Creating a World View for Transformation


Anthony Hodgson, Ph.D., SDG Transformations Forum StewardCapacity Working Group and Innovation Working Group; TrusteeH3Uni, Hon Research FellowUniversity of Dundee.

How can we hold the complexity and uncertainty associated with transformation, in ways that support purposive action and direction? One response is to create a model of the socio-ecological system that lends itself to structuring co-creating systems thinking. With IFF I developed a participatory game based on a World Systems Model WSM). The approach is a generative tool – one that supports the visioning activity of transformative innovation.

This approach can increase our capacity to handle multiple complex patterns of relationship and help break down the usual categories that sustain the silos of specialization. One of the challenges of the SDGs is they are set out as seventeen separate domains when in fact they are tightly interconnected.

The WSM is designed to represent as simply as possible, but no simpler, the complex interacting set of global issues (which the Club of Rome named the global problematique) in a way that cuts through conventional disciplines and is scalable from village to planet. This model is essentially a mental model, rather than a computer model. There are 12 nodes, each of which exhibits major trends and reveals the potential for major disruptions or discontinuities as well as the scope for innovative solutions.

The model takes the form of a symbol or mandala in which there are 66 interconnections, as in Figure 1. However it is obvious that this level of complexity could be mind boggling. The answer is to engage with it with multiple ways of learning and using it.

It’s form is a participatory learning game, with versions that can be played in a time period from a couple of hours to a full day. In the game the WSM is focused on an area of interest, for example a specific SDG, and the players are appointed to role-play responsibility for achieving the goal in their situation which may be a community, a company or even a country. The action is then conducted in three rounds, much like a three-act play.

The Game Schedule

The game requires five sessions usually spread over one to one and half days.

  1. Introduction, briefing and role allocation
  2. Round 1 – Finding Our Concerns in the Big Picture
  3. Round 2 – Anticipating Present and Future Challenges
  4. Round 3 – Wisdom Circle – Creating Wise Actions
  5. Debriefing and Learning Review – highlights the emergent collective wisdom
 An Example: Resilient Toronto

This game was run in 2014 in Toronto at OCAD University with a gathering of professionals and academics resident in Toronto. The gaming group was constituted as an advisory council to the Mayor of Toronto. Figure 2 is a photograph of the WSM map of the concerns expressed in the 12 different domains. This is arrived at through studying a condensed brief for each node which summarises trends and discontinuities. Having explored and shared an anticipatory perspectives around the two themes of ‘might happen’ and ‘make happen’, Round 3 was conducted as a Wisdom Council (see Figure 3) in which heartfelt declarations were made as to how each node should be approached in the city.

In Figure 2 is a group-generated diagnostic of the issues around that node. They have looked at scenarios where these issues run into one another in scenario groups. Then they generated positive policies which aim to reverse the tendency in a positive direction. As an example their conclusions from Wealth and Habitat are shown in Figure 3.

A version is currently being developed which associates each of the SDGs to a principal node so that similar generative thinking can be carried out on combinations of nodes and break out of the silo thinking.


The benefits of this kind of gaming can be summarized as ‘participative repatterning’, a concept developed as a basis for practice by H3Uni. Repatterning is the process of deconstructing existing unhelpful patterns of thinking that we are locked into, usually subconsciously. Participative implies that this is a process that involves contribution and cooperation from everyone involved. It is different and complementary to the expert or hierarchical management approach.

Playing the game brings people a greater sense of the whole system, surprises them that such complexity can be taken on in such a short time, and connects them to information that really matters, thus generating new insights and identifying connections that were previously missed. This all contributes to reframing a sense of the future, including both the inevitables and the areas open to imaginal creation. Some of the most fruitful applications have included: considering the future of cities; developing public health policy; sustainable business; catalyzing interdisciplinary research; and generating new ideas for sustainable enterprise. The stage is set for seeing what this approach can bring to accelerating the pursuit of the SDGs.

For more covering design and applications:

  • Hodgson, A. (2011). Ready for Anything: Designing Resilience for a Transforming World. Axminster: Triarchy Press.
  • Technical paper on the cybernetics of the WSM:
  • Hodgson, A. (2012). A Transdisciplinary World Model. Systems Research and Behavioural Science, 29, 517–526.
  • A customized application to Glasgow City resilient communities:

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