I have become convinced that all fellow travelers need to experience a learning journey (often gaining experience from each other) when attempting to create solutions for the better. This post discusses three key elements: Genuine engagement, Public Judgement and User-led design.
Genuine Engagement: My enthusiasm for co-creation, genuine engagement and community empowerment goes back to 2010 when I read an interesting Canadian article on the difference between consultation and engagement. I had been involved in a number of Government processes* and could instantly see that we might get better decision making from genuine engagement.
The inspiring story the Canadians** told was about creating the opportunity for business and community to agree the direction of run down inner city suburbs after a Government process had become fraught and stalled. Instead of bureaucrats adjudicating between predictable and conflicting attitudes of business and community, these groups sat down and learnt about each other’s perspectives, resulting in better decisions about the next steps, plus empowerment, ownership, and resourcing by the key people who would be part of the journey – aaah, it sounds magic doesn’t it?
Coming to Public Judgement: I read this book by Yankelovich because the Premier was said to be a fan – and I’m glad I did. (I’ve found myself retelling the example about abortion numerous times). Yankelovich highlights that opinions can change like the wind, as we learn more and explore our values in relation to an issue more deeply, but proposes a goal of solid, unwavering judgement which occurs when we fully understand an issue. He claims that American communities have become very well informed about the nuance of abortion decisions over the past 25 years and individuals who have explored the grey area for them (eg how do you feel if the foetus is already 25 weeks old but will not survive), against their own values, demonstrate unwavering judgement rather than flippy floppy opinion.
Yankelovich is also very dismissive of experts. He argues that they have dome the community a disservice by not understanding community values and not having the humility to learn from community. You can read more about the seven stages for coming to public judgement in this summary article. Importantly for me, it made reflect on my role as an “expert” in climate change and in the ways we can tackle climate change.
There is no doubt that there is a role for expertise. The climate change community has gone to extraordinary lengths to discredit ill-informed opinions and emphasise the credibility of peer review in understanding climate science. However denial exists in our community, not because we are bad at believing scientists, but because we are left with a range of unpalatable pathways for tackling climate change and the confusion is exacerbated by no right answer. It is clear that understanding climate change might be a good role for experts, but understanding the best climate change solutions is a job for community.
User led design: The design industry is full of talk of user-centred and user-led design – UX. We could split hairs and say that products and services are different from policy but I would argue that there is much to be learnt from this discipline. If nothing else – the need to listen and understand, possibly even the need to teach. I have worked in both policy and program areas of Government and there is much to be gained from stronger linkages between the two.
To give you a useful example of user-led design I will point to the TACSI family by family program. This is possibly the only example that has really resonated with me. TACSI used a strong co-design process and worked with 100 families in their approach to designing social services to support families at risk. There is a great video which highlights the surprise felt by families when they were actually treated as experts and saw their recommendations put into practice.
*(I designed the SA Greenhouse strategy process and we recognised from the outset that a whole variety of business and community groups needed to be involved in Tackling Climate Change. I later drove the work behind SA’s Climate Change Vision) (pictured)
**Unfortunately I can’t find the link but it is not dissimilar to this paper and, of course, these days we have all become familiar with the IAP2 framework which is the same stuff and puts a stronger understanding around when different levels of engagement are suitable. (I still think there is a long way to go in implementing these concepts well)