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Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Designing for Emergence and Accountability
Greg Van Alstyne, sLab, OCAD University, Toronto @gregvan
Carl Skelton, Gotham Innovation Greenhouse, NYC
Sylvia Nan Cheng, Element AI, Toronto @sylvianancheng
RSD7 — Relating Systems Thinking & Design conference

Turin, Italy, 25 October 2018
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Motivation
To support design process for positive 

change-making, leading to flourishing,

How might we lead systemic design to more
self-awareness, accountability, maturity?
This paper calls for systemic design to 

acquire more psychology, sociology, ethics
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Why systemic design?
‘Systems thinking…might be
redesigned as a discipline’

–Jones, 2009 

‘Systemic design is not a
process, but a new space for
harnessing dynamic complexity
as a generator of innovation
and value creation.’
–Ryan, 2016 

Inspired by Buchanan, 1991. In Leurs & Roberts, 2018, Playbook for innovation learning, NESTA
Definitions
Harnessing dynamic complexity:
Designing for Emergence
Novel forms arise (morphogenesis)
through interaction of agents in a complex
system—physical, biological, economic,
social, hybrid. 

Such patterns puzzle us with properties
not present in the agents nor to analysis.

Van Alstyne & Logan, 2016

Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Definitions
Designing for Emergence
A framework for integrating systemic
design theory and practice; 

Guiding people in making things 

with communities making change; 

A human-centred, systems-savvy,
wholistic mindset and skillset. 

Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
‘For true creativity and innovation to

take place, we propose that design
must harness the process of
emergence; for it is only through this
bottom-up and massively iterative
unfolding process that…services are
successfully developed, introduced,
and diffused’ 

—Van Alstyne & Logan, 2007, Designing for
Emergence and Innovation: Redesigning Design. 

See also Van Alstyne & Logan, 2016
The challenge
Designing for Emergence leads us to
Drive toward goals 	 Foresee unintended consequences

Boost attraction 	 Discern interests 

Reduce friction	 Bring critique

Foster virtuous cycles 	 Stem vicious cycles

Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
The challenge
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its DiscontentsToxic algal bloom, Lake Erie, 2011. NASA Earth Observatory
Emergence brings the wanted And the unwanted
New ecosystem niches	 Invasive species 

Brand awareness 	 Group think 	

Viral campaigns 	 Propaganda

Cultural memes 	 Moral panic 

Innovation as empowerment 	 Innovation as disruption
Designing for Emergence 

and propaganda
Edward Bernays, nephew of Freud,
developed & used group psychology
techniques. He found that emotions
like fear brings results while rational
facts drive persuasion much less. 

Called ‘father of PR’, Bernays used
this strategy to ‘solve problems’ like
how to sell cigarettes to women,
calling them ‘Torches of Freedom’ to
associate them with liberation.
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Risks and benefits
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Risks and benefits
Ex-CEO Alexander Nix: 

‘Election candidates were puppets in our hands’
Designing for Emergence 

and behaviour change
UK firm Cambridge Analytica
acquired data for some 50 million
Facebook users and built
psychographic profiles for
microtargetting ads based on users’
dispositions and even vulnerabilities. 

Grassegger, H., & Krogerus, M. (2017). The data that turned the world
upside down. Vice Motherboard, 28. 

Cadwalladr, C., & Graham-Harrison, E. (2018). Revealed: 50 million
Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data
breach. The Guardian, 17.
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Risks and benefits
Multiple points of failure 

and fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD)
Regulatory Campaign finance Apply donation limits to new media?

Policy levers	 Inflection points imply what reform?

	 Privacy laws	 Data release opt-in (EU) vs opt-out (US)

Platform Business model Which is the product: news or users?
Data defaults Give app makers ‘friend’ data? 

User–Citizen Media literacy Can I trust this information?
EULA–consent Do I understand this click agreement? 

	 Attention economics	 Can I afford to opt out / switch?
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Risks and benefits
Further cases
Philippines election result	 Brutal dictator boosted by Free Facebook

Curato, N. (2017). Flirting with authoritarian fantasies? Rodrigo Duterte and the new terms of Philippine populism. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 47(1), 142-153.

China’s social credit system	 Centralized citizen reputation score

Chorzempa, M., Triolo, P., & Sacks, S. (2018). China’s Social Credit System: A Mark of Progress or a Threat to Privacy? (No. PB18-14).

Sidewalk Toronto development	 Data rights debate for model community 

Wylie, B. (2018). Report from Executive Committee on Sidewalk Toronto. Plus a Word About Consent, Consultation, and Innovation. Medium, January, 30.
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Risks and benefits
Whose work is informing these problems?
Regulatory Electoral reform Lessig, Republic, Lost	 

	 Choice architecture	 Sunstein & Thaler, Nudge 

Platform Business model Jones & Upward, Flourishing Enterprise
	 Persuasion	 Fogg, Persuasive Technology 

User–Citizen Capacities Leadbeater, Pro-Am Revolution
Kimbell, Service Innovation Handbook 

	 Attention economics	 Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head
	 	 Wu, The Attention Merchants
Whose work is missing from this list?
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Risks and benefits
Tensions and key questions
For regulators
How can transparency and corporate social responsibility be reconciled
with ‘disruption ethics’ (e.g., ‘move fast & break things’)?

