Mihika Mehra - Poli-Tik X GSA

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Poli -Tik X GSA How to influence the polarising narrative existing in society

Mihika Mehra MSc. International Management and Design Innovation Masters Project - 2020/2021


what is political polarisation? opportunities issues



stakeholder map

secondary research

primary research expert interviews participant interviews survey


case studies of polarisation pychological aspect what makes a fractured society come together? what are organisations doing?

define existing user experiences affinity mapping personas




opportunities HMW design brief concept develop vision/values user scenarios brainstorming

ideation solution deliver

prototyping user testing

Contents • Project Overview • Discover • Define • Develop • Deliver • Final Reflections • References • Appendix A • Appendix B


OVERVIEW In today’s day and age, we live in an extremely polarised political environment, and this is a global phenomenon. We are faced with systemic polarisation in society and social media has had a huge role to play in this, resulting in increasing skepticisms and anxiety amongst todays youth. While initially social media platforms were once heralded by society as a tool to foster greater human connection with instantaneous flow of information, this may no longer be the case. The way these platforms have evolved since their conception has led them to contribute to the political polarisation, violence and discrimination in society (Hua, 2021). It has brought like-minded individuals closer together with just a click of button and also resulted in the widespread circulation of fake news. Even todays news outlets have changed their narrative and delivery, taking cues from this polarised environment. Cultural cognition causes people to interpret new evidence in a biased way that reinforces their predispositions. As a result, groups with opposing values often become more polarised, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information (Kahan, 2010). Some people believe that polarisation and being exposed to contradictory views is good (McConnell, 2021). However, how is it beneficial if we can’t have conversations without it breaking down into an argument and as result don’t understand the other perspective? My project Poli-Tik explores this tension existing in society and impact it has on social relations. It explores the idea of affective polarisation and tries to find a way to bring a fractured society together by changing the narrative and nature of discourse. It aims to challenge the existing cultural cognition and make people question their beliefs. If we start with this self introspection, maybe we can form a more empathetic society open to understanding the other perspective.

DISCOVER I started my thesis project with little idea of the topic or area of research. I think for me the initial stages before writing the proposal were like the fuzzy front-end diagram of innovation (Sanders & Stappers, 2008). The ambiguity and chaotic nature of the initial weeks of the project found me exploring different areas of research from politics, mental health to the applicability design in the field of management. “Formerly called ‘pre-design’, the front end describes the many activities that take place in order to inform and inspire the exploration of open-ended questions such as ‘how can we improve the quality of life for people living with a chronic illness?’, or ‘what is the next big thing in family leisure time?’ (Sanders & Stappers, 2008).” What helped me navigate this process were the step-by-step videos given to us by GSA as tools to narrow down our project. The first step was identifying the broad area of interest and then sub-topics. Searching for interesting news articles to get a different perspective on these broad areas of research allowed me to narrow it down to two topics – mental health and politics.


Mental Health

Human Centred Design

Politics/ Media

Out of office: what the homeworking revolution means for our cities

Covid and mental health

Human centred design and education

Political polarisation due to misinformation

Covid has connected communities and spurred volunteering

Conversations about mental health

Innovation traps and management

Accountability of government agencies


Starting the conversation on mental www.mentalhealth.org.uk health World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10, with the objective of raising awareness about mental health issues. According to World Health Organisation's (WHO) World Health Report of 2001,

How sleep and green space can help your mental health

www.theguardian.com Volunteering in Covid- Roadmap to holding an event

Open spaces and mental health

Youth skepticism towards social media in politics

Mental health in marginalised communities

Artificial intelliegence spreading misinformation (FB/ WhatsApp)

Music and mental health

Sensitisation to climate crisis without overwhelming people

Community has got Britain through the pandemic. How can we create more of it? | Stephen Reicher Social relationships are key to public health. As the UK recovers from the pandemic, we must find ways to nurture them, says Sage subcommittee member Stephen Reicher

In this podcast we discuss the benefits of sleep and green space on your mental health. Guest Julie Dunn, a Research Scientist from the University of Liverpool features on the show and talks about how mental health and wellbeing inspired her 'Sleep …

www.swissinfo.ch www.swissinfo.ch

How can social media be made social again? Fake news, conspiracy theories, censorship: the reputation of social media seems at an all-time low. Can it ever be a boon for democracy again?

How Switzerland has responded to online disinformation The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how disruptive the problem of "fake news" can become if left unchecked.

The final step was making mind maps of these two topics and identifying different hypothetical research questions. When brainstorming about this it was easier to identify research questions and areas of exploration for mental health. One important thing which acted as a deciding factor for me was access to stakeholders. I wanted to explore the challenges in mental health services in India but due to various factors it was challenging accessing stakeholders and it limited methods research and engaging with stakeholders. Politics and political polarisation in society was definitely a more complex issue to tackle. However, I decided to take it as a challenge and approach the issue one step at a time. Initially it wasn’t apparent to me as to how design fits into the problem solution and where the opportunities lay, but this became clearer once I interviewed a few experts and analysed the research done. While working on a topic I was passionate about was an extremely enjoyable experience, the benefits of collaboration were not lost on me. It made time management critical in this project, as one did not have the support of others to complete tasks. I found this particularly difficult during the research phase of the project as I got lost in the vast amount of information and didn’t know where to draw the line on my research work.


