Going back to first principles

It seems to me, when I finally do get the space and bandwith to step aside from academic reading and writing, to reflect upon the magic of the Kalevala, as I began to do, only a few short months ago, that the real message in Kaleva’s songs, is the power inherent in going back to first principles.

If indeed, the magic of the word song, as crafted in the runot, lies in knowing the origin of things, before you can begin to sing the songs of transformation, then it is quite clear that the starting point is grounded firmly in the first principles of the object of your singing.

As I rewrite the draft of my research paper, I noticed how often I mentioned the need for me to go back to first principles in order to wholly understand what it was I was doing, and how these processes and tools would provide me with the skilled knowledge to attempt to redesign (transform) the outcome.

Relying on the later explorations and extensions of a tradition may never offer the same kind of clear thinking that going back to its founding principles can provide. I knew I could not go wrong by taking these original concepts as my guiding principles whilst attempting to do something novel within that space.

That is, when one is already in an unknown space where little exists from the past to guide us, then it is the first principles of our chosen methodology that can provide the guidelines for experimentation with a degree of confidence that one can’t fall off the cliff if these original concepts had robustly stood the test of time long enough to referred to as the first principles.

This allows for building new constructs in a manner that remains within the conceptual space of the theoretical knowledge and pushing the boundaries of experimentation while remaining grounded in the foundation of the knowledge base. An anchor for a hot air balloon, as a metaphor, if you will, of discovery.
And, this offers me the insight that if I were to do a comparative analysis of methodologies, then its not the word philosophy that I would be comparing but the first principles, which, by their very nature, contain the values embedded throughout the process influencing the outcome in distinctly different manners.

Thus, 14 years after writing on Why is design important? starting my essay with the sentence that ‘design is first and foremost a philosophy, a system of values.. ” I would now rewrite it to state that design methodologies are constructed on first principles that emerged in the early days of that particular approach and its their comparative study which would shed light on their differences, as it pertains to their relevance and impact on design outcomes for our collective and shared emerging future on this planet.

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Seismic Shock: Approaching the old practice of design from the new perspective of today

The wrenching shift in my perspective from the outcomes of a project to its process – forced by circumstances of scholarship less than three weeks ago – has kept me preoccupied with reams of paper. I can sense the difference in slowly reading through printed out versions of selected journal articles, annotating their margins and underlining, in the old ways of scholarship, than the perceptually faster scanning that occurs with text on screens.

On the upside, I believe I have managed to reorient my thinking towards the processes rather than the content. This is key to my transition from practitioner of design and innovation motivated research in the informal economy to academic scholar pursuing a doctoral degree.

On the downside, given my decades of work experience accrued at age 55, I can see the evolution of my own professional practice reflected in the literature as and when it attempts to document the transformations that have taken place in the practice of design, particularly over the past 15 years or so. In a recent paper, I felt the jolt of recognition from the observer’s perspective at mentions made of key projects and papers that were transforming design practice (see Sanders and Stappers, 2008). Did I not blog that project for Core77? Didn’t I mention this in my own blog? Was I not there experiencing all these innovations and transformations and changes?

A critical inflection point for the expansion and transformation of design practice can be said to have begun around the turn of the century (Bhan, 2004) when designers began to reposition themselves as partners, rather than vendors, to industry (Portigal and Bhan, 2005 November) in response to the changing landscape of manufacturing, outsourcing, and industrial design practice (Bhan, 2005 March).

CK Prahalad  (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2002; 2004a; 2004b; Prahalad and Krishnan, 2008) is credited with introducing the concept of co-creation in the corporate context. His publications together with collaborators have been consistently cited in the literature wherever the roles of the user and the designer have been explored in new ways (Dell’Era and Landoni, 2014), as well as approaches that support co-creation in different arenas such as co-design (Tseng and Piller, 2003; Sanders and Stappers, 2008; Russo-Spena and Mele, 2012), participatory design (Holmlid, 2009; Björgvinsson, Ehn, & Hillgren, 2010; 2012) and service design (Forlizzi and Zimmerman, 2013; Miettinen and Valtonen, 2014).

