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.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Example of Civic Renewal From Broken City: The City of Bell

So far this blog has provided idealistic perspectives of what could be possible with potential resources gathered to create new community paradigms in the future. It has not come up yet with a concrete example of substantial community change until now.

Many living in Southern California for the last couple of years have heard of the City of Bell scandal and I suspect that the story is fairly well known outside of the state as well. As a former public sector employee for a California city, I heard plenty about the scandal in the City of Bell. The Los Angeles Times received a Pulitzer gold medal for public service, as a result of its coverage along with titillating stories such as Is a city manager worth $800,000? and Bell officials hauled off in handcuffs. The story became part of the City's Wikipedia page with its own featured jump to City Official Corruption Scandal‎: and its own dedicated page 2010 City of Bell salary controversy.

The City of Bell was an example of what was the worst of local municipal governance with both politicians and top public sector management taking self serving advantage of the community. Yet, how many California cities looked at the City of Bell with derision when the difference between Bell and those cities is not really one of kind but in truth only a matter of degree. Not that there is any claim that there are numerous city councils or administrations currently breaking the law. Rather, how many city halls adopted policies whether official or not that in the words of newly elected Bell City Council person Ana Maria Quintana, instituted a lack of inclusion by the public in decisions impacting the public, whether intentional or through negligence.

The scandal, however, was not the end of the story. City of Bell community members came together and not only cleaned out city hall, they also came together to create a new vision of their community.

It was not until recently that I heard this story being transformed into one of civic renewal. This far more inspirational but less known story was told at a Hudson Institute panel on "Broken Cities or Civic Renewal?". Peter Peterson, Executive Director at Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine School of Public Policy featured this video on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation group page on LinkedIn. The Hudson Institute which hosted the panel may be a more conservative entity than is usually featured on these pages, however, the message is more important than the messenger and their inclusion of this story suggests that there are avenues for purposeful discourse. This is an inspiring presentation, more importantly, it describes what was an impressive process of community engagement.

Working with the Davenport Institute of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University and PACE or Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement and a new crop of committed community advocates, such as then newly elected Bell City Council person Ana Maria Quintana, the new City of Bell leadership reached out to the community for help on coming up with a new budget through a process of deliberative democracy despite the city being in financial shambles. The City Manager at the time was Ken Hampian, who was approached after a search resulted in zero applicants and who fully embodied the idea of generous leadership by working pro bono.

The story of the City of Bell is, in some ways, a special case because the community uprising and the subsequent throwing out of the old political order and establishment of a new political order all happened at the same time. The transformation was brought about by both the complete removal of the former city management team and city council along with a comprehensive strategy for change created by the community with the assistance of the Davenport Institute of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University and PACE or Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement. This changed not only the players and the policies; it also changed the deeper culture defining community governance in the City of Bell.

Change could actually be more difficult when the corruption of city hall is not so blatant but simply a matter of a hundred little corruptions, none of which amount to a true criminal offense. Change at the City of Bell would have been a far more difficult process if the former clique had been able to hold on to its power. One hopes that this change in the culture of community governance is maintained and grows in the City of Bell. It and other communities will be facing numerous other external and internal challenges in the future.

New methods of community transformation need to be developed to change the balance of power in favor of broad based community vision and away from entrenched city hall bureaucratic politics. Communities seeking this level of change will need the help of external organizations such as the Davenport Institute. It will also internally need the help of dedicated public sector employees who have fully adopted a culture of community governance envisioned by new community paradigms and embodied by the example of the City of Bell.

We need to start thinking more about how the role of public sector employees needs to change to make this type of transformation possible while also making the career meaningful. Public sector employment should no longer be based on a model of an institutionalized industry-clone organization but instead one that embraces a new creative economy as envisioned by Richard Florida.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Exploring New Pathways

In September of this year, this blog proposed a more inclusionary and expansive perspective of community governance. One that went beyond the current paradigm of government by city halls led by city councils and managed by public sector professionals with elections every four years.

This is to be done by giving far more power to the community itself and while it is not necessary to eliminate city councils, it is necessary to change the relationship with the community by significantly changing how they work within the community.

On the surface, this raises a number of seemingly insurmountable challenges. The paradigm shift proposed by new community paradigms shares its momentum with other societal transformations currently occurring, including drastically reduced budgets, substantial economic hurdles and adverse but perhaps unavoidable changes in public sector employment.