Political Polarization Is a Good Thing | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson harvardpolitics.com

As citizens, we would benefit from the same mindset shift: from an idealistic politics of truth, collaboration, and middlepaths to a politics of power. We should embrace polarization and the new attitudes and political strategies that come with it. If …

Youth Skepticism Toward Social Media in Politics - Harvard Political Review

Young people have been some of the most vocal skeptics of the role digital and social media platforms play in America’s political system. Through an analysis of the Spring 2021 Harvard Youth Poll, the HPR sought to better understand the role that young …


How Four Years Shaped Girls’ Political Views After Hillary Clinton’s loss and a tumultuous presidency, I reconnected with teens I had interviewed to get their sense of the world.


Polarization or Propaganda?


Two rival theories paint very different pictures of the sources of our democratic dysfunction. The debate won’t be settled by accusations of political convenience.

What Teenagers Have Learned From a Tumultuous Time in Politics


Few indications that the new media landscape leads to increasing polarization in society

Soon-to-be voters say they’re disillusioned by what they’ve observed, but many are also motivated to political action.



How to Understand the Global Spread of Political Polarization When you started researching your new book on political polarization, Democracies Divided , what did you want to find out? A lot of research shows how populist and illiberal leaders are putting democracy in danger. But it rarely addresses what we feel i…

Increasing political polarization is often attributed to the internet and the dramatic increase in access to sources of information-also known as the new media landscape. Media researcher Peter M. Dahlgren, however, has not seen any sign of this in Swed…

Are political views shaped by personality traits? Where do our political beliefs come from? There is increasing evidence that an important part of the answer is deeprooted within our nature. It seems that we are predisposed to have certain personality traits and, ultimately, certain political tastes. …

Secondary Research I started my research work with some preconceived hypothesis on how social media was creating a negative political narrative and how political comedy could be an interesting solution or area to investigate. As I delved deeper into my research I realised while these were good starting points the issues lay beyond this. This for me highlighted one of my biases and made me realise the importance of working in diverse groups with multiple opinions. Political polarisation is the divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes which in extreme cases can lead to violence or otherwise just breakdown of dialogue. I read a few books and articles on politics and polarisation this helped me realise that the scale of the problem is vast and something which isn’t easily solved.

“62 percent of the population is reported to believe that the country is deeply polarized”





Where polarisation is extreme, it “extends into other aspects of social relations,” affecting interpersonal relationships across society. Societal polarisation often is evident in the way in which partisan identities translate into people’s preferences in everyday practices.

Attributing polarisation to the actions of these underdefined (and apparently uncontrollable) internal and external enemies prevents the possibility of meaningful dialogue that grapples with the role of political processes, instruments, and agency.

erosion of fact based debate

undermining public institutions

divide in civil society

threatening democracy

perceived moral superiority

social segregation

no trust in government institutions

negative messsages bolster in group cohesion

ethnic polarisation

elite entrepreneur ship

political centralisation

civil society groups

more voices

progressive vs conservative

racial divide

low social trust

stressful and frustrating to talk to people with opposing views

civic dialogue

political leadership - partisan divide

questioning role of government

co-operation in congress

caustic national dialogue

intolerance and violence in society

no opposition

idea of hindutva

stressful and frustrating to talk to people with opposing views

hatred and animosity in society

opposition from civic and political institutions

judicial activism

“There are now two Polands. We don’t get the same news. We don’t read events in the same way. Nor do we have the same values. It’s as if we are losing our common language. We no longer listen to one another, and we no longer talk to each other. Worse, we don’t even want to talk to each other.”

improving civic dialogue

elite can't agree that polarisation exists

reduced social cohesion

ethnicity employed in political mobilisation

economic inequalities

religious divide

geographic and linguistic divide

elite polarisation

largely identity-based societal divisions

emotional or identity based attachment

what is being said matters far less than who is saying it

marginalisation of opposition

nothing done to address issue

no intermingling

ideological crystallisation

systemic political marginalisation

geographic sorting

civil society organisation have partisan division

Mapping issues and causes of polarisation in different countries around the world highlighted that while religious polarisation was previalent in many countries, the ethnicity was mainly a cause for polarisation in contemporary democracies.

legislative gridlock

violence and hate crimes

clashing social identities

media education/ literacy

electoral reform

marginalisation of muslims and minorities

raising consciousness of individuals

“On the other side, the “citizens” tend to be both individualistic and pluralistic, with divergent political and ideological loyalties, and to adhere to a nonexclusivist definition of identity, such as being both Polish and European. ”

polarise electorate for political gain

regulating social media

lack of common ground between two opposing political sides

Us vs Them

Ascriptive identity

economic transformation

ethnic/ tribal

caste politics

social media

mostly in contemporary democracies

interfaith dialogue

“The former tend to be collectivistic and to have a predominantly ethnic and religious (exclusivist) view of Poland’s national identity, as well as a strong attachment to their political representatives”

identity politics


legacy war

parliamentary dysfunction

exists in many situations

“When the political realities are interpreted in completely conflicting terms, with no agreement on facts, it is very difficult to identify a basis for compromise or rapprochement.”

