About the Assignments

The 4 assignments in this course comprise 40% of the grade, and are designed to acquaint students with the emerging Transition Design approach for addressing complex, wicked problems and seeding/catalyzing systems-level change and cover the following topics:  1a) Mapping Wicked Problems;  1b) Mapping Stakeholder Relations;  2) Multi-Level Perspective Mapping (MLP);  3) Causal Layered Analysis/Visioning; 4) Designing Systems Interventions.

The class cohort will be divided into teams of 3-4 people and will select a problem from the list below to work on for the duration of the semester. Assignments will be submitted in the form of team Medium posts and final project canvases should be  submitted to the instructors as either digital files or analog project canvases may be left in the design office the same week. Members of teams will evaluate each other (360 degree reviews) upon their ability to collaborate successfully throughout the process at the end of each assignment.

We have identified 16 problems facing Pittsburgh in the 21st century:

  1. Poverty
  2. Racial Discrimination/Profiling
  3. Poor Air Quality
  4. Poor Water Quality
  5. Obesity
  6. Isolation of Elderly People
  7. Waste Management
  8. Homelessness
  9. Rising Adolescent Depression/Suicide Rate
  10. Declining Populations of Pollinators
  11. Rising Negative Effects of Social Networking
  12. Opioid Addiction
  13. Crime
  14. Lack of affordable housing
  15. High cost of higher education
  16. Lack of access to healthy food

Teams will be assigned the first day of class and each team will select a different wicked problem from the list above on which to conduct research and base the 5 assignments. These assignments are intended to introduce the key concepts from the emerging Transition Design approach.

Project Canvases

Teams will be supplied with large ‘project canvases’ for each assignment, which serve as focal points for team brainstorms, using post-it notes to capture thinking and research. Assignments will be introduced in-class, but will require teams to do work outside class in order to complete the assignment. (Comprehensive instructions for each assignment can be found on the corresponding tabs in this section of the website). Completed project canvases should be photographed/documented in high resolution and should be supplemented with a written analysis and conclusions. If teams wish to translate the analog project canvas into a final digital result for the Medium posts that is acceptable but care should be taken not to omit any part of the assignment/exercise. Additional visuals in either analog or digital form may be created to further clarify the process and results. Some assignments will be presented in class critiques however the final submission of all assignments should be in the form of a post on each team’s Medium site (one site which contains all 4 assignments). To become acquainted with the problems listed above, we recommend teams review Pittsburgh’s Resiliency Strategy Report to gain an overview of the city and its challenges.

Creating the Team Medium Site

All 4 course assignments should be submitted as annotated Medium posts on a single Medium site that the team creates (please do not submit multiple sites–instructors need to access all assignment posts via a single site). You’d be surprised at how often teams forget to label their post with the name of their wicked problems and ALL of the team members names. This is important! Each team will begin their initial work brainstorming with post-it notes on an analog ‘project canvas’ that will be provided by the instructors (and that can be downloaded on the assignment pages of the website). Initial work will begin in class but should continue outside class. Teams should photograph/document each stage of the evolving process for the final Medium posts. Teams should complete the assignment on the project canvas (analog form), then photograph it in high resolution as a PDF/PNG and making necessary adjustments in photoshop to ensure legibility on the Medium site. Each submission should contain clear, easy to understand visuals of the work accompanied by a written description of the process along with analysis, insights and conclusions.

Collectively the assignments amount to 40% and these will be evaluated based upon in-class presentations (where applicable) and the final documentation on the Medium site. Both visual and verbal components should be of a high standard; work will be graded down for poor writing quality, unclear/low-resolution visuals or text and lack of overall coherence. Each site should begin with a title of the wicked problem, all team members’ names and an introductory statement about the problem and high-level issues/consequences. Write it as if it was meant to communicate the problem to the Mayor and City council. NOTE: When placing photos in Medium make sure they are hi-resolution, clear, and in focus. You might choose to provide the option to click on photos to view them at a larger size. If we can’t read them, we can’t assess them. At the end of each assignment, teams should also turn in final analog project canvases to the Design Office and send instructors final digital files directly.

Begin Research on Your Wicked Problem—Immediately

It is imperative that you begin researching your wicked problem immediately. Each team will select one of the 16 wicked problems listed above to focus on for the entire semester. All 4 assignments will be based upon gaining a better understanding of how the problem arose, became wicked over a long period of time, and how it currently manifests (affects people and society) at all levels of scale. In order to complete these assignments, teams should begin immediately to conduct research on the problem. We recommend creating a shared Evernote team folder (or another collaborative platform that accepts multiple formats) which will enable team members to conduct research and archive it simultaneously. Look for books, newspaper articles, reports, interviews and websites that discusses the wicked problem, related issues and its consequences. Be continually adding notes, analysis, insights etc. to the research archive throughout the semester.