New community paradigms does not eliminate the many challenges, it only points to possible pathways for overcoming these challenges. Some will be daunting, such as, addressing communities that have become discouraged or disenfranchised from participation in local community governance and have adopted dysfunctional processes that have kept an entrenched culture in place in an attempt to attain at least minimal benefits. In particular, getting past the cynical form of skepticism so prevalent today.

It will require rethinking how we see governance at the local level, not only within the institutions of government but arising from the workings of civil society. New community paradigms is not intended to become its own separate organization against existing institutional local governments but to serve as a catalyst for local organizing efforts by providing a collection of resources that can be chosen among to address the issues facing different communities. Each community will need to define its own unique set of new community paradigms.

New community paradigms also provides though a platform for change. Not being defined as an institution gives new community paradigms a significant degree of freedom in bringing about change. As a catalyst for change, it is not restricted to any particular role. It recognizes that there is a difference between governance and politics, and that there is a difference between governance and business or management but it can still adopt resources from these other disciplines. It is also freed from being restricted by the past practices and expectations of city hall government.

This provides a number of different pathways to be explored and developed in future blog posts.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Community Governance Takes On City Hall

The last post, the one before and the one before that began working toward a more inclusionary and expansive perspective of community governance going beyond the current paradigm of city councils and elections every four years. This post will begin to take a closer look at the idea of using community governance with city councils and city management. This is not intended to be about any particular community but more as abstract communities, Innovatitown and Parochialville.
In exploring the relationship of the individual citizen to the idealistic future state of local government compared to the grittier, practical reality of today, we have to be careful how we characterize that relationship. In most cases, when speaking of a potentially improved future or some example of bureaucratic wrongdoing, we are speaking in abstract terms. This is by necessity because we want to find principles that we can apply to the degree we see appropriate across a broad range of circumstances.
It is not necessary under new community paradigms to eliminate city councils, only to significantly change how they work and their relationship with the community by giving far more power to the community itself.

In his article “Manhattan Moment: Only politicians can save us now”, Stephen D. Eide wrote on the good intentions gone bad of Early 20th century Progressive reformers (who) designed council-manager government to be good government. To the Progressives, good government required the separation of politics and administration -- a concept central to their strategy to wrest control of city government from the urban machines, whose patronage empires had bred political corruption and incompetent administration.

Eide went on to write in support of politicians, as opposed to city administrators, as being more capable of solving the problems facing communities. The logic being that even though both politicians and administrators, aka bureaucrats, got us into this mess, politicians are the only ones who can get us out as opposed to the professional administrators. The third choice raised here is for governance by the community itself.

This claim for a third path for community governance requires more support. How did Nineteenth Century progressives fail to create a new system of city government based on the separation of politics and administration that resulted in the problems of current forms of city government, whether run by city manager or city mayor? What is different from Nineteenth Century progressives so that Twenty-first Century progressives can today successfully create a system of open city government to replace the current systems?

The problem is that politics and administration did not stay separated from each other but combined into a too often dysfunctional, yet still stable relationship, becoming more intertwined together and more separated from the community itself.  Communities as a result often became discouraged or disenfranchised from participation or adopted dysfunctional processes to attain at least minimal benefits, keeping the existing culture of power in place. This idea will be expanded upon in future posts but for now a summation of the problem will have to suffice.

Many small, local, community governments have been functioning under a disjointed control through political influence, usually by city council, combined with professional management by city managers and administrative staff. Disjointed because city council members can use their political power to force decisions that make poor management sense and city managers will work to protect the political self-interests of city council members.

Each component ends up working to support the disfunction of the other to maintain its own survival and the entire system becomes more closed . This does not always happen, perhaps not even as often or as significantly as my experience leads me to believe but when it does, it creates a culture of entrenched institutional government control and despite appearances to the contrary discourages community participation.

Lack of community participation in city government has a great deal to do with the process of city government itself which has over the decades discouraged many with the so-called truism that you can’t fight city hall as a result of abuses cited under A Ladder of Citizen Participation by Sherry R. Arnstein.

The usual claims that change can come about through elections have little merit in such cases as there are in reality minimal opportunities for true community participation and always under processes controlled by the status quo power culture. Worse, any successful election of a new slate often times only changes the players not the game. There may be superficial changes in policy when one political clique replaces another but it swings back a few years later and the deeper culture of the existing power status quo stays in place.

