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RSD12-Toronto: Systemic Design Futuring


complexity as normality

Hosted by SDA-Toronto | October 13 & 14, 2023 | Toronto | OCAD University

Get involved: Call for RSD12-Toronto Collaborators →

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? Perera and Fry write:

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, 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).

Call for Contributions | Deadline for abstracts May 31 | Complete submissions due June 15 | Registration coming soon

RSD12-Toronto Setting

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.

This eight-hour gathering, spanning Friday evening and part of Saturday, creates space for anyone who enjoys being in the company of other designers. It is a positive, affirmative time to be part of interdisciplinary groups and consider uncertainty and complexity in the context of possible, preferable, or avoidable futures.

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 programme in 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.

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.

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]

FOCUS: Futuring

The RSD12 call for contributions is now open and accepting submissions for papers, online workshops, and exhibits related to “futuring.”

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.

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.

  • How might design emerge? Where do second-order design fiction and contra-innovation fit in design practice and systemic design innovation?
  • There’s a place for design as facilitated leadership for futuring services and systems. How might designers bring second-order design fiction and contra-innovation into their projects?
  • Are designers able to argue effectively against acceleration, introduce contra-innovation frameworks, and be heard by policymakers and decision-makers?
  • How to avoid a Cassandra dilemma? Are the tensions between stakeholders’ requirements and an awareness of futuring and defuturing resolvable?
  • How to work with the already complex short-term and long-term values, individual and collective values, and values between different stakeholders?
  • What are the current discourses around innovation, particularly the tension between creation/production and destruction?
  • How might interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches serve futuring and contra-innovation frameworks?

RSD Examples

Maggie Greyson (2022). Making Futures Present: A postcard from the future clears up your vision of the horizon. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD11.

Perera, D. (2022). Designing in the Context of Time: On Annetta Pedretti, practicing cybernetics and futuring. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD11.

Van Alstyne, G. Skelton, C. & Nan Cheng, S. (2018). Systemic Design and its Discontents: Designing for emergence and accountability. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD7.

Sweeting, B. (2017). Cybernetics, virtue ethics and design. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD6.

Jones, P. (2022). Global Elephants in the Room: A reflexive prospective following 50 years of the Global Problematique. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD11.


RSD12-Toronto organisers*

  • Project management: TBA
  • Academic lead: Peter Jones
  • Communication & community: TBA
  • Event management: Gryphon Loubier (+others TBA)
  • Planning: Stephen Davies, Maggie Greyson, Ziyan Hossain, Cheryl May, and Nicole Norris

*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.



More details to follow.

Friday, October 13 18:00–21:00 UTC-4 (EDT)


Panel & Discussion


Saturday, October 14 10:00–15:00 UTC-4 (EDT)


Keynote (broadcast)

Paper Session (broadcast)

Working Sessions


RSD12-Toronto hub schedule


The budget and participant fee schedule are in development.

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)
  • Gryphon Loubier, University of Waterloo, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, Cities
  • Cheryl May, London South Bank University, Social Purpose 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.


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Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested citation format (APA)

Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

The Organising Committee reviews and assesses workshops and systems maps & exhibits with input from reviewers and the Programme Committee.

Editor: Cheryl May
Peter Jones
Ben Sweeting

The scholar’s spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholar's spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

The Systemic Design Association's membership ethos is to co-create the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.


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