The list of 16 wicked problems is common to most cities, therefore research on how a particular problem manifests in other locales can also prove informative for your research and assignments, particularly when it pertains to how other cities/communities have attempted to resolve the problem. It is important that the research process is ongoing and that the team’s understanding of the problem deepens as the semester progresses and that the learning from one assignment, informs the ones that follow. The 4 assignments correspond to class topics and discussion throughout the semester; the month of February is relatively free of assignments, but we recommend using this time to conduct research that will prepare you for the following assignments. Achieving a passing grade for the assignments will, in part, rely upon the amount and quality of the research your team conducts. Read through all of the assignments at the beginning of the semester as they will guide your research process.

Successful Team Collaboration

Completing the assignments successfully will depend upon good team collaboration. Because wicked problem are inherently transdisciplinary, they can only be addressed through radical collaboration. We have made team assignments with the objective of creating as much diversity as possible within teams. Although it is often more ‘comfortable’ to form a team with people from a similar discipline who are friends or acquaintances, in group work such as this, it is not an advantage. The higher degree of diversity within a team the better. Ideally teams would be comprised of people from different disciplines, representing different belief systems and cultures and different perspectives based upon life experience and gender. Wicked problems are comprised of stakeholders with differing opinions, beliefs and agendas and having this kind of diversity present in a group is a potential advantage. However, this diversity can only be leveraged as an advantage if the team learns to collaborate well.

The mindset and posture for collaboration: The mindset and posture section of the Transition Design framework emphasizes the importance of taking up postures of openness, speculation (as opposed to certainty), to listening (as opposed to waiting to talk) and a willingness to change one’s mind. Successful collaboration within the context of this course also means that each team member must be committed to clear and timely communication (participating in discussions, answering emails in timely ways) and delivering on what you promised to do.

Successful collaboration requires an awareness of team dynamics and asking (on an ongoing basis): Am I carrying my weight? Am I participating fully in discussions? If I have a problem with something or someone, am I dealing with it in a timely and authentic way (vs. ‘stewing’ on it)? Am I dominating conversations or trying to force my opinions and agenda on the group? Am I moving in ways that would make the other team members want to collaborate with me again? Am I willing to change my mind? If not—why? Developing the skills for successful collaboration is one of the most important aspects of Transition Design and for this reason you will be asked to rate your team members in a 360 degree review process at the conclusion of each assignment; these scores will factor into each student’s final grade. Collaboration is always messy and requires more effort than working alone. But we believe it is worth it because what we are able to achieve in concert with others is almost always greater than what we would be able to achieve on our own. Please put as much thought and energy into the collaborative process as you will your readings and discussion. NOTE: if you or your team members encounter issues/dynamics that become problematic, please let the instructors and TA know this and we will assist you–breakdowns and difficulty in team dynamics are part of group work and can provide an opportunity for learning.

The importance of delegation: The success of the 4 assignments will depend upon good delegation and teamwork. For instance, on Assignments #1a and 1b, we suggest the team conducts research individually and shares it via an online platform such as Evernote. The group should meet to discuss and analyze the findings and begin building the wicked problem map which will require the full range of perspectives represented in the group. Once all of the issues have been mapped and the group has identified and analyzed the ‘web of relationships/interactions’ that connect the nodes of the problem we suggest delegating tasks. Some members of the group might be charged with exploring a visual vocabulary that communicates the teams’ analysis and conclusions, while other members begin to map the various stakeholder groups affected by the problem (there are boxes for listing stakeholder groups at the bottom of the wicked problem map). Another group might begin to speculate on which three stakeholder groups have the most problematic relations (#1b) and present their findings to the group for approval to proceed. The success of working in a group on assignments such as these is dependent upon knowing when to work together and when to divide into small groups in order to work more swiftly and efficiently. At the beginning of each assignment, the group should discuss this and also consult with instructors about the best course of action if they are unsure. When a team member is unable to fulfill a deadline that they agreed to, it is important to give other members as much notice as possible and we recommend discussing the breakdown as soon as the team meets again and have a brief discussion about how to avoid this in the future. This too is part of ‘growing’ good relations and productivity within a team. It is also integral to professional practice within most disciplines.

Working Successfully with Post-It Notes (What NOT to do)

Because the assignments will be undertaken and completed in relatively short amounts of time, we will use large, analog ‘project canvases’ and post-it notes to brainstorm and capture early thinking. We have a love-hate relationship with the post-it. It can be a useful tool in capturing preliminary thinking as we aim to do in these assignments. It only works however if a few simple guidelines are followed. Too often people use post-it notes when they are working fast and share context with other team members and the artifacts of this process are not meant to be viewed/understood by an outside audience. This is NOT the case with these 4 assignments. The results of the brainstorming/post-it exercises SHOULD be undertaken in a way that will enable an outside audience (readers of your Medium site) to understand what is written on the notes. This mean following a few simple rules:

  1. Use light colored post-its and write in medium-weight black markers–new Sharpie pens work best (we will furnish these in class but will collect them at the end of each class)
  2. Write in complete, short sentences. One of the biggest pitfalls is writing a single word or ‘cryptic’ phrase on a post-it–you know what it means, but no one else does.
  3. Print–don’t write. Most people’s handwriting is NOT legible. Print clearly and and fill the post-it. All capitals works best. Pretend in this one case that you’re an architect.
  4. Think before you write. Think about how you will phrase your thought. Will others be able to understand the point you are capturing on your post-it if they come to the project canvas without any background/backstory. Say it simple and say it clear.

