Transition Design argues that the social, economic, political and technological systems upon which society depends must transition toward more sustainable futures. Seeding and catalzying change within complex systems will require a deep understanding of the nature of change itself—how it manifests and how it can be intentionally directed. Transition Design is centrally concerned with Theories of Change — how and why societal systems change or remain inert, and how such change manifests and can be catalyzed and directed towards desirable and sustainable futures. Theories of Change is a key area within the transition design framework for three important reasons 1) A theory of change is always present within a planned/designed course of action, whether it is explicitly acknowledged or not; 2) Transition to sustainable futures will require sweeping change at every level of our society; 3) Conventional, outmoded and seemingly intuitive ideas about change lie at the root of many wicked problems. Readings for this class include several theories of change from fields and disciplines outside design.
Transition Design proposes that in order for designers to act as agents for change, new approaches to design and problem solving must be based upon a deep understanding of the dynamics of change within complex social and natural systems. Because any planned course of action (design) is based upon an assumption about the correct approach for intervention, we are almost always basing our design upon assumptions and predicted outcomes. Often, these assumptions and predictions that form the basis of this action are unconscious or are not clearly articulated/considered because the nature of change itself has not been adequately understood by designers, nor has it been viewed as an important area for study and research.
The dominant, mechanistic paradigm views change as something that can be “managed” through centralized, top-down design processes that produce clear, predictable outcomes. This type of linear, cause-andeffect thinking has influenced the design and development of societal infrastructures and policies in the developed world and has contributed to many of the global wicked problems previously mentioned. However, a new transdisciplinary body of knowledge related to the dynamics of change within complex systems is emerging that challenges these assumptions and has the potential to inform new approaches to design and problem solving. Ideas and discoveries from a diversity of fields such as physics, biology, sociology, and organizational development have revealed that change within open, complex systems such as social organizations and ecosystems manifests in counterintuitive ways. And, although change within such systems can be catalyzed and even gently directed, it cannot be managed or controlled, nor can outcomes be accurately predicted. Theories of Change within the Transition Design framework are proposed as a continually co-evolving body of knowledge that challenges designers to become lifelong learners who look outside the disciplines of design for new knowledge. These new knowledge sets inform a Transition Design approach as opposed to a prescriptive, linear and templatized process. This seminar endeavors to teach these principles which can inform place-based/ situation-specific action connected to systems-level change.
See Additional Resources for this class before you begin the readings.