SYSTEMS THINKING IN SOCIALLY ENGAGED DESIGN SETTINGS
Socially engaged design programs, community development coalitions, and intentional and unintentional design spaces are rich with expertise and thinkers who are developing solutions to very pressing, yet complicated problems. Little research has been conducted on the expertise and sense-making of the community partners who participate in these situations. The goal of this research endeavor is to unpack the ways various community partners make meaning of their design experiences by answering the question: What evidence of system’s thinking can be seen in the way community partners describe their work or context? A qualitative research study was conducted in which three community partners were interviewed at various points during their engagement with socially engaged design programs. They demonstrated their systems thinking ability most strongly across the following domains: differentiate and qualify elements, explore multiple perspectives, consider issues appropriately, recognize systems, identify and characterize relationships. These findings imply that the community partners are not only capable of systems thinking but have the potential to be more deeply involved in developing solutions within these settings. Future studies should investigate systems thinking beyond socially engaged design in formal settings and should consider investigation protocols that more directly surface systems thinking domains. Overall, this study contributes to existing work in systems thinking by calling for a more expansive and inclusive engagement of community partners in socially engaged work.