User Interface for Social Policy

What would politics be like if we thought about the way citizens experience it?

We have all had the experience of a clunky website or technical gadget that was difficult to use. Typically, the experience prompted us to look elsewhere. Perhaps it’s time to consider the “user interface” design of political systems that lies at the heart of a functioning (or broken) democracy.

The “user experience” is vital to long-term public support of social policies that must stand the test of time. In the past, I’ve called this the Cognitive Criterion for Public Support:

An effective policy must be popular if it is to stand the test of time and it must be popular for the right reasons, namely because it promotes the right long-term values in the minds of citizens, reinforced through the lived experience.

While at the Rockridge Institute, this criterion was applied to a comparative analysis of two legislative proposals for dealing with global warming. The core element of my analysis was an insight from the field of cognitive linguistics that meanings arise through the structure of experience. This has developed into a foundational theme for “cognitive” policies – the frames, values, modes of thought, and worldviews that make sense of a public policy, reinforced through the lived experience.

(Learn more about cognitive policy here.)

This perspective evokes the idea that “usability” and “user design interfaces” can transform the policy-making process and promote widespread engagement in solving societal problems – a sort of Open Source Solution to Social Problems. I am seeking out innovators who work in this area to contribute to the development and implementation of this far-reaching and potentially transformative approach to solving social problems.

Want to join the discussion? Contact me or add comments in the thread below.


Joe Brewer

Founder, Cognitive Policy Works

Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.