Participatory Design for Systems Change

Are you interested in utilizing Design Thinking and other exploratory and participatory methods to promote Social Innovation for Systems Change? We sure are and we were happy to bring together about 60 others for the Participatory Design for Systems Change event on Thursday 15.2.2018 who are too. The goal was to learn together, have Open Space discussions on topics of interest to the participants and, hopefully, to come up with a few new ideas on what we might want to do next.

The event began with getting to know a few new people and once the participants had self-organized themselves into the seats, we had two short talks, the first one from Anu Paajanen and Mikael Seppälä on Participatory Design for Systems Change (click for slides).

Anu spoke about Participatory Design as means to involving anyone passionate about participating as a means of redistributing the power to create society from the elites and institutions to everyone. Rather than just focusing on user needs, Anu told us that the goal of participatory design is to design for the benefit of the whole system by understanding and affecting the different types of feedback loops that are in relation to each other.

Mikael continued on the topic of how we should organize ourselves to affect systems. The enthusiasm and advocacy that goes with the social activities towards Social Innovation should be balanced and extended by the understanding that Systems Change happens slowly because it requires a mobilization of the masses. The concept of Social Complexity implies that we should not only design services and products but distributed movements of action. “System change is less likely to occur because of the results of a few big ideas than by the accumulation of many little ones.”

Systems Change requires a balance of advocacy to create positive momentum and the wisdom to step back and understand that it is distributed movements, “systems-in-change” that will determine success.

Mikael presented the notion of the visionary Social Innovator Indy Johar who argues that the biggest revolution of the 21st century will not be our technology, but how we organize ourselves. Our current organizations are geared towards control and efficiency around what they do. We should rethink how we organize to also be part of technology-enabled networks of people who are capable of sensing and promoting regenerative, emergent systems-in-change.

Melanie Wendland of the Sonder Design collective spoke about The Transition Design Journey (click for slides) as looking even beyond Social Innovation and towards the systems that we wish to create. According to Melanie, collaboration at long timescales and multiple levels of society from projects to systems to cultures, are needed to foster the change required to tackle the wicked problems we face today.

Modeling the elements for structural social change from Melanie’s presentation.

Following the short talks, the floor was given to all the stars in the room, the participants, who engaged about 10 simultaneous Open Space talks such as:

- the need for visions for social innovation
- social innovation in education
- welfare that promotes wellness and is more fair
- creating sustainable societies
- funding efforts for social innovation in Finland
- how we as a community might support groups for social innovation
Getting together for the Open Space.

The event ended with a short presentation of the main findings of the discussions. An idea for the next event emerged during the event. As the City of Helsinki is putting effort in both Design and Participation, we might want to meet with them to discuss their thoughts and opportunities for furthering social innovation.

Walk the talk? This was the accidental ripple effect of a falling post-it during the presentations.

Thank you to Heli Parikka and Sitra for hosting our event this time and being an active proponent of desirable, democratic futures. A huge thank you to Melanie for your awesome talk, Anu for talking and taking the time to facilitate one of the best Open Space events I’ve ever been to, and of course all the participants! We hope to see the ripple effects of the Participatory Design for Systems Change event as the we start walking our talks. :)

Stay tuned and do join the discussion over at Social Innovation for Systems Change Finland!