A Systems Approach to Crisis Preparedness and Organizational Resilience

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Idealized Design

What is Idealized Design?

Idealized design answers the question, “Ideally, what would we like the program to be?”

Why Idealized Design?

Most improvement efforts focus on problem solving or what went wrong. At best, this results in marginal gain. More often solving one problem just causes another (bigger) one to pop up.

When Do We Do It?

We use Idealized Design if we want to:
• Make major improvements in a product, process or organization.
• Incorporate the values, experience and insights of all the stakeholders in a system.
• Focus on overall purposerather than performance of individual parts.

The Broader Context

Science and education typically involve analytical thinking, which may reveal how a system works, but not understanding of why it works the way it does.

In contrast, Idealized Design is a systems think­ing methodology. It entails a focus on purpose and desired ends and how best to meet them.


How Does It Work?

Idealized design works by
(1) drawing on stakeholder experience/insight, and
(2) eliminating constraints.

What’s not going to happen is: Someone offers a suggestion that an “expert” will silence. Rather, we facilitate, drawing out your experience and insight. And rather than tinkering with current structure, idealized design starts from scratch.How Do We Do It?


Participants perform two major functions: generate specifications and develop a design.
Specifications state a desired property or charac­teristic. Specification statements should begin with phrases such as ‘I would like …’.

In the design phase, participants create or draw structures and processes to bring about one or more desired specifications.

Guidelines for Ideation:

To eliminate barriers to idea creation:
• Imagine that the program never existed, and we were now to create one.
• Don’t worry about whether resources are avail­able to implement an idea.
• Suggestions are subject to a single constraint: that they be physically possible, e.g., no time travel. But when in doubt, go ahead and shout it out.
To focus on desired specifications:
• Stay in design-from-scratch mode.
• Do not specify what isn’t wanted.
• If you disagree with someone else’s specification, state an alternative.


Idealized Design, a segment of Interactive Planning, is an organizational development process developed by Russell L. Ackoff in the 1950's which enables an organization to get beyond the problem solving mode and unleash their innovative potential.


“An idealized design of a system is the design its stakeholders would have right now if they could have any system they wanted.... It is called idealized because it is the best ideal-seeking systems its designers could imagine at the time, recognizing that they and others may be able to imagine a better one in the future.” (WHCA, 1996)



Read A Brief Guide to Interactive Planning and Idealized Design


The unedited transcript of the conversation between Ackoff and Deming, as moderated by Clare Crawford Mason. This transcript reveals the views of two preeminant thinkers in systems thinking. They discuss the relevancy and the application of systems worldview to the intractable problems and societal ills.









Date Page Created: Oct 4, 2022 Last Page Update: Oct 4, 2022