I have mentioned the notion of “Connected Hub” several times. This article aims to discuss this new idea. A Connected Hub is a special thematic space which connects other two or more thematic spaces together.

Yesterday I had a talk with a friend who is a Service Designer. We talked about various topics such as design thinking, service design, strategic thinking, system thinking, cross-boundary thinking, Activity Theory, the Theory-Practice gap, etc.

The conversation inspired me to connect Activity Theory and Service Design by creating a new thematic space called “Service Thinking”. I will use it as an example of a “Connected Hub”.

The Notion of “Connected Hub”

On Jan 1, 2022, I used the term “Connected Hub” for discussing the Hubhood meta-diagram and the Mandala Plus diagram.

The Hubhood meta-diagram

The Hubhood meta-diagram was formed by four thematic spaces and four connected hubs. The above picture highlights one connected hub.

The Mandala Plus diagram expands a thematic space into a Theme U diagram and uses a connected hub to connect two Theme U areas. See the above picture.

You can find more details about the Hubhood meta-diagram and the Mandala Plus diagram here.

The notion of “Connected Hub” is part of the practice of designing Mandala diagrams from the Hubhood meta-diagram. There are many ways to develop a Mandala diagram from the Hubhood meta-diagram. There are five challenges during the developing process:

  • Challenge 1: Identify Four Thematic Spaces for a Particular Task
  • Challenge 2: Arrange these Four Thematic Spaces with a particular logic
  • Challenge 3: Identify Four Connected Hubs between Four Thematic Spaces
  • Challenge 4: Identify a pair of themes for each connected hub
  • Challenge 5: Name the new Mandala diagram which is the final product

I don’t want to claim that these are four steps because the sequential order doesn’t matter. The value of the Hubhood meta-diagram is representing a holistic view of a particular thing. That’s the reason I named the final product Mandala diagram.

I share the process of developing the Shaman’s Mandala diagram with rich details. You can find it here.

Pairs of Themes

For developing Mandala diagrams, each connected hub can be described with a pair of themes which guide more deep discovery. For example, I discovered the following pairs of themes for four connected hubs of the Shaman’s Mandala:

  • Opportunity: Potential v.s. Potential
  • Situation: Control v.s. Support
  • Relevance: Self v.s. Other
  • Enterprise: Explore v.s. Exploit

The notion of “Pairs of Themes” also indicates the essential uniqueness of “Connected Hubs”: connection.

A pair of themes refers to two thematic spaces. A connected hub connects these two thematic spaces together.

Connecting Multiple Thematic Spaces

On Feb 5, 2022, I published Thematic Space: Some Sparks for the “Infoniche” thematic space and used three keywords to describe the “Infoniche” thematic space.

Though I have developed the Infoniche framework and applied to the Platform-for-Development framework , I use the “infoniche” thematic space to developing my tacit knowledge about a hub which connects the following three themes:

  • Information
  • Places
  • Actions

In other words, we can consider my “Infoniche” thematic space as a container for curating the above three concepts together. Or, we can use “ Connected hub” to define such kind of thematic spaces. I don’t want to coin too many new terms, however the notion of “Connected hub” has its useful values because it refers to typical structure of framework for writing a theoretical book. For example:

  • Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (Etienne Wenger, 1998)
  • Practice Theory, Work, & Organization (Davide Nicolini, 2012)
  • Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James’s Radical Empiricism (Harry Heft, 2001)

This is a simple heuristics of using three keywords to define a theme for your creative work. In this way, you can also use one thematic space to build a theoretical work and write a book.

Finally, we can make a working definition of “Connected Hub” for the Thematic Spaces project:

A Connected Hub is a special thematic space which connects other two or more thematic spaces together.

An advanced approach is that we can use a connected hub to connect two or more connected hubs together.

The Notion of “Service Thinking”

Yesterday I had a talk with a friend who is a Service Designer. We talked about various topics such as design thinking, service design, strategic thinking, system thinking, cross-boundary thinking, Activity Theory, the Theory-Practice gap, etc.

