What is Civic Design?

This past Tuesday, we had a post about the city of Helsinki’s project to enable participatory budgeting with a card game. Both the budgeting aspect itself, and the card game, could be loosely grouped under the concept of “civic design.” To go a bit further on that, this short article by the team at Local Peoples can give us some useful pointers and closes with an overview of a framework.

Civic design focuses on discovering and delivering solutions that are shaped by the holistic experiences of everyone in a community who is affected by a public service. […]

Think of civic design as a way to empower all the voices who may be affected by a public service.

Let’s note first that in this kind of process, “design” is meant in a much broader way than what most people might use the word. Where it’s often seen as “how things look,” here it’s actually “how it works.” And in this specific subset of civic design, it’s used to involve communities in the creation of services meant for them.

“The goal is to have teams that look more like the communities we serve to understand what the public needs and consider unintended consequences so that we have a better product in the end and better ways to serve people.”

Civic design is collaborative not just in the way that it invites community participants to engage with the process and bring their perspectives, but in that design itself can be informed by different methods, perspectives and histories.

One distinguishing aspect of civic design is that, as with most aspects of a city and contrary to consumer products or events (for example), it has to be an ongoing practice. First, one must understand “that societal challenges are not problems to solve but a series of dilemmas to be better managed,” and that there needs to be a continuous process of “uncovering privilege and access in our communities to better understand how we can enable participation.”

In other words; civic design is a way to empower all the voices who may be affected by a public service, it acknowledges complex issues, and is a collaborative tool and ongoing practice.