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the systemic design journal

SDA Scholars Spiral

Seashell and colourful lines invite authors to submit manuscripts

SDA takes a cyclic, non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship in the Scholars Spiral.

For nearly a decade, a publishing ladder was promoted for authors to further their scholarship by continuing to develop their research following the working paper submitted in the proceedings. The Ladder was envisioned as a typical stepwise development of scholarly communication from the conference presentation to the proceedings paper to the top rungs of a journal special issue. Systemic design studies and RSD proceedings editors have collaborated with design research journals FORMakademisk, She Ji, and several other peer-reviewed journals and publications.

The Ladder concept was not novel (there is at least one article supporting a similar concept), but it was well-understood and an attractive option for the diligent author. Recently in discussions with the SDA general assembly, a critique of the Ladder was offered, that it was implicitly hierarchical with a single preferred destination and perhaps not suitable for all members. A board proposal was made to officially replace the Ladder with a cyclic publishing spiral, a metaphor motivated by three ideas:

  • Reduce the competitive implications of the hierarchical structure of the ladder, with the achievement of the peer-reviewed article at the top of the ladder
  • Encourage the development of new authors in the field by promoting a realistic yet high-standard process for authors at different levels of quality and readiness to start publishing
  • Adapting our knowledge of systems thinking to the publishing process

Thinking of scholarship in terms of a cyclic, spiral process supports a vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars.

The SDA desires to encourage young researchers, graduate students, and new RSD authors to pursue their own best pathways to publishing available within the RSDA community, from conference to journal and, as envisioned, other publishing outlets for non-research and case studies. The Spiral also encourages scholarships to take their own path, recognizing the development of the field takes shape through studies in adjacent field journals and through partner societies, with conferences and journals in design research, systems sciences, interdisciplinary studies, and relevant fields.

The basic image of the Spiral shows that

  • Each ring is an iteration of development, with the first ring, of course, being an RSD conference paper
  • A second cycle could be a case report or essay following further development of a study or project
  • The Contexts journal could be the ultimate publication of a completed research project, as in the ladder, or the journal can be another step in knowledge mobilization
  • Other conferences or journals could follow, as the ultimate scholar’s goal is the sharing and further expansion of the ideas and connection, with more visibility and citations to important work
  • The cyclicity and variability allow the  author to follow the impact of their work rather than chase the perceived level of the publication

Following a typical cycle in the Scholars Spiral, we can trace the following points of production and exchange in the figure:

  1. RSD Symposium submissions
  2. Presentation and dialogue at RSD Symposium
  3. Publication in the symposium publication, Relating Systems Thinking and Design
  4. Development for other conferences
  5. Refereed publication of work in progress: case brief or relevant journal
  6. Refereed publication of research in Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal

Perhaps the most important point is to recognize that the Spiral is meant to support the evolution of scholarship within the SDA membership by providing appropriate points for contribution, peer feedback,  audience, development, and publication and promotion, all within the support of a diverse, creative multidisciplinary community. As a journal, Contexts may appear positioned as a kind of destinal object for the certification of scholarly work in the field, but that would be a misperception. The cyclic nature of the spiral, as opposed to the ladder metaphor, balances this inclination by always suggesting that a scholar’s development of work is personalized, evolving, and part of an ongoing process.

The purpose of the SDA is not to generate the production of high-quality research but to cocreate the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their own pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.


The Systemic Design Association will send you quarterly updates on systemic design and activities in the SDA network. During the annual Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD) Symposium timeframe SDA will send brief updates related to RSD keynotes, papers, and workshops.

RSD11 event updates, program content, and proceedings are posted on