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April 2007
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June 2007

Tangibility of governance in Ghana

This morning, I attended a Chicago Council on Global Affairs event with The Right Honourable Baroness Amos of Brondesbury, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council, United Kingdom. Beyond the fact that she gives politicians a good name in terms of being honest, articulate, and very friendly; she gave a balanced account of social and economic activities in Africa since 2005 and the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, when they adopted the Millennium Development Goals.

And yes, I did get the business card of one of her associates to contact her. She could be a high level politician who actual would/could get design and its role in governance.

I wanted to share her response to a question I asked about which African country she thought did an effective job of communicating with its citizenry. The topic had been brought up earlier in the conversation in relationship to how Africa leaders are challenged by the need to manage the expectations for progress after the “lever is pulled” with the openness in public communications through radio talk shows and the newspapers now expected to meet governance standards. Overwhelmed by the criticisms, their  response is to clamp things down in fear, but she said that is when greater communications are required.

My question was the last question, thus her answer was brief. But she held up Ghana and its handling of the HIPC [Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative] controversy as a good example. In 2001, there was huge controversy in the Ghanaian government and public as to whether it should enter the HIPC program in which they would receive debt forgiveness by meeting certain poverty reduction goals approved by IMF and the World Bank. In order to show the benefits of HIPC, the Ghanaian government emblazoned all of its infrastructure results with the HIPC label. This has made the HIPC initiative “tangible” to the people, but has also opened it up to positive and negative criticism, which is the heart of government participation.

Here is a video produced by Now Public, which is a citizen journalism company, called Damned By Debt Relief that captures the critique of the program. But again, it is able to be critiqued because it is so tangible to people.

HIPC has been branded on schools, etc. While this labeling is common for Oxfam, Save the Children, and others, it is interesting to think about what happens when the government does the same thing. 

Image of Bono with HIPC brand on Ghanaian school or something.

Image of Ghanain kindergarten with HIPC sign.

Conversion for Humanity

Over the last couple of days, I have read newspaper accounts in the BBC news of the Dalit Hindus converting in mass to Buddhism, or the Roma in Bulgaria to Pentecostalism. In each case, it is about using an “outside” system to wedge against an internal system of oppression.

By becoming Buddhist, the Dalit “untouchables” set themselves up to become more equal human beings. The article is a bit misleading in terms of describing thousands who attended and only hundreds who actually converted, but it is an interesting phenomemon.

By becoming Pentecostal, the Roma get access to schools and money to build their communities. These conversions thus are less about religion and more about finding a more equitable path through life.

This often happened in colonial times where the first converts to Christianity were the social outcasts and marginal citizens of society. Actually, it continues today with the rise of Pentecostalism in Africa.

Local News

Since Yahoo created a news block for local news, I've been reading a lot of stories from the Chicago Tribune online. Have you ever noticed that most of the stories in the local news are about (1) fires, (2) car crashes, and (3) local politics in that order? In Chicago, the fires tend to take place mostly on the South Side and feature the deaths of women and children. This is very sad and says a lot about Chicago's racial and class structures where fires are never caught in time. The inhabitants are rarely saved.  The car crashes often involve druck drivers. The local politics, this being Chicago, is often about corruption scandals. We have our share of murders, but I'm really surprised about the number of fire headlines.

I guess with international and national news it is only the scale of events that differs. House fires become natural disasters. Car crashes become wars. Local politics become the statements and corruption of State, Federal, and Transnational politic figures. I go to the Good News Network to find the positivity in the news, but often there seems to not be enough of that.

Making up for posting neglect

Sorry that I have been away from my posting. There are major paper and proposal deadlines at the end of June and I am focused on writing for peer-review publication. Quick highlights of the past weeks:

Final Art and Design Crits at UIC

The formula has changed significantly since midterms. A lot more intellectual engagement with the students' works in terms of what their design intentions are and how it fits within the body of art and design work. Again, I am surprised by how much my colleagues and students appreciate my presence and perspective in the critiques. They kept coming up to me and saying, "We're so glad you are here." I would check out the MFA show gallery on the UIC School of Art and Design site to see some amazing student work.

I think next year the students and the faculty on going to work harder at cross-disciplinary attendance to crits. I am hoping that next year would could put together a monthly salon to encourage the art and design students to cross-fertilize.

