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Introduction to the Proceedings of RSD7—Challenging Complexity by Systemic Design towards Sustainability

Proceedings: Editorial, RSD7, RSD7 Programme

Silvia Barbero

Politecnico di Torino

The RSD7 symposium was held at the Politecnico di Torino, 23rd-28th October 2018, for the first time in Italy, defining an important collaboration among the institutions that founded the Systemic Design Research Network (SDRN) in 2012. Not by chance, this symposium has seen the official establishment of the Systemic Design Association (SDA), with a public announcement on the first day. A new phase of the association of the RSD symposiums started by proposing an inclusive approach to expand the membership and engage different systems- and design-oriented professionals and researchers while looking after a strong identity of systemic design as a discipline.

The proceedings show the huge amount of contributions we received from all over the world that has inspired more than 200 people who gathered in Turin. The aim was to promote international debate on the multiple applications and purposes for which systems thinking in design is developed towards sustainability. The symposium generated nurturing interdisciplinary collaborations and discussions involving academics, designers and professionals. “Challenging Complexity by Systemic Design towards Sustainability” was the leitmotif of all RSD7 starting from the workshop, through the keynotes, the plenaries and the parallel speeches, and closing with the De-Conference event at the Monviso Institute.

Four workshops were organized by international experts, coming from Smart Circular Economy Network, the University of Brighton, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Namahn and ShiftN. Around 100 attendees had a full-day workshop in which they investigated the theme of complexity, declined through different areas: IoT, material/immaterial places, circular economy and the Systemic Design Toolkit. At the end of the day, the workshops’ results were shown in a plenary session and discussed together with a “breaking-the-ice” kick-off.

From October 24–26, the proper symposium started with six inspiring keynote speakers, three plenary sessions, and 76 presentations in parallel sessions. We evidenced all the contents through abstracts, presentations and working papers, as well as videos and sketchnotes.

RSD7 Themes

The RSD7 keynotes offered an inspiring range of perspectives on systemic design, emerging from different disciplines and experiences from all over the world. They brightly explained how systemic design effectively integrates systems thinking with design to address complexity by creating new resilient and sustainable systems in very diverse contexts. We decided to interview them and provide the whole community with a short video to glance at their contribution.

The plenary speakers were invited to explore special themes of interest to the community: the newly-born Systemic Design Association, the pioneering activities run by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and the stimulating Systemic Design Toolkit.

The presentations in parallel sessions were dense and reflected the tracks we proposed (see the Book of Abstracts for sessions by RSD7 sub-themes). Here we have condensed the wide variety of contributions:

  1. Policy design and decision-making (Innovation in territorial governance, Strategies for sustainable innovation, Design thinking for decision-making, Democracy and responsibility)
  2. Industrial Processes and Agrifood Systems (Industrial ecology in a Circular Economy, Sustainable innovation in industrial development, Sustainability of agro-industrial systems)
  3. Socio-technical Systems in the Digital Age (User interaction and enhancement in the age of AI and autonomy, Internet of Things for sustainability, Information technologies in the design domain, Systemic Design for learning from data)
  4. Territorial Metabolism and flourishing economies (Local resources innovation transitioning to a Circular Economy, Sustainable development of regions and bioregions, City metabolism and urban ecologies, Interdisciplinary models for economy-design, New ways of communicating economic systems)
  5. Social Care and Health Systems for Sustainable Living (Sustainable innovation for health systems, Patient empowerment and caregiving, Systemic innovation in social care, Social Flourishing & Cultural Sustainability)
  6. Models and Processes of Systemic Design (Systemic Design theories, Innovation processes in complex systems, Systems and design thinking in education, Historical perspectives on Systemic Design)

The process to select the best presentations was crucial and it required double (and in some case triple or more) reviews, trying to provide a wider spectrum of experiences. In the end, the success rate was 48%. About two-thirds of the presenters have submitted working papers.


The conference was also enriched by the exhibition “Visualizing Complex Systems”. The ability to collect, cross-check, visualize and study quantitative and qualitative information about phenomena and their patterns is itself at the core of the project, becoming strategic for enabling new systems thinking and their design application. Identifying the relationship between components, thus guaranteeing personal expression, horizontal communication and visual thinking, is the first step to enhancing a more conscious and transparent decision-making process with a perspective of sustainability.

During the 7th edition of RSD, we also experienced some moments of relaxed “learning-and-doing” during the “Books and Beers” events and the De-Conference event. In fact, at the end of each day, three decompressing “Books and Beers” were hosted at the close venue of Eataly. On that occasion, five recently published books were introduced to the audience and discussed in a more informal environment.

After the conventional RSD symposium, for the first time in its history, we proposed a two-day De-Conference, to favour networking, deepen conference topics and have a relaxed “learning-and-doing” time in a beautiful natural environment. It took place at the MonViso Institute in the community of Ostana, and it was organised in collaboration with ETH Zürich.

In addition to the content available on this website, we provide a set of documents to download and print for convenience:

  • The “Book of Abstracts” (ISBN 978-88-85745-24-7): a complete overview of all the Conference contents, containing the long abstracts provided by the keynotes, the plenary speakers, the workshops’ tutors and all the authors selected;
  • The “Proceedings” (ISSN 2371-8404): a collection of the working papers provided by about two-thirds of the authors. These papers will be selected to be improved in a possible scientific article published by one of our scientific partner journals be improved in a possible article in our scientific partner journals (She Ji, FORMakademisk, Strategic Design Research Journal);
  • The catalogue of the exhibition “Visualizing Complex Systems”: contains the selected abstracts, the Gigamaps and other visual materials shown by the authors during the conference.

Finally, a video of the entire event, produced by the RSD7 staff, collects some moments we lived here in Turin [posted below]. Enjoy it!

Lastly, I would like to take the chance of this publication to thank the international scientific committee because they always pushed me towards higher and higher goals while organizing the conference. A special thank you to all the keynote speakers who were central actors of this conference, sharing their inspiring experiences and knowledge. Finally, I would like to thank the local organizing committee because they supported me in every request and with great confidence in our capacity.

RSD7 Symposium 2018

RSD7 Host organisation

RSD7 Publications




Citation Data

Author(s): Silvia Barbero
Year: 2018
Title: Introduction to the Proceedings of RSD7—Challenging Complexity by Systemic Design towards Sustainability
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD7
Article No.: 001
Host: Politecnico di Torino
Location: Turin, Italy
Symposium Dates:
First published: 20 March 2019
Last update: 30 April 2019
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

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 Scholars Spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars 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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