Now, two decades later, I believe that the practice of design is again changing and expanding in ways that have their roots in the transformations that took place in the recent past, but influenced greatly by changes in the landscape of users themselves. Literature until now has considered the transformation of design practice from the perspective of design processes, that is from the point of view of the designer and the design researcher (though, as Sanders has said, when she first mapped the changing landscape of design research (Sanders, 2007), that these roles too are undergoing changes) rather than the users themselves.

What has been the impact of the advent of increasing democratization of design and innovation on the users themselves – that is, on everyday people who are not trained in design?

Campbell (2017) calls people who design without formal design training “lay designers”, so as to relocate the locus of power and asymmetry of information (which Prahalad himself calls the root of poverty). This shift can be most clearly seen in the healthcare sector – first noted by Sanders herself (Sanders and Stappers, 2008) where early adopters of design and innovation methods, formerly the purview of professionals, through initial projects in co-creation and co-design have led to the proliferation of literature in the healthcare field that reference design methods and techniques and processes, without necessarily involving a practicing designer in the process.

As a professional industry watcher of long standing (Bhan, Core77 2004-2010; Portigal and Bhan, 2005) I have myself observed the diffusion of innovation methods in the guise of human centered design toolkits and handbooks spread from practitioners to institutions (Campbell, 2013) and then thereafter become commonplace in the indigenous startup ecosystems dotting the African continent. Concepts and approaches which were barely recognized when I first stepped foot on the continent (Out of Africa, Samsung, 2008 with Experientia) are now accessible via digital platforms for formal and informal learning.

I can see the changes in the literature when I search for design related keywords – publications from a far wider variety of journals and disciplines show up than what used to be the case when I was studying at the Institute of Design at the turn of the century (circa 2003). On one hand, the debate goes that formal design education and professional practice imbues designers with advanced skills in making and doing. On the other, the trend towards facilitating the multidisciplinary nature of creativity in higher education and business (Design Council and Hefce, 2007) is one that I’ve been part and parcel of from the early days (see Bhan, 2004; 2005).

As every good reflective practitioner (Schon, 1983) knows, there are moments in time when one must pause to reflect on the massive changes that one is experiencing while immersed in the process, in order to step outside of the changes and observe them with some subjective measure of objectivity. The year after the systemic shock of the global pandemic was experienced by everyone living around the entire world (more or less) is one such moment.



Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P., & Hillgren, P. A. (2010, November). Participatory design and” democratizing innovation”. In Proceedings of the 11th Biennial participatory design conference (pp. 41-50).

Björgvinsson, E., Ehn, P., & Hillgren, P. A. (2012). Agonistic participatory design: working with marginalised social movements. CoDesign, 8(2-3), 127-144.

Campbell, A. D. (2013). Designing for Development in Africa: A Critical Exploration of Literature and Case Studies from the Disciplines of Industrial Design and Development Studies. In Proceedings of the Gaborone International Design Conference (GIDEC).

Campbell, A. D. (2017). Lay designers: Grassroots innovation for appropriate change. Design Issues, 33(1), 30-47.

Dell’Era, C., & Landoni, P. (2014). Living Lab: A methodology between user‐centred design and participatory design. Creativity and Innovation Management, 23(2), 137-154.

Forlizzi, J., & Zimmerman, J. (2013, August). Promoting service design as a core practice in interaction design. In Proceedings of the 5th International Congress of International Association of Societies of Design Research-IASDR (Vol. 13).

Holmlid, S. (2009, September). Participative; co-operative; emancipatory: From participatory design to service design. In Conference Proceedings ServDes. 2009; DeThinking Service; ReThinking Design; Oslo Norway 24-26 November 2009 (No. 059, pp. 105-118). Linköping University Electronic Press.

