Collaboration and learning tools for the next 200 years

Designing filtering, collaboration, thinking, and learning tools for the next 200 years

The focus of this research programme, which has been running since 2006, consists of local applications of the visual language of evolutionary design, to design filtering, collaboration, thinking, and learning tools for the next 200 years.

The language of evolutionary design encapsulates and formalises the timeless principles that can be traced back to the earliest rock paintings and diagrammatic representations, which enabled important knowledge to be transmitted reliably in otherwise largely oral human scale cultures over tens of thousands of years.

The language of evolutionary design allows organisations and people to participate in the evolution of a living system and to integrate their knowledge into a living system that includes humans, non-humans, and human designed system.

Have you ever wondered why currently “storytelling” is such a trendy topic? If this question bothers you and makes you uncomfortable, your perspective on human affairs and your cognitive lens is rather unusual. Humans are biased to thinking they understand more than they actually do, and this effect is further amplified by technologies such as the Internet, which connects us to an exponentially growing pool of information. New knowledge is being produced faster than ever whilst the time available to independently validate each new nugget of “knowledge” is shrinking, and whilst the human ability to learn new knowledge at best remains unchanged – if it is not compromised by information overload.

The art of storytelling is linked to the rise of marketing and persuasive writing. Stories are appealing and hold persuasive potential because of their role in cultural transmission is the result of gene-culture co-evolution in tandem with the human capability for symbolic thought and spoken language. In human culture stories are involved in two functions:

  1. Transmission of beliefs that are useful for the members of a group. Shared beliefs are the catalyst for improved collaboration.
  2. Deception in order to protect or gain social status within a group or between groups. In the framework of contemporary competitive economic ideology deception is often referred to as marketing.

Storytelling thus is a key element of cultural evolution. Unfortunately cultural evolution fuelled by storytelling is a terribly slow form of learning for societies, even though storytelling is an impressively fast way for transmitting beliefs to other individuals. Not entirely surprisingly some studies find the prevalence of psychopathic traits in the upper echelons of the corporate world to be between 3% and 21%, much higher than the 1% prevalence in the general population.

The extent to which deceptive storytelling is tolerated is influenced by cultural norms, by the effectiveness of institutions and technologies entrusted with the enforcement of cultural norms, and the level of social inequality within a society. The work of the disciples of Edward Bernays ensured that deceptive storytelling has become a highly respected and valued skill. An alien observer of human societies would probably be amazed that some humans (and large organisations) are given a platform for virtually unlimited storytelling at a scale that affects billions and hundreds of millions people, and that delusional and misleading stories are let lose on the population of a species that is the local champion of cultural transmission on this planet.

All scientists, engineers, and technologists are familiar with a language that is more expressive and less ambiguous than spoken and written language. The language of concept graphs with highly domain and context-specific iconography regularly appears on white boards whenever two or more people from different disciplines engage in collaborative problem solving. Such languages can easily be formalised mathematically and can be used in conjunction with rigorous validation by example / experiments.

Paul Lockhart describes mathematics as the art of explanation. He is correct. Mathematical proofs are the one type of storytelling that is committed to being entirely open regarding all assumptions and to the systematically exploring all the possible implications of specific sets of assumptions. Formal proofs are parametrised formal stories (sequences of reasoning steps) that explore the possibilities of entire families of stories and their implications.

Mathematical beauty is achieved when a complex family of stories can be described by a small elegant formal statement. Complexity does not melt away accidentally. It is distilled down to the its essence by finding a “natural language” (or “model”) for the problem space represented by a family of formal stories. A useful model encapsulates all relevant commonalities of the problem space – it provides an explanation that is understandable for anyone who is able to follow the reasoning steps leading to the model.

The visual non-linear language and the collaboration patterns of evolutionary design allow us to improve our ability to understand and participate living systems. Amongst other things evolutionary design patterns and techniques reduce misunderstandings, which in turn help us to develop mutual trust, learn more about each other, and feel safe with each other.

Project team

  • Jorn Bettin, evolutionary design facilitator,
    S23M and Autistic Collaboration Trust
  • Pete Rive, creative world bender,
  • Keith Duddy, interoperability architect,
  • Andrew Shewring, software engineer,
  • Xaver Wiesmann, language designer,
  • Computer science student teams, software developers,
    Queensland University of Technology

Past team members

  • Chul Kim, software engineer
  • Céderic Chevillat, software engineer

Results to date

The results of this long-term transdisciplinary research programme are being published by S23M, and are being used on an ongoing basis as the backbone of the advisory services, the knowledge distillation services, and the software services operated by S23M.

Articles and workshop results

Evolution of codes and languages

  1. Article: Evolutionary design, 15 August 2021
  2. Language: A formal design language for representing ecologies of care, 2021
  3. Article: The story of life is language, 24 July 2011

Thinking tools which compensate for human cognitive limits

  1. Presentation: Thinking Tools for Interdisciplinary Research, Design, and Engineering, August 2017
  2. Article: Are you a model builder or a story teller?, 22 August 2017
  3. Results: CIIC Workshop, 3 June 2017
  4. Article: Designing filtering, collaboration, thinking, and learning tools for the next 200 years, 25 April 2017
  5. Article: Human scale computing, 20 January 2017
  6. Article: The antidote to misuse of mathematics and junk data, 1 April 2015

Formal conceptual modelling

  1. Article: The semantic and logistic lenses in MODA + MODE, 29 May 2017
  2. Video: Adaptive resilient logistical networks designed with MODA + MODE, 20 March 2013
  3. Presentation: Sharpening your collaborative edge with MODA + MODE, 10 June 2010
  4. Presentation: From muddling to modelling in software, economics, engineering, science, 3 April 2010
  5. Article: Advanced modelling made simple with the Gmodel metalanguage, 2010


  1. The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations, 2021
  2. Domain Engineering: Product Lines, Languages, and Conceptual Models, 2013
  3. Model-Driven Software Development: Technology, Engineering, Management, 2006

Applications of evolutionary design

  1. Creative Collaboration – Focus on evolutionary design and creative thinking tools – the hugely diverse set of tools that different people tap into as part of the creative process
  2. Employee Wellbeing – Independent community powered oversight of intersectional cultural and psychological safety in the workplace, and specifically in healthcare organisations
  3. Community-Oriented Service Co-design – Developing the creative thinking practices required to address the biggest issues facing coming generations
  4. Transdisciplinary Governance – Coordination and crisis management across discipline boundaries in a digitally connected world
  5. Human Factors, Security and Risk – Human physical limits, cognitive limits such as Dunbar’s number, and the impact of fear on collaboration, security and risk exposure
  6. Enterprise Software Advisor – optimising the value of enterprise software solutions
  7. Clinical Data Governance – Clinical data governance standards, design of trustworthy and reliable federated clinical data repositories
  8. Interoperability & System Integration – Model oriented health information interoperability solutions based on FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) and IPS (International Patient Summary) standards

Relevant domains and disciplines

Ecologies of care / mutual aid networks, design justice, anthropology, sociology, cultural evolution, politics of information, collective learning, creative collaboration, visual and non-linear languages, category theory, model theory, denotational semantics

Participating organisations

  1. S23M Healthcare Solutions
  2. Autistic Collaboration Trust
  3. Queensland University of Technology

Past co-sponsors

  1. Auckland University of Technology (AUT)
  2. Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)