Systems Thinking

Transition Design: Deforestation

Transition Design 

14 Weeks | Spring 2021


Transition Design is a transdisciplinary approach aimed at addressing the many ‘wicked’ problems confronting 21st century societies: climate change, forced migration, political and social polarization, global pandemics, lack of access to affordable housing/healthcare/education and many others. 

The 5 assignments in this course are designed to acquaint students with the emerging Transition Design approach for addressing complex, wicked problems and seeding/catalyzing systems-level change and cover the following topics:  1) Mapping Wicked Problems; 2) Mapping Stakeholder Relations;  3) Mapping the Evolution of a Wicked Problem; 4) Designing for Transitions; 5) Designing Systems Interventions.


Together, the 5 assignments and medium posts challenge project teams to frame a complex, wicked problem within a radically large spatio-temporal context in order to design an ‘ecology’ of systems interventions that simultaneously address the problem and ignite positive, systems-level change.

  • Adobe Illustrator

  • Miro

  • Research 

  • Systems Thinking

  • Visual Design

  • Mapping Problems

  • Alexander Polzin

  • Amanda Sanchez 

  • Jenny Xin 

  • Xiaoran Zhang

Assignment #1 - Mapping the Problem Space 

In this assignment, we conducted research on Deforestation and visually ‘mapped" it on our Miro template within 5 categories: 1) social issues;  2) environmental issues;  3) economic issues;  4) political issues/governance/legal issues;  5) infrastructural/technology issues.

Team Resilience - Wicked Problem Map.png

Assignment #2 - Mapping Stakeholder Relations

In this assignment, we undertook the process to 1) identify as many of the stakeholder groups connected to/affected by the wicked problem as possible;  2) select three groups from the list who teams speculate are most apt to disagree or have conflicting needs/opinions about the problem;  3) in the assignment template, list each group’s hopes (green bubbles) and fears (pink bubbles) about the problem; 4) map the lines of agreement/affinity (green lines) and conflict/opposition (red lines) between the 4 groups.​

With this assignment, we wanted to highlight the voices of powerful stakeholders as well as the voices that are not taken into account as often, like non-human stakeholders. 

A2_Team Resilience.png

Assignment #4 - Backcasting, Mile-stoning, & Developing Future Visions in the Pittsburgh Appalachian Bioregion

In this assignment, we extended the problem frame into the distant future, developed a vision of where we want to go, then thought out a plan of how to make that future vision a reality. We undertook 3 main steps:  1) developing a vision of the long-term future in which their problem has been resolved; 2) backcasting to create a transition pathway between the problematic present and the desired future and decide what to take with them on the decades-long transition (as well as what to leave behind); 3) developing a series of milestones (mini visions) describing the transition.

Team Resilience - Assignment #3.2 Backcasting & Mile-Stoning (The transition pathway).
Team Resilience - Developing Future Visions (future).png

Assignment #5 - Designing Systems Interventions

In this assignment, we applied the learnings from the previous four assignments and conceived an ‘ecology’ of systems interventions (solutions) that act as a first, tangible step on the transition pathway toward the desired future. The initiatives are organized in terms of the domains of everyday life. Within each category, we situated at least one overarching intervention, on either the city or neighborhood level, that then branched into different levels of scale to create our ecology of interventions. All these initiatives contain material and nonmaterial elements. There are nonmaterial exchanges of information and attitudes as well as material exchanges that foster native habitats and reuse of local resources. 

🌱Team Resilience - Assignment #5.png