The conversation inspired me to connect Activity Theory and Service Design by creating a new thematic space called “Service Thinking”. I will use it as an example of a “Connected Hub”.

How to create a new thematic space such as “Service Thinking”? This morning I used the WXMY diagram to guide my thoughts. The WXMY diagram uses Container Z to connect Container X and Container Y. The Container Z is also named Echozone because I name the approach the ECHO Way for knowledge curation and boundary innovation.

The concept of Container is the core of the Ecological Practice approach. By adjusting the quality and quantity of the Container, we can create advanced frameworks for discussing complex phenomena. The quality of the Container can be potential and actual, the quantity of the Container can be one and two. If we develop a new framework with one potential container and two actual containers, the outcome is the above diagram.

I named the potential container (Container Z) as Echozone which refers to a creative space containing echoes between the Container X and the Container Y. The term “Echo” of “Echozone” refers to a dialogue between two containers.

Now let’s apply it to connect Theory and Service which is a Practice. For the Theory side, I consider Activity Theory and other theories. For the Practice side, I consider Service Design.

Then, we can roughly give a name to the third container. Let’s call it “Service Thinking”.

So far, the term “Service Thinking” is just a name and it points to a possible meaning. We don’t know the meaning of “Service Thinking”, but we know we can figure out its meaning later.

The above diagram sets a foundation for boundary innovation. A more concrete version is the WXMY diagram. WXMY stands for When X Meets Y. The WXMY diagram says nothing about practical issues, but pure abstract relations between two groups of entities. Container X means one group which contains entity X and its related entity X’. Y and its related entity Y’ form another group Container Y in the same way. When X meets Y, there is a new group called Container Z which emerges from the process of coupling, connecting, competing, cooperating and more interacting between X and Y.

The WXMY diagram is not a practical framework for directly solving a domain problem, but it can generate domain diagrams if you use it to visualize your ideas about a particular issue in a special context. By using the WXMY diagram, you can create your framework.

Now we can use the WXMY diagram to expand our original “Service Thinking” diagram. I’d like to emphasize this process is a highly personalized experience, at least for my “Service Thinking” case. My goal is not defining a new concept called “Service Thinking” for others. The “Service Thinking” thematic space is a connected hub which aims to connect Activity Theory and Service Design.

The above diagram represents the process of connection. My first spark is SET which stands for “Structured Engagement Theory”. To be honest, it is just a framework, not a theory. However, I want to keep the name “SET” because it points out the core of the framework. In order to keep the name “SET”, I have to keep the word “Theory”. Anyway, let’s call it SET or the SET framework.

In 2019, I started adopting some theories to reflect on my experience and thoughts about “Social (Digital) Design” which refers to digital products for interpersonal communications. Eventually, I developed the SET framework and used it for my own projects later.

The notion of “Developmental Service” is the newest idea. I just made it last night! It refers to a special type of service such as educational services, summer camps, adult life development programs, life discovery activities, etc. This notion refers to my own perspective of individual development. It also echoes the concept of “Developmental Platform” and the “Developmental Project Model”.

In 2021, I used the SET framework to study Digital Whiteboard Platforms in order to test my book Platform for Development. I recently used the SET framework to study an adult developmental program. This change encourages me to think about the connection between my theoretical frameworks and service design.

Finally, I found the notion of “Developmental Service Design” is a great connector.

Now, we see a set of ideas within the “Service Thinking” thematic space:

  • SET: Structured Engagement Theory
  • DS: Developmental Service
  • DSD: Developmental Service Design
  • SD: Service Design

This is version 1.0 of the meaning of the “Service Thinking” thematic space.

SET: Structured Engagement Theory

The SET Framework was originally named as the Ecological — Activity Hybrid Approach. It was developed during 2010 to 2020 when I worked on a project which is a new type of social action platform.

