(My first taxi driver story…)

A few months ago I got in a taxi in Edinburgh to take me from work to the train station. Because I work in government that meant a conversation about politics. It was a bit after the referendum and as is often the way matters turned to that.

When I was growing up talking politics meant talking binaries – left or right, Tory or Labour? But times have changed. We were convulsed as a nation on the binary Yes or No, but in its aftermath something I believe incredible has happened. It was exemplified by the conversation I had in that taxi, for instead of discussing how we voted we discussed how we felt and what it all meant and what next.

My taxi driver told me that the day after the result was announced it had suddenly occurred to him that it didn’t matter what the result was because he’d realised something important. That it wasn’t enough to just vote and then let your MP and MSP do the work. That what he wanted more than a result in his favour was a change in how government worked, and that he would be part of that change making because this is Scotland and we’re good at rolling up our sleeves and changing things. That’s what we do.

Nothing since that day has led me to doubt him. Scotland has changed a lot over these last months. People are as interested in the mechanisms of government, in how we “do” government, as they are in the colour of your ideological belief system. There is an appetite for change, for innovation in the democratic space. But more importantly a desire to be a maker not just a thinker or a bystander of that change, a desire to roll up our sleeves and get on with it. We have a way to go yet in creating the conditions within which that energy can be best directed to effect national level change, but we are on the road.

So what will it take? Many have mused on this of late. My tuppence? Well in my years as a design ethnographer I have learnt two things. First, that effective change (another word for design) starts with accepting that you don’t have the answer and there is an extremely good chance you don’t even have the right questions yet. Second, that once you have the question, the answers can only be found by trying, failing, and trying again.

Whether you’re designing a car, a website, or a system of government, the approach is fundamentally the same – *do* something, assume nothing, let yourself fail, keep trying. My taxi driver was right. It’s time to roll up our sleeves. As Hamish Henderson wrote the year I was born:

Quo life, the warld is mine.
The floo’ers and trees, they’re a’ my ain.
I am the day, and the sunshine
Quo life, the warld is mine.

(from The Flyting o’ Life and Daith)