Miettinen, S., & Valtonen, A. (2014). Service design methods in event design. In Event Design (pp. 41-52). Routledge.

Prahalad, C. K., & Ramaswamy, V. (2004). Co-creation experiences: The next practice in value creation. Journal of interactive marketing, 18(3), 5-14.

Sanders, E. B. N., & Stappers, P. J. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. Co-design, 4(1), 5-18.

Russo‐Spena, T., & Mele, C. (2012). “Five Co‐s” in innovating: a practice‐based view. Journal of Service Management.

Tseng, M. M., & Piller, F. T. (2003). The customer centric enterprise. In The customer centric enterprise (pp. 3-16). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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Personal reflections on the remote resilience project (April 2020 – August 2020)

Anonymized quote and photograph of participant by Tazama Media, September 2020

As I prepare to speak on Tuesday morning at a conference being organized online, I was moved by my review of the materials gathered during last year’s rapid remote resilience project to reflect on my personal impressions of the project. Over and above anything else, over the past week I have found myself moved close to tears, yet the emotions are joyous. I had no idea how the experimental project would work out when I started, and I’d encourage the young team of facilitators on the ground by saying we were providing a hot meal with meat and a cash grant and a bucket of cleaning supplies, we couldn’t fail the mamas if our participatory sessions fell flat. The quote above captures it all.

This past week, I’ve been looking over the just completed telephone survey following up with our participants 9 months after the intervention ended last August. I can see the results – they’re not always obvious, and some concepts failed but the sense of joy also came from the lead facilitator informing me that they’d innovated on the ground with the tools I’d provided them when they found that the concept wasn’t gaining traction. They would not have thought to this if I had not devolved agency for planning and executing the implementation of the conceptual project design to them. In the rush of completing the project after the prototype testing and iteration with the team, none had brought this adjustment to the content of the participatory session up with me.

I discovered it in the follow up survey transcripts when I found a significant majority of the participants mentioning the tool’s usefulness in enabling them to plan and to save all through this difficult year. Even those groups whose content stream did not contain the introduction of this tool. It is changing the way I think about the tool and its applicability, if indeed it managed to gain the traction that it did, and was so enthusiastically adopted. I’m also wondering out loud if concepts without a tangible anchor in the real world context of the participants themselves or without a means to relate to their daily practices and mindset are more challenging to grasp and contextualize?

The combination of tool and concept that the facilitator team came up with based on their own experience of running the participatory sessions and their evaluation of how the content was received by the participants is probably something that may not have struck me if I had been present. As Felix, our lead innovation facilitator, remarked when we reflected together on the project last Friday, there were times when the facilitator team was convinced of the value of an approach or new practice but the participants pushed back vociferously that it didn’t make sense or it would not work. They then found a way to convince them by using evidence provided by a micro-experiment conducted together with the participants to show them the beneficial outcome of the activity.

Here though, the team could see that the more established group of traders (B2B) would also benefit from a tool that I’d only introduced in the content stream for the B2C less established trader groups, and that the advanced planning approach intended for them was challenged by worldview and mindset common to them all. I do not share that common worldview with the facilitators and the participants who are all from the same neighbourhoods and communities. It strikes me that I must explore this difference in approach by the facilitators some more. How were they distinguishing the resistance to a novel idea that required empirical evidence to convince the participants to explore adopting it versus when a novel concept failed to gain traction enough to provide any value?

All in all, there is much food for thought here on the role of design methodology and approaches in the context of development, and, I’d argue, how we describe development in the 21st century.


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What is social design?

Social design is an emerging stream of design that is still finding its space and boundaries (Chen et al., 2016; Koskinen, 2016; Markussen, 2017). Markussen (2017) argues against Manzini’s (2015) depiction of the ‘social’ in social design implying that it only applies to situations where people are poor or marginalized or recovering from a natural disaster. He makes that point that social design, based on his analytical framework (Markussen, 2017), is relevant for people regardless of their class or economic circumstances, and that a natural disaster need not have to impact them in order for a small, humble design intention to attempt a decisive qualitative change in their circumstances.