The vision behind the project is developing an action-centered social web. Unfortunately, the founder and CEO of the project decided to stop the project in June 2020 due to the financial resources and other personal issues. Beyond the practical level activity, I learned many new insights from the project.

  • First, I applied Activity Theory and other theories to reflect on the project in March 2020. I wrote a 108-page research report for the reflection and the outcome is a new model called “the Ecological — Activity Hybrid Approach”.
  • Second, I took one idea from the research report and further developed into a new framework called “Platform Container” which aims at discussing general platform design.
  • Third, I compared the “Platform Container” framework and “SET” (Social Engagement Theory) which was a framework I developed in 2019 for discussing social design at intersubjective level.
  • The outcome is the HERO U framework because I realized “Platform Container” and “SET” are located at different abstract levels. This insight inspired me to identify six types of “Objective of Knowing” between “Theory” and “Practice”.

So, the “SET (2019) — Platform Container (2020)” dialogue is the beginning of the Knowledge Curation project!

In 2020, I used “SET (2020)” and “Structured Engagement Theory” to name “the Ecological — Activity Hybrid Approach” and killed the SET (2019) which stands for Social Engagement Theory. These two frameworks are totally different things. Some ideas of SET (2019) are moved to the Infoniche Framework.

In fact, the Ecological — Activity Hybrid Approach is a dialogue between Activity Theory and Ecological Psychology.

I started learning Activity Theory, Ecological Psychology and other theories around 2015. Since then, I have often used some theoretical concepts such as Mediation from Activity Theory, Affordance from Ecological Psychology, etc for our product development discussions.

In fact, I had been thinking about the gap between Activity Theory and intersubjective social design for a while because I worked on a one-to-one video talk product during 2017 to 2018. I realized the Activity System model, which is a popular theoretical framework of Activity theory, is not an ideal framework for theorizing intersubjective social actions. In 2019, I developed the Ecological — Activity Hybrid Approach by adopting ideas from Activity Theory and Ecological Psychology.

In 2020, I expanded my views from the Activity System model to more theoretical resources. I found I can use other theoretical concepts of Activity Theory to replace my notion “Human as Mediation.” During the process, I read more papers about Activity Theory and CHAT in general. For example, I found Cole’s “Joint artifact mediated action” and Vygotsky’s ZPD are close to my notion “Human as Mediation.” By reading Cole’s book on cultural psychology, I found the connection between CHA and Ecological Psychology such as Roger Barker’s Behavior Settings.

I have read Behavior Settings for several years. Thus, I conceptualized the product as Double Environments. Primary environment is “Situational Environment” which is afforded by Host while secondary environment is “Social Environment” which is afforded by the platform and all users and activities. Eventually, I developed a general framework for social platform design.

In 2021, I applied the SET framework to study digital whiteboard platforms such as Miro and Milanote. I designed the above expanded diagram for my research. This expanded version has three types of environments:

  • Situational Environment: For example, a Miro board and related events.
  • Organizational Environment: For example, the team behind the Miro board.
  • Technological Environment: For example, Miro and other related digital platforms.

I also defined a working concept called “Creative Work Communication Activity (CWCA)” for my research about Miro and other digital whiteboard platforms. In general, Activity Theorists understand “Activity” as a relationship between the Subject (an actor) and the Object (an entity objectively existing in the world) with the mediation (psychological tools and material tools). For CWCA, the Subject is Team Members while the Object is Creative Solutions. People use various thinking tools such as diagrams, frameworks, models, etc for CWCA. Miro uses “Templates” as a general name for these knowledge artifacts. From the perspective of Activity Theory, I consider these “Templates” as Mediation.

If you want to find more details about the SET framework. You can DM me on Linkedin or Twitter.

DS: Developmental Service

As mentioned above, the notion of “Developmental Service” is a newest idea. I just made it last night! It refers to a special type of service such as educational services, summer camps, adult life development program, life discovery activities, etc. This notion refers to my own perspective of individual development.

