SAYDS uses a model called CABESA to equip youth with systems thinking skills, which stands for Co-Designing And Building Enduring Systems Acumen. It is an innovative approach for equipping youth with skills for solving complex social problems and deepening their civic engagement. It seeks to improve the existing teaching and training approaches that are used to equip youth with such skills. CABESA uses a combination of the science of learning and design thinking principles, with a clear focus on the application of systems thinking, rather than a mere explanation of these concepts. Hence, they learn by doing. The expected outcome for success is to co-design a social change plan that is comprehensive, sustainable, and low-key-high-impact; this reflects the youth’s ability to use systems thinking in designing systematic solutions for any complex social problems they seek to solve.

Combining insights from science of learning, practical knowledge, metacognition, and design thinking, CABESA is essentially a iterative process between SAYDS and the youth group. SAYDS first provides researched knowledge of concepts and skills. This mainly involves two resources: a manual and well-designed activities for enhanced understanding. The manual adopts a transdisciplinary approach in synthesizing crucial complexity or systems thinking concepts. We design the manual to be such that we can engage three types of cognitive (i.e. conceptual, analytic, and social), which deepens learning. The activities, on the other hand, gives youth an opportunity to practices the concepts and actually go out and apply the concepts to real-life examples and scenarios related to their social change.

After using these two resources, the youth would provide feedback to SAYDS for either (re)formulating or altering the design of the proposal. For example, after learning and applying feedback loop and policy resistance, youth may realize that their previous diagnosis of the problem or social change plan fails to sufficiently take into consideration the effects of feedback loop, which makes their plan susceptible to resistance from political stakeholders. SAYDS sends it back or decides to interleave, they use it again to design the plan.

If SAYDS is confident that youth have mastered the systems thinking concepts, as reflected by how the plan incorporates such considerations, we move on to the next stage of concepts. There are eight stages in total, four in complexity and four in systems thinking. They are: complex systems characteristics, interactions and interconnections, social outcomes as properties of complex systems, key knowledge for interleaving appropriately, inter-relation I, perspectives, boundary, inter-relation II. The role of the youth is to identify the constraints and opportunities on the ground and tweak the plans appropriately.

Because our goal is to equip youth with the ability to deal with the adaptiveness of complex social problems, we co-design plans that they can easily adapt as the problems they try to solve evolve over time. Our design approach is grounded in the belief that design is communication among people enabling collective action and the transfer of the conception of the selected solution into action. To that end, design needs to be an organizational inquiry that requires at least some disciplined thinking and methodology, going through sets of purposeful activities, collecting and evaluating information, creativity, and decision making.

While our own internal processes are informed by design thinking, we use co-design so that we can guide the youth to engage in design thinking and systems thinking. We use the framework of complexity and systems thinking to provides a disciplined methodology, which facilitates disciplined thinking. We provide them with sets of activities that they have to go through to gain an in-depth and hands-on understanding of the concepts. These carefully designed activities justified both by the activities’ relationship to the curriculum and its use of science of learning. When the youth do these activities, they collect and evaluate information with the clear purpose of deepening understanding of what is the nature of the problem that they are trying to solve and whether their solution is really sufficient to address the problem. They then engage in creative processes and decision making. Such a design thinking process yields more meaning inquiry that shapes their social change plan.

The co-design approach also allows the youth the retain strong ownership of the project. Normally what happens a lot with youth partnering with organizations is that organizations end up taking away agency from youth, especially when their methods depend on staying for a long time. Over time, it becomes harder to leave because people working for the organization settle down, which leads to full or co-ownership of the social change initiatives that the youth work on. In CABESA, however, the youth have full ownership while we only play a co-design role. The youth examine the problem and design the preliminary solution to the problem. They carry out ground research and activities for improving the design. They implement the plan. We only work with them in designing plans for complex systems and once they are completed, we let them implement the plans with minimal to no participation on our part.