Designing Change in Emergency Management: Introduction

How can emergency management professionals create lasting behavioral change within their own organizations and the communities they serve? The following post introduces a series dedicated to establishing foundations for designing risk-driven change in everyday life.

Designing Change in Emergency Management: Introduction

Arriving at a Problem

The emergency management & broader emergency services community are talking about change. Of particular theoretical interest and global significance are the conversations about changing how people live and work around risk. What may be most interesting about these conversations is their desire to create fundamental, lasting change in the behavior and perceptions of others. Known as “history-making,” change of this variety leads to new ways of living in the world (Spinosa, Flores, & Dreyfus, 1999) and is the interest, outcome, and largely unrecognized intent of design.

“If you don’t want to just read about the history of being but you want to make the next stage of the history of being what you use is materializes these things” (Tonkinwise, 2018).

While history-making change may be desired, the emergency management community (and may others for that matter) must still manage to navigate the gap between realizing that fundamental change is needed and making it a reality. This series is about this gap and how the community might walk through it.

Finding a Pathway

The goal, process, and craft of changing everyday professional and private life is firmly rooted in design, though not the design emergency management is presently learning about. Without diminishing its value whatsoever, design’s growing presence in emergency management continues to be at the level of language and methods. Joining a collection of blog posts and conference talks, the recent publication of the Design Network for Emergency Managers' important book Design for Emergency Management, continues in this trend and marks a major moment in design’s integration into practice.

However, design methods and language alone are not enough to intentionally change the lives of others, especially when the proposed change is met with indifference, disinterest, or opposition. To fill this gap, the use of design methods must be predicated upon an understanding that encompasses design and everyday life. The intent of the series to follow this introductory post is to propose the outline of a fundamental knowledge that fills this void and provide map, or at the very least a compass for walking the terrain of creating change in human systems.

When it comes to navigating problems like the one in question here, a quote from the work of C.S. Lewis always seems appropriate:

"Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places and fly through them. There will always be a way through."

This series is about finding such a way.

Series Introduction

Offered as a companion to resources placing design in an emergency management context, the following series will sketch a foundation for informing the responsible design of new ways of living; for closing the gap between knowing change has to be made and making it. Drawing from work shared by the author at conferences here in Colorado, the series will explore design as the means by which “the next stage of the history of being” may be created while providing a perspective on the dynamics of everyday life. This is an ambitious project that from the outset favors the introduction of new questions and the creation of spaces to engage problems in different ways than developing formulaic approaches.

There are several motivating factors to this series, to include how urgently change in how others live is needed to reduce catastrophic outcomes, the ongoing integration of design into emergency management, and my own enduring curiosity toward changing human behavior.

If any of this interests you, follow me on Twitter where I think about and discuss complexity, narrative design, risk, and change.


Spinosa, C., Flores, F., & Dreyfus, H. L. (1999). Disclosing new worlds: Entrepreneurship, democratic action, and the cultivation of solidarity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Tonkinwise, C. (2018, June 27). 81. Cameron Tonkinwise. Scratching the surface. (J. Fuller, Interviewer) Retrieved from