If you observe these simple guidelines when undertaking a post-it exercise you will create an artifact that can stand alone as a piece of clear communication. Moreover, it can be photographed and used in your Medium site to communicate your thinking. We’ve provided examples below on post-its from an exercise mapping the wicked problem of crime. The blue post-it notes show what NOT to do: they are difficult to read and cannot be understood by an external audience. The orange post-it notes show what TO DO—use the orange ones as your guide. Light/bright colors, short, clear phrases or sentences, large printing!

#1a: Mapping Wicked Problems

Assigned 1.29.2020 | Medium Post due 2.11.20

Assignments #1a and 1b are assigned on January 29 and are due as Medium posts on Feb. 11th. Information on Assignment #1a is found on this page, and 1b on the following page/tab. In Assignment #1a, teams will reference their research on a Pittsburgh-based wicked problem and begin visually ‘mapping’ it within 5 categories: 1) social issues;  2) environmental issues;  3) economic issues;  4) political issues/governance/legal;  5) infrastructural/technology issues. Each team will be provided with a paper-based, ‘project canvas’ with the five categories listed and will begin by populating these areas with post-it notes that clearly identify myriad issues (1 issue per post-it). NOTE: The Mapping a Wicked Problem Project Canvas can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.

Teams will be provided with post-it notes that correspond to the colors for each category. Please refer to the guidelines for post-it notes at the bottom of the About the Assignments page. The Wicked Problem Map and Stakeholder Relations Map (assignments 1a & 1b) will be presented in a class critique on 2.5 for feedback. Both assignments will be due as Medium posts on 2.11.19. Teams should photograph the completed wicked problem map at high resolution (along with photos that document the process) for the medium post. Note: it is imperative that the final problem map submitted on Medium be high resolution and the project canvas (with the problem name and all names of the team members noted) should be turned into the Design Office in order for instructors to adequately review it. Please test the post to ensure it is readable, or points will be taken off the final grade.

Distinguishing roots from consequences in wicked problems: as you map the problem, keep in mind that large, complex problems ramify up and down systems levels. At the level of our everyday lives, we often experience the consequences of wicked problems, as opposed to the root causes. As an example, consider the wicked problem of Crime in Pittsburgh. At the scale of an individual’s everyday life, the problem might manifest as muggings and break-ins in their neighborhood. We would argue however, that this is a consequence of the wicked problem. In order to develop strategies with the greatest potential to address or even resolve crime, we need to look for the root causes of the wicked problem, which are usually found at higher systems levels.

At the level of the city, research might reveal that other problems are contributing factors; such as unemployment, opioid addiction, and a high divorce rate (among many others). If we go up to the state or national levels, we might trace the roots of crime in Pittsburgh to the collapse of the housing market (loss of money/shelter), pharmaceutical companies’ relationship to the opioid epidemic, the escalating cost of higher education, lack of prisoner vocational programs, racism/racial profiling and Supreme Court rulings. The more adept we becoming at looking at the problem systemically, the more interconnections and interdependencies to other problems are revealed. Play with the idea of distinguishing root causes from consequences. There is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer but using this distinction aids in tracing problems up and down systems levels.

It is extremely important that transition designers develop this ability to look up and down systems levels and see the interconnections among issues and consequences related to wicked problems. To return to the example of crime: If a team looked no farther than the immediate problem of break-ins and muggings in a specific Pittsburgh neighborhood (this is the traditional way that designers consider problems—within small and contained contexts), the type of solutions they would propose would likely be less effective than if they traced the problem up a system levels to the city. If traced up farther to the national level, it might connect to seemingly unrelated issues like bank bail-outs, the collapse of the housing market and divorce rates. When the interconnections and interdependencies between these problems at higher systems levels are revealed, it can seem overwhelming. But, it also opens up the possibility to design interventions that address multiple issues/problems simultaneously because the deeper, root causes are revealed. This is the objective of Transition Design.

Creating a wicked problem map

In this assignment, teams will be provided with a large, analog ‘project canvas’ which has been divided into 5 archetyptal problem categories: 1) Infrastructure/technology; 2) political/governance/legal; 3) economic; 4) environmental; 5) social.

1. Identifying issues related to the problem

To begin, teams should reference the research conducted on their wicked problem and use post-it notes to initially populate the problem map. (Reference our caution about post-it notes on page 1 of this section prior to beginning the exercise). We recommend an initial brainstorming exercise on a white board in which you list one issue per post-it in no particular order. List as many issues as possible! Next, begin a clustering exercise and move them to the project canvas in the appropriate category. Note: sometimes it won’t be entirely clear which category an issue belongs to and this ‘uncertainty’ can spark conversations that deepen a team’s understanding of the problem and are preparation for the following step. NOTE: you will be provided with post-it notes that correspond to the categories but in the initial brainstorm, don’t worry too much about proper color coding–you can always go back later and make the colors correspond.

