Proposal document for Rio 2012

Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, 2012




We need more comprehensive, 'joined-up' ways to feed, cloth, shelter, assemble, and communicate. This amounts to a paradigm change, which requires radical innovation, both at a conceptual and at a pragmatic level. So far, top-down methods have failed to achieve this within a liberal, democratic context. This proposal therefore calls upon world leaders to collaborate with ‘design thinkers’ to help them change social paradigms that sustain our collective habits of behaviour. This approach would require support with the continuing development of a more high-level, self-reflexive, comprehensive, inclusive and integrated mode of design that it refers to as ‘metadesign’. Design thinking is important, because designers are trained to attract behavioural change in direct, imaginative ways, via products, services and images. Working in metadesign teams, they would apply their skills to the search and cultivation of synergies on every level. Ultimately, this would achieve a global synergy-of-synergies.

a) What are the expectations for the outcome of Rio+20? What are the concrete proposals in this regard, including views on a possible structure of the Outcome document?


The cultivation of synergy would be a key principal objective for Rio+20. Synergy is an affirmative, under-explored factor that transcends the current, parsimonious, obsolescent paradigm of ‘sustainability’. The ultimate aim of Rio+20 would be the co-creation of a global synergy-of-synergies. An introductory definition of synergy is that it is the free, unforeseen abundance that emerges from a judicious combination of existing resource entities (e.g. materials, actions, ideas and/or problems). Primary synergies can also be synergized with other entities (including synergies) to create secondary or subsequent orders of synergy. As the origin of synergy is always ‘difference’, Rio+20 would publish a practical framework in which a diversity-of-diversities (e.g. political / cultural / biological / ecological / monetary) could be locally identified, managed or created. These would become the basis for new, more complex and integrated, modes of entrepreneurial (and entredonneurial) prosperity.



We would define the primary, systemic outcome of Rio+20 as a global paradigm change that seeds more ecological behaviour. The transition to this state would need to be declared, explicitly, as the shared responsibility of everyone on the planet, rather than the exclusive task of governments, corporations and NGOs, etc.


This would be launched as a call for the radical, collective re-definition of future prosperity, and other key aspirational, desirable values that currently drive the economy. It would not be framed within a target-led agenda for reducing carbon, or pollution, etc., In effect, it will ask citizens everywhere 'how would you like to live?' Our experiments have shown that, if asked in a neutral way, almost everyone has surprisingly modest and inclusive needs. The full proposal would offer some generic definitions of synergy and would invite local communities, where politically feasible, to re-create, adapte, refine and/or approve them for developing their own charters, similar to the Transition Towns model.

b) What are the comments, if any, on existing proposals. E.g., a green economy roadmap, framework for action, sustainable development goals, a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development, or others?



There are many reasons why previous, and current, attempts to achieve biodiversity, greenhouse gas reductions, etc. are failing. This is partly because democratic governments and international bodies continue to use measures that are the least effective (c.f. Meadows, 1999), such as setting targets, agreeing timelines, directing appropriate fiscal measures, devising sanctions and penalties. This is because these are indirect measures that have inauspicious or counter-productive feedback loops. In general, they are too bureaucratic to inspire a behaviour change in those whose immediate task is to make the policies work. In short, they do not easily change hearts and minds in the long term. They need augmenting with a more radical, subtle approach that transcends the existing mindset. This must be conducted using thinking that is commensurate or attractive to the new paradigm, not with the existing paradigm. Other reasons addressed in this proposal relate to the language of ‘sustainability’ that is part of this old paradigm.

c) What are the views on implementation and on how to close the implementation gap, which relevant actors are envisaged as being involved (Governments, specific Major Groups, UN system, IFIs, etc.)


Metadesign teams (recruited from the specialist design professions and from transdisciplinary design agencies such as IDEO, in consultation with their professional guilds and academies) would be commissioned to assist governments. These changes would serve to reframe the perceived PURPOSE of education and prosperity in ways that would complement existing fiscal and legislative approaches. They would need to work in harmony with the newly agreed definition of prosperity. Paradigms cannot easily be changed exclusively via top-down methods because they are sustained by assumptions, beliefs, and habits that are part of a complex web of economic, cultural, aesthetic, psychological and other forces that reinforce one other. This requires the synergizing of top-down and bottom-up initiatives. While designers have the potential for this challenge, they would need to work alongside imaginative managers to cope with the scale and complexity of the task. What we know as 'design' emerged in the 19th century as a set of specialist skills and practices. Since 2005, with research funding from AHRC and EPSRC we began to orchestrate these practices as a unified metadesign framework. Loosely speaking, metadesign is a team-based, self-defining superset of existing specialisms of design, management etc. that looks for opportunities to create a synergy-of-synergies.

d) What specific cooperation mechanisms, partnership arrangements or other implementation tools are envisaged and what is the relevant time frame for the proposed decisions to be reached and actions to be implemented?


