Mazzucato & Designing Value
(Review from Designing Value: Interview with Mariana Mazzucato. (2018). Real Review, Spring 2108(6), pp 6–13)
Mazzucato one of the worlds’ leading economists and design advocate is revered by politicians (Jeremy Corbyn & Nicola Sturgeon) to Bill Gates, with much praise for her best seller The Entrepreneurial State, where she details new theories about value and innovation, and debunks myths about the public versus private sectors. In 2017 she founded the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, with an aim to change how public value is imagined, practiced and evaluated to tackle societal challenges. Interestingly, the IIPL is not housed in an Economics faculty, but in Built Environment at UAL. In this interview, Mazzucato is questioned about who is in charge and ‘when we we see a more just and inclusive society and what is the connection between design and economics? The answer is everything. She believes markets are designed, “Markets are the outcomes of interactions between different kinds of actors: public, private, civil society, trade unions and others. The actors themselves reside in organisations, and these can be designed,” and many are already being designed. The question she asks is how can they be designed to encourage innovation and experimentation, which is sorely lacking and moreover how does one design the actual interactions between different actors and organisations and to what purpose? She argues there is no such thing as non-designed market interaction. She uses the example of short-termism and the excuses made by private sector for it. They apologise that it is beyond them to invest in the long-term because of “eternal market forces.” This is bullshit, she argues, as markets are designed (which she goes on to explain why she situated the IIPL in a design school). (p.7) It’s about how project (and stories) are framed and she gives an example of the redesigned GOV.UK website, with the aim to improve citizen engage with government. Reframing citizens as ‘users’ as opposed to ‘customers’ or ‘clients’ revolutionised the process with large efficiency gains. More than just a website design, it ‘provoked conceptual issues around how economic value is assessed.’ Suggesting that process, policy and protocols, essentially the motivations of public and private organisations/structures can be designed. In other words, designers can shape systems, positively challenge institutions and offer alternative narratives and reframe myths.
Innovation is no longer about making objects of building gadgets, but about structural and systematic change. Mazzucato suggests “innovation is subject to very strong dynamic increasing returns of scale, the polar opposite of what mainstream economics continues to assume (which is diminishing margin of returns).” (p8) She suggests ‘mission-oriented’ and interdisciplinary thinking is the only way forward to galvanise and work together on goals that must be universally understood. In other words, solving problems through multiple pathways, rather than as the target. Rather than just talking abut climate change she demonstrates, how does going to the moon look like as a ‘green objective?’ (p9)
Roland Barthes, in Mythologies says myths are basically a ‘special type of speech’ and that a ‘myth is a system of communication, that ‘hides nothing: its function is to distort, not to make disappear.’ Perhaps those who can reveal myths and render them visible will be empowered to lead and action change within our existing structures (Nelly Ben Hayoun, 2018). “Stories about value in modern day capitalism are always stories about identifying the risk-takers.” This thinking justifies who gets what and when any new markets emerge. VCs are risk takers, salary earners not. She suggests engaging people to become excited about achieving social goals— by expanding interest and desire for innovations, by changing the narrative. So instead of talking about solving singular issues such as ‘ageing’, expand the questions to ask about how we can take care of each other in society and looking for both ‘unorthodox or novel’ ways to approach issues.
Social value vs public good
Success lies in neither social value or public good, but it need to begin with a definition of ‘public value’, simply a conversation between differing perspectives, then designing the structures and systems to achieve it. There are two issue as stake: first; if we don t create new metric of value, the old will persist (and perpetuate inequality) (p12) and second; is the use of metrics and their lack of transparency (e.g. algorithms) to control and commodify… which fundamentally questions why was the metric designed in the first place? And who benefits? (p12) She concludes we need to change value theory and include factors that are not purely financial. Asking the more important question about shared responsibility: ‘How much as you contributing to society?” “an analysis if shared investment, risk-taking and rewards.”