Attending Northwestern University's Islam and the Public Sphere in Africa symposium

I spent the day learning about the public sphere in Senegal. Some interesting facts about Senegal. It is a country that is 95% Moslem, mostly Sufi. The Sufi Brotherhoods provide the basis of "civil society" in that they are the main organizational structures of social life. The Senegalese Constitution is written in French, as part of its former French colonial history.

Lots going on in terms of applications and grants, essays and conference reviewing. I hope to be able to be a more diligent blogger in a week.

Designers designing public policy

On Friday, my AD502 Design and Governmentality co-participants delivered their final policy proposals. This class is another one of my experimentations in transdisciplinary knowledge in this case design and political science. The final presentations of the class were amazing. Each student had 15 minutes to present and 5 minutes for Q&A. We had guests come and evaluate their presentations including:

  • Randall Mark, Cook County Bureau for Health Services;
  • Dr. Rachel Bronson, Chicago Council on Global Affairs;
  • Carmelina Piedra, Regional Transit Authority;
  • Doris Wells-Papanek, Tailored Learning Tools;
  • Tasneem Chowdhury, UIC; 
  • Maria Lydia Spinelli, Chicago Association for the Practice of Anthropology;
  • Craig Stehle, Northwestern University;
  • a colleague from the Field Museum, and
  • other UIC MFA students.

The visitors quickly engaged with the policies enough to provide very challenging questions to the students, who answered with expertise and authority. One guest made an interesting comment to me that it was unusual how the students saw the Federal government as providing many of the solutions and were not afraid to raise taxes to fund policies. This guest continued to point out how that the shift had to do with the students now seeing themselves as part of the government. Other general comments about the afternoon were how fun the presentations and innovative the students' policy solutions were. Their enthusiasm and creative expression made it fun, which attests to the power of effective visual communications. Their solutions were innovative because they pushed themselves really hard to think outside the general policy box of instruments. Being artists and designers, they were not hampered by the toolkit of policy instruments.

Most importantly for me is that the student's developed the confidence to contribute to policy formation as citizens. When we originally proposed writing policy proposals for the midterms and finals, the students fears were palpable. As one students stated, they thought they would just do mock information campaigns. They conducted very through research on the problems, but struggled with finding the win-win solutions that encompassed just policy.  It was only in the last couple of weeks that it clicked. Thus, many of the students came up with clear win-win solutions which I hope to be able to carry forward.  With some polishing and finding the right sponsors, these students could really make a difference. I feel already that the course has made a difference in terms of their relationship to governance, the role of designing in policy (beyond the information campaign), and again, their sense of being engaged citizens in understanding and using policy to make the world a better place.

Below is the summary of the student's policy and solution, with their presentation documents (as opposed to final papers) so a lot of the detail is missing, but I want to share a sense of the flavor of their engagement.  I am so deeply deeply proud of them, as I hope they are with themselves.

Please note that their policies presentations are copyrighted material.  Free for own personal use, but please give the students credit if referring to their thinking and visualization.

1:10pm – 2:10 pm Group 1: Policies to Support Self-Governance

01_Daniel Diprizio Keep the Air Free 

Download DDiprizi0 Air Free (PDF 1.4 MB)

Government imposition of standards for controlling youth access to the Internet.
Solution: Enable parents to establish own enforceable standards and penalize parents, though family community service activities, whose children violate those standards.

02_Leilah Rampa Find Your Way Act

Download LRampa_Find Way (PDF 844 Kb)

Problem: Transit navigation systems does not take into account the variability of people's information needs.
Solution: Develop Chicago Public Navigation Institute to fund and support neighborhood research and development to improve transit navigation information systems.

03_Jonathan Sangster Free Speech Zone Abolition Act 

Download JSangster_Free Speech (PDF 1.4 MB)

State and local interference with Protest Free Speech through zoning, permits, and laws.
Establishment of consistent Federal guidelines for protest free speech, removal of laws and permits used to curtail free speech, and creation of special Protest Police Force trained in handling protests and protecting protester rights.

2:15pm – 3:00pm Group 2: Policies for Children's Wellness

04_Chris Kalis Building by Design

Download CKalis_BuildbyDesign (PDF 3.9 MB)

Lack of funding for Chicago Public Schools to improve the library learning environment for students.
Create a "Extreme Makeover" public show that allows designers and architects to compete for the best makeover designs of public schools in collaboration with businesses, students, parents, school boards, and communities.

