Design & Tech Overthrow U.S. Government [Updated]

APOLOGIA: 1 AUG 14 @ 0338 hrs:

I don’t know Dominic Campbell. I didn’t research him prior to writing and publishing this post.  I should have or I wouldn’t have made basic mistakes, like intimating he has no experience with policymaking. I also undermined my argument by being as strident or more as I claim he is in his piece. My reaction to his post was, to a degree, knee-jerk because I find parts of it similar to others I see elsewhere — by those with less (or, worse, no) experience in government — professing tech’s ability to automatically solve public policy issues. As I hope is otherwise clear, I only seek to add nuance to discussions I think veer toward “technological solutionism/determinism” or “algorithmic regulation” and their like. Not clutter it with misinformation. His piece is far more nuanced than most. His politics? I have no idea. So, if my last lines are bothersome, they are my (American) interpretation of his policy prescriptions, or, at least, the words he uses to describe them (austerity?). Aside from his successes, Dominic Campbell and I seem to share similar backgrounds (a foot in politics/policy and the other in tech and design). Over coffee or in letters, we’d probably have much to agree and disagree upon — civilly.

The reason I responded to his article is because I find it thought-provoking.

Dominic (and readers),

My sincere apologies.

My unedited original post from  30 JUL 14 @ 16:07:

On FutureGov, Dominic Campbell writes about design and tech taking over government:

For the nervous and the newly initiated, there is a role for design as ‘risk management’ in creating a future that is yet to exist, using prototyping and small steps to avoid high risk moves and big mistakes. We need to provide replicable guidance to open innovation; to see design as a source of great creativity; to focus on outcomes not process. We need to build a government that truly orbits around us, rather than expect us, your citizens, to do all the hard graft and understand our way around you.

I agree with him that design thinking needs to go into improving government, but it’s just this sort of strident attitude that gets us nowhere. There will always be entrenched interests. What do you think Google is? Are they going to disrupt the energy industry that provides the power to run their iProducts?

Government, however, can use the help brought about by good design. Most government organizations are bloated, hierarchical, (yes) slow-moving and behind-the-times. The culture within such organizations is often little better. We do need “public entrepreneurs.” But most state and local governments wouldn’t know where to start, and the federal government doesn’t seem to be doing much better. (But, again, is this the government’s fault or due to a lack of involvement by people like Campbell?)

A purposeful design-led approach is fundamental to re-thinking the role of government in the 21st Century, creating the conditions for innovation and change in a world of embedded power structures, vested interests and powerful organisational immune systems programmed to snuff out any threats to the status quo.

. . .

We must bring together the politics of change management, the thoughtful human centricity of design and the power of tech to hardwire change and scale impact.

Sometimes you just wonder if these guys reread what they write or listen to themselves speak at their (I’m sure quite profitable) speaking engagements.

It’s just as if we just turned the reins of government over to a few tech bros, everything would be great. Innovation would flourish. No one would work. (Because who wants to do the “hard graft” of actually governing? Speaking of which, what about all of us who do and have done the “hard graft” of actually working in government and policymaking? He should give it a try — beyond a screed on the Web — before throwing stones.)

Let’s look at another a part of his piece that I agree with:

We can’t just sleepwalk into this stuff, we must think about the impact of decisions we make and the values we want to design into the public services we build. Technology and open data is [sic] not neutral anymore than anything else we do. We need to think carefully about whether and how we want to design with people. To give them access to their data – or not. To support participation in public services – or not.

We must think deliberately about every design decision we make. No management truth. No single right answer. Only a negotiation of the relationship between people, politics and power through which we make decisions that are transparent and co-owned.

Now, if only we could get his friends in the tech world to heed that last sentence. Sadly, he ends with that conservative-libertarian desire to kill off the government by under-funding it, give the money to private companies and let them do their thing.

That, unfortunately for him, is not the answer.

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