This is why new community paradigms are required to bring about significant change in many of our communities.

What changed significantly for Twenty-first Century Progressives, as compared to Nineteenth Century Progressives, is the communities with which they work and the tools for community change available to them. Nineteenth Century progressives saw the role of public administrators as protecting the interests of an often times uneducated marginalized, and unengaged public against machines such as Tammany Hall. Many in government today still do if with new players.

Twenty-first Century progressives are more likely today to have access to the internal social resources of a community through social media networking platforms. This provides the means to not only create and develop systems of community governance but also the ability to provide community building tools to those who have been discouraged or disenfranchised. What is more important, it does not have to occur only every four years. There can be real time participation and ongoing engagement in community affairs.

One organization taking major steps in making this a reality is Code for America | A New Kind of Public Service.
Code for America enlists the talent of the web industry into public service to use their skills to solve core problems facing our communities. We help passionate technologists leverage the power of the internet to make governments more open and efficient, and become civic leaders able to realize transformational change with technology.
What is important is that the means or tools provided by Code for America are independent of any specific institution or organization. This prevents their overall development from being restricted by political self-interest or unnecessarily restrictive bureaucratic management control. These tools are available to city councils, city management or directly to the community itself. There is still, however, the issue of having these resources used within the communities they are intended to benefit. Many communities will adopted them but only to the extent allowed by city councils and city management and not necessarily to the extend that would actually be supported by the community.
Civic technology experts have recognized the benefits of sharing technology among governments and institutions. However, instances of successful collaboration and sharing are still few and far between, in part because there is no easy, structured way to share knowledge about this software, let alone the software itself. There is no one place to go to look for civic software that cities need, and no roadmap to share what they have.
The solution to this problem as put forward by Code for America | A New Kind of Public Service will be dealt with more fully in the next post.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Community Governance - Third Path to City Government

Last month this blog featured posts on community governance, both from the perspective of governance through community, which involves community members coming together to deliberate and make decisions, and governance by community, which involves the means of implementing those decisions administratively.  These were admittedly idealistic states that needed to be strived toward.  How to achieve that will be one of the continuing focuses of this blog.  For this to happen requires a move away from current entrenched forms of closed city government to more open forms of community governance.

The two common major styles of city government found today, strong-mayor and council-manager, were featured in two articles, which appeared during the same month in the Washington Examiner, contrasting the supposed strengths of each.   

The first article by Stephen D. Eide, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for State and Local Leadership, is “Manhattan Moment: Only politicians can save us now” and the other is “In defense of city managers” which Robert J. O'Neill, Jr., the Executive Director of the International City/County Management Association wrote in response.  

Eide explains that under a council-manager form of government, a professional administrator runs the city government. He or she is, however, not elected by voters but appointed by a city council.  Under the strong-mayor government, the mayor, is elected by the people and directs the city's administration while serving as the city's political head.  

As can be deduced from the titles of the two articles, Eide makes the case that communities have come to depend too much on professional administrative staff and that they would be better off if they would instead turn to politicians to overcome the challenges that they face. O’Neill takes the opposite tact coming to the defense of city managers and other public sector administrators by warning “that pitting strong political leadership against professional local government management as a solution is misguided”. 

Eide makes the argument that when a crisis does arise, “political leadership is needed much more than professional expertise”.  Eide points out “Mayors can make case for their vision directly to the public, through elections and initiativesCity managers' capacity for political leadership is limited. They can't offend the elected officials who act as their bosses”.  

O’Neill asserts that what is of prime importance is “efficiency of administration” using as the basis for his counter argument the article "Smarter, Faster, Cheaper," by David Edwards who reported that “what determines how efficiently a city deploys resources is management, and that communities with the council-manager form of government are nearly 10 percent more efficient than those with strong mayoral forms of government”.

The real crux of the argument for Eide is a desire to address what Eide calls the “fiscal and administrative inflexibility caused by unreasonable union contracts and the unsustainable costs of public-employee benefits”The solution according to Eide is to follow the example of San Diego that with the support of a 2/3 voter majority passed Proposition B which was designed to eliminate defined-benefit pensions for all new nonpublic safety employees and save taxpayers nearly $1 billionAccording to Eide, the San Diego passage of Proposition B could not have happened if the change from council-manager to strong-mayor had not been made.  

This is not meant however to be an argument as to whether this is fair or not or whether it is the proper course of action as it is seen as being unavoidable.  This trend, as will be discussed in future posts, will continue changing the nature of public sector employment.  

