The Praxis of Systems Thinking for Concurrent Design Space and Business Strategy Exploration

Rachel Dzombak, Chanaya Mehta, Khanjan Mehta, and Sven Bilen

Global Humanitarian Engineering Conference

Dzombak, R., Mehta, C., Mehta, K., Bilen, S. “The Praxis of Systems Thinking for Concurrent Design Space and Business Strategy Exploration,” Global Humanitarian Engineering Conference, October 2013


Systems thinking is a holistic approach to solving complex problems by considering every issue as part of a complex web of interconnected and interacting systems rather than independent issues with unrelated consequences. Such an approach forces attention on the bigger picture and wider processes of change rather than concentrating on discrete outputs at the individual task level. Systems thinking can be especially helpful in navigating the complexity and chaos inherent in technology-based social ventures in developing communities. Lack of clarity in the roles, responsibilities, and returns for the various stakeholders epitomizes this chaos and is a major contributor to the failure of such projects. The E-Spot canvas is a design space and business strategy exploration tool that facilitates group thinking amongst stakeholders to match project resource requirements with money, time, sweat, and other equities that can be expended by them to sustain their project socially, economically, and environmentally. The canvas serves three roles: an educational tool for studying and practicing systems thinking; an entrepreneurial tool for developing equitable business and implementation strategies; and an ethical reflection tool for understanding motivations and
incentives of various stakeholders and for making decisions that optimize short-term and long-term benefit and minimize the risk for everyone involved. This paper discusses the relevance of eight tenets of systems thinking—namely interdependence, holism, multifinality, equifinality, differentiation, regulation, abstraction,and leverage points—to technology-based social ventures from conceptual and practical perspectives. With the help of several examples, the paper describes how the E-Spot canvas operationalizes systems thinking to help identify appropriate stakeholders and determine the forms of equity they might offer towards fulfilling the overarching objectives of the venture while
meeting their own needs.



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