Koskinen and Hush (2016) do not confine the bounds of social design to only the micro or meso level as explicitly as Markussen (2017) has done but approach the analysis of different types of social design from the scale of the way the design intention is scoped, eg. “Utopian”; “Molecular”; and “Sociological” social design. Here, Utopian describes the kinds of massive change visions of societal transformation that would be exemplified by projects such as Massive Change by Bruce Mau or the earlier era’s Fullerine visions. As an outcome of one of these grand social visions, the National Institute of Design whose emergence and design is based on a white paper by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1950s, I am making a note to myself here to come back one day and analyse where NID fits within these frameworks of social design.

“Molecular” design, as described by Koskinen and Hush (2016) best fits within Markussen’s (2017) analytical framework which in turn serves to help distinguish between social innovation, social entrepreneurship, and social design. I cannot disagree with his point that social design is best attempted at the molecular level, however, over time, the potential exists within the scope of social design outcomes for them to scale, albeit in a manner that diverges from how impact at scale is attempted in social innovation or by social entrepreneurs. For example, if one introduces a custom designed tool for planning expenses that meets the needs and constraints of a selected group of vegetable vendors in Nairobi’s slums, and they find it useful enough to share it with others in their social networks, then it has organically scaled as it demonstrated its value within that social milieu.

What also caught my attention was Koskinen’s (2016) point that the object (of social design) is the social – social structures, processes, and forms of action – rather than a social problem. From my own perspective of evolving and developing both research methodology and protocol as my own understanding of the target audience and their operating conditions increased over the years, Koskinen’s object of social design clearly describes an approach for design research that must inform design of interventions and programmes with social implications in complex societal systems.

That is, if the object of the social in social design is to address design aiming at the social structures, processes, and forms of action, even at the micro level for a confined group or community (Markussen, 2017), some amount of research is required beforehand for effective design. It cannot all be done in a participatory manner at all stages of knowledge generation and development but instead, as one’s point of view moves around the social system being documented one’s methodology changes in response to one’s distance or proximity to the system.

Taking the newly emergent definitions, both broadly scoped and open ended such as offered by Koskinen and Hush (2016) or more narrowly scoped, such as that which fits within Markussen’s (2017) framework, it seems as though this new social design is something I have already been a part of since its inception – mentioned by many as being a result of the financial crisis of 2008 – and must scope my space within its attempts to bound itself.

An easy answer, as always, is “social design for humanitarian purposes” but that is the problem which my own body of work has always addressed as the barrier to good design. Here, because I’m practicing my picky academic worldview, I’d define good design as which is able to lower the barriers to the adoption of its output, minimize the dropout rate if its a programme, and create value for the end-users or the adopters of the design, depending on who is the real end user here.

This post is less than 800 words long, and unlike any previous post I’ve written that’s been based analysing literature, I did not need to refer to any of the journal papers until looking up Koskinen’s (2016) specific words used to describe the object of social design. That’s because it had particularly caught my attention from the way it reflected the work I’ve been doing within informal economic ecosystems. I feel I’ve found my way to connect with my Core77 avatar of long ago.



Chen, D. S., Cheng, L. L., Hummels, C., & Koskinen, I. (2016). Social design: An introduction. International Journal of Design, 10(1), 1-5.

Koskinen, I., & Hush, G. (2016). Utopian, molecular and sociological social design. International Journal of Design, 10(1), 65-71.

Koskinen, I. (2016). The Aesthetics of Action in New Social Design. In Proceedings of DRS 2016 International Conference: Future-Focused Thinking.” Proceedings of DRS (Vol. 1).

Markussen, T. (2017). Disentangling ‘the social’ in social design’s engagement with the public realm. CoDesign, 13(3), 160-174.