2. Finding interconnections between issues (creating a ‘web’ of relationship)

After all of the issues connected to the problem have been identified and placed on the project canvas, try to find interconnections between issues in different categories. For instance if the wicked problem was a city’s water shortage, an issue in the political category might be the absence of policies that regulate/restrict water usage. This might be directly connected to a lack of understanding/ignorance of the problem in the social category. Wicked problems are comprised of ‘webs’ of relationships and the objective is to identify as many strands in this web as possible. Transition Design refers to these collectively as the ‘connective tissue’ within a social system or wicked problem.

Groups may use any method they like to visualize and label these connections. The simplest way is to use sharpie markers to connect post-its (some rearranging may be necessary), while in the past some groups have re-created their maps in digital form in order to have more flexibility in visualizing connections. There are a variety of digital and cloud-based mind mapping tools available, such as MindMup and NovaMind. However, for our purposes, these tools are still relatively primitive, and focus on issues/objects within a system rather than the connections between them. These tools are often inadequate for identifying the interdependent/interrelated interactions and relationship dynamics within in a system. We hope that teams will innovate and come up with new ways to visualize wicked problem/systems maps.

The example below: The wicked problem map below was developed in MindMup and enhanced in InDesign (to compensate for the limited visualization abilities of MindMup). It represents the problem of the drought/water shortage in Ojai, California and was developed in a workshop with local stakeholders who mapped the problem using a project canvas and post-its. Later, the results were transferred to MindMup, which enabled further work to be done and connections to be drawn between issues. The limitations of this visual software are evident; it is difficult to understand the nature of the types of relationships between nodes in the map. To our knowledge there are no adequate software/tools available that represent the complexities of a wicked problem and its internal, relational dynamics. A tool is needed in which the importance of the connections and relationships between nodes can be visualized. We believe that the explorations undertaken by project teams in this class might result in ideas that could inform a new generation of digital problem mapping tool.

How a problem map should be used on an actual project: It is important to emphasize that in an actual project (such as Ojai), a wicked problem map like this would be developed within a long-term, co-design process with multiple stakeholder groups and would be informed by extensive research. The problem map would be constantly updated and evolve as a visual representation of the changing problem, a community’s understanding of it and as a ‘map’ of where ongoing interventions can be situated. Assignment 1a introduces the approach to students in an abbreviated process informed by desktop research only and therefore will NOT be an accurate representation of the problem.

#1b: Mapping Stakeholder Relations

Assigned 1.29.2020 | Medium Post due 2.11.20

Assignment #1b is given at the same time as 1a and both are due on 2.11.20. Teams will undertake a process to:  1) identify ALL of the stakeholder groups affected by the wicked problem;  2) map the lines of agreement/affinity and conflict/opposition between the 3 groups most likely to disagree. This assignment and the Wicked Problem Map (assignments 1a & 1b) will be presented in a class critique on 2.5 for feedback. Both assignments will be due as Medium posts on 2.11.20. The Stakeholder Relations Map (like the Wicked Problem Map) can be completed on the project canvas that is provided but can also be re-created in digital form if the group wishes. High quality visuals of the final map (and process shots where applicable) are required for the final Medium post. NOTE: The Mapping Stakeholder Relations Project Canvas can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.

Why this is a hypothetical exercise: One of the main barriers to wicked problem resolution are multiple stakeholders with conflicting agendas. In many cases, different stakeholder groups cannot agree on what the problem even is, let alone agree on how to solve it. These different problem definitions are often underpinned by conflicting belief systems and value sets. Identifying areas of both conflict and affinity among stakeholder groups is essential to developing effective ‘interventions’ aimed at resolving wicked problems.

Transition Design argues that the concerns and welfare of all of the stakeholder groups affected by the problem (human and non-human/living and non-living) must be considered when formulating solutions/interventions. These concerns can only be revealed through extensive, qualitative research (for example: field interviews, workshops, questionnaires, and even methods employed by peace-keeping missions in war-torn areas) which is not feasible within the short span of this semester-long course. The results of actual research would yield deep patterns and insights about stakeholder groups that could inform the design of systems interventions. This assignment is intended only to introduce the concept of stakeholder relations to students who will hypothesize (based upon desktop research and speculation) who the stakeholders are and what their concerns might be. The results of this assignment could, however, serve as a ‘sketch’ or proposal for conducting actual research.

Step 1- Identifying Stakeholder Groups: The objective of this assignment is to identify as many stakeholder groups affected by the wicked problem as possible, including members of the ecosystem (for instance: birds, the local watershed, the land, etc.). Including non-human stakeholders in the Transition Design process draws from the work of Australian writer and activist John Seed who developed a ritual approach called The Council of All Beings, to illustrate the interconnectedness of life on the planet. Researching and mapping the wicked problem should help reveal the number of stakeholder groups that are affected. This research should also ‘hint’ at where there may be opposing agendas, belief systems and worldviews among different groups.

First, teams should conduct a brainstorming session, then list as many stakeholder groups as possible on the column on the left side of the project canvas (listing one group per post-it). Take time with this step and try to identify groups that might have been overlooked by traditional problem-solving approaches. Note: many traditional design approaches focus only on stakeholder groups with power and influence or groups who are directly related to an issue or objective. Transition Design looks at any stakeholder group that is affected by the problem and argues that uneven power dynamics and the disenfranchisement of certain stakeholder groups is a barrier to problem resolution and can even the root of complex problems.

