The purpose of Pandora’s Politics is quickly examine the intersection of politics and design, and by using the Carnegie Mellon transition design monograph create a proposal for change.
The design transition proposal for change is hypothetical, an imaginative creative output where no central government is required because citizens work selflessly.
It must be said though, parts of this essay hold true. Democracy is problematic when electoral cycles are marked by politicians generating policy to shift the short term balance of power, rather than making policy that is in our best long term interest.
Over time, western democracy has steadily nurtured bureaucratic behemoths of government plagued by electoral cycles requiring the divide and conquer of society to maintain political power. Political power, which under democratic circumstances, can only be achieved by the political polarisation and political mobilisation of citizens. In government fatigue exists, caused by democracy’s perpetuation of power cycling, the continuing push and pulls of politics, and an overarching authority. Systems of governance need to change.
Fatigue in the New Zealand government was recently demonstrated by the announcement to appoint a Chief Technology Officer only 28 years on from Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web. Why so long? I argue government is Pandora’s Box. It is big and complex. However, do not isolate and blame the political elite for system lethargy, politicians do not work alone.
Throughout history, it is well established that political and corporate campaigns rely heavily on design. Creative industries only need to look to Soviet propaganda (Tate Modern, 2017), rousing speeches from Barak Obama (Harnden, 2009), the UK’s famously ambiguous Brexit campaign (Merrick, 2017), and the digitisation of state services (New Zealand Government, 2018)to recognise design in politics. Design from the private sector contributes to political discourse too. Via social media, Breitbart News, an opinion and commentary website, became the prominent spokesperson of the most politically salient issues during the 2016 U.S Presidential election by aesthetically distributing ‘alternative facts’ (Faris, et al., 2017). Domestically, The Green Party worked with Angela Meyer’s creative agency Double Denim to modernise their branding, marketing and political strategy to “help make Green, mainstream”(Double Denim, 2017). The examples illustrate designed politics, made to shift public perception and manage relationships between citizens and government. Design is therefore inherently political, and politics inherently designed.
Futuring & Vision.
Fatigue in government ultimately constrains the governments capacity to get work done. A combination of futuring and living systems theory can begin to loosen the constraints.
Cameron Tonkinwise promotes a futuring framework comprised of a ‘far-off infinity view’ and no determinable stopping point (2015, p. 11). Futuring requires dreaming and speculation, not political sciences core realist, liberal or constructivist views (Haynes, Hough, Malik, & Pettiford, 2013, pp. 114 - 151, 212 - 231), certainly not the “downgrading to hopes-hope” (Dunne & Raby, 2013, p. 1),and definitely not the reorientation of “values, beliefs, attitudes or behaviour”(Dunne & Raby, 2013, p. 2).
Once embedded at the intersection of government and civil society, each small step towards the future vision can be measured and accounted as the situation ‘talks back’ to futuring participants (Lopes, 2003). By listening to the talkback, system actors can change the location of the shared vision helping the system abandon existing courses of action for new ones. With infinite vision, government and civil society can seek to look round corners collaboratively, not to reach the end point, there isn’t one, but to anticipate change possibilities from the changing conditions (Tonkinwise, 2015, p. 11).
Free to continue predicting where to go and where to be, infinite prediction is transition design at a fundamental level and can overhaul passive-reactive governance, solving future facing fatigue. For instance, current child poverty reduction discourse (The New Zealand Government, 2018)might be futured as no child poverty whatsoever or, more radically, as unconditional equitable beginnings. By prescribing futuring for lethargic governance, governments will set ambitious targets again.
Living Systems Theory.
Living systems theory derives from transition design recognising the self-organisation of all living things. Design and government can implement living systems theory as a self-healing holarchic system, not a power struggling democratic one. By listening to ‘talkback’, the system can respond to changes in system behaviour “informing subsequent iterations” (Irwin, 2011). A living system of governance will adapt as a whole, responding to disturbances in the overall system, together. For the government, this means a system where centralised governance is no longer necessary.
However unchallenging in comparison to living systems theory, variations of devolved governance do pre-exist. In New Zealand, city residents pay taxes to local government for resource distribution. At the international level, federal states allocate degrees of power to units at the sub-state level. Nevertheless, it is evident from the complexity and size of pre-existing structures of governance, that governments fail to self-organise.
Design Transition Proposal for Change.
Informed by futuring and living systems theory, an ambitious new system-society can emerge – Living Citizen. This essay proposes that under Living Citizen, power cycling, political polarisation, and political mobilisation will cease because a living system renders overarching power unnecessary.
Living Citizen comprises two self-organising parts - citizens and units. Citizens are individuals and units are citizen collectives reducing overall system complexity and size. To the benefit of the whole system, each citizen selflessly works simultaneously for itself, and for every other unit. Under selfless circumstances, Living Citizen will always allocate and share resources between units when needed by unit and citizen consensus. Remember, futuring defines the living citizen proposal; therefore, Living Citizen is not finite and is readily conducive to change possibilities.
One tectonic shift will not eventuate. Politics and institutions are highly resistant to change (Narberhaus & Sheppard, 2015, p. 6). Designers can however, begin to facilitate political change by behaving as design activists with 10,000 wild conceptual design transition ideas. The political proposal suggested uses the Transition Design initiative to empower individuals with trust and responsibility opposed to a characteristically fatigued single authority. Dissolving government for a living system will stop power cycling and the push and pull of politics. If system control is no longer centralised, and the framework for resource allocation futured, fatigue cannot set in.
Double Denim. (2017, November 3). What We've Done: The Green Party. Retrieved from Double Denim: https://www.doubledenim.nz/work/the-green-party
Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative Everything : Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming.Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Faris, R., Roberts, H., Etling, B., Bourassa, N., Zuckerman, E., & Benkler, Y. (2017). Partisanship, Propoganda, & Disinformation: Online Media & the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Executive Summary.Cambridge: Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Harnden, T. (2009, April 5). President Barack Obama calls for a nuclear free world in Prague speech. Retrieved from The Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/5109810/President-Barack-Obama-calls-for-a-nuclear-free-world-in-Prague-speech.html
Haynes, J., Hough, P., Malik, S., & Pettiford, L. (2013). World Politics.New York: Routledge.
Irwin, T. (2011). Living Systems Theory: Relevance to Design.Retrieved from Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/6076107/Living_Systems_Theory_Relevance_to_Design
Lopes, A. M. (2003). Design as Politics. Design Philosophy Papers, 1(6), 1-3.
Merrick, R. (2017, July 4). Brexit: Vote Leave chief who created £350m NHS claim on bus admits leaving EU could be 'an error. Retrieved from Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-latest-news-vote-leave-director-dominic-cummings-leave-eu-error-nhs-350-million-lie-bus-a7822386.html
Narberhaus, M., & Sheppard, A. (2015). Re.imagining Activism: A practical guide for the Greate Transition. Germany: Smart CSOs Lab.
New Zealand Government. (2018, August 16). NZ's digital transformation. Retrieved from DIGITAL.GOVT.NZ: https://www.digital.govt.nz/digital-government/nz-digital-transformation/
Tate Modern. (2017, August 14). RED STAR OVER RUSSIA A REVOLUTION IN VISUAL CULTURE 1905–55. Retrieved from Tate Modern: https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/red-star-over-russia
The New Zealand Government. (2018). Child Poverty Reduction Bill.Retrieved from New Zealand Legislation: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2018/0014/latest/whole.html#LMS8368
Tonkinwise, C. (2015, April 4). Design for Transition - from and to what?Retrieved from academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/11796491/Design_for_Transition_-_from_and_to_what