Instead of designing discrete products, brands, or services, metadesigners would be commissioned to orchestrate 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' initiatives. They would broker effective, non-fiscal solutions for communities and their governments. Some work can be achieved in a top-down level by devising frameworks for circular, service-based economies, perhaps with the help of organizations, such as ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’, Twitter, Facebook, etc. However, it is also vitally important to 'language' new opportunities. This entails intervening creatively at the level of language, by circulating newly coined concepts; words and images (e.g. via Wikipedia, Wikimedia, Oxford dictionaries etc.) co-designed and disseminated also via bottom-up organizations, such as ‘Transition Towns’, Local Currencies initiatives, or Permaculture groups. They would also work in holarchic teams that we train to find, invent or cultivate synergies. These teams would include radical thinkers and experts from anthropology, social media etc., They would be put together with creative thinkers from advertising agencies, mathematics, bio-semiotics, science, economics, philosophy and design.



  • Wood, J., (2011), ‘Languaging Change from Within; can we metadesign biodiversity?’ Journal of Science and Innovation, ISSN 2078-5453, Volume 1, Number 3, October 2011, pp. 27-32
  • Wood, J., (2011), Guest Lecture, “The Design Thinking within Metadesign”, Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea, 27th April, 2011
  • Wood, J., (2011), Guest Lecture, “Paradigm Change – Synergizing Top-Down & Bottom-up Initiatives”, (as part of our ‘Paradigm Change’ conference), Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea, 27th May, 2011
  • Wood, J., (2011), Guest Lecture, “Can Eco-semiotics Enable us to Language the Ineffable?”, 12th April, Kookmin University, Seoul, South Korea,
  • Bussracumpakorn, C., & Wood, J., (2010), “Design Innovation Networks, critical factors that can contribute to successful collaborative development of innovative products”, Lambert Academic Publishing, 978-3-8383-6380-6
  • Wood, J., (2010), ‘An Introduction to Metadesign’, Journal of The Art Design Research Institute of KyungHee University, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 1-4, ISSN 11229-1250, 30th December, 2010
  • Wood, J., (2010), Keynote Address “Re-designing Design for our Survival into the Future”, Seoul International Design Fair, Jamsil Sports Complex, Seoul, South Korea, 17th September
  • Wood, J., (2010), Guest Lecture, “Re-designing Design for our Survival into the Future”, Sookmyung Women’s College, 27th November
  • Wood, J., (2010), Guest Lecture, “Metadesigning the Synergy of Inter-Hybrids”, 2-day Conference on Inter-hybrids, Dankook University, Seoul, South Korea, 8th December
  • Wood, J., (2010), Guest Lecture, “How Can We Use Metadesign to Change the Paradigm?”, Hongik University, 1st December
  • Wood, J., (2010), “Benchmarking Synergies in Metadesign”, chapter in Designing for the 21st Century, Interdisciplinary Methods and Findings, (ed. Thomas Inns) Gower Publishing, Surrey, UK, (pp. 101-115), ISBN-13: 987-1-4094-0240-4
  • Backwell, J., & Wood, J., (2009), “Mapping Network Consciousness: syncretizing difference to co-create a synergy-of-synergies”, chapter in New Realities: Being Syncretic, Ixth Consciousness Reframed Conference Vienna, 2008. Series: Edition Angewandte Ascott, R.; Bast, G.; Fiel, W.; Jahrmann, M.; Schnell, R. (Eds.) 2009, ISBN: 978-3-211-78890-5
  • Wood, J., (2009), Keynote Address “Towards a Synergy-of-Synergies”, for the UNESCO-sponsored conference ‘From Now On: Envisioning Nagoya’s Future on the Large Scale and the Small’ in International Design Hall, International Design Center, Nagoya, Japan, November, 2009.
  • Wood, J., (2009), Auspicious Reasoning; can metadesign become a mode of governance? Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Volume 12, Issue 3 September (2009) 315 - 327
  • Wood, J., (2009), - One of Three Keynote Lectures – ‘Diversity-of-Diversities’, final presentation for the ‘Edge of a Dream – Utopias, Landscape and Contemporary Photography’ project curated by Virginia Nimarkoh, Goldsmiths, University of London, 31st January 2009
  • Wood, J., (2008), - Keynote Lecture – “Synergy-Cities; a metadesign approach” given at the The Environment Technology Transfer Club (ETTC) and the Industrial Symbiosis Network (ISNet), are both part of the Clean Environment Management Centre (CLEMANCE) based at the University of Teesside as part of their ‘Eco Towns: Viable projects, or white elephant? Conference, May 14th, 2008
  • Wood, J., (2008), - Keynote Lecture – “Auspicious Reasoning; the idea of ‘quadratic innovation’, given at the Building Futures 'Futures Fair' conference, held by the Royal Institute of Building Architects, 15th May, 2008
