Untangling Complexity

Essay by Jacqueline Wallace at civicquarterly.com : “The next phase of the digital revolution will be defined by products and services that facilitate shared understanding, allowing concerted participation around complex issues. In working to show the way, civic designers will need to call upon the powers of systems research, design research, social science, and open data….
Creating next-gen civic applications will require designers to embody a systems-based approach to civic participation, marrying systems-based research, user-centered design, social science, and data. This article chronicles my own experience leveraging these tools to facilitate shared understand amongst my community vis. a vis. the Kinder Morgan pipeline….
I believe the contention around the pipeline evinces a bigger problem in our civic sphere: While individual issues such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline continue to absorb a great deal of energy from citizens, user-centered designers must use their unique skillset to address these issues more broadly. Because we’re not only failing our fellow citizens; we’re failing our representatives as well. In the words of digital strategist and civic design advocate Mike Connery: “there has been almost zero investment in giving our representatives the tools they need to understand feedback from citizens.”
The opportunity is two-fold. As previously stated, there is a need to develop tools that support citizens and representatives to understand and engage with complex social issues. There is also a need to develop processes, processes that cultivate our abilities to understand policy development in order to more efficiently spend our tax dollars. Writing about a recent project that used social science methods to analyze the long-term success of a welfare project, NPR correspondent Shankar Vedantam said, “it really makes no sense that marketers selling toys have better data on what works and what doesn’t than policy makers who are spending billions and billions of dollars.”…(More)