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Systems Communications: A systems-oriented approach to strategic communication

Format: Papers, RSD9, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Zaid Khan

OCAD University, Canada


After nearly a decade of field-building, systemic design has emerged with a robust theoretical foundation, as well as practical tools, methods, and cases, to help designers better work with complexity in higher-order systems.

This focus on establishing foundational works for the young field leaves some areas of the integration between systems thinking and design underdeveloped; namely, communication design.

Communication design, as explored within a systemic design context, has traditionally been concerned with visual thinking, which itself is a common characteristic of both systems thinking and design. The result of this concentrated effort on visual thinking has led to advancements in communication artefacts, such as the flagship gigamaps and synthesis maps.

At RSD8, the discussion titled Conversations on Systemic Design generated much dialogue around the need to better translate the value of systemic design for a variety of audiences.

It’s here where the opportunity to develop a stronger ‘strategic’ foundation for communication design, with a systems orientation, is presented as a critical next step towards strengthening the field and breadth of systemic design.

This discussion explores how the principles of systemic design (Jones, 2014) inform an evolved practise of strategic communications – the planned process of delivering a relevant message to a specific audience to achieve an objective – to reach a broader set of stakeholders.

The discussion will be based on the author’s recently completed Major Research Project which took a systems-oriented communication approach to Canadian News Media, a higher-order system.

The issues facing Canadian News Media are complex in nature; with multiple stakeholders, different organisations and industries, competing value systems, objectives, perspectives, and interests. This makes it an ideal case to examine the effects that a more systems-oriented approach to communications may have towards inviting action in a contested system.

The author will offer a set of learnings, based on how the principles of systemic design could inform a systems-oriented approach to communications. Following this, the discussion will surface the potential value of systems-oriented communications, its consequences, and future considerations and possibilities for research.

Citation Data

Author(s): Author: Zaid Khan
Title: Systems Communications: A systems-oriented approach to strategic communication
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 4 October 2020
Last update:
Publisher Identification:

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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