “whole system” can rarely be perceived. We are often working with a recognition that there are different cognitive points of view of a system, from the standpoints of different people or entities within it, and that seeking out and taking on different worldviews (or perhaps the related idea of mindsets) within a system can be a way of understanding it better. Worldviews are also related to notions of imaginaries in the sociological sense—not just beliefs about how the world works, but how it should work, and so also inherently concerned with futures: how the world should be.

Literacy with a system, the ability both to read it and to ‘write’ (or change) it, is one way in which worldviews connect to people’s perceived agency within systems, influencing their experience and actions. In some ways, the perceived ‘rules’ of a system—what (it is believed) is possible, for whom, with what results, what should happen, what shouldn’t, with what consequences—can be seen as a structure that links both worldview and perceived agency.

Externalising worldviews

But what does it mean to explain or articulate your worldview? How to manifest it, meaning how to make it more evident to oneself and/or to others? Converting internal processes and more or less hidden entangled assumptions into a material form?

Externalizing things that one focuses on in a conscious or unconscious manner can provide access to additional cognitive resources we can use to process the same information in a different way. Our hypothesis is that it is not easy to “externalise” a worldview and to share it with others, nor indeed to “take on” another’s worldview, without a process scaffolding or supporting those manifestations. Perhaps being prompted to reflect on your worldview in a specific context is itself part of a continuous process of construction and reconstruction that can increase our understanding of multiple perspectives.

Manifesting Worldviews addresses systemic design methods and practices directly. Specifically, exploring “worldviews” as a topic will involve “playing with tensions” by challenging participants to articulate and share ideas which will very often involve ambivalence, inconsistencies, and debate. There might be no right or wrong worldview, but tensions might come from the scale or frame of description, multiple realities.

We will build on methods around physicalising and externalising ideas, beliefs, and perceptions, from previous RSD workshops and other creative practices in art, design, and architecture to invite participants to help develop fragments of a process together, and to explore, collaboratively, how to manifest, understand, and share one’s own worldview, and others’.

Workshop format

90 minutes | maximum 40 participants | materials and space to build or draw

Workshop Agenda: Manifesting worldviews

Over 90 minutes, in three stages:

  1. Externalising individually
  2. Collaborating to understand each other’s worldviews
  3. Reflecting together as a group on both the worldviews themselves and the methods or approaches used.

Our aim is to arrive at a set of what we might think of as tentative prototype tools for engaging with worldviews in participatory systemic design settings, as well as providing participants with a chance to consider their own thinking in new ways.

All participants will be, if interested, invited to be part of a team developing the methods further in a systemic design context for future workshops and publications.


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Inayatullah, S. (2004). ‘Causal Layered Analysis: Theory, historical context, and case studies’ in Inayatullah, S. (ed.), The Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) Reader: Theory and Case Studies of an Integrative and Transformative Methodology. Tamkang University Press, 8–49.

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Wahl, W. (2016). “Believing is seeing and seeing is believing” Excerpt from Designing Regenerative Cultures




Citation Data

Author(s): Justyna Swat and Dan Lockton
Title: Manifesting Worldviews
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 10 September 2021
Last update:
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404