It is a global phenomenom and impacts individuals of all age groups irrespective of their beliefs or where they come from. It points to two ends of the spectrum – us versus them, left wing versus right wing, polarisation versus propaganda, etc. Conflict arises mostly because individual goals differ on a fundamental level. Some research shows we are predisposed to certain political personalities which are a result of various factors. According to psychologists, this can be determined by five parameters - openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (Tilley, 2021).


assault on constitutional checks and balances

social conservatism

tribe mentality

anger and xenophobia

civil society groups

think tanks

no opposition

mistrust in public institutions

media groups

changing historical narrative

political withdrawal

raising consciousness of individuals

reforming education system

damaged political processes and corruption

regulating social media

environment al policies

refugee crisis

integration in EU

decline of foreign policy consensus

interfaith dialogue

What helped me get a broad understanding of the topic during the initial stages besides articles was TED talk videos. They were especially helpful in understanding personal experiences people have been through and their understanding of polarisation in society or communicating about controversial issues. Columbia

elite polarisation

political participation

land reform

national security politicisation

att inde orga

Primary Research There are many causes to polarisation and there may not be one size fits all solution, it is highly dependent on the context as made evident by the case studies. One thing which helped me understand this was the book ‘Democracies Divided’ that highlighted different examples from countries across the world. The authors simplified the aspect of understanding the severity of the systemic polarisation based on three factors – religion, ideology and ethnicity (Carothers and O’Donohue, 2019).





After reading a few human-interest pieces on the issue online I contacted experts for interviews to get a more in-depth understanding of the issue. These inclued the co-author of the book ‘Democracies Divided’ and other individuals who had written research papers on the topic. Personally, what really motivated me was my interview with the author of the book ‘Dividing Democracies’. He was extremely passionate and helpful in shedding light on the problem and said that he was interested to know how the issue of polarisation could be approached from the design perspective as this hadn’t been done earlier. It was difficult to contact individuals and a lot of them didn’t respond to emails while some didn’t consent to an interview and agreed to answer my questions via email. One of the major roadblocks was the academics I contacted from different universities saying they would be unable to have a discussion with me as they were not experts in the topic of polarisation. Though netnography did provide me the advantage of contacting professors anywhere in the world. Upon reflection it was clear that the email responses however didn’t give me as good insights as the zoom interviews. Therefore I realised one must always choose a combination of methods for ethnographic research according to what they want to achieve.

POLITICAL POLARISATION ..... Is it an issue? People with opposing Political polarisation or

Increase in danger due to

political don’t care about

divide is good

political polarisation

the future of the country

social media Agree marketing



Indifferent/ Disagree 68%

Agree 41% Indifferent/ Disagree 59%

traditional marketing

Indifferent/ Disagree 71%

Source: BBC, 2019

Agree 29%

There are many different types of polarisation which exist in society however the focus of my research led to me to explore the concept of affective polarisation. This exists in the interpersonal relationship of individuals and gives rise to the notion of us vs them when individuals discriminate against others with conflicting beliefs. “Where polarisation is extreme, it “extends into other aspects of social relations,” affecting interpersonal relationships across society. Societal polarisation often is evident in the way in which partisan identities translate into people’s preferences in everyday practices (Carothers and O’Donohue, 2019).” As designers and individuals, we are all prone to our biases. Conducting my interviews with experts highlighted one of my biases – political satire. Working on a project which we are passionate about can result in more blind spots in your research if you aren’t careful. The research showed me that political satire or comedy was something to be treated with caution. While comedy could possibly be a bridging divide, stand-up comedians and late-night show hosts were all individuals propagating an extremely biased perspective of current events. Hence reinforcing my decision to focus on affective polarisation and how to have more constructive conversations on polarising issues. The BBC study on ‘A World Apart?’ provided me with a lot of initial statistics on affective polarisation and the societies perspective on the role social media has to play in the issue (see APPENDIX A).

SOCIAL MEDIA ..... A new medium for discourse?? Increases transparency Gives a voice to people

between citizens and political

Results in more

who may be unheard

leaders/ people in power

divisive debates

Disagree 40%

Agree 44%

Disagree 56%

Agree 60%

Disagree 46%

Agree 54%

CULTURAL COGNITION ..... What are your beliefs?? Have conversations with

Feel comfortable sharing

People with opposing political

people of opposing views

their opinion with people

beliefs have been misled

on polarising issues

who have opposing beliefs

social media marketing Agree



Disagree 65%

Alteast once a month/ Less than once a month/ Never 65%

Alteast once a week 35%

traditional marketing

Disagree 65%

Source: BBC, 2019

Agree 35%

DEFINE Collaboration is critical to the design process in any field. It isn’t just about working together but an interactive process that enables people from diverse backgrounds to collaborate on creative solutions to the defined problem (Robinson & Buly, 2007). Working individually meant that it was difficult to manage time and make a GANTT CHART to divide the project load across the semester. In hindsight I would have maybe managed my time better and spent more time on stakeholder engagement instsead of secondary research. I also didn’t find another student in the cohort who was working on a topic similar to mine to divide the work with. However, to support each other some of us decided to form a study group. We set up frequent peer reviews and helped each other with contacting stakeholders. The most important benefit was talking through the issues each of us were facing in the process. It helped understanding how others were dealing with roadblocks and how maybe you could implement the same in your process.

