Teaching Design for Democracy

Linda Blaasvær and Birger Sevaldson

Design for Democracy
Systems Oriented Design
Education

This proposal reports on a new studio course at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), started in autumn semester in 2016. The course will be repeated in autumn 2017 and in the coming years. The aim is to slowly develop pedagogic approaches and a curriculum for teaching Design for Democracy.

The proposal will present the course briefly and we wish to spend time on discussions and input to how to develop it further. It is important for us to present this work in progress, share our experiences and to have ideas and input as well as criticism so that we can develop it better in the coming runs. At the time of presentation, we will be in the middle of the second run of the course and we will be able to present our resent experiences. The course is a master level studio. Its length corresponds with 24 ETCS duration is one semester.

The course is suitable for all sub-domains in design like service and product design, interaction design, design management and other new fields of design like organization, strategy, policy etc. It is also relevant for architecture, urbanism and landscape architecture. The course ranges from micro to macro scale and students can develop and choose their perspective.
Systems Oriented Design (SOD) is the integrated bases of this course.

We are experiencing major unrest in the world; democratic values are at stake, people fleeing from their homes and from war. Many nations are heading towards democracy but it is a cumbersome way forward. The party systems is under stress. Even established democracies are struggling. Norway is not an exception when it comes to the need for better participation and accountability of voters and citizens in general. The representative democratic systems’ inherent reinforcement of short-term perspectives together with the complexity of the driving processes makes it very difficult for citizens to voice long-term considerations and to know how to claim participation. Local dialogic democracy is underdeveloped compared to the major tasks that communities are confronted with. These range from sustainability to economic development and integration.
Work place democracy is under pressure. The neo-liberalist wave of the late last century, new economies and cultural changes have weakened the labor unions, their influence and their power.

Inequality is rising globally while the sense of fairness is crumbling. These are corner stones of functioning democratic societies.
On the other hand, design has a long tradition of developing processes from a democratic perspective. Universal Design and Participatory Design processes are examples of this. In addition, designer have been involved in democracy in designing voting processes and information distribution for a long time.
However, design for democracy can be developed further. Can we, through design, envision and describe a future that supports a balanced distribution of power, values, and resources? Can we contribute to building democratic cultures and lowering the threshold for participation in democratic processes? Can we design processes that make it easier to think long term and through this encourage sustainable development? Can we, through the design of our surroundings help the emergence of democratic organizations?

The theme Design for Democracy seeks innovation to support democratic processes in small and large scale. Democracy is under pressure and there is no guarantee that democracy will prevail without a comprehensive effort to protect and develop democratic processes. This effort for developing democracy may in many ways, be perceived as a design process, and designers have a lot to contribute.
In our age where the Internet has made it possible to reach out with ones opinions and where Democracy 2.0 has been relevant for a while, it is important with an effort to find out how designers can help.
The theme may involve a number of areas and issues where design can be a crucial factor:

– How to convey democratic history? –
– How to help people to vote for their long-term interests?
– How to make discussions of sustainability more accessible?
– How to vote on behalf of others, your children, grandchildren, future generations or others who cannot vote? (Agency)
– How Designing voting process as an interactive service?
– How Reveal / uncover and communicate processes that undermine democracy?
– How to fight for democracy? (Activism) What is the role of digital media in the ongoing popular uprisings?
– How to build democratic cultures?
– How to design our environment, cities, architecture and nature in democratic processes and democratic expression?
– How designing new democratic arenas?
– Networks, Technology and mobile phones as the venue for Democracy 2.0.
– Design for variety, tolerance and integration.
– Crowd Sourcing. (Self-organizing systems)
– How can design fight oversimplified solutions and populism?
– How can design make economic processes transparent?

System Thinking is a foundation to develop a deeper understanding of sustainability, ethics, culture and society, and to develop the understanding of communication, technology and innovation. Students will gain a general understanding of systems thinking and especially on SOD. They will develop skills in adaptive expertise, Very Rapid Learning, collaborative processes and participatory design.

The course is principally political neutral. However, understanding society including power structures are necessary in this study.
Ethical considerations are important and we think that social systems should not oppress and marginalize any participant or citizen nor do harm to non-humans.
We do not think that design can fix problems easily. We do not think every change does need long-term commitment but we think change is a continuous process. It is a misunderstanding to focus on processes of change like if they would be different and separate of an imagined normal state of no change. We do not believe in the traditional designer role, providing plans for people for them to implement. The best we can do is to use our designerly creativity to suggest actions that might trigger new directions in the flux of society. We therefor think of this project in the framework of versioning and iterations. The design activity is an integrated part of this ongoing flux.

In line with this position, the suggested design interventions need to take these issues in account and demonstrate how they might evolve into new versions, how they will work and might develop independently after the designers have left the field.

Posted Oct-2017

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