But what designers, or multi-disciplinary teams using “design” approaches, can also bring to such projects is a set of assumptions about knowledge, that can have important consequences for how they, and the communities they claim to serve, understand the work they are doing and what happens within it. Social scientists (who have a lot to say about these assumptions and the nature of research) have come together with designers to discuss such matters for several years at conferences such as the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conferences (EPIC), the Participatory Design Conferences, and the anthrodesign discussion list as well as many other fora. But it is rare to bring these two professions/disciplines together with policymakers, who have different kinds of investments in the design of social action.
The Glen Cove Conference on Strategic Design and Public Policy held in Glen Cove, NY, on 9-11 June, was an event which did so. Initiated by Derek Miller and Lisa Rudnick of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), and co-organized by Lucy Kimbell (based at Said Business School) and Gerry Philipsen (Center for Local Strategies Research, University of Washington), this event was conceived of as a small workshop which would bring together – for the first time – three groups:
- policymakers concerned with security in intrastate contexts and post-conflict situations, whose work is typically structured by intergovernmental and national policy goals;
- social science researchers, in particular ethnographers of communication who pay special attention to the construction of local knowledge, for example, how “security” is understood in communities in which the UN has a mandate to do increase it and having decided to help disarm ex-combatants; and
- designers and managers involved in designing services shaped by policy concerns about politics, exclusion and access.
(Read also this report by Aditya Dev Sood of CKS)