One of the systems practices we regularly engage in as a lab is mapping. Our mapping work is a collaborative process that is fundamental to our co-research approach. The maps below all form part of our practice of systems seeing. Our mapping is underpinned by multiple theories in transitions, complexity, social practices, culture, consumption, power and economics.
Due to the complex detail captured in this map it is best viewed on devices with larger screens. The map does work on mobile in landscape mode, but depending on your screen size and/or eyesight it can be tricky to read without zooming in. Complexity and small screens don't always play nice!
Mapping the MLP (v7.04)
This is version 7.04 of a continually evolving map of the wicked problem of consumption and waste. Maps like this are never perfect (or complete!) but you can click on smaller details within the map to learn more about the thinking underlying this analysis. Please note: The hotspots on the map are still in the process of being coded so it has been shared here as a work in progress.
Maps such as this one often become redundant very quickly. Between Dec 2019 and March 2020 version 7.01 of this map became redundant. Version 7.02 was mapped in May-June 2020 and had minor updates to become 7.03 in February 2021 and 7.04 in March 2021. It will likely loose relevance again within a few months.
The map has been published to demonstrate three theories in action: the Multi-Level Perspective in Socio-Technical Transitions Theory, Social Practice Theory and Design Culture Theory. It is a visual accompaniment to an academic paper (publication pending) exploring the intersection of these theories for use in design approaches to complex/wicked problems. If you would like to read/comment on a pre-publication version of this paper you can request a copy to be emailed via our contact page.
This level maps the historical impacts the socio-technical system has had on ecological/living systems. Ecological impact has been made explicit and is separated from the socio-technical landscape to acknowledge that socio-technical systems nest within living systems.
In the MLP, the socio-technical landscape maps factor such as economic growth, war, cultural and normative values and environmental problems. The landscape is described by Frank Geels as a slow moving 'deep set of structural trends' (Geels, 2002).
This adaptation of Geels' MLP theory alters what sits in the landscape by acknowledging environmental factors as part of an explicit ecological layer. It also recognises that the paradigm in a system is a well established/entrenched long term pattern of thinking, but that feelings, values, beliefs, norms, ideologies, mindsets and attitudes are held more socially than structurally. As such, these are also recognised in their own explicit layer, the mentalitè.
Discussions of thinking in the MLP often centre around paradigms (a pattern or model of thought) or worldviews (a philosophy of life or conception of the world) which as Geels (2002) outlines, are held in the landscape. In the context of socio-technical systems, thinking significantly impacts activity in the regime. This is noted particularly in relation to economics, politics and policies that influence the rules of the regime and in the web of practices that make up social norms. This suggests that thinking is socially enacted through ideologies (systems of ideas and ideals) and mindsets (attitudes held by people), which are also key considerations that could influence how the regime is analysed. In some respects this might be better described using French, as this sub-level attempts to capture the ‘mentalité’ of people within the system (Wallace & Crocker, 2019).
The translation to English is awkwardly expressed in ‘ideologies and mindsets’ but ‘mentalité’ more accurately captures the softness and warmth of this data. This is about how people think and feel about something, and how these thoughts and feelings influence their mental image of its meaning. Mentalité is defined as ‘a complex mental state involving beliefs and feelings and values and dispositions to act in certain ways’ (Vocabulary.com, 2020). How we feel can also be impacted by norms, aesthetics, and contexts, all of which is described by Bateson (2017) as ‘warm data’. We must acknowledge and vividly express the complex roles that people (as cultural thinkers and actors) play in systems and inter-systems to better understand how messy these roles can be. This is more than social practices enacted recursively—many different people’s thoughts and feelings are mixed up in this. A complex adaptive systems approach acknowledges the value in this ‘warm data’, accepts its messiness and makes sense of it through listening, observing and an iterative and adaptive approach to action.
