Redesigning California

December 30, 2009 — 5 Comments

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There is a move afoot to hold a constitutional convention in California. The purpose is to address some of the issues that are causing complete gridlock in the governance of the state. Given the successive budget crises and the seeming inability to think about long term and strategic issues, as well as the worrying erosion of infrastructure, this would seem to be a good idea. Certainly as a resident of the state, I wonder how far things will have to degrade before regions like Silicon Valley lose their allure and innovation moves to more attractive environments.

So this seems like an opportunity for some redesign. But my question is will any design thinking actually happen? Is it possible to include creative and divergent exploration in such an initiative? Having watched the zero-sum negotiations taking place in Copenhagen around climate change and the US Senate around health care reform I have my doubts. And yet without some new ideas I wonder whether there is any chance of achieving significant improvements. Could the run up to the constitutional convention include a series of design activities statewide that provide a selection of new ideas for the delegates to consider? I think it would be worth experimenting.

The organization behind the call for the convention is called Repair California and you can find out more here.

Tim Brown

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5 responses to Redesigning California

  1. I couldn’t agree more! Maybe they should start by reducing staff. That is the one thing that keeps growing in the CA State.
    How would you get any attention on ideas that do not have a preset political agenda?

  2. Slightly off topic, but I’m not convinced the health care debate is actually zero sum. It occurred to me the other day that Obama’s plan may actually be to get something, anything, through and then use it as a foundation to reintroduce all of the legislature that was struck. If the reform he has managed to get through makes a palpable difference, he will find that a lot easier.

    Likewise, Copenhagen will only be pointless if it isn’t used as a springboard for real change. For example, I would like to see all the world leaders saying “If China will not play ball, we will play ball without China”. I doubt it will happen but my point is that apparently zero sum outcomes can often be used as an excuse to attempt even braver innovation because they show that the safe option has failed. Things are only really zero sum if we continue down the same path to eventual slow collapse. I don’t know whether the California governance is capable of recognising that before it is too late. I am a Brit living in Japan, so I am hardly qualified to judge! Good luck though, it sounds as though you will need it.

  3. I have been writing about “the design of government” since early in the Carter Administration (and slowly getting smarter about it…). The need is for (a) design thinking, (b) familiarity with the known Tools of Government (see the book by that name), and a deep understanding of the sciences of complexity (from cybernetics to chaos). I’m trying to begin to bridge that gap. Oh — it’s also a good idea to look b beyond our borders for ideas. EG, evidently the Australian and NZ governments produce “Legislative Impact Statements.” Such statements in the US might just find some of our “unanticipated consequences.”
    I’d LOVE to become involved in ‘reinventing’ California; I was one of the Deputy Directors of Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government” program in 1993 and 1995.
    I also have a daughter who teaches at UC Santa Cruz, and I’d like UC to keep up the good work! See the “About” section of my blog for more about me.

  4. I know, as well as you all know, that creative minds can do a lot of good work in a political environment. And at the end for the society. I can tell, from the inside working as a designer in a political environment, that it is really hard to process things too quickly.
    The first knowledge I got was the meaning of power and how to respond on that. Power is the same thing as control so it is a big jump for the politicians to give that kind of control to someone else. Especially if you are creative, because creativity can cause a feeling of “not being in control”.
    If it is hard for the politicians it is even more hard for the administration. They do not want to feel this. The administration is the way to the politicians.
    At the same time it can be easy, because from my experience I have noticed that “right-brain-way-of-thinking” is more efficient. I think it is because of “the-big-picture-thinking-way”. The problem can sometimes be the way of processing things. It is completely different and I found their way a bit backwards.

    This is experience from my world and I can imagine it is not the same everywhere in the world. A person who works with politic is also a visionary. They need designers to visualise the future. That might be the first step for designers to get control of. Ones you have done that you might get trust and trust is everything you need. Then the door is open for a lot of possibilities. I think it is a long way……

  5. I so badly want to move back to California, but the problems have given me more pause than I care to climb over. I would love to see things turn around, and see design thinking play a part in making that happen. It is unfortunate that, more than likely, political thinking will scuttle the lifeboat instead.

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