Svein Gunnar Kjøde
Contemporary systemic challenges, such as social and environmental issues, force practitioners to rethink their approaches to problem-solving. Systems themselves are in nature resilient to change – their structural and relational dynamics must be deeply understood to enable substantial, lasting change when addressing sustainability issues. Both private and public sectors are now acknowledging the complex, interconnected nature of their operations, which is increasingly reflected in the framing of innovation processes. Accordingly, an emerging field of sustainability research includes scholars investigating the opportunities within designerly approaches (i.e., design thinking, systemic design, and systemic innovation) as promising contributions to planning and facilitating sustainability transitions.
Thus, design practitioners increasingly find themselves recruited to central, orchestrating roles in complex sustainability transition processes. In the wake of current academic work on the intersection of sustainability and design, we observe a proliferation of designerly systemic approaches in the form of frameworks, methods and tools made available to practitioners. So far, investigations into these nascent practical approaches are limited, arguably contrasting their promise to support facilitators and practitioners in application to contemporary challenges.
This paper evaluates three prominent designerly systemic approaches through a lens of key theoretical strands from sustainability-, systems theory- and design research. The author argues that such a structured, evaluative exercise offers an outline to inform the practice of future systemic changemakers and sustainability researchers.
Keywords: systemic design, sustainability, transitioning, systemic innovation