February 27, 2017

Discussion Session 2.27.2017 – Sociotechnical Regime Theory

Both Social Practice Theory and the Multi Level Perspective acknowledge the need for radical systems level change. The authors of this week’s readings hypothesize that examining and understanding the intersection of MLP and SPT can reveal key actionable push points or innovation spaces for seeding large scale systems change.

  • Do you agree? Discuss some examples

  • How relevant in general do you think high-level theory is to actual on-the-ground design practice?

  • Are these models actionable? In what ways?

Discussion Leaders: Delanie Ricketts, Meric Dagli, Hajira Qazi, Monique Smith, Adrian Galvin, Leah Jiang

  1. In our wicked problem group, mapping out intersections between MLP and SPT perspectives in regards to lack of access to public transportation helped identify a few key dynamics impacting the ability of the system to shift. For instance, shopping emerged as a practice that the current public transportation system discourages through lack of space to put bags. Had we looked at a MLP perspective alone, this cross-cutting practice may not have emerged as an opportunity to innovate.

    In general, I think high level theory can be useful to practitioners in certain contexts. For instance, a nonprofit organization I used to work for relied heavily on theory of change frameworks to think through how the organization would maintain its stability after its initial 10-year funding stream from Pfizer ended. In thinking through these type of highly strategic and critical decisions, it was crucial to be able to think through the problem through multiple perspectives. Since the organization worked on the wicked problem of strengthening health systems, it made the strategic vision for the organization all the more appropriate for this type of theoretical exercise.

    However, I don’t think using theoretical frameworks such as MLP and SPT alone leads to actionable items. In my perspective, they merely facilitate thinking and understanding of a particular problem. The theories don’t seem to help in terms of coming up with concrete actions, although they may help identify opportunities. This isn’t to say that the theories aren’t useful, but to emphasize that other methods may be more appropriate when it comes to actually developing a concept and prototyping it. Nevertheless, MLP and SPT frameworks may continue to be useful throughout the design process as a way to think through how a certain decision solution would contribute to an ideal change in a system or maintain normalcy.

    • Delanie, I very much agree with you that MLP and SPT on their own do not lead to actionable items. In the process of assignment 2, my group identified and diagrammed many niche, regime, and landscape factors. While this was useful in expanding our understanding of the problem spaces, we found ourselves stuck when it came to potential intervention opportunities. We explored many niche interventions being introduced by nonprofits/institutions in Pittsburgh, and discussed how we might elevate these niches to landscapes. However, our ideation towards a concrete direction hit a wall at this point.

      After we’ve used the MLP and SPT frameworks to understand the problem space, I think this is where a lot of the second half of the traditional double diamond design process comes in. Ideation, iteration, and design within the problem space is essential to making use of the insights fostered by MLP and SPT.

      • I think it’s interesting to examine the space between the niches and the regimes. Several of the niches we came up with we questioned where they belong. Is something like organic food a niche? It some ways yes, but then when Whole Foods is examined, that store and its brand certainly do not belong within a niche. It’s a regime.

        But we can look at the SPT and MLP frameworks to understand how and why these changes are occurring. What did the organic food landscape look like before Whole Foods appeared on the scene? Organic food (at least in Whole Food’s case) isn’t out to compete with fast food. In essence, a new market for organic foods was created; consumers *could* shop there if they wanted. Or they could shop at the “regular” grocery stores.

        I’m struggling to see how these models are actionable. At this stage of my understanding, I feel that it’s easier to comprehend how we can use these models to look at past changes. I agree with Delanie in that I see this as the “information gathering” process, and not necessarily something to act solely from,

        • Jesse, like your group wondered where to put organic food, our group was also struggling with the intersection of Niches and Regimes. We are looking at affordable housing, and identified some “niches” such as digital nomadism, couch surfing, and even Airbnb. These outside-the-mainstream lifestyle choices seem at once ubiquitous (at least in American culture) and historically relevant (we used to all be nomads). Are these really Niches then? Or just a different lens on a mainstream behavior? How long will it take before these practices become genuinely mainstream?