05_Sara Bassick Talk to Your Daughters 

Download SBassick_TalkDaughters (PDF 2.2 MB)

Possible implementation of mandatory Gardasil vaccination for girls will  not reduce controversy or communicate to girls in appropriate manner.
Develop information policy that locates and times the information about the vaccine in both the school as part of sex education/health education and the doctors office to provide differentiated experience for girls.

3:10 – 4:10 pm Group 3: Policies to Support Diversity and Inclusion

06_Dan Elliott Bring Back the Beat Cop

Download DElliott_Beatcop (PDF 284 Kb)

Problem: Racial profiling injustly punishes people of color and leads to lack of trust between police and communities  without necessarily reducing crime.
Ban racial profiling, old and outdated laws that policy can use to pull people over, and community digital survellience cameras. Replace them with beat cops by offering training and incentives for policy to move into high crime neighborhoods.

07_Grav Weldon Operation Transformation

Download GWeldon OpTransform (PDF 480 Kb)

Eliminate in both adults and children the mass psyche of prejudice and promote cultural and racial tolerance and justice
For adults, develop a large scale tolerance information/propaganda campaign. For children, Federalize the schools and the equalize the apportioning of funds per student, increase busing to achieve diversity metrics, have school uniforms and cultures of exhange, and  set up intercultural arts programs.

08_Gretchen Schulfer Immigration Piggy Bank

Download GSchulfer impiggybank (PDF 3.3 Mb)

US Immigration and Citizenship Services are increasing the naturalization fees for immigrants by 66% to $480, creating a barrier for immigrants to lawfully gain citizenship.
Audit the USICS to find inefficiencies, have AIGA and UPA develop design standards to reduce errors, and establish micro-lending Immigration Piggy Bank to allow people to sponsor immigrant fees.

4:20pm – 5:20pm Group 4: Policies for Building Community

09_Dave Pabellon Now You See Me, Now You Don't

Download DPabellon_censusdata (PDF 14.4 MB)

There are block zones which consistently are not counted in the US Census, leading to lack of trust and lack of knowledge about how Census benefits local community members.
Develop locality based visualizations of Census data that is accessible to citizens and is sent in a mailing to each citizen.

10_Michael Ruberto Growing Money on Trees

Download MRuberto MoneyTrees (PDF 336 Kb)

There is a lack of research and information about the effectiveness of complementary currencies for building up small local economies.
Develop research on the effectiveness of curriences as well as develop information campaign standards to communicate value of money, complementary curriences, and its local value.

11_Jessica Schnepf Get In, Get Ou

Download JSchnepf_homeless_services (PDF 1.4 Mb)

Current City of Chicago Homeless efforts does not focus on  providing everyday services to the homeless on a voluntary basis
Support the establishment of systems for local volunteers to provide educational and health services to the homeless on a daily basis through the coordination of efforts.

Response to Design Observer's "Ethnographic Turn in Design"

Posted on today's Design Observer, guest observer, Andrew Blauvelt offers his comments of the Ethnography Primer published by AIGA and Cheskin. People from the anthrodesign list posted comments (Bob Jacobson and Mark Rogers), below is the comment that I posted.


This means something.

At E-lab in the 1990s, this is the statement they would place in the opening slide of many presentations. Normally, the text would be overlayed on an image of teenagers wearing backpacks, or a desk full of files.

One of the things that I most appreciate about the contribution the Rick Robinson, John Cain, and others made at E-lab was that they talked about ethnography in terms of how it uncovered the meaning of people's experiences. More importantly, they articulated, in ways that did not require a Ph.D. in Anthropology, how by understanding and modeling those experiences, you can create the conditions to support and enhance new experiences.

What I find interesting in Andrew's comments is while his/your analysis of the content of the text is accurate, his/your analysis of what it means for designing and designers - in terms of the question about the restriction of use and the selection of the coffee cup holder as the most concrete example for critique - seems to miss key points about the publication.

Why restrict its use?

According to Ric Grefé's Walker Art Center presentation last October, ethnographic professionals are part of the expanded constituency of "designers" within AIGA. As an anthropologist who has been involved with AIGA for 5 years and design for now 8 years, the publication is part of making professional ethnographers like myself see themselves as part of AIGA.

As an early reviewer of the publication, it was an important distinction to make that not everyone can do ethnography well, especially the client, so your best bet is to hire a professional, who has training in both the theories and the techniques of ethnographic research and analysis. Just like if you want someone to design your corporate identity, you might want to go to a credentialed professional designer and not a $199 logo shop.

