Futures Design for Democracy
In speculating how technology might affect future power relations in society, the project creates a sketch of a tool that would allow for a higher and more pluralistic citizen participation in the politics of everyday life. The thesis can be accessed here, Speculating Future Government: Designerly approach for a preferred future.
The goal of the concept is to allow for expression of pluralistic views in a society and then further to aim for agonistic pluralism, that is, where radically different perspectives are embraced (inspired by political philosopher, Chantal Mouffe).
A sketch for implementation is achieved through a voice controlled home assistant that acts as an interface to the government. The device allows citizens to participate in democratic activities. Some of the things a citizen could do by just speaking to the device are: ask for information about the functioning of the city, make a complaint to the city officials, narrate lived experiences about the
A home assistant used to create a new proposal
Using a mobile device to view the history of politics behind existing infrastructure in the city. Opinions are provided on a spectrum where the centre is a support and further away means a degree of reservation
city and society to highlight a probable issue, complain about or appreciate new changes.
But the salient design feature aims to challenge dominant and taken for granted worldviews and allows users to log an issue (similar to starting a petition) and invite others to opine on the issue. One can position oneself closer to the center to support or further away in case of reservations.
Using a mobile device to interact and view the history of a current proposal
Adding one's own opinions on a current proposal
Allowing for a full spectrum the distance from the center would be proportional to the level of reservation and this can be annotated with the position. Different kinds of reservations will be clustered around in a circle to represent the divergence in views. Changes in position are allowed and encouraged as the issue progresses. Such changes are recorded and can be viewed anytime. This would represent the politics of matter in a society.
The same can be extended to the infrastructure in a city, where the politics of the infrastructure can be viewed using augmented reality on a mobile device. And based on that a citizen could also create another matter of concern and start political action.
Jim Dator's "basic paradigm" in future studies forms the framework that the project is built upon and proceeds by filling in the variables for 'Images', 'Theory', 'Methods' and 'Trends'.
Drawing from citizen, and civil society organisations workshop reports from seven countries, five themes were identified about the images of the future in people's minds.
Easier faster and more effective communication with governments
Participation in decision making for policies and laws that affect the citizens
Transparency in the functioning of governments
Locally focused governance and power to be distributed
Technology to be an enabler for a better world in the future
The project strives to borrow aspects from the political philosopher, Chantal Mouffe's theory of Agonistic Pluralism for democracy in a multipolar world. This theory in its basic essence talks of a form of interaction where vastly plural views are embraced and even prioritised.
The branches of Co-Design and Speculative Design provide tools during the design process. Workshops using design game and counterfactuals were conducted. Design experiments were used for quick and dirty sketching of ideas.
Lastly trends in technology were used to realise the images incorporating the theory via the design methods. The trends hinted towards are Open Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for personal assistants and Blockchain.
Workshop - Counterfactual Worlds
Five teams of four participants each were given fictional scenarios of parallel counterfactual worlds. Each team then created a form of governance in their respective worlds. A scenario and workshop material was provided to each team. The exercise served as inspiration for possible models of governance and parts one such model flow into the final concept.
Workshop - Agonism and decision making
A game was created to try out agonism in practice and understand how the decision making could be done. Six participants role played scenarios to visually express their opinion on issues.
Extra information was made available as the game progressed and participants were invited to update their opinions. The opinions were mapped on a game board with concentric circles and the movements were recorded.
After the scenarios the participants were asked to self reflect on the tools and information they as citizen would need to participate in such decision making activities. They later discussed as a group and placed it on the board based on how close and directly accessible the information or tool needs to be to their person.
To see if and how people might engage in their basic civic life, using Instagram stories a call was made to viewers to share stories of improvements around the city.
Some of the responses received were interesting in the way of imagery used and the quick participation. Also it must be noted that the context of use of instagram stories is very different, so any participation and the lack of it should not be directly interpreted as so.
Amazon Alexa Sketch
A borrowed Amazon Alexa was used as a placebo to represent the volunteer's local government and was placed in her kitchen. She was asked to speak to the device as if it were her access to the government. Later through an interview her experiences and feelings were recorded. Since it was a dumb machine it did not provide value but the volunteer got used to having it around and asking for information and narrative her experience. This led to the idea for the concept.