          I also feel that at this stage in my understanding, I’m not sure how these models will provide means for action. Change is going to have to come at many levels, simultaneously, and I’m not sure yet how we affect that.

          • Theora,

            Your point about historical movements over time is an important one. What made Geels’ transportation analysis so compelling was that he created a narrative that connected all the different components (niche, regime, landscape and social practices and norms) over time. This was important to understanding why certain innovations took hold and others did not (gasoline cars over electric cars, for example). In working on assignment 2, I’m having difficultly making these connections retroactively (after having done the MLP mapping first) and in only looking at a single moment in time. Some of our ideas were pulled from Assignment 1, some from MLP, and some from Social Practice Theory. I think all of these aspects are important to consider when analyzing existing niches and developing our solutions/innovations, but I’m personally having trouble sorting all of these different developments and facets out into a single, coherent map. Are any other groups struggling with this? Would you like to share how you’ve addressed this?

            • Hajira,

              Yes, our group (which includes Theora from above) has also been struggling with mapping all the aspects of affordable housing into a map. However, I think that the discussion behind each element we place on the map is much more interesting and informative then the end result/map itself. So I think our group (and other groups) should be more focus on telling a good and compelling narrative – in the way that Geels did with transportation analysis did – versus trying to make the map perfect (because I still found the automobile MLP map example to be confusing).

              Our team’s process has been to create the MLP on the white board for the present time. Like Theora said, sometimes, it’s confusing because we go back and forth between whether something is a regime or so ubiquitous that it’s a landscape. Then, we use post-its for the practices and place them on the level we see fit. We thought about an example for each of Donella Meadows’ 12 Leverage Points. We tried generating solutions from the overlap of the MLP and STP (i.e. the white board items and the post-its), but found it easier to do research on current possible solutions for affordable housing. This made me realize that perhaps a reason why the mappings have been so hard and complex for all the group is the lack or limited time for research. Non of us are experts, but we all feel this need to do research, but we don’t know where to begin sometimes. So a lot of our processes have been on proposing assumptions, asking questions, finding answers and refining.

              • Just to add to this conversation, our group – Access to high-quality education in Pittsburgh, has also been struggling with similar issues. While we had some insightful discussions mapping out the MLP, we had to stop many times to reconsider the direction of the exercise and what our takeaway should be. The story that we ultimately focussed on was the transition in regimes around education since the pre-industrial era to the current state. Creating our MLP with this narrative in mind put a lot of the niches in perspective and I think, helped us form questions to look further into. I agree with Denise, even our group process ultimately helped us ask better questions rather than go on assumptions.

              • I agree with everyone in this thread as most of the group seem to struggle between the regimes and niches. Our group is working on gentrification and therefore is looking at both food and housing. So when we do have something like Whole Food and organic food, like Jesses had mentioned, we were unsure of whether they are niches or regimes; within the Pittsburgh area, there are only three Whole Food stores.

                And when it came to interventions, we found that all of the current ones we found on online were in the niche level. And when we tried to come up with our own interventions, they all fell into the niche level as well. As we attempted to elevate them to the regime or even landscape level, we actually found that all of these little niche interventions actually all leverage things that are within the regime and landscape level. I suppose looking at it in them way. The combination of several of our niche level intervention are just actionable steps to cause a shift in the higher up regime and landscape levels.

    • I agree with Delanie about that MLP and SPT theories are useful to better understand the existing transitions. For example, when we were preparing the discussion for this week, we tried to extend the time scope of the transition of transportation (the original diagram only describes the change from horse transport to cars). With MLP, it is explicit to see why Tesla and Uber have become the new trends, and how they are shaping the transportation system, social culture, and economy.

      When our team was working on the assignment two, different from some groups, we found combing MLP and SPT could be a practical way to find out design opportunities. Since most practices happen on the regime level, when we start with an existing pain point either on landscape or niche level, we may find an opportunity on the regime. For example, in our MLP map of water quality, “Low awareness/ access to information about water quality” and “Lack of digital infrastructure records” are the current situation on the landscape. Trying to ameliorate these problems, we may come up with solutions such as an “at home water testing kit” or “a water quality information sharing platform”, both of which could be creative design opportunities on the regime level.