If that person also happens to be someone with design credentials, as well as social science ones, all the better. In fact, in most places that use ethnography as part of marketing research, user experience design, and product innovation, people end up cross-training over time. Designers learn to do research. Ethnographers learn to do design. But each one not with the same efficiency or depth of knowledge as the other one.

I find that idea that everyone can do ethnography is based on a misconception that ethnography is just about observing what people do. Ethnography is not about data collection, which is what everyone designers and researchers can share in because we all observe different things. Ethnography is about understanding the meanings of objects, environments, social interactions, beliefs, values, cosmologies, and communications from the perspective of the people studied. This is hard analytical work that because of ethical considerations of misrepresentation and cultural appropriation requires a certain amount of sensitivity, both broad and deep social knowledge, and constant self-reflection. Professional ethnographers generally ought to possess these attributes whether they hail from design or social sciences, but you gain this through training.

Beyond Cup Holders

This critique feels a bit disingenuous because the other points about what ethnography does is about  the important questions:

How do people make sense of their world?
What are our assumptions about normative values in one culture versus another?
How do people communicate with one another, through objects? What is the most effective way to do it?
What are the cultural codes that have to be adopted and adapted as you bring an experience from one place to another place?

These seem to me to be the important questions of not just design, but of life. These are the questions that ethnography asks, analyses, answers, and helps translate (through design communication) to others. In fact, all of the very socially-relevant, civic based, Design for Democracy work was built on an ethnographic foundation made up of ethnographers and design students trained in ethnographic approaches.

This is just to say that this publication marks a particular milestone in terms of AIGA's relationship with the professional ethnographic community, who since the UX days have been part of AIGA, but have not always been "represented" or particularly felt welcomed. Now I can say, I am part of AIGA without choking on the words.


Mapping Design Policy Landscape

As part of a conversation I had with Ken Friedman on Saturday, I mapped today the landscape of "Design Policy" or Design and Governmentality. I put it in quotes because the term encapsolates four different agendas in the relationship between design and policy making.


Policy as Designed focuses on the political science work of people lik Helen Ingram and Ann Schneider. This focuses on the processes of policy formation in terms of policy analysts and decision-makers and their effect on democracy and everyday citizen engagement with government. This is the broad context of design policy as policy.  What are the social contexts in which these policies are made, what are the main issues and how they are framed, and what are the processes of policy creation around design? This is important in terms of the analyzing both the policy world itself and how "design policy" functions within that world.

Innovation policy is what I think is both the dominant discourse of "design policy" as it moves away from the focus on design itself, perceived as aesthetics, towards science and engineering. Few countries have official national design policies (I've counted 11 countries), but many more have innovation policies which can be inclusive of design. I think Design Managment and, in particular, industrial design management plays into  and desires to play in this area of policy because it links design to the funding dollars and prestige that comes with the role of innovation in driving national economic competitiveness.  The Innovation Center in Basque region Spain had changed from a design center to an innovation center with the mandate to focus on small and medium enterprise support.  The work the Gisele Raulik at Wales Design falls into this category, as well as, to some extent the British Design Council.  China, Japan, India, and most of the developed and developing nations have innovation policies, but again their are often linked to technology and the sciences.

As well articulated by Ken Friedman,  design promotion focuses on elevating the awareness of the design industry within a nation. The Scandinavian design policies as well as many of the national design councils, centers, etc. in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America have the promotion of national designers and design artifacts as thier mandate. They rely on exhibits, design museums and shops, publications and websites to communicate externally the value of design. For their members, they provide visibility, resources, and community. In the USA, the professional design organizations play this role whereas in other countries it is normally a  government funded design center that does this.

Design standards for me is the most interested area of design policy because it operates almost in stealth mode. Design for inclusion, safety, sustainability, and quality seem to me to be the most sustainable and effective way to engage with a design policy on the national level. If the standards can work at the level of policy, then they become embedded in the everyday practices of governance and thus the nation. Because they have the force of "rules," they are harder to ignore or cut out of the budget when their is an economic downturn. So design and governmentality lives at the intersection of design standards and design as policy, but drawing upon (1) the promotion of design to get the social capital to engage with standards making (as opposed to standardization) and guiding the interpretation of standards and (2) innovation policies to use design to make innovations in governance.

So this is the universe within which I dwell.