Designing in between Local Government and the Public – Using Institutional Analysis in Interventions on Civic Infrastructures
Adapting and changing the systems and technologies involved in civic engagement with local government is among the key challenges of collaborative technologies for political participation. In such contexts, both existing sets of technologies and ingrained, often formalised practices, the ‘rules of the game’, constrain any opportunity for intervention. Additionally, ‘civic’ and expert groups with conflicting agendas and divergent demands on public choices assert their influence in these transformation programmes. The article argues that established methods in collaborative systems design have thus far overlooked the role of recurring actions involved in public participation as well as the formal rules and ingrained practices that construct them. Yet, such patterns present a valuable resource for design interventions. Thus, based on an institutional approach, the article outlines a methodology for requirement gathering by mapping the relations of actors, software and their use along identifiable action situations. The method called for a dialogue between socio-technical-spatial contexts of public service and specific actions taking place within it. Drawing on a case of organising civic engagement in urban planning, the article discusses how to find and trace existing practices across social settings, information technologies and material contexts where engagements take place. The approach underscores the existing institutional contexts in inspiring, opening and constraining the opportunities to support ‘civics’.