    • I completely agree with Delanie that using MLP and STP does help us understand the wicked problem map better. It also helps in understanding the key areas that have the potential to affect/alter each other. The categorization of the wicked territory and identifying specific regimes helped me grasp the linkages between practice and niche. The intersection of MLP and SPT does reveal the various perspectives of the problem but this framework only helps to reveal interlinkages and probably contribute to building a stronger strategic vision but fails in causing action i.e. concept development. These frameworks are useful to develop our thinking but fall short for the actual on-the-ground design practice.

      • My group definitely ran into better comprehension of our wicked problem gentrification. While I think identifying what best fits in these categories was helpful, I think our group found most of the meaty parts of brainstorming in the links, with looking at what causes and effects other things. For example, we focused on big data to show the big-scale effects of gentrification, since a big lure of gentrification is its shiny veneer: the immediate effects of it may feel, to some people, beneficial to a majority. By communicating the cultural and societal separations decades later, however, and thinking how that niche can effect many regimes. While I don’t know if the model we built feels robust enough to be actionable just yet, I think the high-level theory of understanding showed us what we WANT to do, which maps first steps.

  2. I think MLP is a very good way to look through human history and found out why eventually we get to where we are right now. The example of car culture in America surprised me that there are many different kinds of vehicles competing with each others and finally gasoline become the regime. (Hard to imagine there are electricity cars 100 years ago). The MLP explains this problem so clearly that it seems to be a logical result but I would say this would be a hindsight. On the other hand, social practice theory plays an important role for us to explain the content of regime and niche in a different way. Why people drive car or why people take public transportation? We could have more to discover in the perspective of social practice theory rather than analyzing people’s behavior by rationality which economist or scientist think of.

    Furthermore, MPL + TOC helps us to think how to help favorable niche become regime. Rather than design something and try to push into the regime. We could think about positive/negative feedback and leverage points. TOC really helps us to think in a systematic way.

    In the end I would argue that besides carefully think about what we design, we need more research digging into designing for transition. People simply could not imagine the invention of car 100 years ago will eventually shift the American landscape so dramatically. Now you could only see highways and shopping mall with huge parking lot in the north American without any local community involved. No one could imagine that 100 years ago. So how could we imagine it before we design something, I think that is the problem.

    • I agree with Jeffrey that MLP would be a hindsight. And I think SPT and MLP are useful when we analyze and reframe problems but It’s hard to say these models are actionable. When analyzing problems with a timeline and a God’s view, like Geels’ transportation analysis, these models can help us see through appearances to get to the essence, catch the relations between events clearly and logically. But when we turn to current wicked problems, we can not have such a God’s view and feel a little bit overwhelmed. That’s why after we found some leverage points and proposed some solutions, my concern always is that our solutions could be too ideal.

      Jeffrey also questioned that how could we imagine it before we design something. I think it’s because people can only predict the development of society in a linear function mode, but the way in which the society actually develops is an Exponential curve.

      • Scott Dombkowski March 5, 2017 at 5:05 am Reply

        I agree with both Jeffrey and Minrui that both MLP and SPT can “reveal key actionable push points or innovation spaces for seeing large scale system change”. Similar to Jeffrey, seeing how MLP is applied to the car culture of America was both surprising and obvious at the same time. Seeing the connections between suburbanization, gasoline, “fast food and malls”, and the growth of American car culture is obvious, but hard to recognize since one is rarely attempting to completely understand a system. I have seen this growth with my own eyes as highways are paved and repaved, new lanes are paved, and new roads and highways are opened.

        I also agree with Jeffrey that it is difficult to understand what to design. It is very difficult to fully understand the dynamics of any system and how one niche is effecting practices and landscapes. It is even tougher to understand how one niche can become a practice.

        • In my experience, one of the main difficulties is that the mapping relies too heavily on our own generally-gathered understanding of a system rather than explicit and exhaustive research. I think this leads us to consider or weight certain aspects too heavily while not fully incorporating all the possible connections which in turn leads us to misconsider which leverage points are actually available or changeable.

