September 19 was the ninth meeting for Systems Thinking Ontario. The registration was at https://st-on-2013-09-19.eventbrite.com/ .

Theme: Systems Thinking and and Design Thinking: Problematization and Framing

This meeting is the first in the series of three based on "Systemic Design Principles for Complex Social Systems", Peter H. Jones, a chapter in Social Systems and Design, Gary Metcalf (editor), Volume 1 of the Translational Systems Science Series, Springer Verlag (2013). [published in 2014 by Springer] [preprint available on request from Peter Jones]

Suggested pre-reading:

From the list of 10 design principles, the first four are related to problematization and framing.

A core set of systemic design principles shared between design and systems disciplines is proposed. The following are based on meta-analysis of concepts selected from system sciences and design theory sources. Design principles were selected that afford significant power in both design and systems applications, and are sufficiently mature and supported by precedent to be adapted without risk.

While these principles may appear to assume universality across literatures, the intent is for applicability and adaptability of principles, not a fundamental baseline. (Jones, 2013).

Participants should not feel limited to this suggested pre-reading, but should recognize that other attendees may have not read, or are reading differently, that article.


Post-meeting artifacts, contribution by Melissa Daly-Buajitti

Problematizing and Framing

Systems design principles for social systems

  • Relationship btwn systemic principles in social systems and design methodology
  • Designing for wicked problems as a way of making sense of the best preferred actions in a problem situation that is not inherently analyzable
  • Changes in health care – multi-causal system
  • Ssbm - - making sense of business models w/in organizations
  • Systems thinkers to be understood by designers – social systems as a series of design artifacts
  • Relating different principles of design to a systems context

10 principals (first four)

  • Idealizations
  • Wickedness
  • Purpose
  • Boundary framing

General systems theory + design thinking principals – overlap

  • Methods (ways of knowing and doing) that come together under different theories

How can design benefit systems thinking?

  • Design thinking = popular/marketable
  • Systems thinking (David Ing): the study of parts and wholes contrasted w analysis – how parts fit together
  • Business model field lacking in sytems thinking vs. Sustainability field which depends heavily upon systems thinking (enviro, econ, social)
  • Human centredness, groups of people w particular interests or needs (stakeholders – bringing them together to discuss) {no longer entrepreneur as hero – entrepreneur as convener}, facilitating stakeholders – help them to have meaningful dialogue, iterative inquiry – reintegration, multiple design actions over time

Idealization – whenever you have a system of inquiry – one kind: seeking out an ideal solution/goal – you might not reach it but at least it’s the goal?

Wickedness – appreciating the complexity in a situation


Boundary framing – any system that you decide to explore has boundaries defined by you. (cognitive boundaries too)

Contextual engangement

Boundary Framing

  • Personal – biases – if we come into a meeting as systems thinking – trying to sell/share
  • Value system
  • Cultural/political

Framing – door frame/window/picture – the way youre viewing something (telescope)

  • What type of light – so many different filters
  • Glasses – size colour etc of lens
  • Stakeholders – who are you trying to make happy
  • Anecdote: substitute teacher – girl crumples paper, tosses to trash, it misses and sits there
  • Frame effects how you view something
  • Looking at limited set of resources

Language – how people express themselves

To what extent can we collaborate – how are we experiencing different things?

  • How many people are around this frame looking through this frame
  • Limited time for everybody looking through the frame
  • Time as the ultimate currency – moving target
  • By the time you define the frame, it has changed


  • Looking at a set of data w/in a frame? – how does boundary mean differently
  • Framing initial, boundary next
  • Framing initial statement of what you want to do
  • Where do we begin to find value in setting boundaries? – design committees suck

Wicked problems – theres no perfect solution – starting w a frame allows you to begin together

  • Wicked problems as evolutionary issues
  • W/in the context of boundaries –

When can groups be effective? – I want to be understood/validated/appreciated by you

  • Assertion of the self vs. experience of togetherness
  • Easier if focused on problem
    • How do we talk about what were talking about?

Vocabulary as a medium of mediation

How do I step forward if I don’t know where forward is?

Boundary vs. frame