This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 3 of 3

The previous blog post continued the discussion on design thinking and Collective Impact making the argument that design thinking should be integrated with systems thinking (as well as artistic thinking) to have the greatest impact on addressing the complex, wicked challenges facing communities.

The idea of combining design thinking and systems thinking has been around for some time with Innovation as a learning process: Embedded Design Thinking by Sara L. Beckman and Michael Barry from 2007 or Systems & Design Thinking: A Conceptual Framework for Their Integration by John Pourdehnad, Erica R. Wexler, and Dennis V. Wilson from 2011.

Part of the problem is agreeing on what they are separate so as to enable agreement on what they are combined. Practitioners are fairly comfortable with some ambiguity in their own field but misconceptions about the other could make cooperation difficult. The supposed Lessons Learned — Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform the Future of Design Thinking, from June of 2009, by Fred Collopy would seem to give neither side much hope since design thinking still seems in the same boat as systems thinking.  What Collopy doesn’t seem to have considered is that each could learn from each other, particularly if they were used to target the same challenges addressed under Collective Impact. 

The first step is to determine What is Design Thinking, Really?, from back in July of 2010 in which Venessa Miemis cites the term design thinking as referring to a set of principles, from mindset to process, that can be applied to solve complex problems, coined by IDEO’s David Kelley. 

She goes on to review Change by Design, by IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown, getting to the meat and potatoes of addressing Collective Impact concerns with chapters titled ‘The New Social Contract,’ ‘Design Activism,’ and ‘Designing Tomorrow – Today’, framing the opening pages of the book:

What we need are new choices – new products that balance the needs of individuals and of society as a whole; new ideas that tackle the global challenges of health, poverty, and education; new strategies that results in differences that matter and a sense of purpose that engages everyone affected by them.

The perspective had of systems thinking is important in this partnership. Some seem to wrongly assume that systems thinking only addresses well understood problems, with one best answer to that problem and the path to finding that answer being linear. Others believe that systems thinking involves making changes to a system that will lead to the elimination of a problem identified within one of the system components. Russell L. Ackoff though admonished us to Never improve a part of the system unless it also improves the whole. The fact that these errors or disagreements over definition are not only limited to those on the design thinking side of the issue complicates things.

Systems Thinking and Design Thinking from Triarchy Press correctly defines a systems thinking approach (in contrast to taking a reductionistic approach to complex systems like a business, separating it out into component parts and trying to manage each part as well as possible) as looking at relationships (rather than unrelated objects), connectedness, process (rather than structure), the whole (rather than just its parts), the patterns (rather than the contents) of a system, and context. While its definition of design thinking as using the definitions and assumptions of systems thinking and focuses on applying them to innovative processes for problem-solving and decision-making is arguably too restrictive.

Design thinking is about empathy and systems thinkers are the better for it makes the argument that “The combination of design and systems thinking can deliver a truly holistic understanding of a current system, generate ideas that will transform the system while yet continue to maintain a whole systems view to ensure the new system is sustainable.” This is not merely a touchy-feely appeal and this blog is not backing away from the need for the proper type of business discipline in the public sector. Empathy according to MixMashups' Gary Hamel drives innovation

In more recent articles, arguments have been made for design thinking to take lessons from systems thinking. In a Fast Company article of May of this year, Why Designers Must Put Invention First, Paddy Harrington quotes Charles Eames who said, "Eventually everything connects—people, ideas, objects, etc....the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se." The Eames office had a diagram of three overlapping circles representing the interests of the design office, the interests of the client and the interests of society as a whole, that explained their approach to their practice. Their work, the Eames said, was at the intersection of the three. The Eames talent, however, provided them the luxury of choice. 

Realistically, one won’t have the luxury of choosing clients if pursuing social change through design thinking and Collective Impact. How then Paddy Harrington asks can one, “...(establish a purpose that drives our practice more deeply and lets us work with more self-determination?” His answer is that Eames' approach is still the best guide for staying on course: first, connect everything in order to understand relationships, influences, and possibilities. In Richard Saul Wurman’s view, ”...[Eames] was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work."

Harrington further addresses embracing complexity and uncertainty citing Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, who wrote:

"Categorizing always produces reduction in true complexity…Any reduction of the world around us can have explosive consequences since it rules out some sources of uncertainty; it drives us to a misunderstanding of the fabric of the world."

In response, Paddy Harington advises that “Rather than simplify a complex situation, we must start with a certain kind of fearlessness in the face of the unknown and establish tools to help us find answers in the absence of tangible information. And once we embrace that unknown, it’s the methodical application of those tools toward solutions that point us in a better direction.” This is a perspective that NCP can agree with, seeing Complexity as Cradle for Creativity and Innovation in moving from incoherent complexity to coherent complexity.

In the Fast Company article, Why "Design For Development" Is Failing On Its Promise, also from May of this year, Panthea Lee writes about noticing her colleagues wrestling a growing nervousness about how much design can create positive change and with the ways that, "design for development" is falling short of its promises.

She cites possible market-based reasons for this. In functioning markets, the user or customer is made powerful because of control of the money to spend. The users of a development program have no money so are often marginalized and powerless with no voice to compel governments to listen to them. Commercial projects have a clear idea of their user or customer and clear measures of success. Public sector design projects have no set "bottom line.” How does one then define the metrics for "improved governance"?  She recognizes at the same time that democracy requires people driving for themselves and that it is not simply a matter of having an easy answer or to "know the right solution. ” This means moving beyond defined terms of "evidence-based design decisions" and the desire to "drive positive change" so as to create a shift in what the work is serving.’’ She goes on to argue that, “(T)he world’s most intractable problems are deeply rooted in massive systems, while design is a discipline focused on the edges”

Traditional design focuses on creating and improving society’s outputs and interactions, such as a sleeker mobile phone or a more efficient way to buy
coffee. When these skills are translated over to the public sphere, design 
still tends to focus on outputs instead of the real systemic problems.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review makes the argument that design thinking applied to Collective Impact is capable of Turning Empathy into Action and lists the positive contributing attributes of each. 
It is this blog’s position that to be capable of, for example Solving Democracy’s Design Problem and moving from actual systems in the world such as Public Participation Designed for Entrenched Incumbents (Stafford Beer’s POSIWID) to more idealized, yet viable visions of Designing Public Participation Processes Map will require systems thinking as scaffolding for such a large, collaborative and scalable undertaking.

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