Systems thinking, regenerative design, and all things transition, are on a roll. Hardly a day goes without a new course, project or platform adorned with some combination of those words. The Club of Rome, for example, just launched a System Transformation Hub to ‘drive systemic solutions in in Europe’. Switzerland’s ETH has announced a Master of Advanced Studies Designing Regenerative Systems. The Royal Society of Arts has started a podcast called Regeneration Rising. And the fast-growing Systems Innovation Network is publishing a stream of (excellent, and open source) tools to “help to revolutionise our way of looking at the world”. My in-box contains dozens more examples.

Then, last week, I had “Wait A Minute!” moment. As I began to update my Designing for Life in Practice Handout, I noticed a curious thing: among these thousands of inspiring people, hardly any describe themselves as a ‘regenerative designer’ or ‘systems thinker’ or ‘transition practitioner’. It’s the same in our Open School for Village Hosts or the Urban-Rural projects. The world of systems thinking shares a different language from the world of those who care for place in practice.

Another anomaly stands out where these two worlds meet – thinking about systems, and caring for place. The uniqueness of place is hard for systems thinking to cope with. Systems thinking aspires to be – well, systematic. But blueprints, canvases and method cards are thin on the ground – literally – among place-caring practitioners. The mismatch here is that mainstream science, management – and therefore funders – need project outcomes to be predictable, controllable, and verifiable. That’s how technoscience works. But that’s not how life works in places.

In addition to divergent languages (between systems thinking, and caring for place); and on top of the unmeetable need of funders for replicability and scale; a third dilemma concerns project duration. Running short workshops is standard practice in design research – I’ve done many place-based workshops myself. But places, I’ve learned, run on different timescales than universities – or living labs run by researchers. It feels wrong, now to take a group of experts to a locality, spend an intense few days on site – and then we visitors pack up and go home. Reconnecting with place needs to happen continuously, and over the long-term.

Can these three mismatches be fixed? I think the answer is yes – and that the MeetUps we’re hosting this year are a good place to start. Don’t come if you’re looking for pre-cooked answers – but they are a good place and time to explore pathways towards them. To judge by the projects people have come with in the past, this space between systems thinkers, and those who care for place in practice, is fertile ground for conversation.

So, if you’re a mid-career professional, or postgraduate student; are curious about what designing for life can mean in practice; and are working on a live project, thesis, course, or book; well, do check out