Crowd civic systems

Keywords: policy, crowdsourcing, design

Classic work in design studies/research recognized policymaking as a prototypical kind of design: planning and taking actions to turn undesirable states into desirable ones. In fact, Rittel and Webber’s classic design notion of a “wicked problem” comes from planning (policy) problems. While much work has focused on how information technologies can augment the design process in other traditional domains like engineering, product, and service design, we are only just beginning to explore the potential of information technologies to augment the design of policy. Could there be computer-aided policymaking? What might that look like? Open government data, smart cities, and participatory budgeting have begun to scratch the surface of what designing policy could look like in the digital age, but much remains to be learned. We want to know: what new/better forms of governance and civic participation are possible in the digital age?

This is the newest research direction in our lab, so the landscape is quite open to exploration. Many formative thoughts came out of a recent workshop on this topic at CSCW 2017. Come join us to help shape this future!

What we’ve learned so far

Coming soon!

What’s next

Here are some questions we’re pondering:

  • Policymaking often involves making plans and actions for scenarios where feedback is extremely noisy and delayed. For example, the consequences of economic policy can take decades to come to fruition, at which point it becomes exceedingly hard to infer causality apart from other events that have happened in the same timeframe. How do/should policymakers design under extreme uncertainty?
  • In many democratic societies, it is seen as desirable to enable citizens to have more of a say in policymaking. At minimum, we have efforts to ensure that everyone can vote. Clearly, citizens know things that policymakers may not (like the details of how policies might affect their lives in unexpected ways). But they also don’t know things that policymakers do (like the specifics of how policies interact with other existing laws, which might yield unexpected consequences/tradeoffs). The participatory design tradition in design research has tried to grapple with the question of how to best combine the expertise of the user and the designer. How might methods and ideas from participatory design enrich and yield new and useful forms of civic participation in policymaking?
    • We suspect some interesting interactions with crowdsourcing could come into play here, since many participatory design techniques are optimized for deep and rich interactions with relatively small groups of users, while policymaking (especially at the state or federal level) often involves a much broader range of potential stakeholders. How might we scale up methods of participatory design to shape civic engagement on a broad scale? Would that be useful for policymaking? Would it run at cross-purposes with other concerns in policymaking (e.g., consensus-building, identity formation, etc.)?
  • How might libraries serve as a hub to help small local businesses connect to the information they need to innovate?

Related publications

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