Methodological Pluralism in Practice: A Systemic Design Approach for Place-Based Sustainability Transformations

Haley Fitzpatrick, Tobias Luthe, and Birger Sevaldson

To leverage the fullest potential of systemic design research in real-world contexts, more diverse and reflexive approaches are necessary. Especially for addressing the place-based and unpredictable nature of sustainability transformations, scholars across disciplines caution that standard research strategies and methods often fall short. While systemic design promotes concepts such as holism, plurality, and emergence, more insight is necessary for translating these ideas into practices for engaging in complex, real-world applications. Reflexivity is crucial to understanding these implications, and systemic design practice will benefit from a deeper discourse on the relationships between researchers, contexts, and methods. In this study, we offer an illustrated example of applying a diverse and reflexive systems oriented design approach that engaged three mountain communities undergoing sustainability

Based on a longitudinal, comparative research project, a combination of methods from systemic design, social science, education, and embodied practices was developed and prototyped across three mountain regions: Ostana, Italy; Hemsedal, Norway; and Mammoth Lakes, California. The selection of these regions was influenced by the researchers’ varying levels of previous engagement. Reflexivity was used to explore how place-based relationships influenced the researchers’ interactions with each community. Different modes of reflexivity were used to analyze the contextual, relational, and boundary-related factors that shaped how the framing, format, and communication of each method and practice adapted over time. We discuss these findings through visualizations and narrative examples to translate abstract concepts like emergence and plurality into actionable insights. This study
contributes to systemic design research by showing how a reflexive approach of weaving across different places, methods, and worldviews supports the critical facilitation processes needed to apply and advance methodological plurality in practice.

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