Cultural Institutions Political Activists Journalists

Artists/ Filmmakers

Print Media Houses

Social Media Museums

Advocacy Groups


Family and Friends

Charities/ Foundations


TV Media Houses

Religious Groups

Government Institutes NGO’s Political Comedians

Educational Institutes

Stakeholder Analysis My interviews with the experts helped define the extent of the system and stakeholders involved and envision the entire system. One of the major insights from these expert interviews was that while top – down approach was required to solve systemic polarisation it was the most impactful it is difficult to implement. Starting a grassroot level and redefining conversations and the narrative in society from an individual perspective would be more practical. It is easier to change how individuals relate to each other and process news rather than alter political or government processes. Some theory suggests that beyond the age of 30 our political personalities won’t generally change. Based on these findings I decided to focus on individuals below the age of 30. As this is still a diverse age group to cover, I decided to focus on university students. These were the most accessible stakeholders and I felt it could help me explore the role of higher education institutes as a setting for the issue which was one of the possible opportunities raised by the experts. Another option could possibly be to implement change by forming a more active civil society and increasing awareness and connectivity between stakeholders. However, again this would require some amount of systemic change. Tackling this issue at an individual level by addressing the more emotional and human aspect of it would be more effective in the long run.

Primary Research The second stage of my secondary research consisted of reading books on communication and what brings a fractured society together. While a lot of the books revolved delved into the psychological aspect of it, one in particular clarified the conversational aspect of human behaviour. This was the book ‘How to be right in a world gone wrong’ by James O’Brien. He documented everyday rhetoric on polarising conversations in his job as a broadcaster. These snippets of conversation helped analyse why people think the way and how he tried to highlight the opposing perspective to his listeners. Source: Jonathan Haidt; “The spiral of silence theory,” 2011

Interpersonal support for deviant opinion

Opinions expressed as dominant by mass mind

Amount of people not openly expressing opinion/ changing from deviant opinion

Social media connects individuals and gives those who would otherwise be unheard a voice


Changes in social media with the advent of things such as the like button or retweeting

This encourages individuals to share more outrageous or contreversial messages making it a TOXIC ENVIRONMENT

Formation of ECHO CHAMBERS

Other news outlets take cues from social media


Using these findings and exploring the theoretical aspects of the problem I mapped out the existing journey of individuals as explained by different experts in the field of psychology and sociology. The theory of the spiral of silence as proposed by Elisabeth Neumann (Noelle-Neumann) says fear of misinterpretation, isolation and public perception leads to a downward spiral that prevents individuals from speaking up. Social media gives some of these individuals a voice however the cycle of toxic narrative it creates can lead to depression and anxiety. However social media is just one of the echo chambers that we encounter in our daily life. My initial idea for conducting further primary research or stakeholder engagement was to contact organisations working towards building awareness about polarisation or student societies. But none of these groups responded in time for me to conduct this research work. Instead, I interacted with students in the university and engaged with them after developing a set of questions. It was completely anonymous which I feel helped them answer questions more honestly. The interviews were critical in helping me develop different experiences individuals go through and the main pain points.

What do people believe??

Play the DEVIL’S ADVOCATE Transient conversations don’t matter

CAPACITY FOR IGNORANCE – need to listen to be able to disagree and people mostly are seeking validation for a vague idea they have

Take time to understand your own views COMPROMISE > CHANGING PERSPECTIVE

Political correctness is a fluid concept – depends on the situation and context

US vs THEM Issues with family due to beliefs

People younger than me just out of school can be closed and have extreme views

QUESTION EVERYTHING – you don’t know everything

Social media creates a negative narrative

Beliefs have changed over the last 5 years – educational context + moved away from conservative family Public perception and fear of isolation/ misinterpretation stops one from speaking out Understanding other perspective more important than compromise


Older people more set in ways and with people your own age you have shared experiences


To reinforce my findings and reach a wider audience I conducted a survey. While some of my interview findings were confirmed it did shed light on some contradictions. While the surveys were helpful I think conducting the interviews in person provided a better understanding of the issues individuals faced. The surveys don’t provide personal stories and experiences, hence not allowing one to delve deeper into the human centred design aspect of it. In hindsight, I feel for my project in person interaction was critical. Using impersonal method such as the diary method wouldn’t have worked in this scenario either. Another option could have possibly been to conduct observational studies of conversations if I had been able to contact the student societies.

Main survey insights ....

Misinformation Fear Misinterpretation

et news on al media but it easier to in person?

Misinformation Fear Misinterpretation

Get news on social media but find it easier to talk in person?

Environment Peers Education and exposure

Balance between compromise and changing views? –IS IT FEASABLE?

