Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

For the “Understanding Systems & Systemic Design” course in the program for the Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University, the lecture slides were the same for both the full-time cohort on March 8 and part-time cohort on March 9, while the oral presentation varied.  The target, in about 90 minutes, was to cover at least 4 of 5 sections, from:

  • 1. Architecting ↔ designing
  • 2. Service systems ← production systems
  • 3. Affordances ↔ pattern language
  • 4. Ecological anthropology ← teleology
  • 5. Inquiring systems ↔ methods

The students were alerted that some of the arrows in the section headings were double-headed, and some were single-headed — with specific meanings.  For each day, the classroom audio was recorded.  That digital audio has now been synchronized with slides that had previously been posted on the Coevolving Commons.

This session was #8 of 15 lectures for the OCADU SFI students.  They had already done some basic reading on systems approaches.  Since they were working towards a Major Research Project (a lighter weight form of a thesis) for their Master of Design degree, my overall agenda for this lecture was to have them reflect on acts of representation.   Systems have already been represented to them in a variety of forms:  textually, orally and visually.  For their Major Research Projects, they would be creating detailed representations, as ways of having their audience appreciate the in-depth study of the world and issues selected for the term.

June 7th, 2017

Posted In: design, pattern language, services, systems

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Design professionals were attracted at the RSD5 (Relating Systems Thinking and Design) Symposium to a preconference workshop on October 13 at OCADU in Toronto, with the following abstract:

Since 2014, an international collaborative of design leaders has been exploring ways in which methods can be augmented, transitioning from the heritage legacy focus on products and services towards a broad range of complex sociotechnical systems and contemporary societal problems issues. At last year’s RSD4 Symposium, DesignX founder Don Norman presented a keynote talk on the frontiers of design practice and necessity for advanced design education for highly complex sociotechnical problems. He identified the qualities of these systems as relevant to DesignX problems, and called for systemics, transdisciplinarity and the need for high-quality observations (or evidence) in design problems.   Initial directions found were proposed in the first DesignX workshop in October 2015, which have been published in the new design journal She Ji.  In October 2016, another DesignX workshop will be held at Tongji University in Shanghai, overlapping with the timing of the RSD5 Symposium.

We propose to sustain the relationships between RSD and DesignX with this RSD5 half-day workshop, to explore the relationships between systemic design, existing educational programs and the DesignX agenda. We invite RSD participants engaged in both of these contexts to join in a collaborative discussion aimed at further developing the design and education agendas in these discourse communities. We aim to capture experiences and insights from design leaders, educators and practitioners in Toronto, as input, validation and/or suggestions for further development of the DesignX direction.

The morning started with 26 participants, who were briefed on the context for discussion, and given some instructions on a suggested approach.


The participants broke up into 5 groups for an open discussion over 90 minutes, and then gave brief verbal recaps supported by flipcharts on which that had collaborated.  For the impatient, here are some initial summaries expressing voices on emergent issues, that may serve as a basis for further inquiry.

Group 1‘s discussion centered on social designers:

  • For a design professional, what can a community of practice do to develop our roles as social leaders on multidisciplinary teams for change?

Group 2‘s discussion centered on design educators:

  • For a design educator, what specialized expertise requires preparatory knowledge and practices enable participants (citizens) to engage and lead transformations extended from the lab and studio to the arena and agora?

Group 3‘s discussion centered on designers working in policy:

  • For designers working in policy, what can and should they do that others can’t do?

Group 4‘s discussion centered on designers engaged with stakeholders:

  • For designers engaged with stakeholders (customers to planet), what are the value(s) associated with the products and services cocreated in the bigger system?

Group 5‘s discussion centered on design learners:

  • For design learners, what is the best way to continue ongoing learning with real life that includes learning by failing?

Comments on refining these questions are welcomed at the foot of this post, or through private communications.


Susu Nousala chaired the workshop.  The agenda was to explore together what people know, think, feel and experience about the field of design in relation to the DesignX and Systemic Design initiatives.  On the wall was a shrub (initially envisioned as a tree) of quotations on DesignX, published in She Ji.


Some excerpts were read out, and participants were welcomed to come up to refer to the text during the discussion period.

