Next big thing: policy design

First it was interaction design. Then service design. What’s the next hot thing for design? Policy Design. (that’s my big gamble :-)

The latest firestorm over Facebook’s privacy and content usage policies indicated that this notion of crafting a community policy is more than simply the work of a few lawyers and a PR campaign to “sell it” to the skeptical public. Their new attempt to “democratize” their efforts with blogs and commenting could indicate the shift to a new approach on debates about corporate policies and how they should be expressed and governed.

Then there are the mundane tax policies not just written into the code of popular consumer software like TurboTax but governing consumer and corporate behaviors, subscription plans/policies for mobile phone use, zoning regulations for doing home modifications on your property, policies on your home/car/college loans for re-payment and re-financiing, etc. Policies are a fact of life that we deal with whether we like it or not, however implicitly or explicitly–or even unknowingly.

And there’s the new Obama budget plan and his recent speech to Congress heavily suggesting that regulatory policies are making a comeback for the financial industries. Agencies to authorize and shepherd or oversee the distribution of the stimulus funds. Bodies to ensure dutiful and not wasteful expenditures, amid the banner of a new era of responsibility, as hailed in Obama’s inaugural address.

But who’s going to do draft, maintain, communicate, and evolve these policies–which are regarded in effect as large abstract incomprehensible documents full of jargon and projecting an inhuman disregard for ordinary common sense. More than likely it will be those who have an enlightened sense for the humane, sensible, communicable, visualizable, etc. and not just the typical lawyer or politician or bureaucrat.

Yep, we’re moving up Buchanan’s four orders trajectory towards ever-increasing levels of political and social complexity, or wickedness. Where rhetorical powers of negotiation and arbitration become critical, with a primacy on truly knowing your audience and balancing the maelstrom of competing interests and rights and responsibilities among all the power players. Influence is wide-reaching, across the internets (sic) and mobile devices and third places or even geographies.

But will these people who perform “policy design” be called designers? Probably not, more likely just strategists, planners, facilitators, etc. which is fine as long as they positively convey the humanistic and cultural values of “good design”, and embody/express them into their practice and the subsequent artifacts… effectively becoming the arbiters of policy-making in government, business, law, universities, among other institutions of daily life.

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