The regime is what Geels (2002) describes as the stable centre of the Socio-Technical System. It's where the rules and norms of a society influence social practices, businesses and the way we live our day-to-day lives. This is the fabric of a society; its interwoven nature makes it tricky (but not impossible) to change. It is influenced by the mentalité, the landscape and by ecological factors. Experimental niche activity often penetrates it in attempts to change (or disrupt) everyday life, sometimes successfully, sometimes in unexpected/unintended ways. The regime is so stable that niche experiments usually require a highly coordinated effort, an existing instability (such as a crisis) or a decent groundswell of desire for change to shift the regime.
Geels (2002) describes the niche as a home to fast paced innovation and experimental activity. Radical innovations are often incubated inside the niche where they are protected from the norms in order to learn more about their potential. For activities to successfully shift from the niche into the regime they often require some destabilisation within the system. Niche experiments can fail to transition into the regime if the norms already in place prevent the niche activity from gaining traction. A niche that fails to understand the context it is shifting into (and its particular norms and rules) will typically fail to gain traction.
Mass Land Clearing
Land use changes are one of the largest contributors to emissions, not only from the removal of carbon sinks resulting from felling mature trees, but from the subsequent emissions resulting from the change. Land clearing for agriculture results in cropping and livestock that continue to contribute to emissions, degrade soil health, create injustices for people and animals, and compromise the continued health of the planet and its inhabitants. People included.
The commons are resources and spaces that are shared and accessible to all. An example of this inside your home or office might be the refrigerator which is shared by building occupants, and outside, this might be the ocean which is shared by marine life and harvested by humans. These resources are often exploited because they are viewed as 'free'.
Post WW2, centralised shopping activity was aligned with streamlined manufacturing and supported by post-war ‘designed obsolescence’ policies that served as an economic strategy to boost the economy out of recession. This strategy called for products to be made poorly or to create an inbuilt 'expiry' of sorts that would prompt faster consumer cycles. The strategy employed advertising and design to stimulate desire, creating a shift in design's role to become mediators of consumer culture. The impact of designed obsolescence as a strategy is still felt today, and evident in hostile product designs that inhibit repair or drain performance to encourage early-upgrades.
For more on this see:
Packard, V. The Waste Makers
Dickinson, G. Selling democracy Consumer culture and citizenship in the wake of September 11
An attitude that rewards people with particular skills and abilities with positions of power. Whilst some people may rise based on true merit, others may also rise based on the tendency for meritocracy to favour those of a particular race, class, status and ability. Meritocracy promises equality based on merit but often fails to deliver on truly equitable social mobility.
The hole in the ozone layer
In the 1970s a hole was discovered in the ozone's stratospheric layer responsible for keeping us safe from harmful UV rays from the sun. In the late 1980s a ban on CFCs came into effect. By the mid 1990s there had been a marked improvement to the ozone and in 2019 it was reportedly the smallest it had ever been since its first documentation. This demonstrates how policy enactment and behaviour change can combine with the earth's natural repair mechanism to mitigate an ecological crisis.
Capitalism is an economic strategy and political ideology that seeks to privatise services and the means of production. It is an inherently exploitative system that creates ever-widening class divides between workers and owners. A capitalist mindset values competition and economic growth at any expense, even to the detriment of its own context, earth.
Planetary boundaries are ignored
Despite multiple signals from nature (and warning from scientists) stating the limits to growth, the continued exploitation of natural resources continues to bring devastating repercussions. Many of these reinforce one another through feedback loops, seen for example in the increase of weather events in turn increase emissions in multiple ways.
A lightening strike from a storm can start a fire where poor land management has created vulnerabilities. The fire typically destroys all in its path, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and destroying ecosystems (carbon sinks) in its wake. Similarly, a hurricane or tornado destroys everything in its path, displacing people and animals from their homes and destroying living systems and infrastructure alike.
Post-event cleanup can uncover problematic waste materials (for example toxic chemicals released in burned treated timber, asbestos from destroyed dwellings and structures). The rebuilding of populated areas creates further emissions through construction (and its subsequent waste) and often post-event land use changes come into effect which further increase emissions.