User Experiences The participant interviews of students helped me develop a set of experiences individuals go through in terms of issues regarding polarising conversations and their beliefs. The concept of user journeys wasn’t really an appropriate tool for my project as it wasn’t in context to individuals using a particular service or product it was more about their individual life experiences. The user experiences highlighted the different echo chambers people faced as they moved through different stages of their life. For me the most important echo chambers were social media and peer groups as I was focusing on university students. This age group tends to get most of their news from social media or apps and my survey reiterated this insight. The experiences of students coming from conservative families and even liberal ones shows the impact change in environment can have on one’s beliefs. Taking this into consideration higher education institutes could play a much bigger role in the future as a backdrop for studying the issue and ideating on possible solutions further. The main points as highlighted by these journeys were that individuals didn’t want to engage in argumentative conversations due to fear of misinterpretation and misinformation. Mapping out these experiences faced by individuals showed me that whilst they may get most of their information from social media, a lot of the issues they faced were in offline interactions. The individuals who were from liberal families felt they had more informed opinions. The flipside of this was that they only wanted to engage with individuals who were more aware of their reasoning and the curious to understand the other perspective. Transient interactions were not worth engaging in confrontational conversations and its mainly issues with friends and family where one finds it difficult to empathise due to the perceived irrationality of conversations. However I think one can’t disregard these because if you consider the larger perspective all conversations are transient, however more importantly to empathise with the opposing perspective we have to step outside of our echo chambers and transient conversations are a big part of this.

Echo chambers .... Young children and teenagers Family

Peer group

Individuals between 18-30 years of age Peer group

Social media

Individuals over the age of 30 Peer group

News outlets TV, radio, newspapers etc.

User Experience 01 Social Media

Post opinion on social media about non- political matter

Recieves negative & hateful comments

Conversation takes political turn



Article written on the incident


Deletes social media account for a month



User Experience 02 Political Rallies and Groups


Grow up in family where political discussions are a encouraged in daily conversations

Go for a semester abroad to study and the experience made beliefs more concrete



Join student political society



Negative narrative

Misinterpretation informationEncounter people Attend of political 2

rallies & protests


screaming & shouting Incident blownfor no reason ignore such people out of proportion


Impact on mental health 6


Radicalisation of views


Don't want to engage with misinformed individuals


Misinterpretation of information

Empathy – see human behind the comments



Incident blown out of proportion

Encouraging children to question everything


Role of higher education institutes


Impact on mental health

4 Empathy and curiosity


Radicalisation of views


Don't want to engage with misinformed individuals


Empathy – see human behind the comments


Encouraging children


Negative narrative


Have more civilised discussion with individuals who are more curious and will ask them what they are doing 4

User Experience 03 Conservative Perspective

Grow up in a conservative family

Move away to attend college


Change in political beliefs and values

Meet new group of people and are exposed to diverse views

When you go back home you have issues with family and friends due to change in beliefs




User Experience 04 Liberal Perspective

Donʼt really have extreme views or ideologies

Grow up in fairly liberal family

You stop the subscription to all right wing media channels at home


Parents are not exposed to different opinions

Difficult to have a conversation with your parents when addressing contreversial issues


Living in an ECHO CHAMBER 3 4


Difficult to empathise and have conversations


No rationality in conversations




Living in an ECHO CHAMBER


Role of higher education institutes & student groups


Difficult to empathise and have conversations


Encouraging children to question everything


No rationality in conversations


Media literacy and exposure to different views

4 Conversation tools 1

Role of higher education institutes & student groups


Encouraging children to question everything


Media literacy and exposure to different views

4 Conversation tools

untry's party atters d nd I.

Lack of sensitivity, refusal to get educated on the said subject, denial of evidence, apathy and self interest.

Educated Millennial

Activist/ Informer

Silent Observer

Individuals who are more informed and cemented in their views.

Individuals who stay silent or agree with the majority voice to avoid conflict.

• Told to tone down views. • Open to engaging in conversations with individuals who are more informed.

• Fear of isolation and rejection. • To afraid they will say the wrong to say the right thing.

Logical Academic

Educated Millennial

Someone who looks and analyses things based on political theory. Considerate of where they get their information from.

University students who’s beliefs have changed due to change in environment and exposure to new beliefs.

Difference in opinions on the country's politics and the way the ruling party Informer has beenActivist/ taking decisions on matters very often turns into heated arguments between parents and I. Individuals who are more

University students who’s beliefs have changed due to Being a liberal I generally avoid the change in environment and extreme right-wing of my family exposure to newside beliefs.

that flaunt their racism, xenophobia

and with religious discrimination. • Issues family and friends at home. • Negative narrative on social media. • Fear of misinterpretation • May not engage with others who have opposing views.

• People need to be more aware. • Civil Society groups and Education Institutes can play a huge role.

• Issues with family and friends at home. • Negative narrative on social media. • Fear of misinterpretation • May not engage with others who have opposing views.

informed and cemented in their views.

• Told to tone down views. Being• aOpen liberaltoI engaging generally in avoid the conversations with extreme right-wing side of my family individuals who are more that flaunt their racism, xenophobia informed.

and religious discrimination.

Personas “When ideological differences harden into identity divides, belonging to one camp or the other becomes not just about voting a certain way or preferring certain specific policies, but also about being a certain type of person with particular social values and belonging to a certain group (Carothers and O’Donohue, 2019).” Personas helped identify some typical personalities and how individuals interpret information and react to different scenarios. Time permitting, I could have further investigated how these personalities react to different challenges in a controlled setting and the differences in dialogue between them.