What is being questioned is whether people could have the type of communities that they can imagine if they were fully empowered with the necessary resources and not turned off or discouraged from community participation? 

Eide focuses on a single policy decision, cutting public sector employee overall compensation and argues that it is better to bet on politicians to get the public to buy into it than to bet on public administrators to get the policy implemented.  

It does not, however, do anything to directly address his concern that “budgets are rising, but productivity and the quality of city services are not”The primary driver of community governance becomes a matter of cost rather than of value. Residents are defined as consumers of government services not as citizens.  Seeking better quality service through only cost cutting without finding means of enhancing those services through new means of innovation simply results in commodification where less is done with less and community needs go unmet. Draconian measures maybe possible under a political fix, such as finding ways to cut costs by reducing overall public sector employment compensation but they do not address issues of continued sustainable community governance.  What can happen instead is a constant winner take all pendulum swing from one side to the other or the disenfranchisement of a portion of the community.  

Eide and O’Neill may both distinguish between politics and administration, giving each a different level of primacy, but both fail to make a distinction for the creation of a community vision and setting of policy to implement that vision which is different from using a political approach to decide among policy choices and from the administration of that policy.    

One approach focuses on the effectiveness of politically motivated measures without much regard made for what happens after they are implemented as long as the correct position of  political power is taken and the other approach focuses on the efficiency of administration without much regard made to how effective the policy in question may be.  Each seemingly leaves the other side of that equation to the its counterpart.  Both could claim to have the best of intentions in mind but still assign only a passive role to the community which is either to be sold to or managed.  Both systems of government focus more of their energy into making sure the current system and its players stay in place than addressing the needs of the community. 

With regards to professional staff, I can agree that we should resist what Eide calls the urge to "trust the experts", at least not to trust them indiscriminately.  I can’t agree though that only politicians, whom Eide himself admits are to blame for much of the trouble American cities are in today, are the only ones that can save us now.  A guiding principle of new community paradigms is that not only should a more substantial role be taken on by the community itself, it is also now more possible than ever before.

Eide claim that the professional is not as accountable to the populous as the politician also falls flat, as it is the politicians who appoint the administrators with the power to fire them and even though residents only get to hold the politicians accountable every four years.  
The framework O’Neill suggests for our cities to be successful does begin to meet a new community paradigms standard though with a change in emphasis to focus first on:
  • A strategy for representing and engaging every segment of the community
  • A commitment to transparent and ethical government 
A new community paradigms approach still recognizes the importance of:
  • Strong political community leadership 
  • Strong policy development
  • A relentless focus on execution and results
O’Neill says that, “Under any form, the citizenry must be involved in their local governments and select the best possible local elected officials possible. “  No argument as far as it goes but, new community paradigms asserts that we now have the ability to go even further and have a more direct say in real time about how our communities are formed and developed through direct community governance. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Governance by the Community or Not - Getting with or past City Hall

Yesterday's post took a second look at the concept of community governance in which a community could potentially govern itself without handing over a  major influence on their collective lives for four years to a city council.  This is taking the perspective to its most extreme.  In practice, communities would likely maintain some form of city government within a city hall.  What it points out is that anyone, whether through a civic organization or just getting together a group of friends, could arrange for community meetings to allow people through a deliberative decision-making process to have their say on matters affecting their community.  There are a number of organizations that can assist with this as can be found in the Community Governance.  This is not to discount the challenges in doing so but it is not necessary to get permission from an institutionalized form of government power.

Taking a decision process that has substantial effect on our communities out of an arena of adversarial political competition and instead using organizations such as The World Cafe Community to create and experience deep and meaningful conversations about those things that really matter or using AmericaSpeaks to create an opportunity to have a strong voice in public decision-making on issues affecting our communities is achievable.

If such a community meeting were put together by some concerned citizens, it could be with the sponsorship of city hall.  Often times this happens through such efforts as strategic plans or economic development studies.  Unfortunately, because direct deliberative democracy is not the norm there is a flurry of activity for a short time then these plans and studies often end up on the shelf without follow-up and without any substantial changes being made. It could also be done in parallel or independent of city hall.  Any group organizing community meetings and wishing to maintain independence from city hall for its own reasons could still upon completion present its finding to the public from the city hall dais. Finally, such an effort could be against an entrenched city hall culture.  Community paradigms are not intended as a tactic to use for the benefit of one particular politician against another.  Rather it is designed to make a significant transformation in a community which has devolved into a culture of entrenched political and economic power that is no longer truly serving the needs of the community.

