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SDA’s Scholars Spiral

by | Mar 2022 | About RSD, Call for Contributions, News & Notes

Publishing as scholarship

Positioning authorship in terms of a cyclic, spiral process supports a vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars. In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—the spiral model for systemic design publishing.

After nearly a decade of promoting the RSD conference publishing ladder, SDA has adopted a cyclic publishing spiral to re-centre systemic design publishing on the development of scholarship. The publishing ladder was used as a model for RSD authors to further develop their research following the conference working paper in the proceedings. Formerly, the ladder promoted a typical stepwise model for developing scholarly work, from an RSD paper to a special journal issue. Guest editors collaborated with design research journals FORMakademisk, She Ji, and other peer-reviewed journals to find and promote high-quality work first presented at RSD in the proceedings,

The publishing ladder is a well-understood and attractive option for the diligent author—A Ladder of Publication: Scaffolding for emergent authors describes the framework. However, members discussed the publishing ladder at the 2021 SDA General Assembly, offering a critique of the ladder’s implicitly hierarchical structure, with a single preferred destination, and perhaps not suitable for all members.

In response, SDA board members initiated a transition from the ladder to the scholar’s spiral, a metaphor motivated by three ideas:

  1. Reduce competitive implications of the ladder’s hierarchical structure, which places the achievement of the peer-reviewed article at the top of the ladder
  2. Encourage the development of new authors in the field by promoting a holistic and high-standard process for authors at different levels of quality and readiness to start publishing
  3. Adapt our knowledge of systems thinking to the publishing process

SDA recognizes how the field takes shape through studies in adjacent field journals and partner societies, with conferences and journals in design research, systems sciences, interdisciplinary studies, and relevant fields. The SDA community supports young researchers, graduate students, and new RSD contributors as they pursue their best pathways to publishing—from conference to journal and, as envisioned, other outlets for non-research and case studies. SDA’s scholars spiral also encourages established investigators to follow their path.

Design of SDA’s scholars spiral

The spiral model has no set form, as there could be many rings or iterations of research contribution and mobilization. The figure shows a simple three-ring spiral with numbered steps as the occasions for authorship.

  • Each ring is an iteration of development, with the first ring being an RSD conference paper.
  • A second cycle could be a case report or essay following the further development of a study or project.
  • The Contexts journal could be the ultimate publication of a completed research project, as in the ladder, or the journal can be another step in knowledge mobilization.
  • Other conferences or journals could follow as scholar shares and expands ideas and connect with more visibility and citations.
  • Cyclicity and variability allow authors to follow their path rather than chase the next level of the publication.

Following a typical cycle in the spiral, we can trace the following points of production and exchange in the figure:

  • RSD symposium abstracts
  • Presentation and dialogue at the RSD symposium
  • RSD proceedings paper
  • Development for other conferences
  • Refereed publication of work in progress, such as a case brief or relevant journal
  • Refereed publication of research in Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal

Supporting scholarship

The important point is to recognize that the SDA’s scholars spiral intends to support the evolution of scholarship within the systemic design professional learning community by providing appropriate points for contribution, peer feedback, audience, development, and publication and promotion, all within the support of a diverse, creative multidisciplinary community.

The cyclic nature of a spiral, as opposed to the ladder metaphor, balances this inclination by always suggesting that a scholar’s work is personalized, evolving, and part of an ongoing process. The 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.

Systemic Design Association's Contexts Journal

Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal

As an SDA “society” journal, Contexts promises a fresh perspective on publishing for authors, oriented to developing scholars in the field, as much as the quality of scholarship. The change from the publishing ladder to the scholar’s spiral indicates this commitment. The editors also aim for a fast turnaround of decisions and more contextual reviews. The call for manuscripts for Contexts is always open—as a continuous publishing model, editors will accept papers at any time.


How do you think systemic design’s scholarship system should work?

Ryan Murphy’s related paper and workshop with panellists: Marie Davidová, Stephen Davies, Lewis Muirhead, and Birger Sevaldson.

Knowledge innovation is systemic and fractal, and that should be reflected in our models of publishing.

What does the “system” of scholarship in systemic design do? What does it look like? How does it work?



call for papers and contributions

Register your intent by May 31
Final papers June 15


The Systemic Design Journal

Open call for papers


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