Taplin, J. (2017). Move fast and break things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
For professionals
Now that behaviours, biases, attitudes & algorithms are grist for the mill,
what new competencies & regimes of accountability does design require?

For citizen / users 

How might we cultivate a new generation with ‘social data literacy’?
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Proposition
A Systemic Design Code of Ethics ?
Do we need our own Hippocratic Oath? 

What key points do we need & envision? 

Many of us guide our work with a version
of the Serenity Prayer: 

Grant us the serenity to accept the things
we cannot change, the courage to
change the things we can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.
–US theologian Reinhold Niebuhr 

Used by Alcoholics Anonymous, 1940s–present
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Proposition
Educate for social data literacy
Can we teach a new generation
critical and ethical competencies
such as how to spot fake news? 

Italy’s speaker of the House Laura
Boldrini says yes & Italy is now
teaching media literacy in eight
thousand Italian high schools.

Livesay, C. (2017). Italy Takes Aim At Fake News With New Curriculum
For High School Students. National Public Radio (US). Retrieved from
https://www.npr.org/2017/10/31/561041307/italy-takes-aim-at-fake-
news-with-new-curriculum-for-high-school-students
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Designing for Emergence: the new design space
Purposes
Processes
Standards
Practices
LanguagesCulturesOrganizationsInstitutions
ChoicesBeliefs
Strategies
Agents
Results ActionsMetrics
Infrastructures
Scenarios
BiasesHeuristics
Image: Van Alstyne, (cc) 2016
Algorithms
VisionsLegacies
Policies
PerceptionsCognitionsHistories
Organisms
BehavioursValues
Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
Practice
Designing for Emergence: design principles
Relinquish total control.
–author, Kevin Kelly
Balance creativity & stability.
–systems & sustainability scientist, Fritjof Capra
Be proud parasites & hackers.
–sci fi author, IP activist, Corey Doctorow
Give up strong derivability.
–synthetic biologist, Norman Packard
What’s missing from this list?
Thank you!
Greg Van Alstyne @gregvan
Carl Skelton
Sylvia Nan Cheng @sylvianancheng

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Systemic Design and its discontents designing for emergence and accountability