          I would also put forward that the trinary delineation of landscape-regime-niche is perhaps a little too ‘reductionistic’ and spatially placing a given aspect in one of the three categories is likely to at least partially miscategorize it, as aspects partake in many categories simultaneously. I wonder how an aspect’s true localization amidst multiple continuous levels of affect might be represented.

          Even after mapping, there still seems to be a conceptual and creative leap needed in the ideation phase to determine new solutions. I’m not sure how the mapping provides for new ideas to arise.

          • I agree with what Gray said here. When thing are put into categories, they tend to lost many complicated and intertwined details. In our exercise of mapping gentrification into the niche-regime-landscape map, we left out many things in our previous wicked problem map because we don’t know where they would belong to. Also, when we tried to decide which things put where, we made judgments based on our own perception/understanding of the phenomena, which might be totally off from the reality. I’m not sure how valuable would that be if we make interpretations and design ideations based on our limited understanding of the issue and the map.

  3. I think MLP method provides various perspective to percieve the relationship between individuals, between individuals and the society, and among different stakeholders. When our group tried to map regarding lack of healthy food in Pittsburgh, we struggled the space between the niches and regime as Jesse mentioned. For example, we categorized food delivery as niche, however, I was confused that when the fast food companies such as Domino pizza is considered, it seems to be a regime. Finding where to start mapping was also challenging, since the each elements are interwinded and interconnceted. MLP seems helpful to examine current situation, yet difficult to drive a potential solution for the future in system level. But MLP defenitely made me question more in depth about the causes and effect of the problem.

  4. I certainly agree that intersecting MLP and SPT helps to understand how innovations can disrupt the status quo and everyday practices of users. Although this intersection usually happens in the Meso level, regime, I believe zooming in and out also helps to see what an innovation needs to change or how it can infuse into the regime and its bigger&slower umbrella, landscape. For example, our group is tackling how Pittsburgh residents can access high-quality education in the computer age. We have seen that it is really hard to suggest completely different, novel education system while schooling takes place in rigid physical spaces in strict schedules. Although some niches such as online education have become the part of the today’s schooling norm, they haven’t embraced totally. To understand where and why these niches are failing, looking them from the practices perspective may help to rethink how we fiction these niches. An absurd example will be how you can create a similar social setting such as a cafeteria in online education so that students will fulfill their hunger and socialize.

    I believe the multi-level theory approach can be interesting to apply in the design process, which Peter Joore and his co-authors propose in their paper. He also explains the multi-level design model in this presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqTaZCsa90o Rather than a limited small circular design process, which students are familiar from design school, this model proposes a multi-level/multi-circular design model, which blends MLP, “Cradle2Cradle” approach with the traditional design process so that designers will not only focus on solving a design problem but also will see or future cast what will it take for society to embrace their “designs”.

  5. I think MLP can be useful in very specific circumstances as a way of pinpointing leverage points. For example, our group is focused on water quality issues in Pittsburgh. Our wicked problem, unlike most of those for other groups, has some clear causes and identifiable solutions. The largest issues are lead in pipes and stormwater overflow. Once these two issues are solved, water quality will dramatically increase. Starting a campaign to raise awareness of lead levels or promoting niche organizations to increase community composting or gardening are realistic practice shifts that have happened before, such as the anti-littering campaign in the 1950’s (this was not without its own problems, but is an example of a mindset shift and social practice change). With other, more intangible problems, such as ‘crime’ and ‘gentrification’, I can imagine that MLP is much less useful in examining the problem and proposing leverage points.

    • I wanted to follow up on Olivia’s comment because we’re both in the same group. I think that using the MLP and SPT worked very well for us, as well. I believe this is largely because there are clear practices that are associated with the water quality issue. Once we started to map the system against these practices, there were a couple obvious points of intervention.

      As a discussion leader last week, however, I saw how mapping other large-scale issues didn’t lead to more actionable next steps. I think the MLP can be a helpful tool in assisting us with “reading” and understanding a system. I also believe it can also reveal how innovations may be assisted or hindered at the regime level due to existing practices or “rules” within groups or organizations. However, I agree with many on this thread and am skeptical about how this process can lead to actual design interventions.