Indi or a vo

• Fea rej • To wro thin

DEVELOP During the develop stage of the project I made multiple mindmaps to analyse the findings from the books and the primary research. This helped me establish that one the themes of the project was embracing tensions or contradictions. Not only was this evident from the findings where there were a lot of contradictions such as the concept of Us vs Them, left wig vs right wing, compromise vs changing views. A significant one was that while research shows social media allows people to speak freely without any consequences, most of my interviewees said they weren’t likely to comment on sensitive polarising matters on social media. Allowing individuals to see things in ‘grey’ instead of black and white would allow them to embrace these apparent tensions and empathise with each other. One organisation trying to do this is the Conflicftorium in India. They are trying to challenge the pre-existing dialogue in society through the displays on polarisation in their museum in Gujarat. I tried to contact them and similar organisations, however given the circumstances it was difficult to get a response from them.

Prior to starting the deliver phase of my project during the first peer review I received feedback that I could possibly interview individuals who had experienced conflict or war zones. However, given the time it was a bit impractical, and instead I contacted various student political societies. I did manage to interview one student who was part of the socialist society at Glasgow University. Due to the timing most of the societies didn’t reply as they were holding elections for the new year. Timing is hence critical when considering which stakeholders to contact. Besides my bias that individuals prefer expressing their views on social media, another major one was that the generational gap is the biggest pain point. Experts and the interviews showed this wasn’t the case. It was the interpretation of the information due to ignorance, lack of empathy which was the biggest pain point. As a designer it is not easy to maintain objectivity when while understanding the problems experienced by the users. The experience of dealing with conflicting information individually made it slightly more complicated. Personally, I found that focusing on the experiences of individuals and a particular group, in this case university students, helped unravel some of the complexities.

My room turned into my studio for the duration of three months with all the free wall space covered with sheets of paper and research.

Research Question Based on all the research work I identified four opportunities to pursue further. These opportunities were: - The role of civil society groups in increasing awareness and changing the narrative existing in society. There are many organisations working across world to combat the problem of polarisation. Improving connectivity of organisations and collaboration possibly with higher education institutes could help build awareness. - Another aspect of the role of these civil society groups could be cross cultural learning from different solutions being implement around the world to deal with polarisation. As seen in the research there is no one size fits all solution for this issue, and it is highly dependent on the context as the cause of polarisation are different everywhere. - Finding a common ground or compromising as most individuals agreed that this was more practical than trying to alter the other individual’s perspective. Dialogue is key in solving the problem and allowing individuals to see the narrative outside of the echo chamber they exist in. - Lastly was targeting the millennials or younger generation who’s political personalities are not yet set in stone. This could start from home or otherwise educational institutes would be a good setting to change the polarising narrative in society.



action by civil society group

Find a common ground

Civil Society groups

Younger generation

Cross cultural learning

Design of information/ conversation

Civil Society groups - community driven awareness

Media echo chambers

Speculative Utopia

HWM help people to express their views on polarising without the fear of being misinterpreted and isolated?

HMW enable civil society groups to increase political awareness and change the narrative?

HMW make individuals more aware of their biases so that they being to question everything and play the devil's advocate?

HMW create a speculative environment to help individuals question their biases?

HWM enable individuals to take the time to understand their views so they aren’t to say the wrong thing that they don’t say the right thing?

HMW help student political societies raise awareness in higher education institutes?

HMW encourage individuals to self introspect so they are more aware of their biases?

HMW change the negative political narrative to one of hope?

HWM we help individuals navigate the line between compromise and influencing perception and changing the perception of US vs THEM?

HMW help higher education institutes create a safe space for students to express their views?

HMW encourage individuals to seek information beyond the echo chambers they exist in?

HMW create conflict resolutions tools to resolve polarising debates in different scenarios?

HMW help individuals deal with political polarisation by imagining a more utopian future?

media reform

military intervention

Institutional reform

international action

political party reform

research and study

broader political action

Some of the solutions discussed in the book ‘Democracies Divided’.

HMW improve the nature of political discourse by allowing individuals to empathise more and develop a more positive narrative?

HMW enable higher education institutes to provide mental health support to students facing issues due to the hate speech?

HMW help individuals humanise comments they perceive as negative on social media?

HMW move the polarising conversations taking place online to a offline setting?

HMW we equip student societies the tools to deal with hate speech at political rallies?

HMW make social media apps more responsible for the increased polarisation and negative narrative on online portals?

HMW develop a speculative reality individuals to see polarising issues as 'grey' and not as black and white?

I narrowed my topic by categorising the research them according to four parameters to help clarify how design could change the negative narrative to a more positive dialogue. These categories included – the design of conversations, community driven awareness, studying the impact of media echo chambers further and imagining a speculative utopia. Some of the initial questions included: • HWM help people to express their views on polarising without the fear of being misinterpreted and isolated? • HWM enable individuals to take the time to understand their views so they aren’t to afraid say the wrong thing that they don’t say the right thing? • HWM increase awareness amongst individuals of their biases so that they being to question everything? • HWM we help individuals navigate the line between compromise and influencing perception and changing the perception of US vs THEM? Based on a combination of the above questions I formulated my the final research question.


What are the causes of political polarisation around the world and how can we use political comedy to change the toxic narrative in society?

