Democratic Design: Modelling Political Futures

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Michael SAWARD, University of Warwick, United Kingdom
Democracy’s potential futures can be modelled in a manner closely informed by design thinking. Methodologically innovative and interdisciplinary, this task takes the bearings of democracy’s shaping and attends – contextually and reflexively - to its reshaping.

By exploring democracy as a critical design challenge rather than a received set of institutions, ‘Democratic Design’ both builds on and departs from received wisdom, not least democratic theory’s tendency to ‘silo thinking’ and downplaying the importance of temporality. The core question of democratic design is: now and in the future, what combination of institutions, sequenced in what order, at what levels of a polity, may maximise a distinctive combination of democratic principles? At the idea’s heart is detailed consideration of a set of key design and modelling concepts, notably: enactment of principles, such as equality and freedom; institutions, from city councils to citizens juries, as assemblages of action and value; system and sub-system boundaries, such as central and local government interactions; hybrid and mixed systems, for example ones that combine direct, representative and deliberative devices; and the different incentive effects arising from ordering institutions. This work will enable responses to practical design questions, such as how can we to tailor democracy in the face of distinctive governance challenges such as climate change?

An innovative focus on a design paradigm promises to bridge the theory-empirical divide, draw flexibly on different models (by actively modelling , e.g. mixing and matching practices belonging to supposedly separate ‘models’), and create new avenues for rethinking democracy in a pluralistic and fast-changing political world. The paper will draw on a range of resources including social anthropology of design (Appadurai, The Future as Cultural Fact), design studies (e.g. Cross, Design Thinking), and the author’s own earlier work on democracy (e.g. ‘Enacting democracy’, in Political Studies 2003).