Manzini, E. (2015). Design, when everybody designs: An introduction to design for social innovation. MIT Press

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The 5D’s of BoP Marketing: Touchpoints for a holistic, human-centered strategy

Original version published January 2009 in Core77 – as you will note, it requires an overhaul of the details to make it more robust against the passage of time

Progress in the social mobile field will come only when we think more about best practices in the thinking and design of mobile projects and applications, rather than obsessing over the end products themselves. By then most of the damage has usually already been done. In my experience, many social mobile projects fail in the early stages. Lack of basic reality-checking and a tendency to make major assumptions are lead culprits, yet they are relatively easy to avoid. ~ Dominic Basuto

I would argue that this observation can be applied for any product or service meant for the BoP in the developing world, not just for the mobile industry. So how can we apply this understanding in order to design strategies to serve these untapped markets far more successfully?

Buying behaviour and decision-making criteria imply that those in the lower income strata—particularly in the developing world—are not ‘consumers’ but in fact extremely careful ‘money managers’ for whom an expense is often an investment whose return must be maximized.

The tacit mandate for companies interested in the BoP market is that your product or service must either fill an ‘unmet’ need (of which the poor have many), or provide a way for them to enhance their livelihood or quality of life. Why else would they divert their limited and hard-earned cash for your product or service? So the fundamental consideration before design would be to focus on the benefit to the BoP: Is there an opportunity for social or economic development?

Next, the solution must be well designed—contextually relevant, appropriate, and of course, affordable. But the best designed product or service in the world will not sell if your customer is unable to find it. Since logistics and transportation is as much of an infrastructural challenge in the developing world, distribution becomes critical in ensuring the availability of the product. The entire supply chain might have to be built from scratch.

Once you’ve made the right product and got it out to where its needs to be, are your customers aware of its existence, what benefits it may provide for them, and the reasons why they should think about purchasing it? Is there a demand for this product, or can one be created? Does the value proposition of your offer resonate with the value system and worldview of those at the BoP?

And finally, the whole offering must cohesively hinge upon preserving and ensuring the dignity of your new customers. The poor are not looking for handouts, but rather opportunities; providing them with such products or services through a filter of ‘charity’ or ‘social work’ serves no one.

Our work in the field observing those at the base of the pyramid had led us to conclude that their life of adversity—managing in challenging conditions—evidenced a very different value system and worldview from what is commonly considered mainstream consumer culture. Their buying behaviour and decision-making criteria imply that those in the lower income strata—particularly in the developing world—are not ‘consumers’ but in fact extremely careful ‘money managers’ for whom an expense is often an investment whose return must be maximized. They tend to be risk averse and seek greater value from their purchases.

So an integrated strategy—one that looks beyond the design of the product or service for the other 90% but also takes distribution, demand, development and dignity into account while touching the core values of the BoP customer—could be considered a framework for best practice.

Let us look at each of these elements in turn:

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Time to update the 5D’s framework for inclusive business design after 12 years

Two things have happened since I first published The 5D’s of BoP Marketing: Touchpoints for a holistic, human-centered strategy in Core77 back in January 2009.

One, Core77 overhauled their site design and broke my article rather badly. Its layout and formatting makes it virtually incomprehensible.

On the other hand, the 5Ds framework has apparently held up robustly over the past decade. I just finished working with the Inclusive Business Network (GIZ) to review their incorporation of it in their new online course curriculum.

These two factors, taken together, make it imperative for me to work on an overhaul of the article – surely the examples are outdated by now, and probably makes sense for me now to think of preparing it for journal publication.

Western Kenya, January 2016. Photo by Niti Bhan

I’ve used it before for client company assessments for products targeting the lower income markets in East Africa and it works pretty well, if I say so myself ;p I bring up this point because it strikes me that I have empirical evidence of its viability and feasibility in the field, and only its desirability has been a pleasant surprise.

I will evaluate the parts of it that make sense on the blog. And, I’ll republish the original as well for easier readability.