      • What Monique bring up is a good point. I too feel that MLP is a great tool in creating an overview of the space. In our group, Lack of Affordable Housing in Pittsburgh, the multi-level approach has allowed us to more easily distribute factors contributing to our wicked problem. It has allowed us to evaluate and understand the system a little better. However, to echo what Monique said, we were unsure of how this might lead to actual design interventions.

        • Also being a member of the water quality group with Monique and Olivia, I agree that our problem space was well suited for being mapped in the MLP and SPT frameworks. In particular, the MLP framework helped demonstrate how flows at the different levels effect each other and how moves at the niche level could propagate upwards. As an example, if you provide water quality testing kits to residents of Pittsburgh, it could change the level of awareness about lead in the water at the landscape level, and put pressure on the PWSA in the regime level.

          However, I do think that with any type of framework there are also limitations. As Olivia mentioned, other perhaps less tangible wicked problems may be harder to map onto the MLP framework. Similarly, if there are not many niche interventions in existence already, it could be difficult to use the framework to find leverage points.

  6. Michelina Campanella March 5, 2017 at 4:56 pm Reply

    I am frustrated with the use of these theories in the context of understanding our wicked problems because I think they could have been more useful if presented at different stages of the class. To me, there are distinct stages of coming to an understanding of a complex problem, and an order to which they should be approached.

    The first is researching the topic at hand, which we had little to no time to do. The second step, in my opinion, should have been social practice theory – understanding how practices are created, shaped, and changed over time. This is one of the only instances where using personal experiences and prior knowledge is appropriate. Introducing us to MLP would be the next step, where we could look at landscapes, regimes, and niches through the research we did on our topics and having a better sense of the social practices we explored. At this point, Geel’s approach to socio-technical systems gives us a framework to create wicked problem maps because it shows us how these levels of scale are connected and influence each other, which would have been helpful when we created links throughout our maps.

    What I believe is missing in this class is a logical way to test our assumptions and make our work actionable. Agent based modeling is one way to create rules and logic for how elements of a system behave, and to test how changes within a system will play out through computational simulations. Kakee pointed out the flaws of this method in class, but despite it’s problems it seems to be based in logic more so than any other theory we have interacted with so far, most of which rely on a shallow and uninformed use of our intuition (at best). Read more about agent based modeling here:

  7. I think MLP is a really good tool to get a more comprehensive understanding of any wicked problem. I specially see a lot of value in this tool as it affords to think about problems in a chronological way. It displays how social practices that are rooted, and in most cases unquestioned, because it has been established over time displacing other practices. This is what I consider to be of most use with this model. I do find it necessary to use the MLP model in combination with other models are this one feels very high level, combining MLP and STP is a way of grounding everyday practices in relation to context and environment.

    • I agree with Silvia, and many of the others that have made this point. Alone, MLP is very cumbersome and it’s rather difficult to distill down into actionable. Our work on the SPT mapping last week was helpful and ended up informing a lot of what we did in our MLP this week, it was particularly pertinent to our niche level. We were able to fill in a lot of the content based on what was previously created. I agree with what Michelina wrote, about breaking these practices up even further. I would have loved to have delved deeper into each area further to work towards building a more well-rounded and in-depth case study.

  8. I like how the MLP helps reduce a massive web of information to clear categories. It helps to think of the space in terms of landscape, regime and niche. This multi layer approach helped me(us) make more meaningful connections between things.
    I am still unsure how actionable it is, in the sense, I may have a better understanding of the space after this but don’t think this helps me really take action.

  9. I think the MLP is a good idea in theory, but the problem is that identifying points for leverage involve historical context and other large-scale time issues. I don’t understand completely how this is supposed to be actionable on the ground. The “hold it lightly” sentiment is well-taken, but I don’t understand how to implement a lightly held framework in the real world.

    I would also add that this feedback loop model, where things bolster and disrupt others within society, is used a lot within anthropology. This reminds me of many ethnographic projects I’ve done in the past, but it blows it open on a macro-scale. Just as in social science, though, I think identifying leverage points is interesting, but how are they actionable? I know that we are designers and that is our job, but I wonder how back-casting and things like that are useful.