Step 2- Do Stakeholder Groups Agree/Disagree? After teams have identified as many groups as possible and listed them on the project canvas, speculate on the 3 stakeholder groups that are likely to have the greatest degree of disagreement or differences.  For instance if the wicked problem were a city’s water shortage, three groups that might be at odds with each other might be 1) a 5 star resort that relies on tourism; 2) a lower income resident whose water is rationed by the city and  3) a local, 3rd generation citrus farmer. The resort relies on wealthy tourists which owner argues helps support the local economy, however water is not rationed at the resort—tourists may use as much water as they like. The water shortage drives the price of water up, so the lower income resident is having to reduce water usage even while her water bill increases. She sees wealthy tourists coming to town who enjoy the benefit, but carry none of the responsibility/burden of the shortage. The citrus farmer was raised in the community and his ancestors have been farming the same way for generations. His crops use a lot of local water but he feels it is his right because he was there before the community grew. He feels that the tourists and the people moving into the community are the problem–that’s the only reason there is a water shortage. Points of view like these begin to surface as you research the various parts of a complex problem.

To begin, write the name of the problem in the middle of the triad and the names of the 3 stakeholder groups in the boxes provided.  Now, speculate about the general dispositions of the three groups and the relations among them. First look for areas of conflict and disagreement among the groups and connect and label those in red. Next begin to speculate on where there might be agreement or alignment of goals between the groups (or instance in the Ojai example, all three groups agree that maintaining Ojai’s unique culture is crucial). Draw and label these connections of affinity in green marker. Speculating on where the biggest social barriers to resolutions are can help frame the ethnographic field research that will ground or refute the speculations detailed here. In your research you may also reveal important connections between groups that are ambiguous or ‘mixed’ in nature—connect them with black lines with a brief notation.

A hypothetical exercise like this can serve as a starting point in an actual project and can point the way to more in-depth field/ethnographic research. Teams should also feel free to annotate the ‘Relationship Triad’ with notes about questions, where further research would be necessary, etc. Teams should also speculate in their Medium post about how the lines of conflict could be barriers to problem resolution and conversely, should also consider how lines of agreement or affinity could be leveraged in designing interventions.

As in assign 1a, teams are free to re-create the exercise in a digital format and explore new/different visual vocabularies for representing relations among stakeholders. It is important to clearly label the nature of conflict/disagreement (in some cases, your speculation of conflict might trigger additional research)

Assignment 1a & 1b PresentationsThe class on Feb. 5th will be devoted to group presentations of both assignments, followed by a class discussion. Teams will be asked to present their wicked problem and stakeholder relations maps in analog form using the project canvases provided. Presentations should be 7 minutes or less and may be supplemented with a digital presentation. The presentations should explain the process, articulate the primary characteristics of the problem, discuss 2-3 interconnections/interdependencies that were revealed on the wicked problem map, briefly describe the speculation on stakeholder conflicts/alignment and speculate on how the results of the two assignments might guide field research. Teams should also report on difficulties, challenges and any surprising conclusions or ‘clues’ that the assignments revealed. Both assignments should be submitted as a Medium post by 2.11.20. Make sure that the process is documented visually with high-quality photos. Remember to write the Medium post so that it can be viewed by an outside audience who will not only learn about the problem and its stakeholders, but also the emerging approach itself. What is working, what could be improved? If you had the time and budget for research, what would you undertake first?

Examples: Mapping Stakeholder Relations

The examples below show different ways of thinking about and visualizing stakeholder relations. These examples are different from the project canvases you have been provided and are simply meant to show there are multiple approaches to mapping and analyzing stakeholder relations. Refer also the the Stakeholder Relations page in Additional Resources.

Example of the stakeholder “triad” exercise in which stakeholder groups map lines of affinity (green) and conflict (red) between 3 different stakeholder groups.

#2: Multi-Level Perspective Mapping

Assigned 3.4.20 | Medium post due 4.1.20

In Assignment #2, teams will use a project canvas to map the socio-technical transition within which their wicked problem arose . Teams will conduct desktop research to understand the anatomy and dynamics that form the large, historical context for the wicked problem (spatio-temporal context). Teams will begin brainstorming with post-its (as with assignments 1a and 1b) but will later translate the ideas in higher fidelity onto the canvas or recreate it as a digital file. Please refer to the guidelines for post-it notes on the About the Assignments page. This assignment will be due as a Medium post 4.1.20. High quality visuals of the process as well as the final MLP should supplement the final Medium post. NOTE: The MLP Mapping Project Canvas can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.

