A major consideration in the design of large-scale systems is that humans have to interact with them. Want to create a massive transportation system for your city? People need to take the bus or feel safe jumping on their bikes. Seeking to build a regional food system? Someone’s got to grow the food and deliver it. Someone else has to pick it up and prepare it for dinner. Every time a “grand vision” is put in play for changing the world, there is an implicit assumption that people will participate in the alteration or replacement of an existing system.
So how DO people interact with changing systems? That’s a question that has frustrated many a system designer. Engineers in the IT world know only too well how difficult it is to build software that people can use (or, just as important, that customers prefer over someone else’s software). Transportation policy experts have been baffled by the ways people choose to get around despite the design choices that went into the blueprints for that rapid bus system or congestion traffic lane. And political activists have been bewildered by the voting behaviors of so many otherwise intelligent people who behave so strangely when election season comes around. Continue reading “Design Better Systems by Questioning Your Theory of Change” »