Story-Based Systemic Design (SBSD) is a participant-driven framework for systemic design that integrates systems thinking and storytelling in seeking community-developed solutions to wicked problems.

The Human-Centered Design (HCD) framework facilitates change. Story-Based Systemic Design (SBSD) is a related approach that works to integrate systems thinking throughout the process. The goal is to help people use systemic design to change the systems they interact with to foster more desirable outcomes. Social innovation and sustainability are central to the process.

Story-Based Systemic Design
Stage 1 of the Story-Based Systemic Design Framework.

Story-Based Systemic Design differs from prominent design frameworks in three important ways:

1 SBSD explicitly integrates system thinking processes throughout the framework. In other frameworks, it’s up to the facilitator to make this a part of the process.

2 Storytelling is also included throughout the framework. Human beings communicate through stories. It’s how we’re wired. We tell stories in SBSD to help build a shared understanding of the challenges and circumstances we’re working with, to build mental models that help participants reconceive the possible, and to foster the engagement necessary for a participant-driven process.

3 SBSD’s process shifts the process leader’s role. Instead of being the lead problem solver, they’re tasked with taking on a more facilitative role wherein they enable communities to solve their own problems. Participants bring their diverse knowledge and expertise, as well as the experience of living with the circumstances of the challenge, as they work collaboratively to develop solutions. The process leader helps them find their way as they guide the groups through a variety of lessons, processes, and exercises. The overarching goal is to empower groups and individuals to solve their own problems. The facilitator revolves through roles like being an instructor, a coach, a companion, or a sounding board, rather than the expert with all of the answers. The overwhelming complexity of systemic design challenges obviates the possibility of lone heroes solving wicked problems. Instead, SBSD leads help participants to take on ever-greater control in a manner similar to climbing Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation.

Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation

Because the process aims at significant challenges, it needs more time than other design frameworks. It should be used when that extra work will be worthwhile. The juice needs to be worth the squeeze.

Story-Based Systemic Design helps groups when systemic effects are a concern. It aims to foster plans that they will both implement and support for sustainable, beneficial outcomes.

To learn more, check out the Story-Based Systemic Design explainer.

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