Introducing the Systemic Design Toolkit at RSD7

Monday, November 12, 2018

Namahn participated in the RSD7 conference, taking place at the famous Lingotto Fiat factory in Turin, Italy. The conference started on October 23nd with a set of four parallel hands-on sessions, covering different topics in the systemic design domain. The Namahn team  (Kristel Van Ael, Stefanos Monastiridis and Sabrina Tarquini) held the “Core methods in Systemic Design practice” workshop, a one-day journey through different tools in the systemic design methodology. Goal of the session was exploring a selection of systemic design tools by applying them on a fictional case, dropouts in schools.

The workshop setting in the Lingotto Factory

After a short introduction on the methodology and its background, the workshop participants split into five teams, each tackling the challenge of dropouts in schools.
To get a preliminary understanding on the topic, the teams framed the issue with the Rich Context canvas.

First, they looked at the global trends which are influencing the context of the issue: unemployment, digitalization, multiculturality were just a few of the trends identified. Secondly, the teams looked at the current state of the system, describing practices, cultural norms, institutional structures affecting the issue. As a third step, they examined existing emerging practices or alternative ways of doing which could positively influence the context.

By studying the different practices affecting school dropouts, the participants could identify a set of stakeholders they would need to interview to get qualitative insights on the topic.

Mapping the current practices with the Rich Context tool

After the first exercise, the teams were given a set of cards with interview transcripts from the main actors in the system. These would be potential interviewees with different perspectives, like students with either positive or negative dropout experiences, parents in trouble with their situation at home, highly motivated teachers or teachers frustrated by stressful burdens.

The cards were used to work with the Actants tool, which is helpful to elaborate the field research by mapping the factors underlying people’s interactions. Each team selected two main actors and then used the tool to study their relationship. They would focus on parent-student, teacher-student, or teacher-parent relationships. Each team mapped the experiences over time of the two actors, analysing the factors that would improve or weaken their experience over time.

Drawing the different experience curves helped participants understand how the experiences have a positive or negative impact on each other.

The Actants tool

To formalize and deepen their learnings, the teams proceeded with the System Map tool. The template used in the workshop directly connects to the Actants tool and consists of two parts. First, the ideal relationship between the two actors is described in terms of an ideal exchange. For example, a teacher might provide tailored, individual guidance to a student who, in exchange, gives back commitment and respect.

As a second step, the teams would identify feedback loops from their previous learnings, to analyse how they could affect the ideal relationship. For example, the increasing peer-to-peer collaboration between teachers would have a positive impact on the personal support provided to the student.

The exercise completed the understanding phase with the identification of multiple leverage points, variables describing the “challenges” to tackle.

The workshop participants working on the System Map tool

Each team selected one leverage point to work with and transcribed it in the centre of the Intervention Strategy template. Goal of the tool is exploring different possible interventions on multiple levels, which could be, for example, changing specific norms or rules in the system, increasing capacity for specific actions, setting up or renewing digital/physical infrastructures, reinforcing positive feedback loops that have a positive impact on the challenge.

The brainstorming process ran smoothly in the teams, who generated plenty of ideas in the various areas of the canvas.

The Intervention Strategy tool

After a good brainstorming, it is always time to select the most promising ideas. That is why the participants gathered around the props of the Intervention Model tool. The tool consists of a set of cardboard connectors on which ideas can be transcribed and connected, so that it is easier to “see” how they can influence each other.

The best interventions were brought on the circular parts of the connectors, which were joined to evaluate how possible interventions – online info repositories, reduced number of students per teacher, different styles of assignments, focus groups, communities of teachers, education on parenting and so on – could reinforce other interventions and create positive loops.

Refining the ideas of the Intervention Model with the Paradox Cards

As a further step, the teams refined their ideas by using the Paradox cards. The cards stimulate paradoxical thinking, which helps to identify solutions for the whole by looking at opposite sides of a problem. Each group looked at the interventions in the model one by one and picked a paradox card that would be closely related. For example, the couple of extremes individual/group would be relevant for an online community: how can we make sure that a private space is given when providing activities for a group? By raising these types of questions, the ideas in the model were better specified, integrated and refined.

At the end of the session, the different teams presented their outcomes and provided feedback on the process. The toolkit was very well received by the groups, who also provided precious insights for further improvements.

In the late afternoon, participants from the different workshop sessions joined a plenary presentation moderated by Silvia Barbero, chair of the Systemic Design Association. The workshop tutors, including the Namahn team, presented the outcomes of the day.

Namahn presenting the workshop activities

During the last day of the conference, Kristel presented the Systemic Design Toolkit together with the partners Alex Ryan, Peter Jones and Philippe Vandenbroeck. The presentation was included in a plenary session with all the conference attendants.

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