  • Wood, J., (2008), - Keynote Lecture – “Auspicious Reasoning within Education”, given at the Interrogations: Creative Interdisciplinarity in Art and Design Research Conference, Loughborough University, School of Art & Design, May 21st, 2008
  • Wood, J., (2008), - Inaugural professorship lecture, Goldsmiths University of London, Monday 21st October
  • Wood, J., (2008), - in conversation with Malcolm Smith, Design Director of Arup & Partners, ‘Greengaged’ event at the UK Design Council, Monday 15th September
  • Wood, J., (2007), Guest article “Synergy City; Planning for a High Density, Super-Symbiotic Society”, (Editors P., Jones & H., Jones), Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 83, Issue 1, 12 November 2007, Pages 77-83, ISSN: 0169-2046
  • Wood, J., (2007), “Win-Win-Win-Win: synergy tools for metadesigners”, a chapter in “Designing for the 21st Century, Interdisciplinary Questions and Insights” book, (ed. Tom Inns) Gower Publishing, ISBN: 978-0-566-08737-0, December 2007
  • Wood, J., (2007), “Relative Abundance; Fuller’s discovery that the glass is always half full”, a chapter for “Designers, Visionaries and Other Stories: A collection of sustainable design essays”, (eds. Jonathan Chapman & Nick Gant), book, Earthscan, (August 2007)
  • Wood, J., (2007), “Designing for Micro-utopias; thinking beyond the possible”, (Commissioning Editor, Professor Rachel Cooper), Ashgate, UK, ISBN 0-7546-4608-4, (222 pages)
  • Wood, J., (2007), “Design for Micro-utopias; thinking beyond the possible”, Ashgate, UK, ISBN 0-7546-4608-4, (222 pages)
  • Wood, J., (2007), - Keynote lecture – “Masters of the Universe”, Kunsthøgskolen i Oslo, The Oslo National Academy of the Arts, 7th February, 2007
  • Wood, J., (2007), - Keynote Lecture - “Towards a 4th Order Design” for the ‘Mapping Design Activism’ conference at Leeds University, 14 September, 2007.
  • Wood, J., (2006), Keynote lecture - “Relative Abundance; Fuller’s discovery that the glass is always half full”, given at the ‘100% Sustainable’ conference, Olympia, London, 23rd September, 2006
  • Wood, J., (2006), - Keynote Lecture – “The Educational Purpose of Creativity - a clash of perspectives”, staff conference, Plymouth College of Art & Design, 26th October, 2006
  • Wood, J., (2006), - Keynote lecture - “Writing for/in Ethical Practice”, at the Writing-PAD conference, “Where do we go from here? A platform for past and future initiatives”, at Goldsmiths, University of London, 21st September, 2006
  • Wood, J., (2005), “How Can We Design Miracles?”, introduction to “Agents of Change: A Decade of MA Design Futures”, pages 10-14, (June 1, 2005), Goldsmiths College, (Hardback), ISBN 1904158617
  • Wood, J., (2005) “The Tetrahedron Can Encourage Designers To Formalise More Responsible Strategies”, for the "Journal of Art, Design & Communication", Volume 3 Issue 3, Editor, Linda Drew, UK, ISSN: 1474-273X, pp. 175-192
  • Wood, J., (2005) "Clocks with Awareness; Enhancing the Quality of Time", Vol. 16, 2004, International Journal of Computing Anticipatory Systems, ed. Daniel M. Dubois, Centre for Hyperincursion and Anticipation in Ordered Systems Publications, Liege, Belgium (Proceedings of the Computing Anticipatory Systems Conference, Liège, August 11-16, 2003. ISSN 1373-5411, ISBN 2-930396-02-4, pages 315-325
  • Wood, J., (2003), "Towards a Cybernetics of Value, Presence, and Anticipation", paper published in KUBERNETES, The International Journal of Systems and Cybernetics, Special Double Issue: Systems and Cybernetics: New Theories and Applications – Part II. Edited by Professor Yi Lin. Volume 32, Number 5/6, 2003, ISSN 0368-492X, pp. 881-888, ISSN: 0368-492X
  • Wood, J., (2003), "Designing Clocks to Sustain Synergy", (refereed) paper published in the online ‘Design Philosophy Papers’, (http://www.desphilosophy.com/dpp/dpp_index.html), Sydney, Australia, October 2003, Issue 5, 2003, ISSN: 1448-7136
  • Wood, J., (2000), "Un-Managing the Butterfly; Co-Sustainment and the Grammar of Agency" paper published in the Conference Proceedings, Second International Conference on Sociocybernetics, "Designs for Globalisation and Sustainability", Panticosa, Spain, 29 June 2000
  • Wood, J., (2000), "Towards an Ethics of Flow; Design as an Anticipatory System", paper published in the International Journal of Computing Anticipatory Systems, edited by Daniel M. Dubois, published by the Centre for Hyperincursive Anticipation in Ordered Systems, Liège, Belgium, Volume 10, pp. 87-102, August 2000, ISSN 1373-541
  • Nieuwenhuijze, O., & Wood, J., (2006), “Synergy and Sympoiesis in the Writing of Joint Papers; anticipation with/in imagination” International Journal of Computing Anticipatory Systems, edited by Daniel M. Dubois, published by the Centre for Hyperincursive Anticipation in Ordered Systems, Liège, Belgium, Volume 10, pp. 87-102, August 2006, ISSN 1373-541 (11,693 words)
  • Hwang, Shyh-Huei, Wang, Shu-Huei, Miyazaki, Kiyoshi and Wood, John (2011), The Steps And Practical Action And Framework of Empathic Design, Article in The Bulletin of Japanese Society for the Science of Design, Vol. * No. *, pp.**

