Lecture – 1.25.2017


Terry Irwin

Social organizations, natural ecosystems and even wicked problems are all examples of complex systems that Transition Designers must design for and within. The study of the dynamics within these ‘living systems’ (such as emergence, resilience, feedback, sensitivity to initial conditions, self organization and the dynamic/temporal relationship between ‘whole’ and ‘part’) has shown that they have great relevance for design but can  often seem counter intuitive. If systems dynamics can be better understood,  they can be leveraged by Transition Designers to seed, catalyze and direct systems level change.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Discussion Prompts

  • How does a complex system differ from a ‘simple’ or ‘closed’ system?
  • How, in framing design problems within tight contexts, do we ‘deny’ the complexity of the system we are designing in and for?
  • Can you think of ways that the inherent dynamics within complex systems can be leveraged in design solutions?
  • How do the properties of chaos and  complexity change how we think about change? How we stage design interventions?
  • What are the implications of principles such as self-organization and emergence for designers?

Read Prior to Class

  • Capra, Fritjof and Pier Luigi Luisi. 2014. Connecting the Dots. In The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision. Padstow, Cornwall: Cambridge University Press. pp 362–366*

Supplemental Readings

  • Jones, Alwyn. 1997. A Gaian Social Critique. In Peter Bunyard, Gaia in Action: Science of the Living Earth. Floris: Edinburgh. pp. 274–284*
  • Capra, Fritjof. 2005. Speaking Nature’s Language. In Michael K. Stone and Xenobia Barlow (eds.) Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. pp. 19-29
  • de Sousa Santos, Bonaventura. 2006. The Sociology of Emergences, In The Rise of the Global Left: The World Social Forum and Beyond. London: Zed Books. pp 29–33*

ASSIGNMENT #1: Mapping Wicked Problems

(This is an overview of the assignment. Visit the assignments section for more details). This assignment is designed to acquaint students with the anatomy and dynamics found in complex, wicked problems. For this assignment, each group will select one of the wicked problems listed on the About the Assignments page and will apply it to all three assignments. The Mapping Wicked Problems assignment tasks students with understanding the anatomy and dynamics of the wicked problem by:  1) identifying root causes;  2) identifying the consequences/ramifications connected to the root problems;  3) identifying the problem’s stakeholders and their symbiotic, conflicting or contradictory relations. Go to the Assignments section for a detailed assignment process that contains steps to guide groups in thinking through the problem and assignment. An example of a hypothetical problem map and stakeholder relations map are shown at the bottom of the page.

To be completed as homework, due Discussion Session 2.2 – 2.6.2017

Discussion Session – 1.30.2017

Wicked Problems

Theora Kvitka, Mackenzie Cherban, Ashley Varrato, Sylvia Mata – Marin

Wicked problems are a class of ‘unsolvable’ problem identified by planner Horst Rittel in the 20th century. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, depletion of natural resources and the widening gap between rich and poor are just a few examples of the ‘wicked’ problems that transition designers must address. Wicked problems are multifaceted/multi-scalar, are comprised of multiple stakeholders with conflicting agendas and because their ‘parts’ are interconnected and interdependent, there is no single solution. Problems that affect individuals at the local level are always connected to/affected by connections and interdependencies with other problems at the global scale. Understanding the anatomy (root causes and consequences) and system dynamics of wicked problems is essential to framing problems and conceiving solutions within a Transition Design context.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Discussion Prompts

  • Is it possible to understand the entirety of a wicked problem?
  • In what ways do ‘wicked problems’ manifest at multiple levels of scale (systems levels)?
  • What are examples of global wicked problems that are interrelated and interdependent?
  • In what ways are traditional design problems/solutions related to and embedded within wicked problems?
  • How does an ability to see and understand wicked problems challenge a designer’s ability to frame a discrete problem at a lower systems level?

Read Prior to Class

  • Irwin, Terry. 2011. Wicked Problems and the Relationship Triad. In Stephan Harding (ed.), Grow Small, Think Beautiful: Ideas for a Sustainable World from Schumacher College. Edinburgh: Floris Books. pp 232–257
  • Cheryl Dahle, journalist, entrepreneur and founder of the non-profit Future of Fish discusses the global wicked problem of overfishing.

Supplemental Readings

Guest Lecture (Cheryl Dahle) – 2.1.2017

Solving the Wicked Problem of Overfishing

Cheryl Dahle

Cheryl Dahle is a journalist and entrepreneur who has worked at the intersection of business and social transformation for more than a decade. Cheryl is the founder of Future of Fish, a non-profit systems change incubator that works with entrepreneurs, industry and investors to create business solutions to address ocean challenges. Future of Fish over the course of many years, has conducted research to understand the global wicked problem of overfishing and has developed design interventions at multiple levels of scale to address the problem. Read more about their work on the Future of Fish website. Cheryl will talk about her work and lead a discussion with the entire student group immediately following.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.

Read Prior to Class

  • Berry, Wendell. 2005. Solving for Pattern. In Michael K. Stone and Zenobia Barlow (eds.) Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. pp. 31–40*

Supplemental Readings

Discussion Session – 2.6.2017

Wicked Problem Map Presentations

Rossa Kim, Minrui Li, Vikas Yadav, Vicki Costikyan

Groups will present their visual maps and discuss the connection between a problem at the local level and large, seemingly unconnected wicked problems at the global level. After a brief discussion, the class will conclude by speculating on how mapping connections between a specific/local problem and global wicked problems could be integrated into the ‘double diamond design process’. Throughout the semester Transition Design tools and approaches will be added to the double diamond framework.

Discussion Prompts

  • What did the mapping process produce? How is it different or a supplement to traditional design problem framing?
  • What was particularly challenging or enlightening about the mapping wicked problem process? Did it change the way you think about framing design problems in terms of problem boundaries and context?
  • Did you discover useful ways in which to visualize systems levels? In what ways did it enhance or inhibit discussion and understanding of the topic?

In-Class Activity

Close class by mapping an understanding of Wicked Problems onto the double diamond design process.

  • Where might the skills, frames and perspectives learned in this section be most influential to a traditional design process?

The Double Diamond is a widely used visualization of the non-linear design process. Created by the British Design Council, the double diamond describes the divergent and convergent thinking designers employ in framing problems and designing well-considered, human-centered solution.

The first diamond describes the exploratory research phase of the design process, as designers conduct human-centered research to move from a general problem space towards a specific problem. From there, designers diverge once more to explore possible solutions before narrowing down towards a single design.

Submitting Assignment #1

Students should submit digital files (Keynote, Powerpoint AND PDF) of their presentations along with any other relevant documentation by end of day. Clearly indicate team members and label the digital files with last name of team members in the following format: Mapping_Irwin_Kossoff.