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(Update) A year of soul searching

Joe Edelman


A year of soul searching

For me, 2020 has been about rethinking what the world needs from me. My previous work on metrics and design techniques was helpful, but didn’t drive the changes I’d hoped. Recognizing this involved some personal growth.

My new mission

It looks like my next step can build on what I’ve done before. My new mission is to make social design a proper field. And to build structures that surface the best social designers, wherever they are, whatever their background, so they can solve big problems in social media and institution design.

Practically, this means: (1) something like a “Michelin star” or “Nobel prize” for social design; (2) local clubs and “breakdance battles” for social design; (3) “Amazon reviews” and “kickstarter” for social designs; and eventually, (4) something like a “Shark Tank” where social designers face off on the biggest challenges.

I want to find the best people to tackle problems like social sharing and context collapse; collective choice and voting in the internet age; reinventing dating in a way that actually serves people (especially young people); etc.

In the process, I’ll try to de-politicize and de-theorize social design — to focus on craft, practice, humility, contextuality, and the values of real people in real systems; and to dethrone the thought leaders, agendas, and pundits that currently dominate. (Impossible, I know, but worth trying!)

Come help

I’ll need help with this — collaborators, funders, etc. Here are three entry points.

Option 1 — Come to “Social Design: Beat the Experts” (Wednesday!)

I’m running an online event where each week someone presents a social design for feedback, from experts in game design, social network design, org design, or mechanism design. The experts write out critiques and suggestions, and so does everyone in the audience. The best audience ideas are upvoted and presented with the expert ideas.

This Wednesday, Kevin Owocki from Gitcoin will present Zoë Hitzig and Glen Weyl’s Quadratic Funding (a voting and public-goods funding system) for feedback.

Option 2 — Help me build “Meaning Supplies”

I’m building a social design review site called “meaning supplies”, starting small with a wiki for gathering and reviewing group practices — things like Circling and Scrum. I’ll gradually expand to other domains of social design, like social choice, org structures, various approaches to policing, justice, housing, etc.

We’ll do a “Group Practice Potluck” this Friday, where we’ll add our favorite practices and to review them on the beta site, and likely discover some bugs.

Option 3 — Enroll in the School for Social Design

I’ve been rebuilding the Human Systems training. In the new version, you go on three quests: first, you gather values from a small group that matters to you; in quest 2, you critique existing social designs; in quest 3, you redesign a social system to be better for human values.


If you have other ideas, get in touch. I’m at a stage where I’ll talk to anyone who can help with this mission.




Joe Edelman

Building economies of meaning, and leading the School for Social Design