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RSD12 Toronto October 12 13 14

complexity as normality

morning papers

8:00–10:00 livestream @OCADU

5 break­outs

working sessions

pwyc $40

pay-what-you-can suggested (CDN)

the acknow­ledgement and the embrace that I am respon­sible

Hosted by the SDA-Toronto group | October 12, 13, 14, 2023 | OCAD University Campus | Canada

RSD12-TORONTO brings the Systemic Design Association’s annual Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium (RSD12) to OCADU for three days of futuring-focused sessions, October 12–14. Organised by designers for designers, RSD12-ONLINE is a positive, affirmative time to be part of an interdisciplinary gathering of people considering uncertainty and complexity in the context of possible, preferable, or avoidable futures.

The programme focuses on futuring to explore how we might contribute to creating conditions for the emergence of a sustainable way of life on our planet. The symposium warm-up is a walk with the Geo Emotions app to record your psychogeography lived experience, followed by an evening panel, Planetary Accountability, co-produced with CANSEE 2023.

Friday morning paper sessions with authors are livestreamed from RSD12-ONLINE, followed by a crash course in exnovation and power and an opportunity to chat with author Stuart Walker about his 2023 book, Design for Resilience. Friday evening highlights are Designing Governance Within the Canadian Social Finance System, The Philanthropy Paradox, and keynote Peter Jones on Managing Complexity.

On Saturday, Jon Goodbun investigates forms of communication found in and between living systems, followed by a Social Innovation Canada panel dedicated to equity and diversity. Saturday afternoon break-outs are an opportunity to take a futuring mindset into a range of sessions of interest to participants and relevant to their work. We reconvene with Stephen Davies’ closing plenary session with the aim of cultivating hope and personal action for all involved.

The event connects the Toronto design community into a sequence of 12 international RSD12-HUBS and taps into RSD12-ONLINE’s 15-day festival of systemic design. Tasked with futuring, Toronto rapporteurs gather the energy and learnings for the RSD12-WASHINGTON DC forum, which is dedicated to weaving our understanding of what systemic design is, and how we might go about doing it.


At RSD12-Toronto, you will find yourself situated in cybernetics’ transdisciplinary space—in the company of others who share “a discipline for understanding systems that have a purpose” (Castelanos et al., 2022) and that designers have a duty of care.

It’s also a time to acknowledge 20 years of social innovation. Toronto is home to one of the first coworking spaces in the world, the Center for Social Innovation, established in 2004. CSI created a culture for changemaking in Toronto. MaRS, the world’s largest urban innovation hub, was a centre for social entrepreneurship and social purpose leadership from 2007–2022. The academic community stretches across Southern Ontario, including the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience, OCAD University’s MDes, Strategic Foresight and Innovation, and Georgian College (Barrie), Canada’s first and only changemaker college. As an interdiscipline that joins systems thinking to design methodology, systemic design is relevant to human-centred design, UX/UI, design research, participatory methodologies, and more.

I have to be responsible for the fact that I am doing the observing. I am not an objective creature. I am subject to my values, my perceptions, my biases. And that means we’re responsible for what I say I see. Because there isn’t objectivity for me to claim, “Oh, it’s not me saying that.” And second order cybernetics. Is the embrace of that. The acknowledgement and the embrace that I am responsible for my actions, for my language, for my arguments, for my positions, really for everything. (Pangaro, 2016)


Castelanos, C., Xiao Fang, X., & Pangaro, P. (2022) Pandemic of ‘Today’s AI’ #NewMacy.

Pangaro, P. (2016). Designing Conversations for Socially-Conscious Design. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD11) Symposium.

Pangaro, P. ( 2016) Designing Conversations for Socially-Conscious Design [Resources]


Tkaronto is the traditional territory of the Wendat, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the Anishinaabeg, including the Chippewas and the Mississaugas of the Credit. It is covered under the Dish with One Spoon Treaty, which requires responsibility of those who use the land to share it peaceably and care for it.

RSD12-TORONTO Programme

Designers are trained to formulate innovation in the messy mix of high opportunity, hard challenges and accelerating complexity. We can envision audacious impacts when dealing with both future uncertainty and complacency of the moment. In the modernist world, design has led the continuous production of consumer products and high-tech platforms and services, delivering “value” to people—to customers. In a postmodern world, where matters of concern are more at issue in innovation than matters of fact (Latour, 2008), designers have sought to lead the way out of the consumerist and high-tech innovation traps. However, when we consider that our future foresight will always be critically limited and impeded by social bias, politics, and culture, are designers—even systemic designers—able to guide the way toward futuring rather than defuturing by default?

Over the past two decades, the design world has been infused with technological innovation, shifting toward possible (ostensibly positive) futures, and we are pushed to explore the edges of enterprises, services, and society. The field has been spiked with entrepreneurship and buffeted by emerging technology, and a chalk circle has been drawn with not-for-profit on one side and business on the other. Doubtless, designers have placed themselves into innovation, but according to Dulmini Perera and Tony Fry, much of our innovation results in defuturing, leaving designers with a paradox. Do we act now on a design-led vision and make the best of innovation opportunities? Or do we counsel patience, observe the unfolding of technology and use incremental interventions to shape a better, pro-social future outcome? Are we foreclosing on flourishing human and ecological futures if we ignore the consequences of unwitting innovation?

