January 15, 1996
There is an increasing realization of the massive societal changes and transformations that are reflected in the new realities of the postindustrial information/knowledge era. These changes touch the lives of every person, family, community, and nation and define the future of humanity. However, we are entering the twenty-first century with organizations designed during the nineteenth. Improvement or restructuring of existing systems, based on the design of the industrial machine age, does not work any more. Only a radical and fundamental change of perspectives and purposes, and the redesign of our organizations and societal systems, will satisfy the new realities and requirements of our era.
Questions arise. What is our role in these massive changes? Are we only spectators? Are we destined to be victims of these changes? Do we have to relegate decisions affecting our lives to those who represent us? Are we at the mercy of experts to design systems for us? Or is there a role for us in shaping our future and the future of the systems to which we belong? Is there a way for us to participate in giving direction to the evolution of our systems, our communities, and our society?
These are some of the questions that are the genesis of this book. The core idea of this work is that the design of social systems is a future-creating, collective human activity. People in social systems engage in design in order to devise and implement systems based on their vision of what those systems should be. Or they may redesign their existing system in order to realize their changing aspirations and co-evolve with the emerging realities and expectations of their environment.
In an age when the speed, intensity, and complexity of change increases constantly and exponentially, the ability to shape change – rather than being its victims or spectators – depends on our competence and willingness to guide the purposeful evolution of our systems, our communities, and our society. The method by which we can guide change is systems design. Collective design capability empowers us to exercise truly participative democracy. It enables us to take part in decisions affecting our lives and guide the activities that can enrich the quality of our lives and add value to the systems in which we live.
Many people in our social systems are not yet aware of the power of systems design. Education in design and the professional practice of design are limited to a few technical professions. If we are serious about “empowering” so that we can take charge of our lives and our systems, then we have to create opportunities that teach us what design is as a human activity, how it works, and how it can be applied in the contexts of our lives and our systems. Life is a journey. Making use of the power of design enables us to give direction to this journey and shape our destiny.