    I definitely see similarities to anthropological analysis, but I also unsatisfied with the critique of capitalism. If we don’t really acknowledge that capitalism IS the landscape, we can’t actually find leverage points. I really disagreed with Kakee’s assertion that talking about it in terms of capitalism upholds capitalism. We need to talk about these issues in terms of working within the system instead of simply rejecting it. It won’t be impactful if we purposefully ignore the context surrounding these problems.

    • Hey Monica,

      I agree that a clear, differentiated critique of capitalism is missing from so much of what we talk about. Two basic principles that capitalism is founded upon, limitless growth and profit focus, are the underlying frameworks which support, create and amplify the issues that we are facing. If we don’t talk those things out, understand them, face them, and create solutions that exist in relation to those dynamics, we will not be able to seed meaningful change, which should be our goal!

  10. Geel’s diagram showing the transition from horse-drawn carriage as a primary mode of transportation to that of the automobile was a good example for me to understand the concept of regime, niche, and landscape. But with the topic of gentrification, we really had hard time understanding each part and all the relationships among each part. Especially we struggled with niche part because gentrification is on ongoing process and it’s something that we can’t see, feel, or hear. However, it was valuable time for our team to envision possible solutions combined with technology that might become key actionable push points and nudge current system in a good way.

  11. I find the frameworks to be useful in practice, but agree with the thoughts of some of my peers that up-front research is a crucial part of learning about the topics before applying a framework to them. Based on my experience with the process of mapping access to high quality education, there is a knowledge gap that could be solved for by coupling the frameworks with learning more about design research methods. Our group relies in part on the professional knowledge that I have of the education landscape in Pittsburgh, but my perspective is limited–I can’t represent private schools, online academies, or know what niche activities are taking place–additional research is needed to fill in those gaps. Since the topics are localized to Pittsburgh the addition of a more comprehensive research step could be an opportunity to offer design capacity to local organizations by co-creating and sharing our problem frames (if they could be inclusive of the local actors within the networks of the topics we’ve identified). It would be much more involved, but more authentic as a result, and by engaging stakeholders more deeply in the process it’s an opportunity to avoid misconceptions or mis-identify potential leverage points.

  12. I agree that combining the tools of MLP and SPT is a great way to find some cross-interventions that are otherwise difficult to discover. Like Delanie mentioned, we were able to uncover insights and come up with examples like shopping, which were not obvious in the beginning, but unfolded with detailed discussions and use of this tool. Even though we have made a progress in deeply understanding the topics at hand, it has been difficult for me to connect the dots between identifying the wicked problems in the present context and then sprawling it to a larger scale context spanning over time. The practical use of these tools in everyday life remains a mystery to me, yet.

  13. I think MLP mapping was more useful to identify opportunity spaces compared to wicked problem mapping. Wicked problem map based on 5 different domains guided us to find interconnectivity of causes and vicious effects so that we can figure out most tangled area. MLP map, on the other hand, revealed the dynamic the causes and effects within different levels—niche, regime, and landscape, which helps us finding leverage point. For example, our team was looking at the lack of public transportation. Through wicked problem map, we could come across bike as an alternative transportation method stemming from the problem. Again, by processing it with MLP map, we found the fact that lack of bicycle lane, geography, and bureaucracy hinder this niche level innovations and ,at the same time, we were inspired by car/bike sharing practices, which is eventually helped us to come up with idea of city bike having partnership with port authority.

  14. The MPL & TOC are great frameworks which can be used as strategic planning and management tools. I like the idea of using these two approaches together as a means of framing and understanding the landscape as well as planning and projecting forward, mapping where you are and where you want to be. Social Practice Theory is a nice method to affix your lens to everyday practices which shape society. Identifying these practices allows you to assess the sustainability of actions on a small scale. Adding insights from SPT to the MPL demonstrates a much larger and systemic perspective on such a seemingly insignificant everyday practice. The MPL allows for a temporal line of framing & projecting which gives the tool a dynamic aspect, valuable for future forecasting. Because of its heavy reliance on historically understanding a problem, MPL allows you to plot a course to the present, framing the problem space from a social-technical perspective.

