Using material properties to understand and shape relationships in public and social services.

Format: Papers, RSD3

Author: Manuela Aguirre and Adrian Paulsen

Public and social services are becoming more relational and less transactional (Muir & Parker, 2014). As we evaluate different public services on a complexity spectrum, those who rely on human and interpersonal skills – like healthcare, education, ageing, and immigration – depend on the relational capacity of service providers and the relational support from family and peers. When attempting to deconstruct social systems in its basic elements, we have nodes and relations between the nodes. Specifically in social systems, nodes represent actors or institutions where these become more evident than the connections between them. This also characterizes how the complexity of systems has been historically mapped in two dimensions. The representation of hard systems, like in systems dynamics (Jay Wright Forrester, 1989) and in soft systems, like rich pictures (Checkland, 2000a), has given more attention to the nodes than the relationships between the nodes. Giga Mapping (Sevaldson, 2011) draws attention to this and created a color-coded topology to classify systemic relations (Sevaldson, 2013). Inspired on this topology, we design a three dimensional tool that uses physical material properties – like yarn, stainless steel, and rubber elastics – to understand and shape relational public and social services. We used this tool at a workshop at RSD3, where we explored the relational properties of different materials, we compared relational mapping in two and three dimensions and experimented with the format of group facilitation. The output was a relational-material vocabulary for each of the three-public and social service challenges presented. The relational-material vocabulary allowed teams to granularly define the properties of the relationships between the actors in a socially complex public service setting.

Presentation & paper

Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2017
Title: Using material properties to understand and shape relationships in public and social services.
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 28 September 2014
Last update:
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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).


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