Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology
Stable systems are not necessarily healthy ones. Many ostensibly stable systems in organisational, commercial, and civic contexts are instead characterised by zero-sum dynamics, in which participants are forced to compete for a narrow set of scarce assets rather than satisfying their needs from a state of pluralistic abundance. Insights from behavioural science indicate that conditions of scarcity and competition can have a significant influence on how choices are prioritised and made, suggesting that a behavioural perspective on how people consider options and trade-offs when making decisions under uncertainty can contribute to understanding behaviours in these zero-sum situations. Further, the need to consider value from both individual and communal levels suggests that augmenting these behavioural insights with an understanding of system-level functions can illuminate strategies for reframing value definition and exchange and help reframe zero-sum conditions into positive-sum ones. However, where behavioural design focuses on narrowly defined behavioural change, and immediate decision-making environments in the form of choice architecture, achieving positive-sum outcomes may demand paying greater attention to choice infrastructure, or the more systemic processes, functions, and conditions that underlay and shape behaviours. In addition, encouraging positive-sum outcomes will also benefit from understanding how individuals’ specific and non-generic stances on value inform their personal choice postures or inclinations and predispositions toward options that are shaped by personal experience. This paper proposes that behavioural insights seen through the lenses of choice infrastructure and choice posture can build on current systems and behavioural design approaches, achieving more equitable, positive-sum solutions to system challenges. It then examines Chicago’s transportation policy related to fines and fees through these lenses to demonstrate how they might be applied to real-life challenges.
Keywords: systemic design, behavioural design, behavioural science, choice infrastructure, choice posture, zero-sum, positive-sum, behavioural economics