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Damian Chapman, Kate Doyle, Patricia Machado, and Thomas J McLeish

The Reading Group

“The Reading Group” was formed in December of 2021 out of a collaborative interest in enacted cybernetics and prototyping. The name of the group is somewhat tongue-in-cheek—it means to draw attention to the act of reading as an act of construction, always embodied. We desire to find ways to “make” and “do” the ideas presented in texts on cybernetics. Our definition of prototyping involves making an idea both material and public with the assumption that its object-ness is not fixed, subject to change, and a point in a process.

Our panel explores and enacts findings discerned from four workshops held over the last two years, all with the organizing idea of “Prototyping Conversation.” Held virtually or in hybrid mode, these workshops were intended to facilitate situations in which participants could explore the process of describing wicked challenges. Our initial “proxy goal”—a desire intended to initiate a feedback cycle of learning through action—was for participants to construct descriptions of wicked challenges that reflected variety in perspective and so the complexity, circularity, and multi-faceted-ness of such challenges’ entanglements in and as systems. We asked participants to co-construct their descriptions through conversation. We suggested that greater variety in description prototyping could be pursued by conversing in non-verbal means (drawing, non-verbal sound-making, gesturing) instead of or in addition to using verbal language. We attempted to encourage experimentation with non-verbal conversation through the offering of tools beyond those normally expected for conversation (paper, markers, physical and virtual space, and platforms to upload audio and image files).

In every workshop, we observed that the emergence of initial discomfort—expressed verbally and nonverbally by some participants in response to being asked to seek variety in prototyping descriptions without explicit articulation of expectations—was frequently the starting point for transformation toward open experimentation. This observation is the foundation of new explorations for The Reading Group around empathy, expressive mark-making, and alternative metrics for meaning. It is also a starting point for this panel. In particular, we investigate a compelling parallel between the challenge that experimentation with description-prototyping presents and the discomfort of attempting to shift from a problem-solving mindset to the cybernetic framework for wicked challenges, as both involve and employ uncertainty, experimentation, variety, and creativity.

prototyping conversations group


Damian Chapman, Assistant Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Computing and the Environment, Kingston University,,

Damian Chapman’s 20+ year professional career informs his work in cross-functional knowledge sharing to challenge siloed communities and to facilitate inductive approaches to organisational learning. He is Assistant Dean for the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and the Environment, having recently moved from being Head of the School of Design at Kingston University with specialisations in design innovation, creative computing, engineering systems, interaction and communication design. Damian is also a Royal College of Art doctoral student, where he focuses on the application of design principles to interdisciplinary learning models within the energy transition industry at the intersection between cybernetics and organisational theory.

Kate Doyle, Assistant Professor, Department of Arts, Culture & Media, Rutgers University-Newark,

Kate Doyle’s work explores art practices and forms through the framework of cybernetics. An attention to the processes and poetics of creative reception serves as the foundation of her teaching-learning, which encourages new modes of conversation and interaction. With Paul Pangaro, she co-organizes #NewMacy, an initiative that spans geographies and generations and goes beyond disciplines to catalyze conversations around the complex challenges of our time. With Damian Chapman, Patricia Machado, and TJ McLeish, she runs The Reading Group, a think tank for embodied research, learning, and creative archiving. Trained in the visual arts and violin performance, Kate received her PhD in musicology from Case Western University in 2018. She has been an invited speaker or collaborator at the Australian National University School for Cybernetics, the Chelsea College of Art of the University of the Arts London, the Dia Art Foundation, and the Library of Congress. Kate is currently Assistant Professor of Music in the Department of Arts, Culture & Media at Rutgers University-Newark and is based in New York City.

Patricia Machado, UX Researcher,,,

Patricia Machado is a bold and inquisitive UX Researcher known for her ability to co-create the future and leverage research insights for uncharted territories. With a passion for activating change through storytelling and collaboration, she is a culture-builder, mentor, and innovative problem-solver. Patricia combines qualitative research, human-centred design, and design thinking to inform product strategy and create innovative solutions at the intersection of technology and content. With a focus on co-creating versions of the future at the intersection of technology and content, she seeks to improve how people work, think, and play. Patricia actively participates in the UX community, offering mentorship and expertise on UX research methods, collaboration, leveraging research findings for product strategy, and supporting Latinas in tech.

Thomas J McLeish,

Thomas J. McLeish is an accomplished principal technology designer with a background in software, hardware, and data analytics. He obtained his MS in Media Arts and Technology from the MIT Media Lab and holds a BS in Environmental Design and a BArch in Architecture from Ball State University. Thomas leads multidisciplinary teams to create cutting-edge technology solutions for organizations. Among his notable achievements, he served as Lead Technical Designer for the Colloquy of Mobiles project, developed the technical product strategy for WildThink’s Animal Vending Machine, and contributed to Iota Partners’ acquisition as a partner in a startup design research firm.

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Citation Data

Author(s): The Reading Group | Damian Chapman, Kate Doyle, Patricia Machado, and Thomas J McLeish
Year: 2023
Title: Prototyping Conversation: Observing a cybernetic process of describing wicked challenges
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Kingston, UK | Pittsburgh, USA | ONLINE
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 13 July 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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