Design defuturing foregrounds the complex dialectical relation between creation and destruction, emphasising that every form of design futuring also acts to erase other futures. What can we do to lead complex innovation toward futuring, even when, especially when we cannot see the long-term consequences of our decisions? (Perera & Fry, 2022)


Perera, D. & Fry, T. (2022). Contra-Innovation: Expanding the innovation imperative in the context of futuring, defuturing and fictioning. Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal, 1.

Latour, B. (2008). A cautious Prometheus? A few steps toward a philosophy of design. In Proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of the Design History Society (pp. 2–10).

SDA is run on volunteer fuel generated by a love of community and design.

We are fundraising to help offset the cost of a few people travelling to RSD12-Washington to present the RSD12-TORONTO outcomes and strengthen the systemic design network.

SDA-Toronto organisers aim to make the RSD symposium accessible to all. If an organisation covers the cost of your ticket or you are in a higher income bracket, please consider paying a bit more so we can keep fees lower for self-funded individuals, students, and others who face financial barriers.* We’d be happy to discuss acknowledgement opportunities with supporting organisations.

We operate on a community-as-a-service model—every participant contributes in their way. Authors contribute content, reviewers provide guidance, and attendees give valuable feedback.

what can we do to lead complex innovation toward futuring?


Design briefs typically call for a prototype, product, or innovation and means of accelerating its entry into the economic or social system. Designers are generally given the job of problem-solving and delivering upbeat results on projects that can be commercialised or offer societal cost benefits. Setting design research apart from invention has established a norm where designers have little agency over the prototypes, products, technologies, and services they create. However, systemic design innovation is futuring—systemic design makes the effects of design evident, including undesirable effects and dire consequences.


In the Contexts article “Contra-Innovation: Expanding the innovation imperative in the context of futuring, defuturing and fictioning,” Dulmini Perera and Tony Fry propose second-order design fiction as an “evaluative means of the futuring or defuturing agency of the object of innovation.” (Perera & Fry, 2022). Design fiction practice and designed artefacts—and the speculative, provocative scenarios they produce—are compelling narratives of possible futures that provoke thought and discussion and are generally initiated with the expectation of innovation. However, once detached from the futuring in which it was conceived, innovation can accelerate an unsustainable future, erasing other futures—defuturing.  Second-order design fiction differs from other modes of design fiction as it calls on designers to take a critical view of the tension between futuring and defuturing, the consequences of innovation, and to introduce contra-innovation frameworks.


Perera, D. & Fry, T. (2022). Contra-Innovation: Expanding the innovation imperative in the context of futuring, defuturing and fictioning. Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal, 1.

futuring entangle­ments

Closing plenary session with the aim of cultivating hope and personal action for all involved:
How do the insights from the symposium contribute to the creation of conditions for the emergence of a sustainable way of life on our planet?
—facilitated by Stephen Davies

RSD12-Toronto organisers

RSD12 is a project of the SDA


Shreya Chopra, Design Strategist |

Aakash Bhadra, Communication and Community Lead |


Peter Jones | 


Nabeel Kassam |


Stephen Davies, Maggie Greyson, Ziyan Hossain, Nabeel Kassam, Gryphon Loubier, Cheryl May, and Nicole Norris

Special Panel on Planetary Accountability

To highlight our shared interest in facilitating systems change for prosperous futures and building connections between systemic design and ecological economic communities, tickets to CANSEE2023 are offered to RSD12-Toronto participants at a discounted rate. Code is provided when you register for RSD12-Toronto.

October 11, 12, & 13
York University, Toronto, ON

Registration/code inquiries |


Perin Ruttonsha |

International Society of Ecological Economics

RSD12 Hub Partners

OCAD University logo
OCAD University logo
OCAD University logo
Transformation by Design consultancy logo

About SDA-Toronto

RSD12-Toronto is a pilot initiative for SDA-Toronto organised by a planning group. The group is co-designing the event, and members are jointly responsible for planning and programming. The symposium is also an opportunity to gauge interest in SDA-Toronto as a collaborative network engaged in building the systemic design community in Toronto/Southern Ontario.


  • Stephen Davies, Strategy Development, Business Design, Cultural Transformation
  • Maggie Greyson, Chief Futurist for Futures Present, Association of Professional Futurists
  • Ziyan Hossain, Head, Innovation Design, OCAD U CO
  • Dr Peter Jones, OCAD University, Social and Design Research, Services/Systems, Design for Healthcare, Social Systems Design (also Systemic Design Association board member)
  • Nabeel Kassam, Futures, Systems & Service Designer, Catalyst for Co-Creation
  • Gryphon Loubier, University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, Cities
  • Cheryl May, London South Bank University, Systemic Leadership (also Systemic Design Association board member)
  • Nicole Norris, Georgian College, Manager Social Innovation—Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

SDA-TORONTO is intended as an informal group of the Systemic Design Association (SDA). The purpose of SDA-Toronto is to support the development, diffusion and celebration of systemic design practice, methodology and theory. In line with the SDA statutes, SDA-Toronto supports a pluralistic approach and view in the development of systemic design and encourages different approaches to flourish. SDA-Toronto supports the development of normative ethical standards related to agency, actions, and the consequences of systemic design practice. SDA-Toronto pursues a spirit of openness and follows a principle of low-overhead operations and distributed responsibility.

*Please see the RSD12-Toronto call for collaborators and be in touch if you are interested in co-organising RSD12-Toronto or co-coordinating SDA-Toronto.

Contact: Nabeel Kassam,