Community Trust and Effective Decision-Making

by Augusto Cuginotti

Participatory design becomes real in a sense of community – creating community and building on the social fabric is essential for trust to emerge among stakeholders and towards the whole process. Trust in community and in the process makes effective participatory design. We are talking about social systems, but this understanding also applies to PD in IT, architecture, etc.

Searching for Community

In a community relationship, representative decision-making also only works when there is trust. Democracy today has a lot of representatives making decisions in the name of others and at some level this seems to be rather effective, loosing power only when decisions to be made are not based on agreed principles drawn from collective design.

Participatory design that finishes without defining the decision-making process is not complete, looks like the strategy that will never be implemented, either because decision-makers will feel dependent on ‘consult the whole system’ or they will define themselves principles of conduct that should be worked while at the design phase.

The creation of collective strategies are learning to pay attention to context and have all sorts of skills to problem-solve what community is facing today. Mindsets apart, they have the tendency to fail by not looking at two things: trust and decision-making.

Collective strategies that are based on community consultation rather than participation reflects lack of trust in people. They are good for a producer-customer relationships and suitable for marketing strategies, but not for citizens engaging in their own community.

Conversations that really matter are the ones that create trust among participants, not the ones that define action plans. The latter will only matter if the first conversation happens succesfully. If the callers don’t see dialogue and collective understanding as a process creating value to the whole, there is no space for trust to emerge.

We need space for trust to emerge.

And with trust, collective designing a system only become effective if they empower decision-makers (as groups or individuals) to move forward in crystallizing actions by:

  • having a clear sense of purpose and direction WHERE the community wants to go
  • looking at a shared principle-based consensus of the boundaries of HOW

This seems to be the same type of stuff people go through to hang on the walls and look good. I’m not talking about those, but rather things that someone deciding on the matters that will come out of design will need: an understanding of direction and values; and the principle-based boundaries to creatively define the how-to-get-there action steps.