Becoming familiar with the MLP: to begin, the group should refer to the Geels article (2005) that documents the historical socio-technical transition from horse-drawn carriage to automobile (see diagram below). The MLP distinguishes between three systems levels; The Landscape (large and slow moving social/economic/political/ cultural/environmental events); The Regime (networks, groups and institutions and/or infrastructure that can become ‘entrenched’); and The Niche (small, informal ‘protected’ spaces where innovations can be developed, risks taken and norms challenged). Socio-technical systems have similar anatomy and dynamics as wicked problems, that include: beliefs and norms, designed artifacts & communications, large infrastructural systems and all manner of practices and behaviors. Donella Meadows’ article “Places to intervene in a System” can be a useful guide for thinking about which factors are likely to trigger the most significant systems-level change. An initial discussion is a good way for the group to ‘play’ with the MLP and practice thinking between systems levels to see their interconnections and non-linear dynamics.

Situating the wicked problem within the MLP: Using the Geels diagram as a guide, develop a visual map that situates the wicked problem within a socio-technical (MLP) context. Begin by working with post-its on the MLP project canvas to map answers to questions such as: What are historic factors at the different levels of scale that gave rise to the problem? What innovations at the niche level ‘bubbled’ up to the Regime and contributed to it? How did historical attitudes/values and cultural norms contribute to or exacerbate the problem? Were there currents that might have addressed the problem but that were too weak to ‘take hold’? How and when did the Regime begin to get ‘stuck’ with respect to the problem? What were early warning signs?

In the present or near past, what are factors that exacerbate it or keep it from being resolved? What are the factors at the regime level that might be barriers to solutions proposed at the niche level? In what ways has the regime become ‘stuck’ or ‘entrenched’? What are the barriers to new ‘transition pathways’? Note that the Geels diagram maps an historical transition in hindsight. Assignment 2 challenges students to understand the historic origins of the problem up to the present in order to propose strategic interventions aimed at transitioning the entire system toward a more sustainable future. For example: the wicked problem of Ojai’s water shortage is connected to climate change, a condition that exists at the landscape level. The problem also exists at the regime level in a number of ways including ‘entrenched’ cultural norms/practices/behaviors (attitudes about water use, hygiene, aesthetics connected to gardens etc.) and an inefficient and outdated water infrastructure (that results in loss of fresh water and inefficient irrigation and purification technologies).

Recent extreme events related to climate change at the landscape level (The 2017/18 Thomas fire, the Montecito mudslide etc.) opened up possibilities at the niche level for new initiatives such as Transition Design to be incubated in the hope of disturbing/destabilizing entrenched and unsustainable systems at the regime level. Other niche experiments include initiatives (interventions) such as new technologies aimed at water purification and a new openness to legislation taxing water use). We say ‘opened opportunities’ because Ojai’s invitation to Transition Designers or new water saving technologies did not/could not gain traction until climate change led to the critical lack of water that could not be solved within the existing regime structure.

Each team should attempt to map the various technologies, infrastructural systems, businesses, practices and services and ‘norms’ that are connected to the wicked problem from a socio-technical point of view. Ask where and how large systems are stuck and where attitudes, mindsets, values (landscape) contribute to the problem as well as practices and behaviors (regime). Pay particular attention to where barriers lie or where what the socio-technical researchers refer to as ‘path dependence’ may exist, because these are often points of opportunity for seeding systems-level change. Also, identify projects/initiatives or small movements that could represent Niche level changes with the potential to bubble up and disturb or fracture the Regime in ways that could help resolve the problem. Identifying these early signs can inform Assignment #4 in which teams will be asked to design ‘ecologies’ of systems interventions that help shift the transition toward a desired future.

Identifying points for systems interventions: Once the team has developed a good visual overview of the problem on the project canvas with post-its (resembling the Geels diagram), begin to identify ‘leverage points’ within the system where proposed solutions would have the greatest potential for change — solving for the problem (we say solving for the problem because their is no single solution that will solve it). It might be easiest to begin at the level of the niche. What new projects or solutions could be proposed, protected and developed at the regime level? Do they address stakeholder concerns/hopes? What is occurring at the landscape and regime level that would enable or prohibit these proposed solutions? Is it possible to introduce interventions at all three levels simultaneously that reinforce each other (feedback) to impact the problem more significantly? What are existing projects, solutions, policies, norms etc. that can be leveraged for greater impact? (sometimes projects that may seem unrelated, when linked, can become powerful collective leverage points for change). Within this context, ‘leverage’ might mean connecting new and existing solutions, amplifying some, or in other cases, ‘dampening’ or eliminating them altogether. Remember Meadows’ concept of positive and negative feedback loops and the ways in which they can drive change within a system.

At this stage, simply discuss what ‘types’ of projects might help address the problem and note them on the diagram as well as existing projects and initiatives related to the problem. Existing and potential solutions will likely exist at all three levels within the socio-technical system and will involve action in many areas (economic, technological, political, infrastructural and social; i.e. changing mindsets, cultural norms and everyday practices). Once existing and proposed solutions are indicated on the diagram, the group should discuss which of these have the potential to trigger the greatest degree of change in the system and how they might be connected for greater leverage. For instance, conceiving a new policy aimed at water conservation could be reinforced by projects aimed at educating citizens about water use and providing them with information and initiatives that encourage them to change their mindsets about water use and support behaviors aimed at conserving water. Try to identify as many intervention points as possible in the system and identify what type of solution would best be situated there. The speculation on where intervention points for change are and what form the interventions will take is preparation for Assignment #4, Designing Interventions. Both the Wicked Problem Mapping and Multi-Level Perspective Mapping inform the last assignment.

