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systemic design

Entangled in Emergence

by | RSD12, SDA blog, Systemic Design

RSD12: Entangled in Emergence used four “entanglements of interest,” to group topics and submissions from multiple perspectives. These entanglements—natural, technological, political and foundational—situated systemic design and designers within the interconnected questions, patterns, and impacts that are shaping the emergent systems reconfiguring our world.

Entanglements of Interest—full descriptions

Emergence and Entanglement

Even the deepest entanglements eventually unravel, and every unravelling is an opportunity for new entanglements to emerge. In the twelve years since the first Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium, we have experienced the unravelling of the social, economic, environmental, and technological orders that have been the stable foundation of an increasingly interdependent world. Some of that disruption has revealed the limits of the previous regime and deepened entrenched inequities. But, turbulent times also create space for alternative ways of thinking and acting—some of which are older and forgotten, and some of which are newly possible. In the midst of so much disruption, it is easy to forget that we remain more connected and more dependent on each other than ever and that we each have a role to play in shaping the entanglements that will emerge from the chaos around us. We are all entangled in emergence.

All systems, large and small, global and local, experience disorder as a necessary precursor to emergent structures, connections, and patterns that will shape a thriving future. In chaordic systems, chaos makes the future unpredictable, but elements of order provide the framework for progress. These systems need conscientious stewards to guide them towards stability, to ensure that voices are heard, actions are just, and to provide visions of a better future. Like everyone else, designers are entangled in the systems of the world, but unlike most, designers acknowledge their ability to influence change through exploration, connection, creativity, and action. For systemic designers, this work cannot occur without an acknowledgement of future effects and systemic pressures, and certainly won’t be successful without awareness of our own role in what emerges.

This year, the RSD12 Program Committee invited authors to consider their work in the context of entanglements.

Programme Overview

RSD12 had three components: RSD12-ONLINE, RSD12-HUBS, and the culminating symposium, RSD12-WASHINGTON. RSD12-ONLINE was a 15-day international virtual event. RSD12-HUBS were 1–3 day symposia that prioritise locality and in-person sessions. The culminating hub, set at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, collected and digested learnings from each hub and charted a future trajectory for systemic design.

The RSD12-ONLINE programme included papers and presentations and also included online and in-person workshops, systems maps and other exhibits.

RSD12-ONLINE ran from October 6–20, with papers streamed from 12:00–16:00 UTC. The daily program was dedicated to systemic design papers and emergent work. It also included online workshops, keynote speakers, and other activities, all on the RSD12 Zoom Events platform.

RSD12-HUBS featured symposia hosted by systemic design groups in Canada, Colombia, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, the UK, and the USA. Hub programmes were 1–3 days in length and scheduled sequentially from October 6–20. Each hub developed and managed its onsite event, including programming and registration.

RSD12-EMERGING FROM ENTANGLEMENT was held at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA, from October 18 to 20. In addition to a programme of keynote speakers and panels, RSD12-Washington DC hosted the Systemic Design Association General Assembly on Friday, October 20, 2023.

Entanglements of Interest

Technological Entanglements

Artificial Intelligence is on everyone’s mind, and the disruptions it portends justify that attention. However, AI, in all its manifestations, is just one of a collection of emerging technologies (quantum computing, nanotechnologies, CRISPR, etc.) that will have profound and destabilising effects on humanity. We aim to further discussions about technologies that are on the horizon and what futures they make possible — or impossible. Where should we place boundaries around technological development and adoption? What limits do we need to redefine? What processes should we use to set these boundaries?

Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology and Ethics, Citizen Science, Data Science

Natural Entanglements

Climate change has been with us for generations, but its long-anticipated consequences are finally being felt. While optimism about the possibility of mitigating the worst impacts of climate change should be a foundation of all work in this area, we also need to reckon with the reality that our world still lacks the structures and will to undo the damage we have already done to our planet and to acknowledge that the worst of those impacts are being felt by those least responsible. For these reasons, we are particularly interested in work that addresses the short- and medium-term impacts of climate change at local scales (household, neighbourhood, region), identifies and empowers communities that face the worst impacts, and offers transposable solutions for sustaining life amid profound environmental disruptions.

Keywords: Climate Justice, Adaptation, Resilience, Indigenous Knowledge

Entanglements of Policy and Power

No discussion of emergence in systems is complete without an understanding of the regulatory apparatus that shapes it — both from the external environment and from internal constraints. The power to influence emergence is not evenly distributed, but aggregated in localities of control. These leverage points have outsized effects, and deserve particular attention. What rules and regulations are having the most impact? Which need to be replaced and what should replace them? How do we identify leverage points, excavate their influence, and demonstrate their potential? How can the balance of power be shifted?

Keywords: Social Justice, Ethics, Leverage Points, Representation, Policy Metrics

Foundational Entanglements

As systemic design continues to emerge from the interaction of theories and methods in systems thinking and design, we must pay special attention to how these theories and methods shape our understanding of the world, the development of the field, and systemic design’s relationship to other disciplines. Submissions in this track should address some aspect of a foundational or fundamental element of systemic design. Examples include: interrogating a concept or method from a new perspective, introducing a concept or method from another discipline, exposing the limits or possibilities of existing theories and methods.

Keywords: Co-Design, Futuring, Reflexivity, Diffractive Methodologies, Systems Science, Design Science


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