The challenges that need to be faced under these three scenarios become increasingly greater depending upon the openness of city hall, both in establishing the changes and implementing them.  Success under each scenario presumes that the community group will take a large role in the governance of the community.  Idealistically, at some point, the divisions between city hall and community-based governance effectively disappears.  Only idealistically though because there are too many problems communities with which have to deal and too many opposing interests even if city hall is not entrenched and in opposition.

There is a difference though between governance and government.  New community paradigms do not assume that people will take turns being the city planner or a city council member for a day.  It does work under the premise that the relationships with community leaders and city employees (maybe better would be community-based employees) need to change and become different. How community needs are met and community standards enforced would also likely be different.  How to make this would work is another challenge for new community paradigms.

This moves from the concept of 'governance through community' and using deliberative democracy to decide the future path of a community to the concept of 'governance by the community' and acting as a community working to build that path.  'Governance by the community' under new community paradigms has not been addressed yet as it is more difficult to convey in concrete terms and it took time to build on the concept.

Community governance at this point stops taking a potential advisory role whether requested or not by city hall and moving from deliberation to implementation, from strategy to tactics.

The concept of 'governance by the community' fully realized is related to the concepts found under People’s Governance (wiki page) which offers resources for direct democratic participation but usually in opposition to an unresponsive political power.  It also relates to its applications in specific areas of public concern such as participatory budgeting (a concept which needs to be examined further by this blog in the future) which happens most often with communities that have the political leadership that understands the benefit of inclusion by the community.

It can also relate philosophically with the concept of Civil Society (wiki page) as it recognizes and differentiates those aspects of society or community that do not have to be dependent upon institutional forms of government.  The blog posts Community paradigms as a set of community relations and Civil society as a platform for new community paradigms provide some discussion of this perspective.

Any group or organization reaching this point in the creation of new community paradigms should take a second and third look at its inclusionary efforts to make sure it was doing its best involving the entire community to avoid simply becoming another political competitor.  This might not happen at first but it should be a constant and primary goal or full community governance will never be attained.

An important resource that has been around for a while in helping to ensure this is  A Ladder of Citizen Participation by Sherry R. Arnstein.
This article is about power structures in society and how they interact. Specifically it is a guide to seeing who has power when important decisions are being made. It is quite old, but never-the-less of great value to anyone interested in issues of citizen participation. The concepts discussed in this article about 1960's America apply to any hierarchical society but are still mostly unknown, unacknowledged or ignored by many people around the world. Most distressing is that even people who have the job of representing citizens views seem largely unaware, or even dismissive of these principles. Many planners, architects, politicians, bosses, project leaders and power-holder still dress all variety of manipulations up as 'participation in the process', 'citizen consultation' and other shades of technobabble.

1. Citizen participation is citizen power
1.1. Empty Refusal Versus Benefit

2. Types of participation and "nonparticipation"
2.1. Limitations of the Typology

3. Characteristics and illustration

3.1. Manipulation
3.2. Therapy
3.3. Informing
3.4. Consultation
3.5. Placation
3.6. Partnership
3.7. Delegated Power
3.8. Citizen Control

I will repeat Most distressing is that even people who have the job of representing citizens views seem largely unaware, or even dismissive of these principles. Many planners, architects, politicians, bosses, project leaders and power-holder still dress all variety of manipulations up as 'participation in the process', 'citizen consultation' and other shades of technobabble.  This is the working toolbox of entrenched city hall power brokerages.  Breaking this hold over the community would be a major accomplishment for any group wishing to instill new community paradigms within their community.  This still leaves the requirement to work on meeting the communities needs.

The Results That Matter Team provides a more pragmatic working definition of community governance that goes beyond processes and a model for achieving that.
Community governance” refers to the processes for making all the decisions and plans that affect life in the community, whether made by public or private organizations or by citizens. For community governance to be effective, it must be about more than process, it also must be about getting things done in the community. And what gets done must make a difference. 
A Model of Effective Community Governance
The Effective Community Governance Model recognizes engaging citizens, measuring results, and getting things done as three “core community skills” that help people and organizations make decisions about what actions to take in a community and help them measure the community’s performance in achieving results. Citizen engagement invests legitimacy in those decisions and performance measures. To be effective, a community—or community serving organization—will align two or all three of them to perform the “advanced governance practices” of the governance model.
Another model of effective community governance came originally from "Challenge and Choice: Options for Local Governance in Ottawa-Carleton" Township of Goulbourn's World Wide Web Site and is made available by the Global Development Research Center or GDRC.

