Linda Blaasvær, Tore Gulden, and Fred Steier
Experimenting with logical paradoxes in welfare services
This workshop introduces an understanding of double bind communication from cybernetic theory and describes how a synthesized model of logical paradoxes can serve as a means for systems analysis of double bind communication inherent in the relationship between clients and service providers in public services. The study is oriented in the context of the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV). Double bind can be described as communication that is paradoxical in contexts where, for example, the client, in this study, the citizen, seeking help in difficult life situations, encounters dimensions of being disciplined and helped as two facets of a conversation with the service provider, in this study a public servant representing a welfare provider.
We have explored communication sequences in citizen–public servant conversations in relation to cybernetic theory and Bateson (Bateson, 2000/1972) to illustrate the theory of double bind communication. The communication studied in this ongoing study is limited to a few standardized letters created by NAV and sent to clients when the support for sick leave is about to stop. The study, thus, is about how to recognize and understand double bind communication in welfare services and service design in general and, by extension, how such an understanding can inform how to design a mutually trustworthy communication and relationship between the citizen and welfare provider. It is suggested that the model of logical paradoxes synthesized in this research can be introduced to design students. This will enable a wider understanding of double bind functioning and thus create a method to design for situations where double bind communication is detected or unavoidable.
We have developed a model that describes double bind communication between citizens and welfare providers as a process to develop a design method that stimulates awareness and understanding of different levels of complexity for the designer.
In the workshop, participants will experiment through group discussions facilitated by guided questions or prompts to explore, learn and find new examples of paradoxical communication in welfare services.
KEYWORDS: systemic design, cybernetic theory, double bind, design method, public services, sustainable welfare system