  • 1. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Systemic Design & Its Discontents Designing for Emergence and Accountability Greg Van Alstyne, sLab, OCAD University, Toronto @gregvan Carl Skelton, Gotham Innovation Greenhouse, NYC Sylvia Nan Cheng, Element AI, Toronto @sylvianancheng RSD7 — Relating Systems Thinking & Design conference Turin, Italy, 25 October 2018
  • 2. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Motivation To support design process for positive 
 change-making, leading to flourishing, How might we lead systemic design to more self-awareness, accountability, maturity? This paper calls for systemic design to 
 acquire more psychology, sociology, ethics
  • 3. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Why systemic design? ‘Systems thinking…might be redesigned as a discipline’ –Jones, 2009 ‘Systemic design is not a process, but a new space for harnessing dynamic complexity as a generator of innovation and value creation.’ –Ryan, 2016 Inspired by Buchanan, 1991. In Leurs & Roberts, 2018, Playbook for innovation learning, NESTA
  • 4. Definitions Harnessing dynamic complexity: Designing for Emergence Novel forms arise (morphogenesis) through interaction of agents in a complex system—physical, biological, economic, social, hybrid.  Such patterns puzzle us with properties not present in the agents nor to analysis. Van Alstyne & Logan, 2016 Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
  • 5. Definitions Designing for Emergence A framework for integrating systemic design theory and practice; Guiding people in making things with communities making change; 
 A human-centred, systems-savvy, wholistic mindset and skillset. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents ‘For true creativity and innovation to take place, we propose that design must harness the process of emergence; for it is only through this bottom-up and massively iterative unfolding process that…services are successfully developed, introduced, and diffused’ —Van Alstyne & Logan, 2007, Designing for Emergence and Innovation: Redesigning Design. See also Van Alstyne & Logan, 2016
  • 6. The challenge Designing for Emergence leads us to Drive toward goals Foresee unintended consequences Boost attraction Discern interests Reduce friction Bring critique Foster virtuous cycles Stem vicious cycles Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents
  • 7. The challenge Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its DiscontentsToxic algal bloom, Lake Erie, 2011. NASA Earth Observatory Emergence brings the wanted And the unwanted New ecosystem niches Invasive species Brand awareness Group think Viral campaigns Propaganda Cultural memes Moral panic Innovation as empowerment Innovation as disruption
  • 8. Designing for Emergence 
 and propaganda Edward Bernays, nephew of Freud, developed & used group psychology techniques. He found that emotions like fear brings results while rational facts drive persuasion much less. Called ‘father of PR’, Bernays used this strategy to ‘solve problems’ like how to sell cigarettes to women, calling them ‘Torches of Freedom’ to associate them with liberation. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Risks and benefits
  • 9. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Risks and benefits Ex-CEO Alexander Nix: 
 ‘Election candidates were puppets in our hands’ Designing for Emergence 
 and behaviour change UK firm Cambridge Analytica acquired data for some 50 million Facebook users and built psychographic profiles for microtargetting ads based on users’ dispositions and even vulnerabilities. Grassegger, H., & Krogerus, M. (2017). The data that turned the world upside down. Vice Motherboard, 28. Cadwalladr, C., & Graham-Harrison, E. (2018). Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach. The Guardian, 17.
  • 10. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Risks and benefits Multiple points of failure 
 and fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD) Regulatory Campaign finance Apply donation limits to new media?
 Policy levers Inflection points imply what reform? Privacy laws Data release opt-in (EU) vs opt-out (US) Platform Business model Which is the product: news or users? Data defaults Give app makers ‘friend’ data? User–Citizen Media literacy Can I trust this information? EULA–consent Do I understand this click agreement? Attention economics Can I afford to opt out / switch?
  • 11. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Risks and benefits Further cases Philippines election result Brutal dictator boosted by Free Facebook Curato, N. (2017). Flirting with authoritarian fantasies? Rodrigo Duterte and the new terms of Philippine populism. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 47(1), 142-153. China’s social credit system Centralized citizen reputation score Chorzempa, M., Triolo, P., & Sacks, S. (2018). China’s Social Credit System: A Mark of Progress or a Threat to Privacy? (No. PB18-14). Sidewalk Toronto development Data rights debate for model community Wylie, B. (2018). Report from Executive Committee on Sidewalk Toronto. Plus a Word About Consent, Consultation, and Innovation. Medium, January, 30.
  • 12. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Risks and benefits Whose work is informing these problems? Regulatory Electoral reform Lessig, Republic, Lost Choice architecture Sunstein & Thaler, Nudge Platform Business model Jones & Upward, Flourishing Enterprise Persuasion Fogg, Persuasive Technology User–Citizen Capacities Leadbeater, Pro-Am Revolution Kimbell, Service Innovation Handbook Attention economics Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head Wu, The Attention Merchants Whose work is missing from this list?
  • 13. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Risks and benefits Tensions and key questions For regulators How can transparency and corporate social responsibility be reconciled with ‘disruption ethics’ (e.g., ‘move fast & break things’)? Taplin, J. (2017). Move fast and break things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy. New York: Little, Brown and Company. For professionals Now that behaviours, biases, attitudes & algorithms are grist for the mill, what new competencies & regimes of accountability does design require? For citizen / users 
 How might we cultivate a new generation with ‘social data literacy’?
  • 14. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Proposition A Systemic Design Code of Ethics ? Do we need our own Hippocratic Oath? What key points do we need & envision? Many of us guide our work with a version of the Serenity Prayer: Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. –US theologian Reinhold Niebuhr 
 Used by Alcoholics Anonymous, 1940s–present
  • 15. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Proposition Educate for social data literacy Can we teach a new generation critical and ethical competencies such as how to spot fake news? Italy’s speaker of the House Laura Boldrini says yes & Italy is now teaching media literacy in eight thousand Italian high schools. Livesay, C. (2017). Italy Takes Aim At Fake News With New Curriculum For High School Students. National Public Radio (US). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/10/31/561041307/italy-takes-aim-at-fake- news-with-new-curriculum-for-high-school-students
  • 16. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Designing for Emergence: the new design space Purposes Processes Standards Practices LanguagesCulturesOrganizationsInstitutions ChoicesBeliefs Strategies Agents Results ActionsMetrics Infrastructures Scenarios BiasesHeuristics Image: Van Alstyne, (cc) 2016 Algorithms VisionsLegacies Policies PerceptionsCognitionsHistories Organisms BehavioursValues
  • 17. Van Alstyne, Skelton, Cheng | sLab | OCAD University Systemic Design & Its Discontents Practice Designing for Emergence: design principles Relinquish total control. –author, Kevin Kelly Balance creativity & stability. –systems & sustainability scientist, Fritjof Capra Be proud parasites & hackers. –sci fi author, IP activist, Corey Doctorow Give up strong derivability. –synthetic biologist, Norman Packard What’s missing from this list? Thank you! Greg Van Alstyne @gregvan Carl Skelton Sylvia Nan Cheng @sylvianancheng