Characteristics of a Governance Model that is sensitive to a community's needs:
  • Accessible
    Citizens will have easy access to the elected and staff decision makers who are responsible for municipal services.
  • Accountable
    Elected and appointed officials will owe responsibility to the public.
  • Inclusive
    The community will be recognised as an important component of decision making.
  • Representative
    Citizens will be fairly and democratically represented.
  • Comprehensive 
    All municipal functions and services will be addressed; services will be delivered at a level communities believe to be appropriate; clear and logical responsibility for service-delivery will be identified; voluntary citizen participation will be acknowledged.
  • Comprehensible 
    It will be easy to understand who does what.
  • Cost-effective 
    Appropriate quality service will be delivered efficiently and in a manner that makes citizens feel they are receiving a reasonable return on their tax money.
GDRC | The Urban Governance Programme deals with governance as the science of decision-making. 
The concept of governance refers to the complex set of values, norms, processes, and institutions by which society manages its development and resolves conflict, formally and informally. It involves the state, but also the civil society at the local, national, regional and global levels.
The GDRC | The Global Development Research Center is an independent nonprofit think tank that carries out initiatives in education, research and practice, in the spheres of environment, urban, community and information, and at scales that are effective.

There are also other resources available.  Another resource found during the journey to this point is Government To You | Gov2U | which bridges the concerns of governance through community and governance by the community from a global perspective.  This effort to create new community paradigms readily seeks solutions from around the entire globe that benefit the entire globe.
Our Policy and Citizen Engagement Unit works to enhance the legislative process and its outcomes by promoting representative, transparent and accountable governance. By improving the interface between citizens and decision-makers we aim at increasing civil society's input in policy-making. Because Democracy is not only about votes, it's also about deliberation.
Gov2U Facebook also provides a valuable set of technological resources that can be found on the World Wide Web.
Here's why: the internet offers virtual spaces where citizens, in absolute equality, can reclaim an active role in the political process. In essence, these virtual rooms today have the same function as the public squares in ancient times, where citizens gathered to exchange ideas and jointly agree to common solutions. So ironically, it is only through sophisticated information and communication technology that we will successfully revive the fundamental principles of democracy and citizenship, and confront the global issues of our time.
Prior to this point, the concept of community governance has been viewed as a theoretical assumption and even though there is a long road to making it a reality it should be set as a guiding principle of new community paradigms.  To do that future posts will work under the premise that there is an unnamed independent organization in a community working to define and implement new community paradigms for the community in question.  The goal of this blog and related online resources will be to assist in achieving that.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Of, For, By the People and now Through the People - Community Governance Revisited

The beginning of this effort or exploration or experiment to build 'new community paradigms' started out considering the economic aspects of building a 'livable city', moved on to creating principles for establishing healthy cities for the occupants of those livable cities, in part by using the concept of 'Placemaking' as the canvas for communities to create the physical embodiment of those principles, through a process that sought to find the 'soul' of one's community and by means of Using Online Communities to encourage Direct Democracy for On-The-Ground Communities to implement a concept of Community Governance or the direct governance of a community by the members of that community.

The principle of community governance would more likely be the starting point not an end to the process of establishing new community paradigms.  This post will revisit the concept of community governance in relation to building new community paradigms and provide some new resources that can help in that effort.

True community governance is, admittedly, an idealized final state of affairs that is not currently fully realized anywhere that I know.   It is, however, not merely fantasy either.  A number of organizations, listed in both the wiki pages Governance by Community and Governance through Community have been in existence for a while, working to make it more of a reality.  

The original intention of dividing community governance into  'governance through' and 'governance by' was an attempt to differentiate between the word 'through' to convey the means of accomplishing something and the word 'by' to convey agent or agency of that accomplishment (see note below).  Perhaps a minor point but it would allow for organizing outside the influence of any existing institutionalized government structure prior to any engagement.  Some of the resources provided under community governance would fall into both categories.

