What the world needs now is em pa-thy

I've been thinking lately that government could use a dose of design, namely two concepts: empathy, and prototyping.


Imagine a world where our leaders (and citizens-at-large, for that matter) were interested in hearing what each other had to say, and not just so they could disagree or prove each other wrong. If they were to say things like "how could this work?" "What do you mean?" "Tell. Me. More."

There's no time quite like the heart of a US Presidential election cycle to experience the exact opposite of empathy and curiosity. People are so certain their views are correct, whether or not they have any qualifications. I don't know about you, but I'm incredulous about certainty regardless of who it's coming from.


Government is designed to be slow, and that's a good thing. We don't want it to be too easy to change because we need stability, and time for policies to have their intended effect. The checks and balances of government exist to make change hard, but lost in the caution is the lesson so many businesses are learning--that sometimes you just have to try something, see what happens, and adjust. When change becomes so hard that it is virtually impossible, it may be time to rethink the system. 

Easier said than done. But how might we create ways to experiment at a national level in service of finding the best possible solutions to our problems? What would an agile government look like? What would a minimum viable product look like when it comes to economic stimulus, welfare, or social policies? 

UPDATE, MAY 21 2016
Members of the conservative media recently visited Facebook to discuss any potential political bias on the site. While I don't agree with him often, Glenn Beck's recounting of the experience is a great example of how empathy and a willingness to not know can further a conversation. There is nothing to fight with in his story; it is of a man trying to understand the truth by looking through everyone's eyes. Thank you Glenn. I hope people on both sides of the aisle continue to think more like this.