“Your user defines what the service is (Downe, 2020).”


How Might We create conflict resolutions tools to encourage individuals to question their biases, hence resolving polarising debates in different scenarios?”

DELIVER The final stage of the project involved looking at the tools various civil society organisations around the world. Most of these solutions revolved around altering one’s outlook from hate to hope. One thing which I didn’t analyse in depth was the awareness in terms of existence of these groups and the resources available. My initial thoughts revolved around using gamification or otherwise some iteration of a conversation tools. Some ideas were dismissed during the initial stages of the project only, such as media literacy, as according to the expert interviews this wasn’t a feasible option. To streamline the ideation process, after brainstorming on initial ideas, I made an impact map to see which ideas would be the easiest to achieve with the highest impact. HIGH IMPACT

cognitive game to identify biases

conversation tools


new political language

collecting and understanding perspectives

tinder for politics

tools for protesting

political reform

envisioning future realities

educational institutes and ngo's collaboration


family democracy system

tools for empathy and role playing

don't be afraid to say the wrong thing

game for politics (cards/ online)

media literacy

stories of polarisation - awareness


Initial ideas explored as prototypes Conversation tools

Envisioning future realities

Cognitive game to identify biases

Tools for empathy and role playing

Card game – learning to compromise

Brainstorming Based on the initial ideas mentioned previously, I focused on making quick sketches of the ideas revolving around behavioural and conversational tools. I found this is quickest way to discuss initial ideas with peers to get feedback. Where I found myself hitting a roadblock was when considering the next steps. I wasn’t sure whether to develop an engagement tool specifically for a workshop and then create prototypes or just use the workshop to co-create a final solution.

In the end I decided to make a quick paper prototype of one my ideas to test in a workshop. Making paper prototypes ensures that you don’t get attached to the first idea you come up with. As we are constantly told by our professors, ‘Don’t fall in love with the idea but rather fall in love with the problem.’ This sort of resonated with on another level as even as architect we had to inculcate the similar habit and accept that design process is ephemeral.

Prototyping and User Testing The main idea behind the workshop was to get individuals to question their biases and understand why they react to contentious scenarios they do. From all the ideas I decided to prototype the speculative cards. Choosing the appropriate method to prototype is critical and given the time crunch and the idea paper prototypes was the easiest. The reaction cards were vague and open for interpretation to encourage more discussion. I based the idea or experience of the workshop on the hypothetical journey informed by my interview insight. The journey began with self-identification of ones biases and ended with collective decision making or compromise. This would result in finding a common ground by allowing them to humanise the issue and focus on the individual instead of the point of contention.

How do we focus on the human on the other side of the argument instead of the problem itself?? Collaboration encompasses many facets like setting mutual goals, shared responsibility in decision-making, shared resources and accountability, and valuing of personal interactions amongst other things (Robinson & Buly, 2007).

Hypothetical Journey

In the workshop I divided the participants into two groups and asked them to answer a few questions individually. The second step was to write down group values and issues which were important to them. I then asked them to react to hypothetical situations based on the cards I had given them. This encouraged discussion on two levels – first an internal group to come to a consensus and then explaining the reasoning to the other groups. The workshop ended with the participants individually writing down what they had learnt, and they would possibly do differently in the future. In the end they had a created sort of a visual mindmap of their beliefs and ideologies.

Self- introspect by answering questions individually

Group engagement and dialogue

Creating a mindmap of the group values

I received mostly positive feedback from the workshop. The only criticism was that maybe the situation cards could have been more specific to encourage more conflict and discussion. The most interesting feedback was that playing in groups was playing in groups helped with the selfintrospection. If they had to participate individually, they wouldn’t have thought so much about the way they were reacting to the situations given.

Feedback from the workshop

Giving more SPECIFIC SITUATIONS may result in conflict It made me think about why I respond to situations in a certain way

Playing in GROUPS helped increase engagement

I realised we all think the same way


Relationships are critical to how one responds to conflict

RESOLUTION CARDS were good and we were able to aptly respond to situations

I will try to be more engaging in the future instead of choosing to always avoid conflict

“Collaborative disagreement is the best to harvest the intelligence of a group, because it makes a virtue out of the tendency to be unreasonable.” - Ian Leslie, 2021




Make your own version of the game or use other resources

Join online community and build profile

What does POLITICS mean to you?

What for you signifies conflict resolution?

Write down GROUP VALUES and IMPORTANT ISSUES (maximum 3 each)

Pick cards and react to situation given

Give reasoning and earn points

Decide and negotiate on values and issues of COMMON ZONE

What have you learnt and what would you do differently?

Workshop/ Cards links to App

What makes you self introspect?

Based on the feedback of the workshop I further iterated on the concept of the workshop. While the participants said the workshop allowed them to overcome their biases and realise that everyone reacts similarly to situations, there were some aspects which I felt could be improved. My observations from the workshop were that the groups mostly used non-confrontational cards, but they were able to justify the use of the cards and each group interpreted them differently. One thing which was lacking is that the values and issues and written down by each group didn’t connect to the final outcome. If I had the opportunity to hold another workshop, I would have asked the participants to create some cards of their own as well. In the final prototype to connect the group values and ideologies to the outcome I made the workshop more speculative. This was incorporated in the prototype by getting the groups to imagine they were separate entities on an island. After answering the scenarios they would have to compromise and deicide on the values and goals of the common area of the island.