It also echoes the concept of “Developmental Platform” and the “Developmental Project Model”.

Why do I need such concepts? Because they serve different purposes. “Developmental Platform” and the “Developmental Project Model” are theoretical frameworks.

The concept of “Developmental Service” is used to define a category of Service. In other words, it refers to a phenomenon.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Theoretical frameworks are Hammers while a phenomenon is a nail.

  • Developmental Service: a practice
  • Developmental Project Model: a theory

We can adopt many theoretical resources to research Developmental Service. I personally want to test the Project Engagement approach and its unique method: Cultural Projection Analysis.

Cultural Projection Analysis

Both the Project Engagement approach and the Cultural Projection Analysis method are part of my book Project-oriented Activity Theory. In fact, these two ideas are the outcome of a dialogue between Activity Theory and Ecological Psychology.

Projectivity is the core concept behind the Project Engagement approach and the Cultural Projection Analysis method. The Concept of “Projectivity” is inspired by Ecological Psychologist James J. Gibson’s Affordance Theory and Andy Blunden’s Project-oriented Activity Theory. The chart below presents three similar concepts: Affordance, Supportance and Projectivity. Both three concepts share the same deep structure: the Reciprocal Relationship between Environment and Organism. For the Platform-for-Development framework, we can consider Platform as Environment. For Project-oriented Activity Theory, we can consider Project as Environment.

What’s Projectivity? It refers to potential action opportunities of forming a project or participating in a project for people to actualize their development with others.

The concept of Projectivity connects Project, Projecting, Projection together and can be used to service the Platform-for-Development framework as a foundation for the module of Cultural Projection Analysis.

There are three types of projectivity. This typology is the basis of the Cultural Projection Analysis method.

  • Primary Projectivity
  • Secondary Projectivity
  • Tertiary Projectivity

First, there is a social/cultural environment which contains Events. By perceiving and knowing Events, people recognize the Primary Projectivity which is offered by the social/cultural environment and initiate a Project. For Primary Projectivity, its sense-maker is Events.

Once a project is initiated, it offers the Secondary Projectivity for other people to recognize the potential action opportunities of participating in the project. For the Second Projectivity, its sense-maker is the Identity of an established Project.

Third, the participants of a project could perceive and know the Tertiary Projectivity and initiate a new project which is inspired by the project. For the Tertiary Projectivity, its sense-maker is Themes and Identity of an established Project.

You can find more details from Activity U (X): Projecting, Projectivity, and Cultural Projection.

DSD: Developmental Service Design

Since Developmental Service is a special type of service, Developmental Service Design is part of Service Design too.

According to Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider who are the authors of This Is Service Design Thinking, “Service Design is an interdisciplinary approach that combines different methods and tools from various disciplines. It is a new way of thinking as opposed to a new stand-alone academic discipline. Service design is an evolving approach, this is particularly apparent in the fact that, as yet, there is no common definition or clearly articulated language of service design.”(2011, p.29)

In 2017, they published a new book titled This is Service Design Doing which is a practitioners’ handbook. They point out that “Service Design adopts the mindset and workflow of the Design Process, combining an active, iterative approach with a flexible and relatively light-weight set of tools borrowed from marketing, branding, user experience, and elsewhere. ”(2017, p.13)

The Service Design community shares a set of tools (such as Journey Mapping, Prototyping tools, Business Model Canvas, etc) with other communities such as Lean Startup community, Design Thinking community, etc.

Developmental Service Design could adopt the mindset and workflow of the Design Process and tools from the Service Design community, it also could expand its toolkits from Developmental Service Study.

This is the amazing engagement between Theory and Practice. Each dialogue always leads to a new creative space.

You are most welcome to connect via the following social platforms:

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/oliverding
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Oliver Ding
CALL4

Founder of CALL(Creative Action Learning Lab), information architect, knowledge curator.