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After effects of the GMF experience 1

Civic design, not election design in Europe

First blush at this, but as I think about the priorities for civic deisgn type engagements that could happen in European countries, it is quite different from those of the USA.

In the US for Design for Democracy, election design was the first strong foray into a systematic and scaled engagement between the design community and government.  Althought there was an early project on transportation design with the DOT. The focus on Election Design makes sense when one considers the US presidential system, in which citizens directly vote for candidates and often propositions, which in turn makes (1) voting more complicated than in Europe, thus requiring design to clarify and simplify the information; and (2) a greater potential political will in enabling people to vote more easily. Of course, the second point will be more evident when the Help American Vote Act monies dry up and new ballots still need to be designed, but I think it would be easier to make a case for election design as a priority in the US versus Europe. 

In Europe since a citizen votes primary for political parties  (of which there may be maximum of 6 or 7) as opposed to individual candidate positions and referendums and propositions are not part of the democratic tradition, it does not seem the area of governance in which design can make a the biggest impact, beyond get out the vote efforts which are necessary everywhere.

In the US, emergency and evacuation design has been precipitated by Hurricane Katrina, but already there seems to be waning interest and money for the topic outside of potential terrorism threats again. Immigration and Medical Information are all ripe for development, but seem to have no key political mandate, outside the Medical D fiasco, which is begging for a series of design solutions.

As topics for Europe, the immigration process and policy seems so undefined in many ways that it would be difficult to start developing design artifacts around it.

From the European perspective, if I was the head of a European Design Council, I would start with two civic design projects:

  1. Medical and health information, environmental, and process design to support patient decision making.  Because Europe's social welfare net is wider and stronger than that of the US's, the degree of government involvement in medical decision making is greater. Some anecdotal complaints from European friends (not necessarily on the trip) about access to alternative treatment options and the rationing of health services make the hospital a powerful site of goverment and citizen interaction. Whereas in the US, the hospital is often a site of insurer/citizen interaction. To improve that interaction would go a long way in building trust in the government.
  2. The redesign of the European constitution so that the average European can understand it in their own language. I am fascinated by the division and distance between "elites" and ordinary people in the discourse about European government. The constitution was designed in a way that only a lawyer could love, but there were plans to have people vote on it, a 430 page document written in legalese. I would promote a informational campaign similar to AIGA's Inequality Matters poster campaign for the UN Human Development Report. Perhaps it can be a start of a new dialogue between the European political "elites" and ordinary people that could bridge the gap of alienation that seems to be informing the rise of popularist politics in Europe.

This is not to say that the US does a better job at all, but it is interesting to note in a potential transatlantic dialogue about civic design how the priorities might differ.

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