This book is about the application of the Poldermodel in the realm of architecture and urban planning. The Poldermodel refers to the way major political issues tend to be resolved in the Netherlands through dialogue and exchange of views between parties having conflicting interests. Our new perspective is that technical optimisation and social optimisation should not be carried out separately, but be integrated into one design process. We have labelled this process Open Design because of its characteristic feature of openness in how decisions come about. As in a democracy, certain rules are agreed in advance on how decisions will be made. In traditional approaches, by contrast, the design process largely remains a black box, at least to interested outsiders.

In the concept of Open Design, any stakeholder having an interest in the outcome of the design process is allowed to influence the design. This means that we distance ourselves from the position adopted by many professional designers who believe that professional (technical) group optimisation must be regarded as distinct from, and a necessary prerequisite for, social group optimisation. In other words, we do not see the optimum social design as a derivation from the optimum professional design. In Open Design, experts and laymen (having an interest) are treated equally.

Professional designers often refer to the social optimum as a political compromise. Such a distinction cannot be drawn and the order in which the two optima come about cannot be dictated. A professional design also incorporates the social views of the professionals and therefore implicitly includes their social group optimum. And a social design incorporates the technical views of the non-professionals, thus implicitly including their technical group optimum. They are, therefore, two aspects of the same design.

We do not follow the classic theory on decision-making since this theory takes little account of the processing of differences of opinion and conflicting goals, of power imbalances and lack of information and rationality. These issues certainly come into play in design processes involving several designers from several organisations. We use, therefore, decision-making models which do incorporate differences of opinion and power imbalances, and which can cope with incomplete information.

The methodology of Open Design integrates relevant findings from various fields, in particular operations research, management and political sciences. This integration has become possible by the dramatic improvement in computer capabilities (speed, storage, user friendliness) over the past decades.

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