Systemic design for territorial development: ecosystem to support autopoietic local economies

Authors: Battistoni Chiara, Barbero Silvia

Systemic design
Design
Ecosystem
Multidisciplinarity
Manufacturing sector
Eco-innovation
Sustainable development
Business incubators

This research wants to demonstrate the need and the importance of the cre­ation of an ecosystem to support the implementation of projects born from Systemic Design (SD) approach. The leading cause behind it is mainly rela­ted to difficult and complex implementation and the success of this type of projects in practical terms. However, they have specific characteristics that can tackle critical current challenges identified by many scholars as climate change, waste production, limitation of natural resources and pollution. For this reason, it is vital to sustain and foster their implementation.

To demonstrate this thesis, we firstly analysed previous SD projects applied to the manufacturing sectors developed in Politecnico di Torino to under­stand the principal barriers in their implementation. These projects are related to specific economic and productive realities (e.g. Barbero, 2016) or many realities in specific territories – intended as geographical areas – (e.g. Battistoni, 2016). This process was facilitated thanks to the direct involve­ment of authors in these projects. The result is that SD demonstrates to be able to connect the territory, design and environmental issue. The design discipline with its methodology and approaches has just confirmed to be a solution for the valorisation of the material culture and natural resources of a specific territory (De Giorgi, 2008; Catania, 2011). SD enlarges the borders of the traditional design discipline producing a step forward the eco-design. Indeed, SD approach applied to the single activities permits to change their core business, improving and increasing their incomes, considering waste as resources as in the Blue Economy (Pauli, 2010). Moreover, this approach permits the creation of new products that in some cases let the born of new economic realities, generating the autopoiesis typical of the natural systems as defined by Maturana and Varela (Capra, 1996) (see fig.1). All these oppor­tunities can boost sustainable territorial development, creating a local cir­cular economy.

Moreover, this analysis highlighted important characteristics of SD projects that are more than the five principal guidelines previously defined as Output-Input, Relationships, Act locally, Autopoiesis, Man at the centre of the project (Bistagnino, 2011). At the same time, they can represent the bar­riers to their success and implementation. The main reason is that they re­quired, at the basis, a cultural paradigm shift (Barbero,2016), from the linear to the systemic thinking, from competition to collaboration, identified just by Capra as a “the turning point” (Capra,1982). In this framework, complexi­ty results one of the SD projects fundamental characteristic as they focus on the relationships between components instead of the single entities and on the resources which go in and out of a production process. Talking about input/output and not resour­ces/waste, the focus is more on qualitative aspects than on quantitative ones. Another consideration that is possible to make from this analysis is that SD projects are community-oriented, territorial-oriented and environ­ment-oriented more than profit-oriented. Producing environmental sustai­nability, with implications on the economic and social one, they require the competences of different disciplines, multiple actors and stakeholders, both in the design phase than in their implementation, being multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary projects. Last but not least, they require financial sup­port, human resources and project management as all the projects. The cur­rent emphasis on the Circular Economy from the European Union is luckily helping to bridge this gap since 2015 (EU, 2015).

Once settled these characteristics, in a post-Anthropocene era becomes ne­cessary the design of an ecosystem (ECO-SD) (see fig.2) able to stimulate and foster the born and the implementation of innovative systemic projects. In­deed, the concept of the complex adaptive system that comes from biology is starting to be used by the business environment (Reeves, 2016). Looking at the territory and its productive sectors with a systemic appro­ach, shifting the attention from the single actors to the relationships that are possible to create among them, is possible to obtain different results. As the theory of system suggests “the whole is GREATER than the sum of its parts” (Aristotle), or better “the whole is OTHER than the sum of its parts” from Gestalt theory (Koffka). This shift can let emerge several new
opportu­nities and potentialities linked to a development which is far away from the current economic evidence, centred exclusively to the increase of the GDP. Acting in this way is possible to answer to the real needs of a specific area, with the final goal to act on the cultural paradigm, obtaining a real sustai­nable development.

The core of this ecosystem cannot be identified in the current incubators of start-ups which are concentrated mainly on the economic sustainability of the projects and the training of the future entrepreneurs within linear eco­nomy benchmarks. Instead, it is a systemic incubator with the goal to foster the born and the reproduction of productive processes and act as an open system. In here, also the economists should think in another way as Rawor­th suggested (Raworth, 2017). In the ECO-SD, the attention is on the flow of information, matter and energy which create relationship both inside every single process and within them, and within the context of reference where it is placed.

The heart of ECO-SD is the research centre which acts as a guide: starting from the execution of the Holistic Diagnosis (Battistoni 2017, 2018), it can identify the current significant problems and the sectors where projects are needed. Opening the way to the innovation of process, products and ser­vices, that are therefore designed and implemented by multidisciplinary groups. In this case, the designers collaborate with other scholars and exper­ts coming from the natural, social and economic science, acting as “media­tor” (Celaschi, 2008), fostering the dialogue and the contamination. Working together for the implementation of the new projects, they should maintain the link with the local actors, not exclusively coming from the productive sector but also from the decision-making, to assure a local development in line with the policy design.

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Posted: Oct-2018

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