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.