Design principles that inform systemic change

design principles for systemic change

“Always love declarations of principles,” professed Bruce Sterling in his 2013 SXSW talk. “It’s not that I obey them. I’m just glad to see them.”

If, like Bruce S. (and me), you love design principles, you’re in luck. They seem to be everywhere.

One reason, I think: When dominant institutions are inadequate to contemporary challenges — when things are stuck — design principles can inform practice, focusing attention on how to move forward, albeit without assurances that such incremental movements will add up to desired outcomes.

Some well-known principles are specified by context, like agile software development or adaptive ecosystem management.

I’m thinking here, though, about ones that are framed more broadly — ones that can be read as informing understandings and practices of systemic change.

At top are four sets I’ve found intriguing and insightful, along with one from a project I led at Ecotrust. Here is a larger version of the image.

A little background on each:

Clearly, these principles reflect differing vantage points: Weick is an organizational and management theorist, Kelly and Ito bring tech perspectives, Holmgren and Ecotrust environmental backgrounds. Nonetheless, I find there’s a certain complementarity among them — differing emphases, yet each informing the others.

To be sure, individual principles can be fairly cryptic, so getting a better grasp of them may require following the links, along with further reading.

I’m going to wrap here by re-linking to the worth-re-visiting 2013 talk by Bruce Sterling at SXSW, where Joi Ito’s principles were apparently on display in the Maker Tent.

This piece ~40:00:

Let me point out the difficulty with this approach — although I respect it very much, and I even understand it as a description of my own practice, something I’ve been doing for a long time. What’s the problem? The problem is that it intensifies the churn. It doesn’t cure it or stop it or help it. It’s creating part of the problem. A world in which everybody did that would be a hundred times more disturbed than it is right now.


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