Research Method: Systems Origami

31st March 2021

Funded Project:
Methods for Change

This ‘how to’ guide outlines the Systems Origami research method used by Kersty Hobson from Cardiff University. The film was created in collaboration with Alastair Lomas, The University of Manchester.

Social scientists from the Methods for Change project came together to discuss the research methods they use and how methods create change in society. Drawing from the expertise in the Aspect network, they collaborated on a series of ‘how to’ guides which are step-by-step instructions and top-tips for adopting these methods in a range of sectors. Visual and multisensory pieces, including comics, illustrations, posters, booklets, short films and animations were then developed in collaboration with creatives to capture the key value of these research methods with a view to being able to convey them to a variety of audiences.

It is hoped that these resources will be useful for people in higher education, commercial, public sector, third sector and community organisations who are interested in experimenting with, and expanding professional skills in, the adoption of social science research methods.

Research Method: Systems Origami

Systems Origami has its origins in ‘Business Origami’, used by designers to rethink how goods and services are created and delivered. It is a playful, hands-on, intuitive participatory method and design tool, to explore how objects and infrastructures shape what we do in our dayto- day life, and how we might do things differently.

The aim is to explore our social lives through particular goods and services, with the goal of redesigning and rethinking why and in what ways we make use of them, to enable change. In collaborative workshop settings, participants physically map out the material and social ‘lives’ of the goods and service under investigation, using handmade drawing or pre-printed pictures to represent different parts of the life cycle in question, drawing lines and arrows to visualise their relationships, to both understand existing systems and to develop a vision of an alternative. This method is particularly useful in settings where different stakeholders are brought together to envision alternatives to complex problems. It is different from some other sociological participatory approaches as it focuses less on understanding, sharing and shifting peoples’ values, and more on how the material world shapes how we put desired change into practice. The discussion in these workshops is thus not about how we can engage with goods differently, but what these goods are, where they come from, and what they do to/with us.

You can find all the research outputs from the Methods for Change series here

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This blog by the Methods for Change team, illustrated by Jack Brougham, asks if we should spend more time talking about the methods we use as researchers. Drawing on a recent paper, we suggest that researchers need to articulate why methods matter in creating change to global challenges. We share three creative techniques that we have experimented with across the Methods for Change project that can encourage playful, reflective conversation about methods and their role in galvanising change.

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