Under governance through community, the community comes together (more often than four years for elections) and using principles of direct democratic deliberation makes decisions about their community.  This could be done in cooperation, in parallel or in opposition with the existing political influence of city hall.  How it implements the results of those deliberations and whether it is with or without the cooperation of city hall is a matter of governance by community.

Another way of looking at it is the difference on being either inside or outside of a system of governance.  Members of any community may already have a sense of this if they have ever attempted to fight city hall.  Community governance does not change the establishment of laws to help direct the interactions between members of a community.  Even under the most idealized form of 100% participation in direct democratic governance there would still be a difference between participating in the writing of laws as a member of the community and being subject to the power of enforcement of those laws as an individual by the authority of the community.  There would be though a greater chance in participating in the writing of the laws rather than being unilaterally subject to regulations by a City Hall with its own self perpetuating agenda.  Any potential concerns regarding rule by unprofessional masses will be addressed at a future date.

The blog post Governance through Community focused on organizations that worked primarily on the process and means of bringing members of a community together and jointly creating a democratic process. Some of the older resources were reclassified and placed under the Governance through Community wiki page.

The International Association for Public Participation or IAP2 has a wealth of resources available to assist organizations, decision makers, policy makers and practitioners to improve the quality of the public participation work. The following resources are protected by copyright by the International Association for Public Participation and are being offered here to be used only for information purposes.  The International Association for Public Participation: IAP2 Code of Ethics for Public Participation Practitioners supports and reflects IAP2's Core Values for the Practice of Public Participation. The Core Values define the expectations and aspirations of the public participation process. The Code of Ethics speaks to the actions of practitioners.

In addition, new resources were found since the writing of that post.  The Deliberative Democracy Consortium's mission is to bring together practitioners and researchers to support and foster the nascent, broad-based movement to promote and institutionalize deliberative democracy at all levels of governance in the United States and around the world.

The Deliberative Democracy Consortium is an alliance of the major organizations and leading scholars working in the field of deliberation and public engagement. The DDC represents more than 50 foundations, nonprofit organizations, and universities, collaborating to support research activities and advance democratic practice, in North America and around the world. As with many of the organizations featured, Deliberative Democracy Consortium has a Facebook page.

Also new to the Governance through Community wiki page is Involve | Making participation count. Involve features experts in public engagement, participation and dialogue.
We carry out research and deliver training to inspire citizens, communities and institutions to run and take part in high-quality public participation processes, consultations and community engagement. We believe passionately in a democracy where citizens are empowered to take and influence the decisions that affect their lives
As admitted above, this is still an idealized state of affairs and remains such if the follow up step to actually make changes in the community is not realized.  Next we take another look at Governance by Community.

Note: A more precise definition would have recognized the word 'through' as  designating particularly immediate agency or instrumentality or reason or motive (see section on Synonyms) but I am going to keep with the distinction currently being used for now

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Seeing Economy and Community as Ecosystem Another Way of Shifting the Paradigm

The last post was about the New Community Paradigms mind-map but more so about discovering new ways to think about the different concepts making up community governance and economic development and how they relate together.  The last year has been spent gathering initial resources from the World Wide Web, organizing them into an online platform through the New Community Paradigms wiki and developing ideas on how to implement new community paradigms.  So far it is still a series of thought experiments exploring possibilities based on using existing resources differently. I am always seeking and glad to find others endeavoring to do the same.

Someone who I see as being on a similar journey but on a different pathway in finding new ways to think about the economies of our communities is Della Rucker of Wise  I have been following Della for a while through a number of LinkedIn groups, including Strong Town Communities and count her among my first level LinkedIn colleagues. This for me is very important because if sites like Facebook and Twitter are among the online pantries where I get new ideas then LinkedIn groups are the stovetop where I set them to stew.

Della was, as is my wife still, an English teacher, as well as a journalist.  This arguably has an impact on both her thinking and writing and enabled her to create new processes to elicit the feedback necessary to move projects forward.

Della is a good choice to follow for ideas on community and economic development.  She has the creds being one of only four known individuals to hold professional certification in both planning and economic development along with expertise in fiscal impact analysis, economic diversification strategies, market analysis and economic structure analysis, comprehensive planning and public participation.

Our pathways differ in geography.  Della, as she says, had a pretty decent front row seat for the collapse of the Rust Belt economy.  I went through the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California and while the California economy has not collapsed there are still numerous issues serving as the impetus for new community paradigms.

