2014/10/17 15:15 Harold G. Nelson, “What is Systemic Design?  A Shared Inquiry”, #RSD3

@HaroldGNelson, second day plenary at #RSD3 Relating Systems Thinking and Design 3, at AHO, Oslo, Norway

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

Program is at http://systemic-design.net/rsd3-2014/program/

[Intro by Birger Sevaldson]

Harold is an architect, from which he has recovered

  • Was in the Berkeley bubble of systems thinkers, Rittel, Churchman

[Harold Nelson]

Will do a review / assessment of the symposium, but that would require more ground work than originally thought

This will be some thinking out load of the symposium so far

Trying to move away from polemics

  • Family got him T-shirt:  A graduated from Berkeley, so to save time, let’s assume I’m right

Prediction:  there will be a huge, dramatic change in design

  • People who will want to come into design not from material or experiential design fields
  • We will experience those shifts

Work with some of these people, excited at prospect

True believer of design, has taken over professional life

High hopes, not sure it will take over

Mantra / prejudices:

  • Don’t believe the design is science or art
  • It’s its own way of thinking
  • It’s rational, aesthetic

Can’t divide systems out from design, can’t see it as two things

  • Systems is the logic of design

David Foster Wallace:  Fish asks “how’s the water”?  What the hell is water?

Philip Ball:  No one really understands water. … still a mystery

So, what the hell is systemic design?

  • Interest in finding out what it is
  • What type of inquiry, when you’re immersed in it?

Overview effect:

  • Apollo 7 astronauts taking first picture of earth
  • Transformation experience, not a new paradigm, not a breakthrough
  • Hope we hit a pivot point like this in the field of systemic design

Hear a lot of old habit brought into the conversation

  • Believe we need a different way of looking at inquiry, at seeing what systemic design is

Like water, design is ubiquitous yet a mystery

Systemic design is an enigma

  • Brings humility

Anthropocene:  ought to be the design era

  • Can’t find the natural system, one that doesn’t show influence of human activity
  • It can’t be reversed
  • We have an incredible effect on the planet
  • We have to learn how to be responsible with that, in design

Natural systems come from unintentional consequences from the action of human beings

  • How do we become more intentional?

Design directs evolution

Science requires a change, a difference:  a process

Change of process is evolution

Change of evolution is design

We create reality

  • In this room, what is natural?
  • We live in worlds that people have made
  • Our childhood memories, who we think we are, is all involved with the designed world

How do I discover something in a dark room?

The metaphor of the elephant

  • How difficult it is to describe and explain something that is complex.
  • Trick:  who am I to stand back, and say that those people don’t understand, and see the whole part of it?

How can we see the whole?

  • What kind of inquiry do we need, to see systemic design, in its wholeness

Designs of inquiry:  scientific, spirtual, metaphysical, design, systemic design, individual, collective

Churchman, The Design of Inquiring Systems

  • Human beings designed the scientific method
  • Churchman showed fives ways of knowing the truth, there could be more

In designs, if someone agrees with you, it could be true

Collaborative inquiry:  everyone getting a piece of the action, putting things together

One of usual first steps is to end the inquiry:

  • By Oxford Dictionary says … it ends the inquiry
  • Have to keep the inquiry open and going
  • Defining is getting to the point

Design of scientific inquiry (which is the norm at conferences and academia)

  • Collecting evidence
  • Collecting data
  • Categorizing
  • Theorizing
  • … which is doing research

Research doesn’t work with design

At conferences like this, too many categories or disciplines

  • Difficult to organize

Categories of inquiry, a Venn diagram mixing systemics, design, art

Another first step:  systemic design inquiry

Was head of a graduate program in Whole Systems Design (one organizational, one whole systems design)

  • Pedagogy as a design process
  • Character is learning:  design process is a learning process
  • Students designed their own learning programming
  • Designing stages of own learning progress
  • At some levels, science dominates; at other levels more managerial
  • When programs came up for accreditation, how to explain to academics what you do?
  • Not covering in breadth (like shallow everything programs) or in depth (like science programs)
  • That space created in the matrix, we connect the dots in depth and breadth
  • Accrediting people bought it
  • Ten year period

