Relating Systems Thinking and Design 4: At the Frontiers of Systemic Design (September 2015, Banff Alberta Canada)

Dates: 1-3 September 2015
Location: Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada
Deadline for submission of abstracts: UPDATED 15 March 2015

For 3 years the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) symposium has convened scholars, design researchers, and serious practitioners to articulate and demonstrate the shared value of a transdisciplinary field with applications across all complex systems and services.  We invite participation for RSD4 from all those working at the frontiers of systemic design – those leading real projects informed by systemic and complexity theories, and those researching systemic behaviours within real-world complexity, services and systems.

For over 70 years both systems and design fields have developed largely outside the academy, but also largely separated, with too few notable thinkers discovering the implicate connections. Design has been largely biased by a practical materialism and driven by theories of use and human-centredness. Systems theory has been biased by its abstract nature, and lack of attention to designerly ordering and practicality.

At the frontiers we are searching for those stories and experiments into new territory, stories of survival and sustainment, narratives of complexity unfolding into new terrains of application or discourse. We seek abstracts for presentations on real world projects that have led design into new fields, frontier domains, and both small steps or quantum leaps. These cases could demonstrate how systemic design has contributed to a case, how it adapts to the unique situation or how a case has employed systemic approaches.

At the frontiers we do not expect many success stories, as these are too often premature or are lacking the scale addressed at the system boundaries. We are perhaps seeking hopeful research from the arenas and agoras of real practice, as well as “beautiful failures” that help us learn to better navigate the frontier. Rigorous analyses and histories of failures of expanded design projects are of interest, given the fact that the failures most often seem to come from the misreading of boundary conditions, values and power, and entrenched domains, cultures or technologies unfamiliar to the system designer.

The expansion of design requires intensive learning processes and real time adjustment and application of methods and approaches.  The frontier requires not only cases, but trued methods, well-researched theories, and artful fusions of design practice and system science. RSD4 calls for a focus on real experiences and cases but also asks for contributions on theoretical and methodological analyses and discussions drawn from action research and personal experiences (phronesis).

Three types of contributions are suggested:

  1. Case studies of design-led projects involving clear systemic impacts and principles
  2. Research supporting systemic design applications and validating theoretical claims
  3. Workshops for collaborative discourse or sharing new methods and practices

Instructions for Submission

We invite you to submit an abstract of no more than 1000 words. Please clearly mark your submission as either a Paper or Workshop before the first sentence of the abstract. For workshop proposals, please select and clearly mark the category of workshop: Methodology (systemic design methods, practices, processes, or skill-building); Challenge (a real world challenge for participants to explore with systemic design during the symposium); or Theory (a theoretical discourse on an open question in systemic design research). Accepted paper abstracts will be invited to submit a presentation and working paper to the symposium. Accepted workshops will be asked to prepare background reading and a schedule for a six hour workshop held over the first two afternoons of the symposium.

The process for publication of selected full papers in an international peer reviewed journal will be announced at a later date. A link to the Easychair submission page can be found at Abstracts and workshop proposals are due by 15th March, 2015.

About Fil Salustri
I'm a design methodologist and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Adjectives that describe me include: secular humanist, meritocrat, and long-winded. Some people call me a positivist too, as if that were a bad thing. Go figure. My real home page is

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