Exploring the role of design attitude in reshaping decision-making practices of public governance

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in Collaborative and Industrial Design
This master’s thesis explores the concept of design attitude in the context of decision-making in public governance. The problems that today’s governance system faces are wicked, complex, highly networked having ripple effects on each other creating new problems. Governance system’s age-old working culture suited for linear approaches to problem-solving fails to address such complexities effectively. Only recently, design is being hailed as the panacea for all societal problems. Recognising the opportunity to explore a fairly recent and under-researched concept of design attitude, this thesis is yet another design contribution to bringing change in governance systems, with an attitudinal approach to design. Due to the extent of its influence on shaping cultures, systemic behaviours and ultimately people’s lives, decision-making practice within public governance is chosen as the context for the study of design attitude concept. The thesis adopts a transdisciplinary approach to bridge knowledge from the disciplines of design, social psychology, and political science, using attitude, Strategic Design, decision-making, governance and systems literature to build a theoretical base for the design attitude concept. I use Project Amaka, a student project that I was a part of, to illustrate this concept’s manifestation in the context of decision-making in public governance using a real case. Project Amaka is a Problem Based Learning (PBL) East Africa, Uganda, project done as part of the Sustainable Global Technologies (SGT) course 2020, in collaboration with the students from Makerere University. The project proposes a self-reliant approach to improve water and sanitation in Katanga, an informal settlement in Kampala, all encompassed within a vision of transforming Katanga from surviving to thriving community. Empowering the community about water and sanitation conditions is not enough for Katanga to thrive as it relies on the local government for more systemic changes. Therefore, to support the vision, this thesis takes a step back and zooms into the local government decision-making practices concerning Katanga’s water and sanitation issues. Using empirical research methods of semi-structured interviews, questionnaire, and study of existing policy documents, complemented by findings from the literature review I develop and propose the Strategic Design Attitude framework with 6 overarching attitude themes: 1) collective agency, 2) action-oriented work approach, 3) reflective practice, 4) approach to complexity, 5) impactful communication and 6) infinite loop of the decision-making process. Based on design attitude concept, strategic design attitude framework presents an approach to enable a self-evolving local governance system in Katanga by identifying attitude’s influence on decision-making practices and recognise the importance of attitudes’ role in informing systemic changes. The thesis presents itself as a starting point of conversation in exploring the concept of design attitude as a contribution of design in redesigning governance system. Change is not a mechanical process and it is not possible to change attitudes, cultures and systems completely. The key to facilitate change is to become more aware of the attitude’s role in informing decision-making practices as a way to initiate change in the governance system.
Julier, Guy
Thesis advisor
Ferreira Litowtschenko, Maria
design attitude, governance, decision-making, strategic design, systemic change, transdisciplinary approach
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