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Talk of the Town

September 2019

I presented this paper at DesignInquiry’s 2019 Futurespective Convivium, Maine College of Art

In the midst of rapid technological change, the inextricable knot of societal conditions writhing from city to city may lead us to a nationally shared political freedom.

New technology becoming commonplace requires governance systems to adapt and change to keep pace with the world around it. But a simple translation of current rigmaroles onto a digital landscape only creates non-resilient solutions and is ignorant of the more fundamental changes that need to happen. The complexity of these issues cannot be solved within the constraints of political silos but need to be given breathing room within which to experiment.

A futurespective mindset is vital for adapting the government for the future because past precedents and data may not be relevant in making an informed choice. Our political situation has become interdependent, unpredictable, and fast-paced so the innovation within it must be agile. Only by testing new approaches of governance through co-designed experiments will a proper, adaptable solution become apparent.

Cities are where these complex issues become entwined. And with citizen engagement at an all-time high, from hashtag campaigns to mass protests, cities must become the module for innovation in the digital age. Paired with intentional flexibility regulated by the centralized government, a citizen-city collaborative ideation model could give rise to new innovative political solutions that are resilient and empathetic enough to be implemented nationally.

The guerrilla use of technology to drive governmental change is already being used today. The current protests in Hong Kong serve as a living example of how a network of passionate citizens can bend the affordances of the government in a digital age to make room for rapid political experimentation. The problem lies in the lack of overhead regulation. On the other hand, China’s social credit scoring system serves as an example of the government using technology against its citizens to reaffirm control. In both examples, what’s missing is a collaborative system of checks and balances between the government and its citizens.

Rampant inequality, corrupt law enforcement, fake news, etc. have all lead to a swi decline in national political efficacy— a citizens' faith and trust in government and their belief that they can understand and influence political affairs. The currency of innovation in the digital age is legitimacy. The digital landscape isn’t limited by resources— manpower, space, material, etc— but rather lacks a common acceptance of authority and direction (read: low political efficacy). Redistributing the power of governance into a communal collaborative system would lead to greater trust, citizen empowerment, and an improved system. At the scale of a city, experimentation on the different techniques to give shape to this collaborative relationship would allow a safe space for play within politics and create a more elastic system of governance for all. ︎