Weeknotes #2: Lockdown Learning edition
Week of 18 January, 2020
Week 2 of term, feeling like I’m slowly finding my way through the major juggling act of homeschooling/grad schooling. There’s very little wiggle room, but I’m still grateful for the rhythm that’s emerging. I also appreciate that somewhere in the tight daily schedules there’s still a smidge of space for curiousity and delight, much of which comes from the time spent with my 7-year old son Max. Here are some of the things we worked on together in home learning this past week:
- Getting used to having a puppy has been a work in progress for an only child who has had the house to himself for 7 years. I was impressed by how much he’s been paying attention this past month, as captured in this PSHE writing task on caring for a pet.
2. Apparently I’ve got what it takes to do mountain rescue :-)
On a parallel track, I’m finding my way into the content of my four modules this term — the second of three terms of my MPA at IIPP.
Design is a common thread through my four modules:
Health and Wellbeing in Cities and Civic Design are about designing places (particularly cities) to foster inclusion, equity, sustainability and wellbeing.
Creative Bureaucracies is all about how you design public sector organisations to build their dynamic capability to address 21st century challenges.
Transformation by Design is the glue that will tie all of the other courses together, providing a very helpful bird’s eye view of the design process and different types of design. A big focus of this course will be to develop new design tools, but more importantly, a deeper appreciation for the mindsets needed to design public policy that enables a transition to a more sustainable and equitable future.
Here is the overview of the course, which I will keep coming back to throughout the term. It’s helping me understand the links across my modules:
A few highlights from the week:
- We delved into the theories and evolution of Western public administration in Creative Bureaucracies. Eye opening look at existing governance models, including ‘performance control’ and ‘government as network’ in Henry Mintzberg’s 1996 HBR article on ‘Managing Government, Governing Management’. Taking a step back this year as a graduate student, I have the headspace to appreciate how often government policy is often crafted without critically questioning the assumptions/models/ideologies/complex trade-offs that influence a given policy’s content.
As new governance models emerge, we need to be able to question why we’re chosing a particular approach over another — what is driving our choices?
Do policy paradigms come and go in pendulum swings? Also, if the current trajectory towards empathy, creativity, uncertainty is a response to the problems or shortcomings of neutrality, is it possible that in X number of years policymakers will decide we’ve had too much empathy and creativity? Do we always need to build in balancing mechanisms to ensure that policy pendulums don’t swing too wildly or will hindsight always be 2020?
A slide from our lecture comparing long-term capacities vs. dynamic capabilities. The former very much in the comfort zone of today’s bureaucracies, the latter not so much.
2. Health and Wellbeing in Cities this week was all about how you design for wellbeing. We explored urban design and how you connect design to wellbeing. Great article by our guest lecturer Chris Boyko (2020) challenging the assumption that high density neighbourhoods, particularly in areas with high deprivation, always lead to lower wellbeing/quality of life and more physical/mental health issues.
Dr. Gemma Moore, the module lead, has made the most of the constraints of distance learning — we watch pre-recorded lectures and read articlesbefore the lecture, and also complete a task related to the week’s focus topic. Our live session is a 1-hour workshop where we apply the reading and what we’ve learned from our task.
Here’s my group’s proposed housing development via Mural. We chose affordability, diversity and inclusion as central design principles. While our new development won’t be winning any design awards any time soon :-), this simple activity helped me engage with the course concepts and learn from a small group of classmates scattered across the globe. Many of my classmates in this module are engineers, urban planners and architects, very different but complementary backgrounds to mine.
3. Transformation by Design was a powerhouse of a course this week. We had our first enrichment lecture, this one from Marco Steinberg. Hard to do his lecture on his pioneering career in strategic design and the emergence of strategic design and transformation by design justice. I had to hear the lecture twice to properly absorb his message, but here are some of the ideas and questions I found most provocative:
- The misalignment of government and its purpose — the fact that government organisations are governed by 18th century institutional logic and are using 20th century statistics in a 21st century world. The importance of bringing the systems that govern this logic to light when redesigning the future of public service. Here’s another representation of this misalignment:
- The need to constantly shift between the problem space and the solution space. Focusing solely on the former risks never moving beyond a conceptual or theoretical space, while focusing only on the latter risks fostering discrete or less consequential change.
- Dual challenge of transforming institutions and challenging/changing their fundamental logic without breaking them in the process. A different take on the three horizons model. Brilliantly captured in this slide:
This week’s lecture and seminar picked up where this enrichment lecture left off and introduced us to design on a service, system and strategic scale. Took a dive in the dark matter pool — a profound and elegant idea from Dan Hill. Hill describes dark matter as the the ‘substrate’ that is ‘often imperceptible’ and which ‘produces the organisational cultures, the regulatory or policy environments, the business models, the ideologies — that surround, enable and shape the more tangible product, service, object, building, policy, institutions etc.’ Change the dark matter and you start to see consequential change. Reminiscent of Donella Meadows leverage points, which we spent time exploring in the last term.
We stepped into the design studio and started working on our design challenge in small teams of three. The session’s goal was to crack open the design toolbox and start planning ourdiscovery phase. My team has chosen to explore the topic of health inequality…here’s how we started to unpack this grand challenge. More to explore and develop in the coming weeks.
I have not really thought of myself as a designer, but as I move through the term I appreciate the many ways in which design is a thread that runs through my career — designing curriculum, classrooms, schools, school systems, public service systems — and how compelling I find the practice as a novice learner.
Finally, a series of important questions surfaced across different classes — who gets to create? As design becomes a more widespread practice in public sector organisations, how do we ensure that design is not some niche practice that only an elite few can practice? How do you give everyone the pen (maybe in this case the sharpie?) and democratise design?
Along with this, who is doing the deisgning? Who are we designing for? Who is included and who is left out? Marco made the great point about the increasing need to make sure we’ve included the voice of future generations. I believe this is essential now more than ever. There is so much inherent wisdom, clarity, and unabashed imagining in our younger generations—Amanda Gorman’s breathtaking call to action during this week’s presidential inauguration was a powerful reminder of this.