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Well-designed Democracy: Using Design to Re-think Democratic Institutions and Governance

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By Piotr Swiatek

In PDR’s Design Policy team, together with Prof Anna Whicher, I have been exploring the role of design in and for policy. It is a field that has really developed in the last decade in part thanks to our research and consultancy work. There is now much more emphasis in government and public service on empowering citizens to co-create, co-own and co-deliver public decisions and policies, while ‘policy designer’ became an official government profession. 

However, I started pondering, how, in an era where public distrust towards government appears to be a default public emotion, can we ensure that people want to engage in public decision-making in the first place? There is a widely held perception that democracy is in crisis, evidenced by declining metrics of political engagement and a feeling of disconnection and distrust between citizens and politicians.  It would seem as though the stagnant institutions and bureaucratic processes established in the 19th and early 20th century are no longer fit for purpose in world of constant fast-paced flux.

Through my Global Academies Santander Fellowship, I want to explore ‘democracy’ as a design subject. To achieve this, I will map the existing knowledge, identify gaps, propose possible paths forward and identify opportunities for a new research funding and for potential new commercial services. This research is integrally linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly goal 16; Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. 

As part of my engagement with experts and practitioners, I  shared my initial knowledge mapping and discussed my research questions during the EU Design Days in Brussels on 10th of June. This year’s edition of the EU Design Days focused on the topic of “Will beauty actually save the world? How can design contribute to the green transition and help us to achieve the goals of the EU Green Deal?” 

My participation in the EU Design Days gave me a perfect opportunity to engage with other researchers, policymakers and experts from across Europe and beyond. The interest, questions and positive feedback following the presentation of my fellowship research has given me confidence in this topic – design for democracy, or in other words innovation in political systems and governance, will be of key importance during our current environmental, societal, and economic transitions. I made a lot of new, fantastic connections which hopefully will lead to further collaboration.