Lecture – 1.13.2020

Course Introduction

Gideon Kossoff, Terry Irwin & Marysol Ortega Pallanez

Fundamental change at every level of our society is needed to address the issues confronting us in the 21st century. Transition Design is a new area of design practice, research and study that advocates design-led societal transition toward more sustainable futures. (By design-led we mean that people from all walks of life, including professional designers, can use the tools and approaches of design to intentionally seed, catalyze and direct positive societal change at multiple levels of scale). Transition Design proposes the re-conception of entire lifestyles, integrates new knowledge from many different fields and disciplines to inform new approaches to understanding complex problems and designing for their solution using new skillsets. The lecture will also provide an overview of Transition Design and its origins: (Great Transition Initiative, Transition Network, Socio-Technical Transition Theory, Commons Transition etc.), and the implications for design and designers.

Selecting a Wicked Problem as the Basis for Course Assignments: We have assigned each of you to a project team that you will remain in for the duration of the semester when working on the projects. In the first class the teams will meet and select a Pittsburgh-based wicked problem from a list we will provide. This problem will be the focus for the 4 assignments during the semester. Teams should begin conducting research on their topic immediately and will continue to add to this knowledge over the course of the semester. We recommend using a collaborative platform such as Evernote that enables archiving in multiple formats and shared among team members. We use OneNote as well, although Evernote seems to work better for aggregating multiple files, OneNote provides more flexibility in formatting and filing in nested folders.

See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings. We also recommend reading the About the Assignments page which will guide team’s thinking and research in order to be prepared for assignments 1-2 next week.

Steffen W. et al. The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration. The Anthropocene Review. 16 January 2015.

Discussion Prompts

  • What is likely to happen if our societies do not intentionally transition toward sustainable futures?
  • In what ways is the discipline of design (and designers) suited to contribute to seeding and catalyzing societal transition and systems-level change?
  • Why does Transition Design argue that a new area of design focus is needed?
  • What is meant by the argument ‘fundamental change at every level of our society is needed to address the issues confronting us in the 21st century’?
  • Why are the challenges of societal transitions and systems-level change inherently transdisciplinary?

Read Prior to Class

  • Escobar, Arturo. 2018. Design for Transitions. In Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdepedence, Autonomy and the Making of Worlds. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, pp. 137-164*

Supplemental Readings

  • Orr, David W. 1994. Designing Minds. In Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect. Washington D.C.: Island Press. pp 104–111*
  • Escobar, Arturo. Transiciones. Unpublished article. pp 1–11*

Transition Design brings together two global memes: first the idea that entire societies must transition toward more sustainable futures and second, that this will require intentional, systems-level change

Lecture – 1.15.2020

Applied Transition Design: Case Study in Ojai, California

Terry Irwin

The emerging Transition Design approach can be applied to framing and addressing complex, wicked problems and seeding and catalyzing systems-level change and societal transitions toward more sustainable futures. Solving wicked problems is a key strategy in intentionally shifting the trajectories of our societies (which are continually transitioning). Transition Design researchers and designers have been working with the city of Ojai, California to transition the community toward long-term climate resilience (in particular to address their drought and vulnerability to wildfires and mudslides).

In this class, instructors and students will discuss the tools and approaches that are emerging from this engagement and debate whether Transition Design can serve as a framework for the long process of transitioning toward climate resiliency (decades or longer), and also discuss the challenges that are unique to Ojai’s situation. Transition Design aspires to take the tools and learning from specific engagements and ‘scale’ and reinterpret them for use in other contexts.

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

Discussion Prompts

  • Why is a new framework and approach necessary for working on problems/challenges such as transitioning an entire community toward climate resilience?
  • In what ways can stakeholder relations be a barrier to wicked problem resolution? How can they be a boon?
  • How can continuity be maintained both in a high-level transition vision/plan and at the level of individual projects (interventions) over many years or even decades?
  • What role is design uniquely suited to play in a project like this? What is it not well suited for? What are other key disciplines or roles that would be necessary in addressing problems like this one?
  • What do you anticipate the role of research would be in addressing the long-term challenge of community climate resilience?

Read Prior to Class

  • Read the Assignments Section of the website which contains an overview and detailed instructions for the 4 assignments (5 web pages)

Supplemental Readings

Lecture – 1.22.2020

Applied Transition Design

Marysol Ortega Pallanez

In this class, we will discuss how existing projects and initiatives (both old and new) have characteristics of Transition Design such as: 1) aspirations to shift the trajectory of an entire system toward a sustainable future;  2) unfold over long arcs of time (years or even decades);  3) address complex problems with multiple stakeholder groups with conflicting agendas;  4) leverage the power of living systems and/or indigenous, place-based wisdom as strategies for transition. We also critique these same projects to ask whether integrating principles from Transition Design could potentially make them more sustainable, catalyze more rapid transitions, help to resolve stakeholder conflict etc. Looking for ways to amplify successful projects and connect them for greater leverage within systems that must transition is an important Transition Design strategy.

Discussion Prompts

  • What constitutes a “system”? How do we define or decide where to draw the boundaries around it? How do systems relate at different levels of scale or across time?
  • What is a “long arc of time”? What is considered “long” within the context of a certain problem? Is the arc of estimated time for a project constantly changing as we learn from the interventions made? Is there a minimum amount of time it takes for a system to transition?
  • What is the criteria for evaluating a transition? Can criteria be based upon qualitative judgements (much as a doctor evaluates the health of a patient)? If so, who gets to make the evaluation? Is it determined in a co-design/collaborative process?
  • What makes knowledge indigenous? Does it have to do with time? With a “people” continually inhabiting a place for generations, or are there other criteria for indigeneity?
  • Is stakeholder conflict something to be resolved? Can it ever be resolved? Or, is disagreement always coming/going/changing like the weather? What does it mean to convene on behalf of creativity, rather than consensus?
  • What are key existing ‘ingredients’ to look for that might turn a ‘one-off’ project into a Transition Design project?
  • Is it possible to link existing projects situated in different sectors and at different levels of scale together as a strategy for systems change? If so, what are the barriers and obstacles to be overcome? What key principles would need to be employed to create these connections?
  • How might the linking together of existing projects spark ideas for new projects and why?

Read Prior to Class

Instead of readings for the class on 1.22.20 each student should find an example of an existing, one-off project or initiative they feel has unrealized potential to ignite systems-level change. They should bring an overview/print-out of it to class: this could be a print-out of the webpage or you could create a flyer that has a photo and a brief description of the project, its attributes, goals/achievements and challenges. After the lecture, students will put their projects on the wall and will then be challenged to create ‘ecologies’ of existing solutions that, if connected and refined (by integrating Transition Design principles) would have greater potential to address a complex systems/wicked problem and bring about systems-level change.