As land use changes and biodiversity is lost from natural environments, so too are the ecosystems that support pollinators. The decline of pollinators has dire impacts on the global food system which is reliant on pollination for food growth.
Increasing weather events
The impacts of climate change are becoming more visible through increasing weather events. The impacts of these events have been felt in the Global South for extended periods of time, but a distance from them has reduced their visibility to the Global North. Severe storm weather is noted in the increase in intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes, typohoons, and blizzards. Severe drought in other areas creates the conditions for catastrophic fire seasons. The ecological tipping points these weather events induce create a feedback loop that further amplifies their impact.
Centralised production is an outcome of efficiency drivers and the desire for growth within the linear economy. It is a 'feature' of capitalism that promotes monopolies and extreme division of wealth and assets. Centralised production leads to efficiencies in supply chains that create a reliance on a constant pushing on demand for goods in order to maximise profits.
Technological systems of provision
Since the industrial revolution technology has played a key role in changing systems. Technological systems are often complemented by centralisation to maximise the scales of provision. For example, the shift from smaller scale farm work by hand to large industrial farming equipment has changed the scale and impact of agriculture, leading to monoculture farming which has in turn lead to a high reliance on chemical inputs to manage and maximise crops. An over reliance on technology often sees complex problems attempt to be solved with overly simplified technical solutions.
Increasingly dense urban living and continued urban sprawl has changed land use and centralised activity into regionalised hubs. This has in turn, created a demand for sprawling centralised services, particularly supermarkets, shopping malls, hardware and department stores.
Linear Models for Economics Becoming Intertwined with Politics
The foundations for neoliberalism were being laid as economics and politics became more closely intertwined as the organising structures for societies in the Global North. Linear economics which relies on a take-make-dispose model for unfettered growth and continued resource extraction gained traction as the GDP became the primary measurement for success. Political traction was gained by governments able to 'provide' wealth to nations through this economic model.
Post-Fordism and just-in-time logisitics
Worldwide Double Down on Fossil Fuels
Global Free Trade
Rising Sea Levels
Efficiency and Automation
Consolidation of Corporate Power Players (Big Ag, Big Pharma etc)
Centralisation of Supermarkets and Department Stores
Takeaway and Drive-Thru Shopping
Local and General Stores
Co-ops and Collectives
Boutiques and Artisans (Quality Makers)
Transitions Movements (Towns, Energy, Orgs, Design)
The P2P Commons
Ozone Hole is Decreasing
Fires Impact Co2 Tipping Points
Planetary Boundaries are being Exceeded
Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics Framework has revealed how multiple planetary boundaries are being exceeded.
Flood and Landslides
Mass Marine Deaths
Pacific Garbage Patch
Petro-Chemical Companies Driving Plastic Consumption
Shopping as a Hobby
Unboxing for Pleasure
Over-packaging Goods for Freshness and Transport
Citizen Consumer Economy
Rent to access
Reuse and Repair
Co-ops and Collectives
Transitions Movements (Towns, Energy, Orgs, Design)
The P2P Commons
Zero Waste Lifestyle
Viral Threats and Outbreaks Continue
Rapid Increase of Ecological Collapse and Global Warming
Altered Relationship with Ecology
Decentralised Service and Infrastructure
Community and Belonging
Circular Performance Economy
Transitions in Energy and Resource Use
Horizontal Org Structures with Self Management
Zero Waste Life
Interconnected Small Scale Initiatives and Experiments in New Ways of Being
MLP maps can be quite overwhelming, so finding ways of showing some of the complexity whilst revealing simpler narratives can create entry points into a problem space. This map explores the rise in waste accumulating in people’s homes caused by changes to shopping practices during lockdown.
Food System Transitions
Using the MLP to map a food system transition from centralised to regenerative and exploring platforms for interconnecting activity across multi-level domains.