Social Planning: Design Considerations for Changing Society (Repeat)

What are the design issues to be considered when planning improvements for society? What is the primary unit of social planning? The nation-state? The organization? Values? Memes? Something else? What data can be used for planning the future of society? Given that humans tend to be disastrously wrong in almost all their forecasting and prognostication, is social design doomed to random results because the data from our predictions is so erroneous? What did the US Constitution get right that Plato, Sir Thomas More, and Karl Marx got wrong?

Who is the client of social design? Is society rightfully the client for all professional activity? When designing society, what adaptations are appropriate in considering time and space (given that here and now usually trump 100 or 1000 years from now)? Given that it is reasonable to imagine society continuing in perpetuity, how do we design without a final goal?

These questions are inspired by Chapter 6 in the penetrating, influential, and important book "The Sciences of the Artificial, Third Edition" by Herbert A. Simon [masked]). Simon was one of the most influential social scientists of the 20th century and recipient of the 1978 Nobel Prize in Economics. See the publisher's web site for more information about Simon's book by following this link. Note appropriate topics from the rest of Simon's book will be included in the discussion which will focus on Chapter 6 "Social Planning".

This topic is a repeat of the one on Sun June 8th.

This meetup is one in a series that I have organized about various aspects of design. Here are links to the previous discussions I have organized on this subject:

• Engineering Failures & Society (8 May 2011)

• The Nature of Technology (8 July 2012)

• The Essential Engineer (13 Jan 2013)

• Design Thinking (9 Mar 2013)

• Are Culture, Art and Design better ways to change society? (9 Jun 2013)

• Technology and Invention in Finance (16 Feb 2014)

• Design and the Sciences of the Artificial (13 April 2014)

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  • CJ F.

    I was trying to imagine a good way to explain how evolution and planning can integrate to work together. How does this scenario work for you all?

    In early life and modern microorganisms, communication (and so planning) is by chemical diffusion and chemical tactile sensing (millimeter scale). Ocean currents and winds can carry chemical messages perhaps 1 mile at a speed of maybe 400 mph. Life then developed hearing which can sense to ranges of 100 miles at 1,100 mph. Life then developed vision which can sense to ranges of six quintillion miles at 700,000,000 mph. As evolution added additional sensing capability our ability to understand the environment increased and our planning improved. That is, evolution accommodates improvements to the planning capability of organisms.

    So, might it be possible for us to acquire better skills to plan our future more effectively? Simon's thinking helps us refine the search for better social planning. It is no panacea, of course.

    1 · June 15

  • CJ F.

    I challenged Ed with the question: in the face of bounded rationality (the idea that all agents are limited by their knowledge and computational capability) how can government (vis-a-vis socialism) make effective social planning decisions for society.

    I would submit that the answer to the question is that because government integrates the interests and inputs of many parties (by voting, petitions, etc.), government is in the unique position of having better information (and probably even computational resources) than individuals or most other organizations. So their plans may have some hope of extra effectiveness.

    But bounded rationality is a big problem for governments and socialism because it suggests that plans may not work out well at all. And the ambitious plans of great speeches may make bad policy.

    Which is probably why we find so many cases of bungled government efforts. Elinor Ostrom has found that both government and markets destroy many common pool resources.

    1 · June 15

  • A former member
    A former member

    Very stimulating discussion.

    1 · June 14

  • Dr. Janice P.

    Another great brain-exercising event!

    2 · June 14

  • Mariana M.

    Sorry, have to cancel. Baby sitting conflicts.

    1 · June 13

  • A former member
    A former member

    I really want to come to this but I may get a call from my employer to come in to work but we'll see.

    1 · June 13

  • CJ F.

    I have posted 8 prompts summarizing key points in Herbert Simon's book "The Sciences of the Artificial". If you want to read them all, you can view them in the comments section of the event page: http://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/events/187597782/#event-comments-section

    I look forward to exploring these ideas with you all tomorrow at 10:30 AM at the Starbucks at 1601 Arch ST in Center City.

    June 13

  • CJ F.

    Tomorrow's discussion on "Social Planning" is based on one 28 page chapter in Herbert Simon's book "The Sciences of the Artificial". I thought I was going to have trouble covering a mere chapter in 2-3 hours. It is now clear that I need to cut several topics from my plans. But there is one more that I feel is so important, I have to try to cover it tomorrow.

    Should design itself be a valued activity? So much so that it is one of the goals of social planning itself? On p. 164 Simon writes "one goal of planning may be the design activity itself. The act of envisioning possibilities and elaborating them is itself a pleasurable and valuable experience. ... Designing is a kind of mental window shopping."

    Ought we plan for a future society in which we all engage in social planning? Where design is the activity of life? Design can be both means and ends, both process & goal! Is that the natural implication of Social Planning & the effort to change society to better meet our needs?

    June 13

  • CJ F.

    For tomorrow's discussion on "Social Planning", one of Herbert Simon's most intriguing ideas is that society is the client of professional work. I think he means above and beyond the employer who writes your pay check.

    After exploring some of the conflicts between a professional, their clients, & society in architecture, medicine, & engineering, Simon writes "It may seem obvious that all ambiguities should be resolved by identifying the client with the whole society. That would be a clear-cut solution in a world without conflict of interest or uncertainty in professional judgment. But when conflict and uncertainty are present, it is a solution that abdicates organized social control over professionals and leaves it to them to define social goals and priorities."

