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A Critique of Design Thinking: Does It Fail at Solving Political Problems?

Mary Slosson

"Design thinking excels when there is some consensus on the problem at hand," writes Andrew Blum, the Vice President of Program Management and Evaluation at the United States Institute of Peace.

"Atrocity prevention from the local to the international level is an intensely and inherently political process. Those working on atrocity prevention must find creative ways to confront illegitimate authority," he writes.

Design thinking doesn't work when competing political agendas are in play.

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  • Adele Peters

    Really interesting. I agree with him that the challenge seems to be framed in a limited way. Perhaps it was narrowed down to help focus the online community working on the problem. But I think that was a choice by the people who created this particular challenge, not a limitation of design thinking. The question could have been simply "how might we prevent mass violence?," and approached over a longer timeframe.

    It's definitely easier to solve a problem if there's consensus on a goal, but I don't think design thinking necessarily requires that. Since it's based in part on user needs, it can look for a solution to competing user needs; I also think it could be argued that fundamental needs go beyond political differences. People don't "need" to be violent and kill other people, but have other underlying needs that the design process can help uncover. Design tools could, I think, also be used to help competing political groups find consensus.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    So true. Design thinking should involve global legal teams (and friends of dictators).