Interaction sample scenarios
SCENARIO (Script of Audio Interaction): CYCLE PATH – PART 1
Citizen: Hey Malmö bot, on my way to work today I almost fell off my bike because of the construction stuff left on the cycle path near that construction site just before the church on Kungsgatan
Malmö bot: I am sorry your day started with almost an accident. Would you want me to report this to the authorities?
Citizen: Yea sure, please do.
Malmö bot: Can you point the exact location on the map that is displayed to you, I think I know the approximate location, could you verify and confirm it?
Malmö bot: The issue has been reported.
Collecting stories of lived experiences:
SCENARIO (Script of Audio Interaction): CYCLE PATH – PART 2
Citizen: Hey you know one more thing on the issue of cycle paths
Malmö bot: I am listening
Citizen: When I cross the road near central station, on my way to work, you know just where the buses turn left into the bus stop, some of those buses don’t stop. Don’t I have right of way at that junction?
Malmö bot: As far as I know, cyclists have right of way before motorised traffic. Could you verify the exact location on the map displayed to you?
Introducing plural views:
SCENARIO (Script of Audio Interaction): CYCLE PATH – PART 3
Malmö bot: While I was recording your story I found a report from a bus driver about that spot too. Should I play it for you?
Citizen: Oh now he’ll blame us, I don’t want to listen
Malmö bot: Maybe he has a point that could help resolve this, should I play it so you can be sure?
Citizen: Ok play it
Malmö bot: Playing the story from the bus driver about the intersection with cycle path at the entrance of the bus stop at central station... “Bus driver: Almost end up running over some cyclists who do not stop at that crossing. We are also just pulling out of a traffic light, it’s too close and stopping again just before we have to stop again at the bus stop really delays things unnecessarily. Should have a sign for cyclists to stop”
Citizen: Well I have just made a slight climb, I can’t stop
Malmö bot: I have reported your opinion on that issue. Someone will look into it soon.
Raising a matter of concern:
SCENARIO (Script of Audio Interaction): PEDESTRIAN STREET – PART I
Citizen: Hey Malmö bot, I’d like to raise a matter of concern
Malmö bot: Please explain your matter as clearly as you can
Citizen: Rad street should be made a pedestrian only street. A lot of new shops and restaurant have opened and bring in lots of pedestrian traffic. It is loud and polluted because of slow moving vehicular traffic.
Malmö bot: Please verify your matter and location as displayed to be correct. Once you confirm it will be uploaded and any other stories about Rad street will be used to find any related topics. Then others using Rad street will be brought into the discussion.
Citizen: Looks good send it.
Malmö bot: You matter of concern has been created.
Soliciting participation (via home assistant):
SCENARIO (Script of Audio Interaction): PEDESTRIAN STREET – PART II
Malmö bot: A new proposal is being considered. It is a proposal to convert Rad street into a pedestrian street. The new traffic redirection is displayed to you on the screen. Since you use that street, you are being asked to give your willingness to support the project or raise any concerns you might have.
Citizen: Hey Malmö bot, what studies were done to determine the feasibility?
Malmö bot: The links to the studies are displayed, should I email them to you?
Citizen: Yes please. Also, can you tell me how this new proposal will affect the area?
Malmö bot: Simulations have been run and I can show you an explainer video about them. Would you like to see the video now?
Citizen: Who carried out the simulations, is it in my trusted list?
Malmö bot: Yes, the simulations were done by the think tank, TraffSimuls
Citizen: Show me the video
Citizen: I’d like to see the history of this proposal from the start until now
Malmö bot: The history is displayed
<Interacts with the history to see the initial proposal and how the support for it changed over time within the locality and as it is presented now>
Citizen: I’d like to give my response now
Malmö bot: You may place your position on the map and mention your reasons or any other considerations you may have or wish to request.
Soliciting participation (via mobile device):
Viewing the political history behind infrastructure in a city, using a mobile device and augmented reality:
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