Responsibility

Responsibility. How does this word make you feel?

I suspect many of us find it heavy and burdensome. If something goes wrong and somebody says you’re responsible, you don’t feel very good. Suddenly a weight is on you; it’s “on your shoulders.” If you’re responsible, you’re expected to work towards resolving the situation. It may cost you — time, money, cognitive effort, reputation, etc.

On the other hand, responsibility can be liberating. If you’re responsible, that means you have agency over how things turn out. (By definition, you can’t be responsible if you can’t influence outcomes.) Choosing to act responsibly means acknowledging your power over a situation. It also means complying to wield that power within a series of constraints agreed with others. For example, we say people are “responsible citizens” when they choose to fulfill certain civic duties. When given a choice, they act in a way that may inconvenience them but ultimately benefit the community. (E.g. serving jury duty.) Responsibility requires clear choices.

When you design an information environment, you create an architecture of choices. You give the people who use your environment agency; response-ability. Do they understand the degree to which they’re responsible for their experience within the constraints you’ve established? How does this make them feel? Are you working to empower them or burden them?