Executive Director, Public Policy Lab
Drawing on nearly a decade of research and design engagements with U.S. federal and municipal governments, I'll describe a gap between intended outcomes of government policies and the lived experience of people affected by those policies. I'll discuss how that gap arises from variances in the decision-making agency of policymakers and members of the public.
Next, I'll discuss how human-centered researchers and designers attempt to equalize government/public agency though interventions in the policy decision-making cycle. Then I'll suggest criticisms and shortfalls of current human-centered approaches to improving policy and service-delivery systems, including researchers and designers’ tendencies to amplify complexity, to extract value from the public, and to accept status quo inequality.
Finally I'll propose that, when using research and design as tools for positive policy and systems change and increased agency for marginalized peoples,...
The Public Policy Lab; The School for Visual Arts
Public sector innovation (PSI) is an emerging multidisciplinary field that is attracting practitioners from a wide range of sectors and industries, with a correspondingly broad set of skills and experience. PSI aims to significantly improve the services that a government has the responsibility to provide by taking a user-centered, partnership-based approach, from service content development through to methods of service provision (OECD 2012). Yet the work is complex and not without risk, if undertaken without appropriate foresight, thoughtfulness, and rigor. In particular, when it comes to pursuing PSI in the design of social service policy and its provision, some of the more substantial risks lie hidden in systemic power imbalances that can easily be exacerbated, despite practitioners’ best intentions. This article uses a case study about homeless service provision in New York City (NYC) to offer a candid portrayal of undertaking research and design work in...
Case Study—This case study highlights the value of ethnography in changing a client's perspective. New Zealand's productivity has been deceasing, and the government wants to reverse that trend. Empathy's government client believed that macro-level forces were having a major impact on the productivity of small businesses, and wanted to suggest ways for small businesses to directly combat those forces. Empathy conducted ethnographic research, and the results required the client to change their perspective. While the government client saw increased productivity as a means to increase the standard of living, ethnographic research revealed some small businesses see increased productivity as a threat to their values and standard of living. If the government wanted to increase productivity, they were going to have to change tact completely and start talking to and supporting small businesses in a way that took their fears, motivations, beliefs...
International Innovation Corps (IIC) at the University of Chicago
International Innovation Corps (IIC) at the University of Chicago
Case Study—Based on experience of working in the Department of School Education, Government of Haryana on a Management Information System being built to reduce administrative workload on teachers and bureaucrats, this case study describes how ethnography was used to understand and address the problem of technology adoption in a large bureaucracy. Ethnography helped the Department in framing the problem of adoption as one of lack of adequate Digital Literacy within the organization and in developing strategies to address it. Digital Literacy workshops were conducted to improve broader Digital Literacies in the Department, which improved literacy levels by 48%. For ensuring sustainability of this initiative, the Department instituted a continuous Digital Literacy program, which will support the adoption of multiple technology projects in the future.
by THOMAS LODATO, Center for Urban Innovation, Georgia Institute of Technology
Article 3 in the series Data, Design and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives
The days of gathering in the forum are long gone. Today, the sphere of American civics is teeming with new forms of participation—from emergent advocacy organizations like MoveOn.orgi and shifting information paradigmsii to “personalized politics”iii and debates centered on computational data.iv Civics has moved beyond a notion of informed citizenship—of being educated on issues and debates, as well as keen enough to synthesize and respond (hopefully in the form of votes) to shape government. Now, in order to hold elected officials accountable, or to expose the shadowy ongoings of bureaucrats, or to reimagine a government suited for the pace of the 21st century, citizens must lead the charge to actively craft political opinion, civic life, and government itself.
Of course, civic engagement has never been as straightforward as our historical fantasy of the public forum—there...
by CARL DISALVO, Georgia Institute of Technology
This post introduces the series "Data, Design, and Civics: Ethnographic Perspectives" edited by Carl DiSalvo.
With all of the civic hackathons, civic tech meetups, and civic innovation teams bustling around the world, you’d think we'd have the challenges of government and civil society figured out—or at least be well on our way toward a more open and participatory, resourceful public sphere. Certainly the rhetoric around data, design, and civics suggests as much. But, of course, that’s not the case. The significant ethnographic and design research efforts in contemporary civics are showing us that government and civil society remain fraught arenas and that information and communication technology, along with the ubiquitous “data,” have exacerbated the challenges government, citizenship, and political action.
In the rush to find solutions, what we find instead are more problems. But perhaps it is through these problems, through these messy conditions and patchwork...
This paper introduces various barriers hindering the introduction of ethnography in support of public service design improvement in Japan, and discusses ways to overcome these barriers. Service design approaches using ethnography are gaining popularity in the public sector, especially in Europe. In Japan, however, local governments have adopted few or no ethnographic methods in order to improve public services. One of the most difficult barriers to the establishment of ethnographic approaches in Japan is the long-lasting relationships between citizens and local governments. Ethnographers engage in competition with citizens and are accused of bias, making it difficult for local governments to conduct ethnographic research freely and understand their citizens in depth. In order to overcome these barriers, this paper proposes three approaches about introducing areas, research protocols and organizations....