How transition design resembles acupuncture: Conceiving solutions within large socio-technical systems can be likened to the work of an acupuncturist who first examines the human body in order to understand where the dissonance/disease lies, and then strategically places needles along certain meridians to ‘nudge’ the system back into health. The acupuncturist’s understanding the of whole system and its interconnections and energy dynamics (the meridians) enables him/her to place the needles for the greatest impact.

The final MLP canvas: The final result of this assignment should be a project canvas that resembles the Geels diagram but that has a past, present and (optional) near future in which possible points of intervention have been identified and high-level concepts for interventions discussed. The objective of this assignment is to provide teams with a deep understanding of the large context within which their wicked problem arose and the ability to ‘read’ systems dynamics in order to seed and catalyze change within a system.

Documenting the process: an important part of a transition designer’s role is to develop effective ways of visualizing the complexity of wicked problems and their spatio-temporal contexts. These visualizations can serve to both coordinate action and guide strategy. Teams should document each phase of their process, most of which should be undertaken together in order to develop a ‘transition narrative’ about their problem—this can only happen in discussion in which multiple perspectives and research conducted individually is brought together. As with previous assignments, teams can complete the work on the analog project canvas or re-create it as a digital file for their final submission. The final MLP map and Medium post should show/address: 1) historical contributing factor to the wicked problem at all three levels;  2) proposed sites and concepts for intervention;  3) description of the process;  4) brief discussion on the difficulties, insights gained and how this compares with traditional design process. As with the previous assignments, teams should document the process photographically in hi-resolution and submit via a medium post. Check to ensure that ALL details/text on your MLP is legible in the medium post. Submit a hi-resolution photo of your MLP to the TA.

An important note: In actual practice, Transition Design will be slow, patient work that requires careful observation followed by a period of waiting and observation after an intervention is undertaken. For this reason, Transition Design projects will likely span many years or even decades. This assignment introduces a process and it will not be possible to do more than speculate on the questions posed. The Transition Design process would always be informed by extensive research.

Assigned 3.4.2020

Using the MLP to Map a Historic Transition from Horse-Drawn Carriage to Automobile

#3: Causal Layered Analysis

Assigned 4.6.2020 | Medium post due 4.19.20

In Assignment #3, teams will use the Causal Layered Analysis tool and project canvas to:  1) Deconstruct the problem in the present by identifying roots/causes at the four different levels of the CLA;  2) develop a long-term future vision (think in terms of 50-75 years in the future) using the same 4 levels, in which the problem has not been solved;  3) develop a long-term future vision (using the four levels) in which the problem has been solved.

CLA will challenge groups to ‘deconstruct’ their problem to look both at the way in which the problem is viewed/accepted in mainstream society as well as the deeper, less understood (or even hidden) roots of the problem. This deconstruction process becomes the basis for future visioning. The bottom layers in particular (Worldview/Discourse and Myth/Metaphor) are key to the Transition Design approach and the readings provide valuable background in understanding these layers and even more importantly–representing them as distinct, yet related/complementary aspects of the wicked problem.

The Causal Layered Analysis project canvas has been divided into 2 sections: The Present and The Future. The Future has been sub-dived into Future 1 and Future 2. Future 1 looks at a long-term future in which the problem has been resolved and Future 2 a future in which it has been solved.

Begin with a discussion

Begin with a group discussion about the exercise and discuss each of the layers and how they are different, yet related. In particular discuss ways in which ideas can/should be represented at each level. Should the language change (for instance Inayatullah recommends framing the problem at The Litany level as if it were a headline in the mainstream news. This implies a certain visual/verbal form and relative brevity. In contrast, how would the language and (perhaps) visual form change when representing systemic causes vs. the archetypal level of Myth/Metaphor? Should the progression from upper layers to lower levels also be a transition from words to images? We would like each team to have a point of view about this and also ask whether moving from the upper to lower levels is a move from addressing/describing the problem specifically to more general/broad/all encompassing description of causes that underpin it or to which it is related.

NOTE: one criticism we have of examples of the CLA used in workshops is that they do not always reflect a deep understanding of Worldview/Discourse and Myth/Metaphor and the representations are not as clear and meaningful as they could be. Since worldview was addressed in the Mindset and Posture section and the readings for this class address myth and metaphor, we hope that teams will be able to achieve a more meaningful and clear distinction in the articulation of the different layers.

Brainstorm ideas for each level in the present

After the discussion, the group should begin to brainstorm ideas at each level, beginning with The Litany. Use 3″ x 3″ post-its and remember–one idea per post-it. Do this for each level, then begin a clustering/editing exercise with the best 5-6 post-its positioned at each level. Think of these post-its collectively as “facets” of problem, represented in the appropriate “language” for that layer (at the lower levels it might include visual/verbal representations).

