DangerousIdeas

We are currently supporting the ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) Biennial Conference – “ACT2020 Citizen Voice, Community Vision“.

And when we say currently, we mean it. Participants are ‘as we write’ involved in a world cafe session discussion dangerous ideas such as:

  • What changes can we make to restore / strengthen the democratising spirit of the community sector in the context of marketisation?
  • Put yourself in the shoes of public servants. What would you find hard if you had to do their job?
  • What if we took the idea of citizen voice seriously when we think about reproductive and sexual health and rights in our community?

And many others.

But we were so blown away by the keynote speeches at the start of the session, that we’ve taken time out from taking notes to think out loud about one concept in particular above – restoring the democratisation of the community sector in regards to the development of public policy.

DMA’s approach, because of our training, experience and the timing of our entry into service design at the turn of the century has always been one of ‘designing the best experience possible for people using and delivering government services’.

This approach has necessarily and deliberately separated administrative design (the experience of the services as determined by the policy and political processes) from policy design (the decision on which ‘levers’ are put in place to seek determined policy intent and outcomes).

But then we heard Prof Susan Goodwin speak, and that got us thinking about the alternative.

Prof Goodwin raised the historical context of where much public policy was developed as a result of the response of service deliverers to the needs of the people they dealt with. She asked why this democratisation and responsive approach to policy – that is, policy defined by the response of service deliverers to the lived experience of their ‘users’ rather than purely the current dominant practice of ‘evidence base’ and ‘detailed research’ as determinants of policy positions.

The call to arms for the re-democratisation of the public policy process asks fundamentally for a change in the current approach:

Research and Academic Expertise > Policy Development
> Political Approval and filtering > Legislation and Regulation Development
> Administrative Implementation > Review and Evaluate

to a much more democratic vision driven by up-front responsiveness, not to the elitism of empirical evidence and markets, but to the lived experience as understood by the very people receiving services and the organisations delivering them.

We have no doubt people would argue now that the lived experience IS a part of public policy development now.

The question for us as designers is how to enable a move from lived experience influencing part of public policy development to lived experience, and the citizen voice, being funded and supported to be the key driver of public policy development.

It’s a big question. It forces us to reflect on our view from designing the best possible administration of public systems, to using our skills to influence democratisation of the current public policy ‘industry’. We don’t know the answer, but we do know the dangerous idea has us thinking.

*In case you’re curious about the René Girard reference it’s for us to take a look at his writings The Scapegoat, and how his investigation of myth uncovers what he calls the scapegoat-mechanism, the tendency of society to collectively transfer guilt onto a sacrificial victim.