November 9th, 2016

Posted In: design, systems

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At the Oxford Futures Forum 2014, hosted by the Saïd Business School, I was invited to be a participant in a generative dialogue.  Each of the invitees was requested to submit a 250-word abstract and an image four months ahead of the event.  In two days, we had three group discussion meetings, where individuals were free to go to other groups (or form new groups) according to the ideas emerging from the dialogue.

This event runs on the Chatham House Rule:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

Further, in a generative dialogue, ideas flow and merge as participant learn from each other, so representations related to people outside of the involved group don’t get a full appreciation for the unfolding learning.  Having been a participant in a series of prior IFSR Conversations that similarly focus on generative dialogue, any describing of the experience turns out somewhat inadequate.  The most that can be related to others are “proceedings”, where some of the ideas in progress are captured.  As a participant in Oxford Futures Forum, I was involved in three rounds of conversations, which can be roughly framed as:

  • design and scenarios to instigate change (as an introductory clustering to start the first round);
  • methods framing (as the emergent theme from the first round to go into a second round); and
  • scenario-buffered design (as the label that was presented as the conclusion of the third round).

Based on the abstract I had contributed some months earlier, the conference organizers initially slotted me into the “Design and Scenarios to Instigate Change” group.  A few of us had brief contact on a teleconference a few weeks before arriving at the event, and then in the pub on the night of arrival.  When the full group finally met face-to-face, we still didn’t really know each other.  As a way of getting involved with others, we were asked to present the abstract of another person from the group.  From those foundations, we started a loose discussion making sense of some common themes.  The organizers helpfully provided a note taking volunteer, Saba Riaz, to record some of this preliminary dialogue — a challenging flow to track, as the round 1 groups tried to make sense of  the ideas of others, as well as ourselves!  The proceedings (final report) included the following synopsis:

Round 1: Design and scenarios to instigate change

August 18th, 2014

Posted In: design, innovation

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The Oxford Futures Forum 2014 committee requested an image and an abstract as an application for an Open Space event for 70 participants on May 30-31.  The event description reads:

Purpose and aims

  • Forging and supporting an international community of future-minded practices aimed at stimulating actionable, impactful knowledge;
  • Identifying and investigating academic and practitioner interests at the forefront of scenarios and design, and relating them to each other;
  • Uncovering and pushing the boundaries of scenarios practices and theory, to clarify and extend their effectiveness through critical review and linking with other fields;
  • Enabling networking and publishing  (e.g. two books from first OFF in 2005; a set of sense-making scenarios and two published papers after OFF 2008, which saw another workshop based on the Oxford one organised by Arizona State University; so far one paper from OFF 2011)
  • Leveraging the neutral, highly respected and international convening power of Oxford University.

Theme – scenarios and design

The theme of the fourth Oxford Futures Forum will explore the possible synergies and differences between work on design and the so-called ‘intuitive logics’ school in scenarios.   See “Scoping the Dialogue Space” and OFF2014 supplementary information.

To clarify, in the basic “intuitive logics” method, say Wright, Bradfield, and Cairns (2013):

This model follows the approach developed over many decades by a number of writers … and organizations (e.g. Global Business Networks (GBN; SRI International). It relies upon the application of “intuitive logics” …, and is focused on the development of multiple scenarios that explore the “limits of possibility” for the future, rather than on the development of singular, “normative” scenarios of some ideal future.

March 2nd, 2014

Posted In: design, systems

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Dialogic design and systems thinking can be closely related, although not everyone appreciates the ties.  For the Design with Dialogue community, at the invitation of Peter Jones, we jointly organized a workshop based on some ideas that I had previously brought together in teaching in Finland.  I’ve posted the slides — both with builds and as printable — over on the Coevolving Commons.  For people who weren’t there, I can provide an outline of the activities of the three hours.

After introducing ourselves in the circle, and speaking about dialogues that each of us might be interested in pursuing, I provided an explanation of the Map of Ignorance, as described in the Curriculum on Medical Ignorance by Witte, Kerwin and Witte in the University of Arizona College of Medicine.  We walked through the interpretation of Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Errors.

Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns, Errors

Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns, Errors

Unknown unknowns raise questions about what might or might not be knowable.

Unknown Unknowns

Unknown Unknowns

Taboos and denials typically don’t enter a dialogue unless the facilitator ensures that they do.

January 13th, 2012

Posted In: systems

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