Repeating the exercise for an undesirable vs. preferred future

Once teams have completed the exercise in the present, have a discussion about the current ‘trajectory’ (systems transition) if it is left unresolved. This would be the undesired future. If we had longer for the exercise, multiple futures would ideally be explored and represented (such as status-quo, disciplined, etc.). Due to our limited timeframe, we would like teams to articulate a negative transition (with the problem unresolved/worsening) and contrast that with the desired future. In the Futures columns there is room for up to 8, 3″ x 3″ post-its (2 rows of 4) that can represent facets of the future vision.

Documenting discussions

Remember that the Project Canvas can be re-created in digital form or simply photographed in high-resolution for submission in the team’s Medium post. The final assignment should be part of a narrative post that describes the discussions, challenges, and provide background detail for the canvas. For this reason we suggest photographing the process the group engages in and taking notes that can inform the final post.

#4: Designing Systems Interventions

Assigned 4.20.2020 | Medium Post due 5.1.2020

In this three-part exercise teams will: 1) develop a brief description of their vision of the long-term future in which the problem has been resolved; 2) backcast from the vision to the present to create a transition pathway and articulate 3-5 ‘milestone’ events or changes that would need to occur in order to move from the present to the desired futures; 3) in the bottom half of the canvas, develop a concept for an “ecology” of interventions that address the wicked problem as it exists in the present. The interventions should be connected to each other, and the long-term future vision to become a tangible “step” toward the first milestone on the pathway toward the desired future. At least one of the three interventions, should be an existing, one-off project that, if enhanced by Transition Design principles, could become part of a systems-intervention. At least two of the interventions should exist at different levels of scale.

1. Developing a description of the long-term vision

Teams should refer back to Assignment #3: Causal Layered Analysis and the visions developed for the the preferred future at the four levels (The Litany; Systemic Causes; Worldview/Discourse; Myth/Metaphor). From these different ‘facets’, develop a brief, clear narrative statement about the preferred, long-term vision. A space has been provided on the project canvas for this statement. Be sure that the description touches on the deeper parts of the vision; worldviews, myths, metaphors. We suggest working on several drafts of the statement. The team may want to develop a Google Doc so that the entire team can review/edit/improve it. Making it short, concise and meaningful will be challenging; Mark Twain famously said “I didn’t have time to be brief…”

2. Backcasting from the future to the present to create a transition pathway

Backcasting from the vision to the present creates a transition pathway along which milestones and systems interventions act as ‘steps’ toward the desired future. First discuss what major milestones (events, objectives, events, changes in values/norms/beliefs etc.) would lead from the future vision back to the present. Develop 3-5 milestones in chronological order from the future to the near-present. Remember: milestones are not proposed solutions, rather indications of changes that need to happen in order to get to the desired future. After brainstorming, select/rewrite the best 3-5 on 3″ x 3″ post-its and place along the transition pathway at the top of the project canvas.

3. Designing ‘ecologies’ of systems interventions

Once the vision has been articulated and milestones developed along the transition pathway to the future, the team should begin to brainstorm concepts for three interconnected systems interventions. (we refer to ‘interventions’ instead of ‘solutions’ to reinforce the understanding that no single, one-off solution will resolve a wicked problem or transition a complex system toward sustainable futures. Ecologies of interventions that are connected to each other and the long-term vision and near-term milestones have the potential to destabilize ‘stuck’ infrastructure and established ways of thinking/acting at the Regime level, which opens up new opportunities at the Niche level, challenging the status quo.

At least one of the interventions in the ‘ecology’ should be based upon an existing project or initiative that has the potential to be transformed through the integration of Transition Design principles. Amplifying/scaffolding/retrofitting existing projects and initiatives is a key Transition Design strategy. One or two of the 3 intervention concepts should be new/original.

At least 2 (if not all 3) interventions should be situated at different levels of scale: teams can choose to use either the MLP framework (landscape/regime/niche) or  Domains of Everyday Life (household/neighborhood/city/region/planet). If you work with the Domains model, since the wicked problem has been defined at the level of the City, you will likely work at that level and perhaps the neighborhood or household, but it is also possible to conceive of an intervention at the regional/global level that has the potential to address problems at the level of a city.

In the 3 large circles on the project canvas, visualize each concept and use the dotted lines beside it to add a verbal description. Make sure to articulate how the interventions are connected to each other, the long-term vision and the nearest milestone. Refer to the key questions at the bottom of the canvas to help guide concept exploration and visual/verbal narratives.

Questions that should inform the development of an ecology of systems interventions

  • At what level of scale will the intervention be situated?
  • How does this project connect with and amplify the others?
  • How does the intervention connect to both the long-term vision and the near-term milestones?
  • Does it represent changes in material (artifacts/processes/technology/policy, etc.) or non-material factors (attitudes/beliefs/values/cultural, social, disciplinary norms) in the wicked problem?
  • Has the intervention been conceived with Max-Neef’s theory of needs in mind? If so, what needs does it satisfy? Are they synergistic satisfiers?
  • Is the intervention ‘synergistic’; meaning does it solve for more than one issue at a time?
  • What are the main barriers to the implementation of the intervention(s)?
  • How long could/should the intervention last? What is its lifespan?