I realised that the solution couldn’t be purely digital as the entire idea was to shift the dialogue from an online portal to a face-to-face dialogue. The main focus of the final solution is the workshop and the cards. However, to expand the concept further I prototyped an app as a part of the new solution, however I couldn’t test that out. The app contains features allowing individuals to become a part of a larger community and connecting with organisations across the world. While it allows individuals to access educational resources and tools for the workshop, the primary feature is that it allows individuals to create their own cards.

Card Prototypes









Your friend constantly posts extremist messages on social media and everyone in your group decides to cut him off. How would you deal with the situation?

As a student in a foreign country, a stranger on the road approaches you full of anger and tells you “GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM.”

Digital Prototype

Impact Analysis The impact or applicability of the concept as I see it is that the cards could be tools for conversation or self-introspection. The workshop could be used for team building or otherwise conflict resolution. With the digital prototype allowing you to expand the concept and connect stakeholders in the ecosystem.

Workshops Conflict resolution

Team building Conversation tools

Self introspective tools

FINAL REFLECTIONS The project was first and foremost a learning experience in dealing with a highly complex issue which, at the first instance, wasn’t related to design. It really made evident to me the applicability of design in any context. Design is a universally applicable language and whatever skills you have as a designer the flexibility them adaptable to solve problems in various contexts, even one such as politics. While I got feedback from the workshop and engagement tool, testing it again if time permitted would have helped me refine it. The workshop could have include more elements of gamification, or I could have tested the prototypes to see how different groups respond to the cards. While one didn’t have the support of a group and this made research phase of the project more time consuming. One must be even more conscious of one’s biases and find other sources to get feedback. While all feedback is important, you have to analytical in considerring what changes tto implement, given the time and practicality. I did however find working alone had its benefits as I got a bit more freedom and a better understanding of the topic. You also save time not having to build consensus when making important decisions throughout the process. The irony here is that my project was based on identtification of ones blind spots and understanding collective cognition in groups to help them arrive at a compromise. Both these aspectts are critical in being successful in the innovation process. The most important thing I learnt throughout the process was that you start the project one point and end at another. I started the semester wanting to explore the topic of political polarisation and comedic satire. However, the final solution was based on dialogue and getting individuals to question their biases. Along the way I explored various fields from political theory, psychology to the art of conversation. In summary it is more about journey and thought process than the final design solution.

References - BBC. (2019). A World Apart? A Global study for the BBC Crossing Divides season. - Beavers, S. L. (2011). Getting Political Science in on the Joke: Using “The Daily Show” and Other Comedy to Teach Politics. PS: Political Science and Politics, 44(2), 415-419. - Carothers, T., & O’Donohue, A. (Eds.). (2019). Democracies Divided: The Global Challenge of Political Polarization. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. Retrieved August 1, 2021, from http://www. jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctvbd8j2p - Downe, L. (2020). Good Services: How to Design Services that Work. BIS Publishers. - Holton, J. A. (2001). Building trust and collaboration in a virtual team. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 7(3/4), 36-47. https://doi.org/10.1108/13527590110395621 - Hua, C. (2021). Youth Skepticism Toward Social Media in Politics. Retrieved 14th May, 2021, from https://harvardpolitics.com/youth-skepticism-media/ - Jonathan Haidt: how social media drives polarization | amanpour and company. https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=G9ofYEfewNE - Kahan, D. (2010). Fixing the communications failure. Nature, 463(7279), 296-297. https://doi. org/10.1038/463296a - Leslie, I. (2021). Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together. Faber & Faber. - McConnell, W. A. (2021). Political Polarization Is a Good Thing | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/4/23/political-polarization-is-a-good-thing/ - Miller, C. C. (2021, 2021/04/22/). What Teenagers Have Learned From a Tumultuous Time in Politics. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/22/upshot/what-teenagers-have-learnedfrom-a-tumultuous-time-in-politics.html - Nguyen, C. T. (2021). Polarization or Propaganda? [Text]. Boston Review. - Nikulin, D. (2019). Democracy and the politics of comedy. Constellations, 26(4), 569-580. https://doi. org/10.1111/1467-8675.12452

- Noelle-Neumann, E. Spiral of silence | elisabeth noelle-neumann. - O’Brien, J. (2018). How To Be Right: ... in a world gone wrong. Ebury Publishing. Sanders, E. B. N., & Stappers, P. J. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign, 4(1), 5-18. https://doi.org/10.1080/15710880701875068 - The spiral of silence theory. (2011). Communication Theory. - Tilley, J. (2021). Are political views shaped by personality traits? BBC News. Retrieved 14th May, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-55834023 - Penin, L. (2018). An Introduction to Service Design: Designing the Invisible. Bloomsbury Academic. - Robinson, L., & Buly, M. R. (2007). Breaking the Language Barrier: Promoting Collaboration between General and Special Educators. Teacher Education Quarterly, 34(3), 83-94.

Appendix A - BBC ‘A World’s Apart’

Appendix B - Survey Data

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