Good design encourages good citizenship, says new research
Most people find their relationship to the state to be a frustrating or alienating experience, according to a recent magazine from the Design Council and the Institute for Public Policy Research. More must be done, it says, to develop affective connections between state and citizen.The partnership of the Design Council and the IPPR has been looking at how the state treats people when they do get involved and how can design make a difference to citizenship.
The magazine, 'Touching the Sate', suggest that for most people it is a negative experience, citing a juror who felt her time was wasted and another who complained of not being thanked.
“Our leaders say they want citizens to get active, but too often our institutions fail to treat citizens as if they matter," said Ben Rogers, IPPR Senior Research Fellow.
"People are willing to do their bit, but only where they are convinced that they are valued and can make a real contribution.
"Yet we found that on many occasions, the state doesn’t even bother with such elementary courtesies as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. No wonder citizens don’t come back for more.”
Hilary Cottam of the Design Council says that although there are some examples of good practice, encounters between the citizen and the state "largely operate in a bubble". "One experience is not connected to another or to citizens’ daily lives", she says.
"Citizens start enthusiastic but their commitment tends to wane.
"It is as if the citizen is looking for a deep and meaningful relationship with the state, but the state sees them as a chance for a one night stand. The citizen, kissed once, leaves feeling used and deceived.”
Among suggestions for change are:
- better designed environments (for example modern court rooms and juror waiting rooms with inter-active exhibits on paths to participation) to give citizens the sense of being part of a valued process;
- asking politely and saying thank you (for example after jury service);
- value citizens’ time – for example provide jurors with pagers so they can go about their daily lives as they wait;
- clear personal messages (no junk mail or computer generated voices, but names and telephone numbers – as used for example by the Inland Revenue) would make citizens feel part of the system;
- design a rich visual language (similar to that of bank notes and postage stamps) for ballot papers and other state communications to add meaning and authenticity to citizen encounters;
- explore possibility of children (and new British citizens) receiving an album - a thing of beauty - from the state on registration, in which they can record/paste important civic (and personal) records, such as voting records, records of jury service, etc.;
- study and understand how people gain knowledge of citizenship, its rights, duties and responsibilities. Identify if and when the state can make useful interventions;
- on jury summons, have quotes from previous jurors talking about their experiences;
- experiment with deliberation days, during which local councils other public bodies and the media are charged with encouraging debate and discussion about politics. This could take the form of a national day off work before major polls. If polling was shifted to Sundays, as in other EU states, then Saturday could become a deliberation day;
- award a prize for the local authority that designs the best citizenship ceremonies.