    Should social planning be the responsibility of professionals? Is it so in today's world? Instead should society structure its organizations & their rules to harness professionals to service society? Who is the client?

    June 13

  • CJ F.

    Saturday's discussion on "Social Planning" is based on chapter 6 from Herbert Simon's book "The Sciences of the Artificial".

    One of Simon's contributions to economics includes the realization that even in so-called market economies like the US roughly 80% of economic activity occurs within organizations (p. 31). Hence his profound observation: "Configuring organizations, whether business corporations, governmental organizations, voluntary societies or others, is one of society's most important design tasks" (p. 154). Is social organizational design one of the most important design tasks for changing society?

    Simon continues "The rules imposed upon us by organizations---the organizations that employ us and the organizations that govern us---restrict our liberties in a variety of ways. But these same organizations provide us with opportunities for reaching goals and attaining freedoms that we could not even imagine reaching by individual effort." True? Is that why it's so important?

    June 12

  • CJ F.

    Saturday's discussion will explore ideas about design changes for society. In some of the most poetical passages in the book "The Sciences of The Artificial", Herbert Simon introduces poignant issues about time & space horizons in design: "We even find it difficult to define which distant events are the triumphs and which the catastrophes, who are the heroes and who the villains" (p. 157).

    He observes we have myopia about the future (in economic terms we discount the future heavily). So "we reduce our problems of choice to a size commensurate with our limited computing capabilities" (p. 157). He notes this myopia is not adaptive: it represents "the limits of our adaptability". Is that why the future holds such grave risks for humanity?

    Simon recommends we invest in "structures that can be shifted from one use to another, and to knowledge that is fundamental enough not soon to be outmoded" (p. 158). Are there better ways to design for the uncertainties of time & space in the future?

    June 12

  • CJ F.

    On Saturday, we will explore some of the design considerations for changing society suggested by Herbert A. Simon.

    "Since the consequences of design lie in the future, it would seem that forecasting is an unavoidable part of every design process" (p. 147). Is prognostication necessary to know the effects of our designs? How else can we evaluate them?

    But as Simon points out, "the record in forecasting even such 'simple' variables as population is dismal" (p. 147). How can we better make predictions to improve our plans & our designs for the future?

    Simon suggests that instead design should focus on "constructing alternative scenarios for the future and analyzing their sensitivity to errors in the theory and data" (p. 147). How can we ensure that our plans are insensitive to forecasting errors in our theories & data? Can we do more than identify & schedule mitigating unfavorable effects & taking advantage of favorable effects? Should we test & improve our theories & data? How?

    June 11

  • CJ F.

    Saturday's discussion on Social Planning is based on work by 1978 Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon.

    Simon's most famous idea is "bounded rationality" which is the notion that due to limits of knowledge & computational capability human beings and other agents in the world are unavoidably irrational (homo economicus is a fantasy). This concept plays a central role in his vision for social planning.

    Simon considers the differences between failures such as Plato (notwithstanding Richard Bulliet's story that the Ottoman Empire was modeled on Plato's vision), Sir Thomas More, and Karl Marx and more successful social plans such as the US Constitution (1787). Simon argues the Constitution has a "practical sense and [awareness] of the limits of foresight about large human affairs" (p. 140).

    Is "modesty and restraint" necessary in social planning? Is an ambitious vision too risky? But necessary?

    How can we choose good long range design objectives for society given our bounded rationality?

    1 · June 10

  • CJ F.

    On Saturday, we will explore some of the design considerations for changing society suggested by Herbert A. Simon.

    One goal Simon suggests for our social planning is providing "a world offering as many alternatives as possible to future decision makers, avoiding irreversible commitments that they cannot undo" (p. 163). How can we increase options for the future? Can we avoid irreversible commitments? Are we doing things today that remove alternatives from the hands of future decision makers? For example, ought we stop using unsustainable energy resources? Or carbon-based fuels? Or fossil water? For your goals for the future: do they add or remove alternatives from future decision makers?

    Another goal Simon offers is "to leave the next generation of decision makers with a better body of knowledge and a greater capacity for experience ... [so they can] experience the world in more and richer ways" (p. 163-4). Is this desirable? Feasible? How? Can we enhance capacity for experience?

    June 9

  • CJ F.

    The first design consideration for Saturday's discussion on "Social Planning" is: should we bother? Why should we consider changing society? Curiosity? Megalomania? Support for the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe? Are there any practical reasons to think about social planning?

    In Herbert A. Simon's book "The Sciences of the Artificial" he suggests that "securing a satisfactory future may require actions in the present" (p. 161). This practical objective will be our concern during Sunday's discussion.

    How can we secure a satisfactory future? For us? For our children? For future generations? For 100 years? 10,000 years?

    Is it even our responsibility to secure their future? What goals and objectives can (ought?) the future impose upon the present to secure their future? How can we know what they will want us to design for them?

    Simon asks: "How do we want to leave the world for the next generation? What are good initial conditions for them?" (p. 163). What do you think?

    1 · June 8

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Allison

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Allison, started Women's Adventure Travel

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