Posted in African Consumer Market, Base of the Pyramid, Consumer Behaviour, Design, Emerging Markets, Frameworks, Informal & Flexible, Innovation Planning, Marketing, Perspective, Retail in Africa, Strategy, Sub Saharan Africa, User research | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Learning to think about the process instead of the outcome

As a practitioner of long standing, I have been accustomed to emphasizing the focus of my analysis and synthesis on the content generated by my application of the design methods and process rather than on the process and tools themselves beyond the adaptation to better fit for purpose in relatively more complex and challenging contexts such as the informal economic system of East Africa.

That is, while internally the team might indeed spend a lot of time and effort upfront in the preparation and planning of the fieldwork, rarely does the client care about the nuances of the process and its implications. They are purchasing the outcomes.

Now, in academia, I am challenged to think about the process in great depth and detail, and how it relates to the body of literature on methodology.

Today, it feels like a daunting task.

How do I step back from the results of my work and distance myself from the outcomes, accustomed as I am to generating novel knowledge in little known contexts?

How do I distance myself from what I have long been accustomed to immersing myself in – the commercial practices of informal economic systems, for example – and pivot not only away from it in terms of distance but also step back at an angle to reflect on what I did, why I did it, and for what purpose?

Its not a linear pivot but one that must occur on two planes.

I’ve got to step back from the work far enough to see the process and at the same time I have to move away a little to side to discern the reasons for doing what I did to the process to make it work better in contexts it was not designed for in the first place.

The last time I tried a multi-scalar application of the design process was for the Dutch Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Economic Affairs (as it was known back then) in September 2012. I applied the human centered design research approach to map their implicit design process for implementing public private partnerships for sustainable agricultural value chains, and then used the same process as the evaluation metric by which to evaluate the gaps in the current approach in order to improve its human-centeredness (see Bhan and Doorneweert, 2013).

I felt the same way I am doing now. Daunted by the challenge. What had I gone and promised? On paper?

By jeroen meijer of jam visueldenken amsterdam

It took Jeroen Meijer, who had studied Industrial Design at TU Delft and now practiced as a visual sensemaker, to point out to me in the throes of anxious panic that what I was experiencing was normal to every designer who ever took up a new and challenging project. Of course we had no idea what we were doing, it was innovation, goddammit!

He taught me to trust the process. And the process, I have now learnt, if its going right, includes a momentary attack of panic stricken self flagellation – “what was I thinking?” “what am I doing?” “I have no idea what I’m doing here and how I’m going to get from A to B?” “Oh god, I’m lost, I’ve promised B and I’m lost between A and some dark and dangerous forest of inexperienced ignorance.”

I’m writing this out to remind myself that even if I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ll work it out somehow and then blog triumphantly from point B, going “Oh look at what we managed to do when we had no idea how on earth we were going to do it somewhere in the middle of the process”.

Trusting the process can be more important in the experience of the moment that remaining focused only on the outcome. This is one situation where keeping an eye on the goalposts while your feet are fumbling to dribble the ball can trip you up. This is counter-intuitive to the most popular bits of advice on never losing sight of your goals.

If you’re experienced in the process and the outcomes of the process are each and every time very different from each other, then trust your muscle memory of your hands on practical knowledge of implementing the process and the tools so familiar in your grasp that you barely acknowledge their existence.


Schon, D. A. (1984). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action (Vol. 5126). Basic books.

Bhan, N., & Doorneweert, R.B. (2013, December). Using the methods designers use as aids to thinking: The case of public-private partnerships in sustainable agricultural value chain development. In 2013 IEEE Tsinghua International Design Management Symposium (pp. 277-283). IEEE.

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“The craftsman not only owns the creation but owns the entire process”

The title is a mild adaptation from Samim’s blogpost. Which, in turn, is a snippet taken from a tweet. We pass our words around the world when they capture our imagination. This is the beauty of the interwebz we mustn’t forget whilst navigating the messes made in recent years through the proliferation of profit seeking attention hijacks.

