Article Eight

Collaborative Design:  Making Sense Together for Better Choice-making 

Human actions that are in conflict with our best understanding of ecological ongoingness are often the result of an outdated or inadequate framework for making sense of the world. As an example, an ethnocentric or anthropocentric worldview results in choices and actions that favour one group over others in a finite paradigm of scarcity and competition. This framework for sense-making does not have the tools or language to include the more-than-human world in a meaningful way. In comparison, a human-decentred framework for sense-making (ecocentric or integral) acknowledges both the uniqueness of human consciousness and the embeddedness of the human species in ecological interconnected relationships. It consequently favours actions towards mutual thriving on a global scale. The expansion towards human decentred or integral ways of being in the world requires transformative learning practices based on the four themes articulated in Article Seven; interconnectedness, mutuality, collaboration and transformation. One such practice is collaborative design. 

Collaborative design is an approach to problem solving that draws on the experiences, perspectives, values and insights of stakeholders. This process-driven methodology acknowledges phenomenon as emerging from interconnected relationships between diverse participants. For this reason, collaborative design can be an effective democratic approach to complex problems that coalesces distributed knowledge and wisdom towards anti-fragile and futures-oriented outcomes.

Facilitated from a human-decentred paradigm, collaborative design has the capacity to contribute to cultures of ongoingness through design outcomes as well as the transformation of participants. It is important to note at this point that participants might include not only humans, but other forms of life, objects, and even larger distributed systems (hyperobjects) such as the microorganisms in soil, plastic waste or the ecosystem of a local wetland. As development expands towards a more ecocentric paradigm, the inclusion of the more than human world increases.

However, just as it is was identified regarding systems thinking in Article Four, collaborative design can be a key to consciousness expansion or simply be used as a tool for more effective anthropocentrism. From a human-centred framework, collaborative design can be used as another method to prioritise one groups needs over another. This includes the currently practiced paradox of collaboratively designing for human needs and desires while externalizing harm to ecological systems on which those same humans (and all life) depend.

Therefore, to facilitate the expansion of consciousness beyond the human-centred and contribute to cultures of ongoingness collaborative design should…

  • Include non-human participants/perspectives but avoid gross anthropomorphism 
  • Transcend but include previous stages of development in appropriate ways (individual human rights don’t go away, they fit within a larger perspective across species and through time).
  • Consider systemic issues of power, dominance and oppression.
  • Facilitate the inclusion of uniqueness and interconnectedness (individual and collectives).
  • Promote systems thinking that includes interior (subjective) and exterior (objective) ways of knowing.
  • Be inclusive of learning styles associated with different intelligences.
  • Integrate knowledge, understanding and wisdom in transformative processes.

In order to illustrate how this might be implemented, the following is an example of a human decentred collaborative design approach to a secondary school project.

Example Project:Designing criteria for an outdoor learning classroom/pavilion. 

Although the project could be primarily student led, good facilitation is crucial. In the planning for this project, students might work in stages considering those impacted in several expanding circles. These circles are in symmetry to the four quadrants of integral theory. In the first circle of concern, students might take a user-centred approach and explore the needs of the staff and students who will use the pavilion. Practically, they might decide to take a survey or set up interviews. In a second circle of concern, students could reflect and discuss how learning spaces impact participants’ thoughts, experiences and feelings. In a third circle of concern, students might consider the larger impact of the project on the school, student groups, parents, the local community and other potential users. This might require deeper research into similar projects and outcomes. In a fourth circle, students could be encouraged to explore the needs and experiences of the local animals, insects, plants and ecosystems impacted by the project. This stage might require a combination of research and direct experiences as well as design tools to work with complex data.  At each stage, there is an opportunity to explore creative ways in which all aspects of the project (research, materials, design, consultation, construction and end of use) can mutually benefit those in all circles. This project could result in design criteria for a highly integral project as well as the transformative development of students beyond the human-centred paradigm. 

Educators are central to helping students expand their framework for sense-making. This requires that they are trained in the practices such as collaborative design as well as actively engaging in their own continued expansion and development.

To reference these ideas for academic purposes please see my thesis at: