12.14.23
Shari Davis, Oliver Escobar, Lily Tsai + Lee Moreau | Audio

Design As S1E5: Citizenship Part 1


On this episode, Shari Davis, Oliver Escobar, Lily Tsai, and Lee Moreau begin a discussion on citizenship and design.

Subscribe to "Design As" on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. "Design As" is brought to you by Mastercard Customer Experience and Design, a global design community working to accelerate the future of commerce through experience and innovation. Find out more at careers.mastercard.com.

Lee Moreau is the founding director of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation studio based in Boston, and a Professor of Practice in Design at Northeastern University. He is also the host of The Futures Archive, a podcast from Design Observer that looks at the history of human-centered design with a critical eye to its future.

Lily Tsai is the Ford Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Director and Founder of the MIT Governance Lab, and the Chair of the MIT Faculty. She is the author of When People Want Punishment: Retributive Justice and the Puzzle of Authoritarian Popularity (2021) and Accountability without Democracy: Solidarity Groups and Public Goods Provision in Rural China (2007).

Shari Davis is a community organizer and youth advocate. They are the co-executive director of the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), an organization that empowers everyday citizens with the ability to directly manage public money. Prior to this role, they served as  director of youth engagement and employment for the City of Boston, where they launched Youth Lead the Change, the first youth participatory budgeting process in the U.S., which won the U.S. Conference of Mayors' City Livability Award. In 2019, Davis was honored with an Obama Foundation Fellowship for their work on participatory budgeting.

Oliver Escobar is Professor of Public Policy and Democratic Innovation at the University of Edinburgh. He works on participatory and deliberative democracy, with a focus on public participation, policy innovation, the commons, political inequalities, and the governance of the future. Oliver was Academic Lead on Democratic Innovation at the Edinburgh Futures Institute (2019-2023) and Co-director of CRITIQUE, Centre for Ethics and Critical Thought (2021-2023). He currently co-leads research projects at the UKRI Behavioural Research Hub and the EU Horizon programme on Intersectional Spaces of Participation. He is an editor of  The Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance, and the author of Public Dialogue and Deliberation: A communication perspective for public engagement practitioners



Transcript

Lee Moreau
Welcome to Design As a show that's intended to speculate on the future design from a range of different perspectives. This season, we're going to focus on three key words as prompts: culture, complexity, and today we'll be focused on citizenship. We're here to interrogate and problematize design's new role in and on the world and everything that we've been doing in design perhaps in the last several decades that's really come to life right now.

Lee Moreau
Design As is brought to you by Mastercard, a global technology company in the payments industry. Their mission is to connect and power an inclusive digital economy that benefits everyone, everywhere by making transactions safe, simple, smart and accessible. To learn more about opportunities within their thriving design community, go to careers.mastercard.com and search for design jobs.

Lee Moreau
This is part one of a two part series around citizenship. I'm Lee Moreau, founding director of Other Tomorrows, a design innovation studio based in Boston and a professor of practice and design at Northeastern University. Also, our dedicated Design Observer listeners will recognize my voice as the host of The Futuress Archive, a podcast from Design Observer that looks at the history of human centered design with a critical eye toward its future. With me in this conversation is Lily Tsai. Hi Lily.

Lily Tsai
Hi, Lee.

Lee Moreau
Lily is a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, the director and founder of the MIT Governance Lab. She's also the author of When People Want Punishment, Retributive Justice and the Puzzle of Authoritarian Popularity. We also have with us Sheri Davis.

Shari Davis
Hey ya'll.

Lee Moreau
Hi, Sheri. Sheri is a community organizer and youth advocate there, the co-executive director of the Participatory Budgeting Project, an organization that empowers everyday citizens with the ability to directly manage public money. In 2019, Sheri was honored with an Obama Foundation fellowship for their work on participatory budgeting. And finally, from across the pond over in Scotland, we have Oliver Escobar. Hi, Oliver.

Oliver Escobar
Hello from Edinburgh in Scotland.

Lee Moreau
Oliver is professor of Public policy and democratic innovation at the University of Edinburgh. He was the academic lead on democratic innovation at the Edinburgh Futures Institute and currently co-leads research projects at the UKRI Behavioral Research Hub and the EU Horizon Program on intersectional spaces and participation. He's an editor of the Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance and the author of Public Dialogue and Deliberation: A Communication Perspective for Public Engagement Practitioners. And it's lovely to have you all here. So let's get started.

Shari Davis
Thank you for having us.

Lily Tsai
Sounds good.

Oliver Escobar
Yep. Great to be here.

Lee Moreau
Our focus today on citizenship, I think, is a great way to end this first season. And part of the reason for that is I feel like there's been so much momentum about design's influence on the world and what we've achieved as design, the power that we have, the change that we've made. But really, I think if we step back a little bit, we've made a lot of changes that have created a lot of unintended consequences, unforeseen things that we didn't know. We were not anticipating them. And we need to take stock as designers and we need to bring other people into the conversation. One of the opportunities that this creates for us is to look at other domains where design is having an influence on the way that people are thinking and working. And I'm really excited to have this conversation with this esteemed group of people who are really embracing both design as a practice outside and within their own work. And I'm excited to have this conversation, so thank you all for being here. I kind of want to open up by just asking what is our definition of citizenship at all? If we could kind of go around and just say,— Sherri, what is your definition of citizenship?

Shari Davis
You know Lee, I was really hoping that you weren't going to go to first because this is a really controversial term for me, to be honest. And I think within the definition, there are, at least in my family history in the United States, when I hear the term citizenship, things come up for me that look like voter suppression or that also look like being barred from being a citizen. I think about members of my extended family that are immigrants to the United States, and this term citizenship is controversial for me. But I do think that a way to think about a definition of this is a person, an individual, that has a relationship to a place, to a community, to a country and has a responsibility and an opportunity to contribute to that place, that space, that-that country.

Lee Moreau
Oliver?

Oliver Escobar
Yeah, it's actually really hard for me to follow from that because it encapsulates so much that is important here. But we do need to problematize some of the notions of citizenship that are out there, especially those that are very narrowly legalistic, when, you know, citizenship is solely conferred upon by a particular set of formal rights and so on. And of course, that is important, but it is often exclusionary. So sometimes when-if you go by narrowly legal understandings of citizenship, you might be excluding all kinds of people: people in transit, refugees, people in prison or coming out of prison, all kinds of communities that are disadvantaged or excluded. So it's a term that is very loaded. But if we go beyond the legal definition of citizenship and to a more democratic understanding of citizenship, then to me that is anyone who is affected by the laws and policies and ways of governing of a particular space, be territorial or some kind of community of place, practice, identity, interest and so on. So that link to community I share with Sheri. And so, yeah, I think we need to think of citizenship in an expansive manner, which is the original sense, is the citizen, as a member of the polis of this space, we share and as we try to organize together and build a society. So I also buy into that more expansive sense. And I think it's really important, though, that we are using the term citizenship and citizenship, right? Because it's a counter-narrative to the dominant terms that are sometimes more prevalent in public life, like the customer, the consumer. Very narrow understandings—

Lee Moreau
That's the kind of language that I tend to use in my work.

Oliver Escobar
Yeah, but with that comes rights and responsibilities and expectations, whereas the citizen is a more well-rounded, potentially more well-rounded term to refer to to people and how we come together to make things happen.

Shari Davis
I like that, Oliver, of like what we want citizenship to mean, I really appreciate that reframe.

Lee Moreau
Lily?

Lily Tsai
I mean I think that I'd like to pick up on what I sense from Oliver and Sheri, your feeling that you want maybe, or that we want citizenship to be an activity and a practice. And that's what I really liked about, you know, the sort of subject of the conversation today, which is design of citizenship, where, you know, I think of design as an activity or a verb. And so that made me start to think about citizenship more as a verb rather than a status. So as a status, as you know, both Sheri and Oliver have pointed out, that's a really contentious, uncomfortable topic of public discussion these days. But I think as an activity, as a lived experience on a day to day basis, what we all do as participants of a community, the kinds of responsibilities that we try to uphold and how we try to do that in a really difficuLily Tsai
environment. You know, that's that's where I think I go to. And then I think it's a matter of talking about the kinds of activities that help us realize the commitments and values that we care about, whether that's basic human rights, personal autonomy, the way in which we value plurality and diversity of expression. You know, what are the kinds of activities and practices that help us do that?

Lee Moreau
Sometimes we get to choose if we're citizens. Other times there are forces that are preventing us from having that option, right, is part of the context for this. You know, in my work, we're often trying to associate experiences with a sense of belonging. Do people want to be connected to this type of experience? Do they want to change their lives and partner with the people around them to belong to a group? What is the connection between belonging and citizenship?

Oliver Escobar
You can see that we are starting with the easy questions, aren't we. I guess the first thing that comes to mind, you know, there's a strong debate about whether feeling like a citizen is always attached to a particular territory. And personally, I'm not a great believer in borders. And personally, given the the polycrisis, as it's now known, this confluence of multiple crises, the climate crisis, the ecological crisis, and a number of other sort of fast developments that are transforming our world, as well as the legacy that we carry with us in terms of a profoundly unequal world — in that context, I think is, you know, there are ways ahead that are based on a narrow understanding of citizenship, closing borders, creating more walls and divisions and so on. And there's a version of citizenship that says, look, we are all interconnected unavoidably, and therefore, you know, maybe we need to reimagine our narratives of belonging and our solidarities across traditional boundaries and traditional lines from a map or categories of, you know, different parts of the population. So I'm not denying that belonging is fundamental and it is connected to identity. But I am looking to leave in the past century some of the less productive aspects of exclusionary belonging that makes belonging conditional on setting boundaries, that create all kinds of divisions between people. So-but of course, I don't want to come across as not caring about belonging. I'm just saying, well, I belong to Earth. I belong to multiple communities that go beyond all kinds of boundaries. And that sense of belonging for me is productive and forward thinking and perhaps a better foundation to try and reimagine and redesign our world.

Shari Davis
I like this idea of of redesigning how we think about citizenship and belonging. And Oliver, you know, when Lee asked this question, I'm like: Oh, this is testing my ability to reframe and reimagine in real time right now. Because, to Oliver's point, what comes up for me is all the ways that people and peoples haven't belong and that the term citizenship has been used in sometimes really exclusionary ways. But I'm still back on the first question where— as I think about what I want the experience of citizenship to be for people, for all people, for global citizens, if I challenge myself to think about this beyond the muddy and often messed up way to think about this from a border perspective, and if we think about maybe the essence of what I hope citizenship can be, it comes back to belonging. It comes back to being in right relationship with each other, comes back to being in right relationship with the planet. And I think in order to do that, we have to have access to to each other. We have to have access to discourse. And maybe more importantly, we have to practice talking to each other. We have to practice being together. We have to practice nurturing the relationships between people. And I'm like, from that standpoint, the relationship maybe between what I hope citizenship is or can be or how we could imagine it, and the body of work that belonging calls us to consider there is a relationship there. I don't think we realized it yet. I don't think we fully explored what that could offer us.

Oliver Escobar
If I may, because Sheri's input there really made me think of another another side of belonging that is actually more positive than the side that I was trying to articulate out here, because the notion of belonging points to a politics of interdependence, right. And that points to a foundation, a philosophical foundation or a political foundation, however we want to frame it, that takes us beyond some of the dominant narratives of hyper individualism, for example. And there's this really interesting strand of African philosophy called Ubuntu, which is about relationality. You know, it's a counter-narrative to Cartesian rationality and it says, the basic motto of Ubuntu rationality or relationality is: I am because we are and we are inextricable from each other. And once we accept that, then that should change the way we begin to try and make sense of the world around us and the ways we want to act and move forward.

Lily Tsai
Yeah, I want to build on that, actually. You know, when we think of citizenship as a status, it's a characteristic of an individual, they are being put into a category and that category has privileges. And-and moreover, that category has status in the sense of social status or, you know, you're higher than some people who are not citizens. And I think that what Oliver and Sheri have really usefully underscored is that it's much more fruitful to think of citizenship as a relationship between the individual and the community. And that's, I think, the connection to belonging. And I think that for me, what that implies is that relationships are best when there are two way relationships. So it's not just a matter of, you know, how the individual belongs to the collective, but the collective has to welcome that individual. And what are the-what are the environments that the collective is setting up? What are the practices and activities that are engaging the individual members of a collective? And moreover, I think that there has to be a two way relationship of trust and reciprocity that belonging, you know, and the interdependency that Oliver is referring to between, you know, the I and the we, that really has to be the we trusts the individual and the individual trust the we. And how do you build that kind of relationship? Well, you have to demonstrate the we has to demonstrate that they trust the individual. And I think that in this period of polycrisis, you know, I think there are a lot of individuals who don't trust the we anymore and vice versa.

Lee Moreau
As a designer, this is really provocative because design has been historically sort of directional, right? The one designer creates and addresses another population. I mean, we have this process in design, which some of you practice in design thinking for some of the work that you do, you know, this notion of bucketing, you put up a bunch of ideas and then you bucket. The idea is you're basically parsing or segmenting different thinking ideas or populations into different territories. And so much of the work that I think we do as designers is to actually divide, right? Which works against this kind of seeing the I and the we in relationship to one another at all. We're blocking that to some degree.

Lily Tsai
I mean, actually, I was thinking about design thinking and how the word design comes from drawing. You know, the great thing about design is that you're sketching and rearranging and diagraming relationships between people or things or nodes. And I was wondering whether there is a way to an approach to design where your focus is not on the Post-its that you're rearranging, but actually the, the relationships between the Post-its. So can we think of a way to do design where like you're actually focused on the lines that are connecting the Post-its? You're seeing the lines between the Post-its and the characteristics between the lines. So, you know, I think Sheri and Oliver and I are all think a lot about the characteristics that characterize relationships, you know, so whether those or whether information is passing through or whether there's trust between people, whether there's respect in those relationships or empathy, you know, those are all qualities that are in the lines rather than in the nodes.

Cindy Chastain
Hi, I'm Cindy Chastain, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience and Design at Mastercard. And I'd like to introduce you to some design leaders from our growing community.

Arnaud Jammers
Hi, I'm Arnaud Jammers. I'm a Vice President of Product Experience Design at Mastercard. I've been at Mastercard for roughly eight and a half years. So I've had the delightful experience, actually, of seeing the transformation from the very beginning. And this push to move MasterCard's design teams towards design thinking and its product teams is essentially a ten year transformation. You know, when we generally think of Big D design, we think of like the three legs of the stool. I think when I think of design at Mastercard, it's actually more like 20 teams. It's bringing in all of this expertise early on really to to find out and to figure out what are all the potential problems and pitfalls are going to be for the products. I think that we are really put in at the beginning from frame and concept all the way to, you know, market test and commercialize. And that's probably a really different than what most designers experience. It's not something you see every day. And that's a that's a different beast that to me, it's-it's fascinating. And I really take a lot of pride in the work that Mastercard is doing towards leading innovation.

Cindy Chastain
From new digital payment products, to innovations that empower people and create a more inclusiv economy. Our growing design community is working to accelerate the future of commerce through experience and innovation. Find out [email protected] and search for design jobs.

Lee Moreau
I think the question about the relationship of design and citizenship sort of comes to the sense that we live in a world of chaos in many respects. We look at the world around us. We're like, wow, is this really what we wanted? And I think designers are looking at ourselves and saying, well, we've been told for a long time, one, that we can help craft the world around us and create this thing with a kind of clear vision and to create a better, a better world, and I'm using air quotes there and better, and I think there's some concern that we may not have done as good a job as we thought. I think designers are looking to other practices and saying like, how, you know, where do we go wrong? How what are the things that we could have been doing that we weren't doing? It'd be great to talk about how we actually do that in our work.

Shari Davis
Yeah. Lee That's exactly what I was thinking about. as Lily's talking, I'm thinking about how this shows up in the work that we do, how we practice some opportunity to look at each other, look at our relationships, and then include that in how we make decisions. And for me, a lot of this frame is actually about decision making. How we usher people for decisions together, how they usher themselves toward decisions together, which which is a real practice. And what I will say is I found that it's really hard for folks to practice relationship, practice growing trust, whether that's between an institution and a community, whether that's between government and a community— without the experience of having been listened to. And so we ask people all the time to listen to things. There's like an overflow of information. If someone wants to find out about a recent policy, if someone wants to find out about a budget change or amendment, they can go to a hearing that was at a hearing. They can listen, right. In theory, you can offer some testimony, but there's no commitment to how your testimony will influence or change the decisions around you. When we're able to practice different things, though, like in the instance of participatory budgeting, a thing that happens, is folks are able to ideate together, which is really exciting and powerful. And then they're able to move into this space where they develop proposals together. There are no two PB that are the same, but there are some best practices that we as an organization really recommend for folks to consider. When we get to that proposal development part, this is a part that requires some really good and excellent facilitation. And sometimes I think that a designer's role or folks that are in that design thinking space, you have a really important responsibility as a facilitator. The other thing that stands out to me is in in our best practice kind of thinking around proposal development, we think about volunteers, community experts that are able to transform an idea into a concrete proposal to even do some research. And these budget delegates, these individuals that are going to transform ideas into concrete proposals, maybe they came into this process with an idea. But when we get to the proposal development phase, we really encourage folks to work on an idea to research an idea that was not their own. And I think that this is really important because what we find then is it creates a touchpoint for us to build some trust in a relationship to the we, to understand the context and ideas from another person, to realize that you're shepherding this idea forward with care and consideration. And that creates an opportunity for another group or individual to shepherd forward your ideas with care and consideration. And I bring up this example because it's an important part of the best principles and design around participatory budgeting. And it seems kind of simple, right?

Lee Moreau
Mm hmm.

Shari Davis
Spend some time researching an idea that's not your own, and it creates this opportunity like that Lily was talking about within the process to demonstrate and practice trust with each other. That's one way that it shows up in some of the work that I do. But I'm curious, Oliver, Lily, what are some examples of how that shows up in the work they all do?

Lily Tsai
I mean, that's so interesting, Sheri. It reminds me actually, when I was kind of doing some blue sky thinking about how one might imagine a different kind of representative democracy. You know, I sort of reflected on how interesting it would be if we were charged with electing representatives not to represent our own interests, we would elect a representative that we thought would be good at representing another group's interests and that would be reciprocated across different groups. And so everybody would be electing people they thought would be good at representing somebody else's interests in the kind of way that you talk about somebody else shepherding your idea and you shepherding somebody else's idea. So it's funny to to think that, you know, that kind of approach has emerged in different arenas.

Lee Moreau
That would be like empathy on steroids. I mean, that would be really radical empathy, like not only do I understand and have I sat with your idea that I don't actually hold, but enough so that I can nominate or imagine a leader who could be the voice of that? I mean, that's that's exceptional.

Lily Tsai
Yeah. I mean, I feel like, Oliver, you've worked with people who have been charged with representing future humans, right? So that's also in the same vein, I think.

Oliver Escobar
Yeah. I mean, there's so much coming up here. If there are a couple of things or maybe couple of a couple of things. First, for me, one of the fundamental questions and this connects to Sheri's point about participatory budgeting, but also then to the implications and the possibilities and the potential of design and design thinking. For me, a fundamental question in in political and democratic life is what kind of citizen are citizens invited to be? And very often traditional legacy institutions invite people to be spectators, bystanders or complainers, or just to react to things or protestors, etc. Of course, those roles have a very important part to play in all of these, but it's just not enough. Not in a world that requires us all pulling together to reimagine and redesign the way we live, play, educate, work, etc.. What we do know from all kinds of studies and both empirical but also more philosophical thinking, is that everyone has the capacity to be not just having a spectator bystander, a complainer, but a thinker, a co-producer, a deliberate or a thinker. And it comes down to the type of spaces that people are being offered. If you offer a public hearing with a hierarchical structure, a kind of a lecture, theater type of thing, then you are going to create those kind of monoogic dynamics with all kinds of power dynamics thrown into the mix. If you create the spaces that are designed to be more egalitarian, let's take the circle as the kind of epitome of egalitarian design, at least in participatory spaces. Then you are creating a space where all other forms of being and interacting are called forth. And we know that the same citizens, there have been some interesting experiments on this, the same group of citizens in two different spaces, one designed to be monologue, one designed to be dialogic will adopt those roles. We all can be, either way, just in the spectator, a complainer or a problem solver, a thinker, a collaborator. So the role of the saying in this case in terms of spaces, is absolutely fundamental. And, you know, there is a phrase I'm going to paraphrase here from Alexis de Tocqueville, he wrote something like—it is not that good. Individuals make good societies. Good societies make good individuals. I think that that transposes-translates to the participatory democracy and co-design worlds in that is not that good citizens make good participatory processes, good participatory processes make good citizens. And to me, we need to be much more aware of the politics of a space, the politics of artifacts, the politics of the in-between between the material world and the social world. And design is a key mediator in all of that.

Shari Davis
You know, I agree with what Oliver is putting down here. And I would just say that it's not just the structure. Right. And I don't think that Oliver is saying it's only structure, right. The design is important. I think it's practice. And so I also want to point out the fact that sometimes we compare our success around trying something new or designing something new, we compare it against the thing that we did for 400 years. People have a lot of practice in the limited roles that they've been invited to, whether that is complainer or-or one of the other roles that that you named Oliver. But I think the broad experience of many people is that they haven't had much practice being a collaborator, right. And those sorts of experiences have been available, I think, to maybe a small pocket of the population. And when we then open the doors up for practicing, making a decision together, I find that some folks are maybe a little bit insecure. The first time you do something, you don't do it very well as maybe you would do it if you practiced it a bunch of times. And so I just wanted to add in that that there is this component of how society is structured totally. But there is also this intentionality and recognition that I think we need to acknowledge here that we need practice. The first time we do something out of the gate is not going to be the best time. And how do we then get folks to practice more so that we can do an accurate comparison against maybe the same or similar way we've done something for hundreds of years.

Lee Moreau
It makes total sense. The invitation to ask someone to move from a world where they're just going thumbs up and thumbs down to actual engagement and dialog and talking, totally-totally different way of being.

Lily Tsai
Yeah. Here, I've just got to jump in with a couple of really amazing examples from this political philosopher Bernardo Zacka, who has been thinking a lot about the ways in which public spaces and shared spaces are public goods, and then if they are public goods, what are the criteria by which we should judge whether they are good public spaces, that is to say, public spaces that uphold our commitments to liberal democracy. So, you know, to kind of tie the last few comments together, he talks about, for example, in designing, say, public housing, architects might want to be really intentional about, number one, leaving some spaces— in between spaces to be customized by residents so that they have an opportunity to express their selves and moreover, to also leave some ambiguity about the ownership of those spaces and the boundaries of those spaces so that residents also have to practice, engage in the negotiation and conflict and compromise over how to bound those spaces and who should have responsibility over those spaces in so doing kind of practice, the kind of dealing with conflict and deliberating about what to do and settling it by compromising with each other even though you have competing ideas or interests. That I think kind of is a way of thinking about the role of designers in encouraging the kinds of dialogs and practices that we want people to engage in. And through that, I think, improving all of our skills for citizenship. And I think it is those kinds of day to day skills that Shari's underscoring that are necessary for a resilient and vibrant democracy.

Oliver Escobar
Yes, that sounds great. It made me think of desired paths, that concept in architecture where you can design the place. But then, by the way people walk through a place, they will create a new path that wasn't there, right. So you're kind of almost talking not just about desired paths, but also desired in-between spaces. And I think that's something really interesting. And also this points to the role of designers as facilitators, right. Which is a mindset that that is different from designers as all knowing, all encompassing creators. And the in-between, and the lack of in-between spaces increasingly because of many of the trends in the way our societies are developing, is perhaps one of the things that undermines those possibilities of empathy, solidarity, etc. We all know from conferences and events and forums that often the best part are the breaks, is the in-between space. I have been for some time playing with the idea of organizing a conference that is just made up of breaks. That should be the definition, that's where things happen, right, is in the relational space, the in-between space, which is co-creative, which is called retirement. Yeah. And there's so much potential there. And I think that presents a dilemma for designers, right? How open can a design be and what is the sequencing and how does it evolve?

Lily Tsai
I mean, I think there's something also really important about in-between spaces where it enables people to see each other and but, but not for too long, right, so and appreciate each other and appreciate diversity and craziness like, but also, maybe you don't have to you don't have to be there too long. You don't have to linger. Again, Bernardo writes about the activity of waiting and who makes who gets to make people wait. So he's interested in, for example, welfare offices, unemployment offices.

Lee Moreau
This is one of my favorite topics, by the way,Lily So let's talk more about it.

Lily Tsai
Waiting?

Lee Moreau
Yes.

Lily Tsai
I mean, you know, if you have the power to make somebody wait, that is a lot of power, right. And also, it's incredibly it can be incredibly demeaning if you have to wait against your will. And moreover, if you have to wait in this ugly, horrible place, that's even worse. Right. So, you know, I was thinking a little bit about the difference between like Grand Central Station, which is this gorgeous in-between space, right. It is so beautiful and inspiring to see humanity like going to all these places. And and it's just it's this beautiful space. And if you compare it to like the Port Authority bus terminal, you know, which is horrible space. It was just a really interesting way to think about how one views one's fellow citizens and the society and polity that you're in. Against the backdrop of something beautiful versus the backdrop of something ugly and horrible and dirty and, you know, so. But I think that from a democratic theory point of view, what's really important is having opportunities to appreciate people's differences in a way that is pleasurable and positive and where you have some choice over whether you stay for a long time or you stay for a short time so that you can develop the kind of what I think of as like a detached affection for one's fellow citizens. I think when we force people to be together, it's too much. And that's also in violation of their autonomy. But if you can kind of give them some choice and some like ability to be close or far, I think that actually ends up being better for citizenship in a robust democracy.

Lee Moreau
Shari, I'm curious how this plays out in your work in participatory budgeting, partly because I feel like in many cases people are being asked to maybe work against their own interests and you're trying to manage that through dialog and conversation.

Shari Davis
Well, it's an interesting way to frame the question because I don't know that folks are often asked to work against their own interests, but instead maybe invited to explore other interests that in concert with their own thing can be really successful. The thing about participatory budgeting is we're often not talking about making decisions about one project. We're often talking about collecting hundreds, if not thousands of ideas to combine and flesh out and communicate back to people which ones are eligible to move on to the ballot, which ones are not. And think about that just piece I mentioned, how important it is to be listened to, right. And how I think that most folks experience in local government or government in general doesn't include this component of being listened to. So imagine when you put forward an idea just hearing whether it's eligible ineligible, if it's moving forward. Closing that feedback loop is a way to acknowledge that: Hey, we listened to you. We heard you. Here is how that information is moving forward. And here's some rationale on where it is. I think that this piece is is particularly important. The other thing that I just want to name kind of in the spirit of growing those opportunities to be listened to, not necessarily pitting people against each other, but creating space for us to understand each other is a coalition at the Participatory Budgeting project. So PBP, our organization, convened something called Democracy Beyond Elections, and we talked about a couple of moments ago how important it is to think about the moments in between. And this is how this coalition was built, right, elections are important. There's no question about that. But democracy happens also beyond and between elections. So how do we use those spaces to engage people in the decisions that affect their lives, the decisions that are happening around them? How do we unleash or unlock their potential and their expertise? And this coalition has done some really incredible work. But one of the things that I've been most excited about is a campaign that the coalition came together on and democratically decided on around ARPA funds, American Rescue Plan Act funds. And a decision was made and opportunity was seen to say like: Hey, how do we use this moment in time to make sure that community members can articulate their needs around healing their needs at this unique moment in history as we're managing our reality coming out of the pandemic. Why don't we talk about that and how do we not miss this real opportunity for people to communicate directly what they need rather than guess, right, which creates a real space for financial mismanagement. And in that campaign, we actually saw places like Flint, Michigan, actually win participatory budgeting with American Rescue Plan Act so that people could put forward ideas. And coming back to your question Lee, the final ballot in a place like Flint, Michigan, had all kinds of different priorities on it. All of them were really important. When a person could cast their vote for us, the ballot affirm and support investments for different kinds of things, like making the water quality better in Flint, Michigan. They could also think about supporting individuals that were doing violence interruption work and that weren't involving police in scenarios that maybe a mediator was more appropriate. They were able to express interest on things like mental services. They were able to express things, or interest on things, like housing support. So all of that to say — I think it is being able to then look at the end of a participatory process and say are here are our community spending priorities. Here's what we heard from community members and all along the way we're creating those moments in in between the process for folks to talk to each other, stand in each other's shoes, maybe develop a different idea. And so honestly, at the end, it doesn't feel like in a good participatory budgeting process, it doesn't feel like you're choosing someone else's priority over your own. It feels like you have a good perspective on what is happening and you're able to meet people where they are and then participate in what we collectively need.

Lily Tsai
I think that's so, so powerful Shari because I think what you're describing is like—they're able to see like across the interests and groups.

Shari Davis
Exactly.

Lily Tsai
From a bird's eye view, which is really their picture of the collective. And it's a picture they couldn't have gotten without a participatory budgeting process. So it's less about like an individual's participation in the process. But-but what you're describing is much more about like being able to see the whole.

Shari Davis
Totally. And like, how do we create those moments for that? It doesn't happen in, like one meeting, right? It happens over a series of decisions. Maybe a process that's designed in a specific way. And I think that's the framework of participatory democracy, right. So it's not just participatory budgeting that offers these moments, to Lily's point, for us to see each other, to actually have a fuller picture of community spending priorities and needs in a way that you see yourself in. Which I feel like is pretty unique. There are other methodologies that also offer us that, like citizen assemblies. And I think it's really interesting to think about the mechanics of those processes that actually allow us to listen to each other as we make decisions together, which I think we need practicing. We don't have a ton of practice making decisions together.

Lily Tsai
And I'm just going to jump in with one last coda, which is it's not just seeing the whole but coming back to what you're saying about being heard. It's being seen, right. So that feeling of being seen is incredibly important for that feeling of belonging and citizenship that we were talking about.

Lee Moreau
If I pulled this into another reaLee Moreau
of design that I'm more familiar with as designers have a bigger seat at the table or more significant role in large corporations, and simultaneous with that, corporations tend to be aligned with purpose, I don't think we're having the kind of conversations in these kind of companies which are often tied to budgeting, right? Like: Hey, what are the initiatives we're going to go for this year, for the next quarter? What's our five year plan, etc., are not tied to deep conversation amongst all constituents. Right. So this very hierarchical model. I would love to see this sort of participatory budgeting being brought actually into large corporations in terms of setting trajectories and redefining of purpose. So we need to keep this conversation going please.

Shari Davis
Yeah, totally. I'm like: Hey, all the large corporations that are listening to this conversation, if you want to center racial equity in your work, we have tools for that. We have a tool that's available on our website that actually came out of the Democracy Beyond Elections Coalition, because organizations were saying: Hey, we actually want to be better stewards of our budget. We want to participate in decisions at are nonprofit organization. We want to understand how to do that. We want to grow our collective and individual budget literacy, and we want to use our expertise to think about our budget maybe in ways that we haven't before. And so we buiLily Tsai
something called PB for orgs, a free toolkit for organizations to go through some of those phases, steps and process to make some collective decisions about their internal budget together. And our thinking about this is that if-if organizations can practice participatory budgeting, we're going to be able to show up together as better movement partners. We're going to be able to collectively have more experience to maybe explain these different ways of being to people. And I think it's hard to imagine and design different ways of being if you don't know about them. And let's be honest, like when we started this conversation, we were talking about all the ways this term citizenship was controversial and challenging. And I think that that might be an indicator of what's not popular yet. And that is like different ways of thinking about how to be a citizen, but also different ways of thinking about how we engage in democracy. I think largely most people don't know what participatory budgeting is yet. They don't know what a citizen's assembly is yet, and there's a lot of space for us to explore that together.

Lee Moreau
Join us next time for our season finale, the second part of our conversation on citizenship.

Lily Tsai
There are really good reasons why people find it difficuLily Tsai
to care. Like we're living in a moment of chaos or polycrisis. There's a lot of uncertainty and instability. Time horizon seems short, I think, in those kinds of conditions.

Oliver Escobar
So the question is, how do we cut that short termism that hard wires so many of our systems and how do we redesign those systems so that then we can build into it that care for future generations as well as for each other in the now.

Lee Moreau
This is one of the strengths of design, which is to kind of foster visions of what radical imagination could-could yield.

Shari Davis
As we think about imagining for our future, as we think about moving intense design process in ways that are right and good. I also think that there are these like maybe pre-process components, right? These these opportunities for us maybe to begin growing some of those skills together.

Lee Moreau
Design As is a podcast from Design Observer. To keep up with our show go to design observer.com/designas or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like what you heard, please make sure to rate and review us and share it with your friends. You can follow Design Observer on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at Design Observer. Design As is brought to you this season by Mastercard. Tune in next week to hear more from Lily Tsai, Shari Davis, and Oliver Escobar. You can find out more about them in our show notes at design observer.com/designas, along with a full transcription of the show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Judybelle Camangyan edits the show. Special thanks to the PR X podcast Garage in Boston and to Maxine Philavong at Northeastern. Our music is by Joshua Brown. Thanks as always to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


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