  15. According to the reading of this week, I think MLP is a direct reflection of existing and prevailing social practices, It was really interesting to see how technological innovations aligned with social practices and provided new platforms to stakeholders. Something that I realized soon was that technological innovations were not happening in a vacuum but were closely aligned to leverage shortcomings or in some case make some practices more efficient like in case of doctors visiting their patients in cars with steam engines. I think high-level theory is beneficial to zoom out and recognize patterns. It gives us the opportunity to identify possible leverage points and drive towards actions. Time a crucial character involved in MLP mapping. MLP models are actionable in a way that they provide us avenues of inquiry and enable us to predict. Predicating interventions on these learning are effective as it encapsulates learnings from history about what worked and what did not.

  16. Manya Krishnaswamy March 12, 2017 at 5:33 am Reply

    I think the MLP and SPT provide a good starting point for identifying potential leverage points from a high-level strategic perspective. It helps us start thinking about the various mindsets, infrastructures, social practices, and technologies that contribute to the issue over time.

    However, if the MLP were to be used for on-the-ground practice it would really require thorough research and investigation and extensive mapping of these factors … far more than we did for the project. A limitation I foresee when doing this though is that the map is likely to become extremely complex and challenging to read.

  17. Thanks for your comments everyone!

    It was a pleasure to lead the discussion section with such thoughtful, insightful minds. There are a diversity of responses, which are informative, and as we learned in class, diversity is one of the key factors in sustainability and survival long term, so that’s great!

    I thought it might be useful to pull out some common threads or key ideas from what you all brought up. This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive summary, nor am I arguing that the ideas I’m putting forward are in some way the most important ideas that were discussed. This is meant to be an interesting, curated collection of some of the inspiring thoughts that everyone had!

    As so many mentioned, it is clear that the overlapping cross-section of the MLP and SPT approaches reveals quantitatively and qualitatively more than either one can offer on their own. Of course, this is the stated position of Geels, but I think as a group we also discovered this experientially through our whiteboard exercises and Kakee’s teaching. I know in my gentrification group, we found the combined application of the two approaches to reveal a myriad of potential ways forward in a surprisingly short period of time. We know that transition design is meant to be practiced very carefully and sensitively over a long period of time, but it is actually amazing how effective some of our thinking was over just a couple weeks!

    I also noticed that many people are bringing up the gap between theoretical insight and actionable design solutions. As noted above, the intersection of MLP and SPT theoretical frameworks quickly and effectively reveals push points and potential spaces to work in. However, it’s one thing to identify the fact that large corporations could potentially be taxed to provide tax breaks for long-time home owners in gentrification threatened neighborhoods, it’s quite another to actually affect that proposed change. I want to share a personal anecdote which relates to this. I worked alongside rest of my talented MA cohort last semester on an assignment from the Allegheny County Health Board to create a campaign to raise HPV vaccination rates in the county. This is most certainly a wicked problem, the complexity of the issue is daunting. Yet we eventually came up with a solution which included short term, mid-term and long term action which was ideally tailored to the intricacies of the problem. The health board is now moving forward with a clearer framework and a greater degree of sensitivity than previously and updates from them indicate that things are going well. I think this is one of the potential ways forward for transition design, phased solutions which include goals and actions on a variety of timescales. These goals need to be concrete enough to act upon, yet sensitive to the fact that niches and regimes are constantly changing.

    The last point I will look at (there are so many more, I wish I could talk about them all!) is the idea of scale. It is fascinating to be a limited, small being examining massive problems. I notice some concern and frustration among my cohort, and I feel it deeply myself, that it is remarkably hard to conceive of and take action to improve systems level problems since we are each only individuals. It is easy to feel that problems which are much larger than we are, are insoluble. But as Jabe Bloom puts it, “Stick with the trouble!” Designers are uniquely positioned to be facilitators and guides in a collective move toward more sustainable futures, which is what transition design is all about (as far as I understand 🙂 ).

    Great work everyone, thanks for your inspiring thoughts.

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