A play on Plato’s cave

  • When we observe the same thing, we can see it’s casting different shadows in different ways
  • In a symposium, looking for shadows
  • Most people focused:  what can be implied that is casting the shadow

Distinction between collaborative inquiry and shared inquiry

  • (1) Collaborative as seeing the divisions: disciplinary, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary
  • Challenge:  how to assemble that
  • (2) Shared inquiry as seeing the whole:  multiple perspectdives
  • Linstone pulled out three perspectives from Churchman as technical, organizational and personal, used it in different ways
  • Dominant perspective in organizations tends to be technical; then look at organizational politics; then (not individual) emotional feeling things
  • In space shuttle, the cause of the O-ring only came through from the personal perspective, fear of bosses, withholding information
  • Can expand to economic, political

Suspicion that what I’m looking at is a strange attractor

  • Like a cloud, hear multiple ways that people see
  • Form will begin to appear, as it does with a strange attractor
  • Complex dynamic systems that initially appear chaotic, but over time, hidden form appears
  • Don’t think systemic design is a simple point on a matrix

Shared inquiry, self-organizing behavior

  • Moving away from polemics on what truth is right:  there’s more on values
  • Enjoying sharing inquiry, what that looks like, what does it feel like, how does it work.

Modelling flocking and schooling, 3 simple rules of relationship

  • Coca-Cola took this for simple behavior manual
  • What we want, rules of relationship
  • Got the behaviors they wanted
  • Didn’t have to prescribe everything, just protocols that give rise to complex self-organizing behaviors

What protocols could be in place to allowed self-organizing shared behavior to emerge?

  • What would come out of a self-organizing inquiry, focused on particular designs/

Shared inquiry with three elements:

  • Conversation:  turning together in the same place
  • Dialogue:  letting things be seen through language
  • (Diascenic) Graphologue:  letting things be seen through images

At funeral, found conversations as a way to keep bond in families, not mindless

Can use formal dialogue

Then what would be allowed if we had a graphologue?

An invitation to shared appreciative inquiry, so that we can begin to understand

  • Scholarship and practice
  • Pre-socratic sophia
  • Worse after sophia got split, and then only went for knowledge
  • Doing things went to the bottom
  • Division is alive and well, destructive
  • Blue collar / white collar


  • Ernest Boyer, scholarship reconsidered
  • Scholarship was defined as teaching, research and service
  • For 21st century, need scholarship
  • discovery
  • inegraqtion
  • application
  • teaching

In the design world:

  • Scholarship of discovery –> Inquiry for acdtion
  • Scholarship of integration –> Systemics logic
  • Scholarship of application –> Agency and service
  • Scholarhsip of teaching

Four directdions fo inquiry into systemic design

  • Most think that research is foremost, but assessment is important
  • Not just what is true, but what should be real

Scholarhsip of systemics

  • It’s not about huge systems
  • It means looking between things
  • Could be just 2 things

Scholarship of agency and service

  • Students want to change the world
  • People like to change, they don’t like to be changed
  • Hearing a lot of “be changed” words going on
  • A systemic relationship between people
  • Agency:  did you turn an “is” into an “ought”?
  • Climate scientists are doing this now:  this is the case, therefore you “ought”, which politicizes
  • Being a scientist, but acting like a designer
  • Coercion by fact:  get things that happen by generating numbers, and overwhelming people
  • Learning takes place over time, takes time and maturation
  • From Dreyfus model of field development, capacitation:  novice, capable, competent, proficient, expert, master, guarantor
  • At novice level, need rules; then can challenge rules; at the end, don’t need rules
  • Harvard Business Review has lots of rules, for people who are focused between novice and maybe capable
  • Don’t sit in a class and get filled up with competence
  • Both for formal and information learning

Evidence of supporting and advancing systemic design at RSD3?

  • Understanding systemic design?
  • Collaborative systemic design inquiry?
  • Shared system design inquiry?

Ongoing inquiry?

  • Hope that this will emerge
  • Will be able to make sense of the shadows

Sketchnoting of Harold G. Nelson presentation by Patricia Kambitsch at https://www.flickr.com/photos/shagdora/15532672476

#design, #systems-thinking