Phd thesis

The design practice of complexity.
Communication atlas for sustainable social system integration.

In the last thirty years the interest in complexity has been constantly increasing in different disciplines, from biology to economics, from physic to sociology. The research for a comprehensive definition has foster the debate and has opened the discussion both in scientific both in philosophical fields. The so called Complexity Science emerged as a multidisciplinary discipline without established methodology or shared paradigm but a common goal: understanding those dense and intertwined systems that present unpredictable behaviours and non linear reaction on one hand, but develop emergent properties and self organising abilities on the other.

Despite its knowledge on dealing with situations and environment that present all the characteristics of complex systems, design have just started sharing the same goal and partaking the debate. For its experience in acting within social human systems and real environments design emerges as a one of the most favourable platform for building knowledge about complex systems. This research investigates the dialogue between design and complexity, as a valuable and meaningful exchange between disciplines that should be endorsed for a common benefit.

The research begins with the definition of the characteristics of a complex system; taking its stands on the scientific literature produced in recent decades it explores the prior finding of complexity science while describing the unique characteristics of a complex systems. This first part also investigated the implications that the complexity science had in encouraging a scientific paradigm shift.
The complex systems’ characteristics and behaviours have required new tools and research approaches to all the disciplines dealing with this kind of systems. The possibility of a paradigm for complexity was also questioned in a debate that seeks to characterize this science, overcoming the fragmented nature of its discourses e the partiality of its definitions. This paradigmatic shift required to waive the possibility of a unique paradigm. Any representation of a complex system acquires a strong ethical stance: losing the demand of scientific validation and the claim for an objective truth. Already from this first theoretical survey began to emerge which are difficulties who is confronted with complex systems will encounter.

The attention here is paid to the designer as the main subject of research; for a long time design as a discipline has been dealing with the difficulties of acting in complex systems and has discussed the complexity of the practice of design. But the purpose of this research is not only the creation of a disciplinary dialogue between Complexity Science and Design, but the formalization of a set of conceptual tools that can help the actual practice in complex systems: to learn from Complexity Science and to learn from Design in order to determine what approach could better support not only designers at work but also the practitioner who faces a project in a complex system. For that reason particular attention has been paid the difficulties emerging when acting within complex systems, epistemological and practical difficulties both in planning and communicating. The gap between the subject and the system (knowledge gap and problem-solving gap), the failure of deductive and prediction methods and the lack of experiences repeatability, raise very important issues.

The key point of the proposed conceptual tools is the role of the subject who uses them.
There is the need of a new vocabulary to describe what is included in the plan and the vocabulary itself will change the configuration of its elements. On that part of imperfect plan would be applied some conceptual tools that this research try to formalize: (1) tools for observation, supporting and revealing a pluralism of points of view; (2) tools for connections: an-exactness, abduction and apophenia, concepts that could be accused of being at the boundary with unscientific domains close to the magical, but that can acquire a new value when put in the context of a design practice that considers creativity as a values for facilitate progress; (3) tools for exploration, creating a link between the objective of the subject and the observation plan where the signs that the environment offers can be identified by the observer and turned into a research travel diary; (4) tools to synthesize observations, and in particularly the diagram with its ability to re weave the pieces of the plan gathered to demonstrate that the complexity of the system was not lost. The diagram bring all the fragments to a surface laying them down on a table, building an open map that evolve, as opposed to the tracing of the system; the diagram produces itself knowledge and change, contains forces of change that should be monitored through (5) tool for control, telling coarse grained stories with a narrative approach.

In the second part of this research will be suggested a communication device where the proposed conceptual tools can converge: the communication atlas.
These conceptual tools and the communication atlas were born from a period of study and reflection, from education and academic experiences and a focused on field research. An integration process between two systems has been selected as the phenomenon to be studied in order to understand the actual practice in complex contexts. In particular the integration process between a territory and a hospital was chosen. The element that connects the two systems is a project that goes from planning to implementation and integration, and has proven to be particularly suited to research not only the action in complex systems but also the design in complex systems.

After a research on the concept of social integration and on the phases of integration processes, the research was conducted directly in the Emergency hospital in Battambang in Cambodia. The research has used three qualitative research methods (free and guided discursive interviews, analysis of natural documents and Grounded Theory) and was carried out concentrically from the city of Battambang in the Cambodian territory with a centrifugal motion.

The result of the on-field research has led to design Explectis, the atlas for the processes of integration. From a typological point of view Explectis is similar to the category of guides and manuals, of those artefacts of consultation containing a compendium of information about a specific discipline or subject and that have the purpose to provide reference ready to consult.
Explectis is an atlas divided into four parts based on process model developed within the on-field research. It is a tool designed for those involved in the development of projects for integration that helps practitioners throughout their project, from the phase of setting up and analysis to the synthesis of data and observations and the reorganization of the experience for sharing and dissemination of results.

Explectis is designed for operators who design social integration projects as it is based on the phases that characterize these processes. it might be suggested that this tool can be used in other contexts as it provides a design solution to the needs of planning action in complex systems. The same format could be used for other project, reviewing the definition of the objectives of use.