Ezio Manzini    2 May 2017

We have a new tool: the DDP – Design and Democracy Platform (http://www.democracy-design.org): a digital platform to gather, analyse and give visibility to activities that are directly or indirectly linked to the “Stand Up for Democracy” initiative. DDP has been designed and is coordinated by three of laboratories of the Politecnico di Milano (Design Policy Lab, Density Design and DESIS Lab) and can be considered as their contribution to that the Stand Up for Democracy initiative.

Here I will support this project, and the other ones that – hopefully – will come on the same topic with few background considerations. These notes can be seen as an introduction to future more in-depth discussions that will take place (as, for instance, in the Philosophy Talk that will be held in the framework of the DESIS activities at the Cumulus Conference in Kolding).

1. Democracy and social innovation. Luckily, the present crisis of democracy is paralleled by a promising wave of social innovations with the potentiality to activate a regenerative process. In fact, showing us the viability of collaborative projects, and the power of diffuse co-design activities, these social innovations add to the notion of democracy new possible meanings: democracy as a regime that gives people the freedom to define their projects of life and as a space of possibilities equipped to give these projects more chance of being put into practice.

This emerging scenario, the scenario of a collaborative design-based democracy, doesn’t propose a brand new definition of democracy. What it does is to enrich and up-date existing definitions. In particular, it proposes to rethink and regenerate participative democracy using at best co-design methodologies and digital technologies, with the aim of making participation easier, lighter and resilient in time.

2. Democracy in the digital-physical space. It must be noted that this idea of design-based collaborative democracy clashes with the one of a direct democracy online: an idea which, in using the appeal and potentiality of digital technology and social media, proposes a dangerous simplification of reality, reducing choices relating to the public good to a sort of continual plebiscite in which everyone is invited to express his/her individual opinion, without the effort of creating shared opinions and mediating between different points of view.

In contrast to this drift towards plebiscitary democracy, the collaborative design-based one we are referring to here is a space of possibilities in which the construction of shared ideas and practices takes place. Given that these processes are often quite long and tiring, to make them happen, difficulties must be reduced and citizens empowered. To do that, digital technology and social media, if correctly designed, can make participation lighter and (more) meaningful; they can help in starting and supporting conversations and collaborative actions; they can re-create those arenas of discussion that the crisis of traditional representative organizations and the misuse of digital technology have produced. In addition to that, design can offer what has been learnt in several years of experience in co-design processes.

It results that a well designed enabling systems can become a powerful contribution to democracy regeneration. In particular, a powerful contribution to make participatory democracy more viable, for more people, for longer periods of time.

In turn, precisely because they will emerge through dialogue, and therefore through the effort to understand each other reciprocally, these processes may lead to better results. That is, results that will be more coherent with the irreducible complexity and unpredictability of the world.