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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Self-observing collective: an exemplar for design research?
Keywords Cybernetics, Design, Problem solving
Purpose–This paper sets out to provide arguments and examples supporting the idea that some “wicked” design problems may be usefully approached through the process of bringing forth a self-observing collective, i.e. a community of observers capable of generating and dynamically adjusting a collective standpoint from where new observations can be made.
Design/methodology/approach–Interactions within a community of observers can be designed to generate a collective standpoint from where new observations can be made and fed back to the interacting observers, thus ensuring that the collective standpoint also extends the observers' capacity to observe. Instances of this process are discussed to demonstrate its contribution towards dealing with some wicked design problems.
Findings–The paper suggests that one's capacity to observe, feel, reflect, communicate, and act can be systematically harnessed in a self-observing collective in order to strengthen each member in the face of complex and unstructured problem situations. However, the continued success of the process depends on the effective construction and dynamic maintenance of the collective standpoint that gives the self-observing collective its unique power.
Originality/value–The paper borrows certain insights from second-order cybernetics to suggest a way of dealing with ill-structured (and wicked) design problems by facilitating a process of interaction within a community of observers who must be enabled to live with the wickedness of the problem with minimum harm.