Conference Papers

  • Wood, J., (2010), “Co-designing Team Synergies within Metadesign”, paper given at the “Young Creators for a Better City and a Better Life” conference, Shanghai, CUMULUS conference, September 8th, 2010
  • Wood, J., (2008), “Changing the Change: A Fractal Framework for Metadesign”, Paper presented for Changing the Change Conference, Institute of Biotechnology, Torino, Italy, 3 July – 10th, 11th & 12th July 2008
  • Backwell, J., & Wood, J., (2008), Mapping Network Consciousness: syncretizing difference to co- create a synergy-of-synergies, Paper presented for the Consciousness Reframed Conference, New Realities: Being Syncretic, Vienna, Austria, 3 July – 5 July 2008, University of Applied Arts Vienna
  • Wood, J., (2008), - Lecture – ‘Diversity-of-Diversities’, penultimate presentation for the ‘Edge of a Dream’ project curated by Virginia Nimarkoh, Goldsmiths, University of London, 31st January 2009, July 3rd, 2008
  • Wood, J., (2007), “Dancing with Disorder: Synergizing Synergies within Metadesign”, conference paper Conference ‘Dancing with Disorder’, 11-13 April, 2007, Izmir, Turkey
  • Wood, J., (2007), - Progress Presentation to the (AHRC/EPSRC-funded) ‘Designing for the 21st Century’ Researchers, Design Council, London, 19th March, 2007
  • Wood, J., (2006), “Win-Win-Win-Win - Synergy in Metadesign”, project leader’s presentation on behalf of the ds21 team, AHRC/EPSRC ‘Designing for the 21st Century’ research project, RIBA, London, 7th March, 2006
  • Wood, J., (2006), “Towards a Synergy of Synergies”, EPSRC/AHRC funded colloquium, Design Council, London, 21st March, 2006
  • Wood, J., (2006), - Presentation of outcomes from the 2005 ‘Synergy within Metadesign’ project within a Knowledge-Sharing Workshop convened by the funding bodies (Designing for the 21st Century, EPSRC and AHRC) 21st November, 2006
  • Wood, J., (2005), & Nieuwenhuijze, O., (2005), “Synergy and Sympoiesis in the Writing of Joint Papers; anticipation with/in imagination”, paper given at Seventh International Conference on Computing Anticipatory Systems, Liège, Belgium, August 8-13, 2005 held at HEC Management School - University of Liege.
  • Wood, J., (2005), "(How) Can Designers Learn to Enhance Synergy within Complex Systems?", conference paper to given at the 'DESIGNsystemEVOLUTION' conference in Bremen, Germany, March 2005
  • Wood, J., (2004), "Could Synergies of Relations in Design Become the Basis for Professional Standards of Eudaemonia?" Refereed paper given at the FutureGround conference, Melbourne, November 2004.
  • Wood, J., (2003), Visiting Professorship: Lecture: "The Responsible Designer", guest speaker at Nagoya Design University, Nagoya, Japan, May 29, 2003
  • Wood, J., (2003), Visiting Professorship – Public Lecture: "The Nature of Wisdom = The Wisdom of Nature", at The Ecopal Centre, Nagoya, Japan, June 6, 2003
  • Wood, J., (2003), “Clocks with Synergy”, paper presented at the Fifth International Conference on Computing Anticipatory Systems, Centre for Hyperincursion and Anticipation in Ordered Systems, Liege, Belgium, August 2003
  • Wood, J., (2003), "The Wisdom of Nature=The Nature of Wisdom", participant at the 5th Conference of the European Academy "Techné: Design Wisdom", University of Barcelona, 28, 29, 30 April, 2003

return to home