This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Run the technology; don't let the technology run you

In the last post of this blog which explored the EIU's look at complexity from a public organization perspective,  the question was asked as to whether technical solutions are really fostering inclusion effectively? How using technological solutions to tackle complexity works for community-based governance as opposed to businesses.  For many businesses focusing on technology in itself is not seen as one of the major sources of complexity.  This may not be as true for community governance.  The challenge is finding the proper role for technology and optimizing its use to the greatest extent.

It would be a mistake to focus primarily on technological solutions. This usually means letting the technology do the work for you, similar to using the TV to indiscriminately babysit your two-year-old.

Technology as an end in itself is a wasted investment same as would be an economic development strategic plan being used as an end in itself. These are tools that should help in accomplishing other objectives or goals chosen by the community.

Part of this as to do with the citizen being considered only as a customer as seen by the so-called New Public Management. This sets, I believe, limits to participation in the democratic process. A basic premise of this blog is that people need to see themselves as both the consumer and producer of democracy, as well as the results of those efforts, in their lives.

Technology can help organizations to thrive in complex environments. It is the organization itself that must be prepared to seek opportunities for adaptation and creativity. For this to happen effectively, the social innovation and business process innovations of the organization are as important as the technological innovations, if not more so. Too great of a dependency on technology can distract from the internal changes needed for social innovation or business process innovations to be put in place.

This calls for a different type of relationship between citizens and their government. It is the interaction between the individual and the complex organization of a government institution within the complex system of a community. I am putting aside, for now, any questions regarding complications that may arise from the politics or bureaucracy of an organization.

It is the governmental organization that gives a structured though malleable framework within which integral parts of that organization work.

The individual citizens are not an integral part of that government organization. They do not have a structured framework and therefore must depend on what they are given.

Technology on its own does not necessarily help to open up complex systems for individuals, making them more understandable and clarifying avenues for success. It can sometimes do the opposite depending on the manner in which it is used.

For one, it does not always provide the constituent with optimal access. Second, if the constituent is able to use technology without being directly and openly integrated, it is often confrontational. The climate change debate is a good example, a complex problem with simple answers or denial coming from so many. The reality of complexity is that it can be varnished over and people can potentially be spoon-fed or become disenfranchised and go elsewhere to look for easy answers.

Now, this is not the case with the majority of public agencies employees and officials but even in the best of circumstances, there is often a unilateral control of information under government when it provides avenues for participation.

Addressing the needs of multiple organizations within a community with different goals adds to the challenge of complexity. Governmental institutions should not hand over their decision-making authority to any particular public group within a community outside of the democratic process. Engaging in dialogue with groups of citizens at critical junctures in the policy process does make a significant difference to decision-making is challenging and part of that challenge is recognizing the complexity faced by the individual citizen.

It is the people making up these organizational systems, both in government and within the larger community, that enable these changes to happen when they are provided the opportunity to vision or dream together about different ways of being or doing things with each other and the organization. In other words, they help redefine the organization and in so doing redefine their role in the organization.

The question is how we accomplish that and to what extent we can use technology to do so? It is a multilevel question. Is it possible to provide community groups the same leverage in dealing with complexity that the professionals who "sell" the programs and projects of city hall have? Exploring this further will be one of the goals of this blog.

Past Posts