Hey Designers: Here’s How You Design (for) a Government

DESIGN+governRecently, I spent a few mornings at Art Center talking to design researchers. These particular talks focused on communicating with local government and public entities, something we’ve mastered here at Stratiscope. As one can imagine, communicating with civic entities is a completely different negotiation process than for businesses or even non-profits. And these inquisitive designers wanted an in-depth understanding into the language of civic leaders. That’s where I come in.

If you’re not a government insider or fan, understanding the inputs and nuances of local government becomes essential to getting things done. Government entities have unique approval processes to accomplish anything, and these formal processes can span multiple levels and agencies. Understanding the official processes in place is key, you must know and appreciate the unofficial process(es) as well. Showing up during public comment to speak or writing a letter to the policy maker may feel like being part of the process, but it’s not how government works, really. So how does one find these nuanced processes that drive policy and change?

The best place to start is by exploring their public communications. Take note of the publicly stated priorities and objectives that motivate the local policy makers and their staff. Recognizing their openly stated priorities, past votes, and public messages can provide the deeper understanding of what makes them tick. Even better, go dig into the greatest available free resource you’re looking at right now: their website. Don’t just skim it or take a cursory glance. Reading their website takes a certain degree of patience and attention to detail. It’s not about the issue they are talking about; it is how they are phrasing and positioning the issue. Heck, what they DON’T say is sometimes more important than what they do (and of that, you should particularly take note)!

By paying attention to the finer details of the civic entities messaging, not only will it be easier to understand what makes decision-makers tick, but your work will be more in tune with their messaging and style. Don’t ignore the formal process when working to make change, but know how to reach decision-makers in ways that will dramatically increase the chance of your message being heard and received.

rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. He has worked for elected officials directly and serves dozens of others in other capacities. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


The Importance of Civics

civics definitionRumor has it that at one time “civics” was taught in our public schools. Not “government”, but “civics”. Remember that?

Sure, kids today still learn about the three branches of government, how a bill becomes a law, and who signed the Declaration of Independence, but when did classes in Government and U.S. History leave the business of developing citizens by the wayside?

I refer specifically to our societal inability to educate and engage our existing citizenry in the activities required for the survival of our democracy in any meaningful way. I point you no further than to our bleak turnout on Election Day – arguably the easiest contribution asked of any citizen. Yet, we still manage, on a national election day, to peak around 60% among eligible voters. Cut that in half when noting General Election stats in the State of California, and in the last Mayor’s race in my beloved hometown of Los Angeles, the numbers increased to 18% of eligible voters compared to the previous mayoral contest. In fact, less than 6% of registered voters were responsible for voting LA’s current mayor into office!

Beyond the classic “My vote doesn’t count,” or “Politics is corrupt anyway,” mantras of the disinterested, lies a reason to care. And the reason shouldn’t be that “things have gotten so bad.” We, as a society, if democracy is really the governing structure under which we hope to prosper, need to find our reasons to care before it’s too late.

Our task, as citizens, is to instill, in our youth and each other, a drive for social responsibility and government accountability, engendering a pride and duty of service likely to resonate for generations to come. Bring back a “civics” curriculum that educates our youth about our local systems and pressing issues, empowering them to get involved. A lack of civic engagement is often the result of a lack of civic understanding. Let us clear the path of obstacles for the disenfranchised, light the way for the disenchanted, and walk the walk for those that will follow in our footsteps.

Further reading: The Business of Government in Business

rounded_corners_Neal_A_avatarNeal Anderberg works with organizations, coordinating outreach efforts, strategizing partnerships, evaluating brand effectiveness, and advising on management and fundraising efficiency. He enjoys sharing knowledge and insight, but thrives on collaboration, and is passionate about helping others use their passion to make an impact. Check him out on LinkedIn.