I’d once spent an entire day looking for the perfect quote on craftsmanship, only to give up empty handed. Discovering this today on Samim’s blog was an unexpected gift, and far far better than any conceptualization of craftsmanship my imagination could conceive.

The key to creative ownership lies in owning the process, not just the outcomes. It is that which empowers you with the knowledge that you can create again and again and again, and make something beautiful emerge out of nothing. That the process by which to do so is within your experienced grasp. That all it takes is to initiate the process and creation starts.

How joyful to know that the seed lies within you. You are never afraid to walk away. You do not fear your errors. You can throw it all out and start over. Owning the entire process means owning all of creation. For someone could steal your creation but they cannot steal your ownership of your process from you. Voila! infinity is in the palm of your hand.

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Preparing the ground for the next steps

Artist @mavis_prplx

I’ve been working on a paper, as I’m sure any regular readers still left after all my literature reviews, would have noted. And the meat of it is written out, it will just require more writing and rewriting to get it into shape. For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve found myself slipping back to the daily habits from last year – more twitter, less blogging, and when I do write, its only work related. Far too many silent interludes, and not enough poetry. A red flag.

Mind you, I’ve begun a parallel journal where I use pencil or pen on paper but its not quite the same thing as the music of the keyboard is missing in that space. After all the efforts invested in this personal journey since March, I’d hate to let the threads slip out of my hands simply because I’d allowed myself to mindlessly fall back into old habits and the daily patterns of the past. Neither do I want to craft a piece of formal writing such as a literature review simply to keep the blog flowing.

This morning I feel as though I’m on a threshold but not quite a liminal space.

If I don’t make the efforts now to recognize and pause and reorient and then move forward with purpose, I fear that I’ll wake up at the end of the year and find myself back in the soundless silence of old. After the momentum of change in March when I picked up the blog again, and the pace set in exploring thinking and writing in April, these past few days of increasing silence are concerning.

It is not enough to simply seek the rhythm and the music of the words anymore, as those pieces of writing now feel like embroidered borders tacked on to renew an aging silk sari. Let me put my mind to this and see what I can do.

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Resilience of informal urban food systems: Does a systems thinking approach make a difference?

Sterk, van de Leemput, and Peeters (2017) help me start off this sensemaking exercise by clearly distinguishing the difference between engineering resilience and ecological resilience with respect to a system. This was useful to establish the direction of exploration for informal urban food systems.

Sterk, M., van de Leemput, I. A., & Peeters, E. T. (2017). How to conceptualize and operationalize resilience in socio-ecological systems?. Current opinion in environmental sustainability, 28, 108-113

Specifically, Sterk et al (2017) state that ‘engineering’ resilience  focuses on efficiency, constancy and predictability, and considers spatial and temporal system dynamics as perturbations to an otherwise stable system. Whereas, ‘ecological’ resilience focuses on persistence, change and unpredictability and, considers system dynamics in time and space as inherent properties of ecosystems.

Clearly, then, the informal urban fresh produce ecosystem is an adaptive, management system (Sterk et al, 2017) and its resilience strategies focuses on managing the effects of unpredictability and change, with persistence. Its practices fit within the definition of ‘ecological’ resilience as opposed to ‘engineering’ resilience. This makes sense since the informal economic system is an organic human one rather than an artificial engineered one. Also from Sterk et al (2017), the below quote applies,

In the context of social–ecological systems, resilience is related to the degree to which the system is capable of self-organization, learning and adaptation (Cummings and Peterson, 2017).

since food systems are intextricably linked to ecological systems, and thus, the human interaction makes the informal food system a social-ecological system given the lack of institutions and industrialization of more formal food systems of the global North.

“[Thus]… resilience is defined as the capacity of a social-ecological system to deal with change and meanwhile continue to develop. This broader view of the concept moves beyond viewing humans as external drivers of ecosystem dynamics but it rather looks at how humans are part of, and interact with the Earth system (Cumming and Peterson, 2017; Kates et al, 2001).” (Sterk et al, 2017)

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