Where I see the greatest alignment though is with her concept of Wise Economies being the equivalent to human ecosystems and then her approach to taking the concept and developing it.  My own thoughts on community environment versus community ecology discussed in the last post primed me for her ideas.  She wrote a series of blog posts on this concept which I am summarizing here. Her perspective takes a below the roots as well as a holistic approach raising the question:

So how do we start building Wise Economies?  Economies = Communities = Ecosystems
First, we need to change how we think about communities, businesses, organizations and governments.  We need to understand that economic vitality depends on the health of a community, and that a community is not a set of separate, unrelated systems – a business district, a school system, a park system, a street system — but an ecosystem.  
I appreciate that she admits in What’s “Wise” About a Wise Economy?  Part 1 that her concepts are not the result of formal analysis but appreciating the process of continually working towards goals and stop thinking about silver medals as losing.

She does however provide a concrete manifestation of her ideas in the updated The Wise Economy Manifesto, Version 2.0.  Here are some of the major points.
  • Communities are human ecosystems.  
  • That which makes you unique makes you valuable.    
  • We must focus on cultivating our native economic species.   
  • Beware the magic pill.   
  • Crowdsourced wisdom is the best way to find a real solution.   
  • We whose have the job of helping communities work better have to be brave.  
The one which particularly caught my eye was Communities are human ecosystems though I am also a fan of the concept of crowdsourced wisdom.

In Building a human ecology (plus a lot of gorillas), she asks, "What does a community ecology need?". 
In this community, as in hundreds of others, the 800-pound gorillas, for better or worse, are gone.  Instead, we have communities with a large number of smaller players – 100-pound or 50-pound gorillas, if you will.  Capacity is still there, but it’s not as simple to get it in motion as it used to be.  Since we have tended to think so simplistically, we don’t know how to harness those gorillas together.   So we underestimate the capacity we have, we decry the loss of the Old Days, and we assume that we are stuck, that we can no longer make our communities better.
Some might say that the 800-pound gorillas in truth cost too much to feed even when they were available but we can leave that for later.
We no longer live in an era where we can take healthy, vibrant human ecologies for granted.  We who work with local governments and nonprofits are our communities’ biologists – we see the warning signs of trouble before almost anyone else.  We don’t always know how to solve it, and we don’t always do a good enough job sending up the alarm.  And sometimes we get scared and don’t send up the alarm at all, or we raise our concerns timidly and back off when the gorillas growl.  But we know what’s at stake.
In Growing a small business ecology, part 1, she puts forward the argument "that growing a robust small business economy is one of the most important things we can be doing to create a Wise Economy — and about the fact that we don’t put anywhere near enough effort into this".

What is more important, she brings forward the human face of such endeavors.  Della's approach to writing seems to me to be more narrative and persuasive, even motivational than mine.  Continuing on with Cultivating the Small Business Ecosystem (part 2), Della again argues for a more systematic approach to creating a Wise Economy particularly with economic metrics.
We do a particularly lousy job of monitoring our local small business ecosystems.  We tend to assume that everything is fine based on a few overly-simplistic indicators, like the number of new businesses, without digging deeper into the data to understand whether those factors are actually signs of growth or decline.
In her blog post The first steps toward the marathon
It’s a tough challenge that I keep laying out with this Wise Economy thing.  If you share my belief that the realities of the world and communities around us require us to rethink, reboot and re-engage in the work of building great communities, it’s easy to find yourself in the blind alley where those good intentions thump into a brick wall.  So the key question becomes, “How?
Then again admitting, I don’t completely know yet. I am in the same boat.  I don't have everything clearly laid out yet either even in my own head, not to mention organizing it in a fashion that is easily understood and able to be implemented.

Della and I have other points of similarity in our intellectual foundations.  We both admire Umair Hacque, an economist and a great writer for the Harvard Business Review who has done a tremendous job in providing insights into the changes occurring in the world economy over the past few years. In her blog post Structural Change, Cyclical Change, Institutional Change…coming to your hometown, she quotes his blog post on the structural vs cyclical debate in which he does not take sides but seeks a third path.

Della is also seems to be an admirer of Thomas Kuhn who wrote about the development of scientific paradigms and the fact that as she says that the most critical scientific discoveries, the most profound observations, require someone or someones to break through the unexamined assumptions that underpin the status quo.  Unsurprisingly, any blog that claims to be seeking new community paradigms has to hold Thomas Kuhn in high regard. 

I particularly admired her approach on developing new paradigms:
Instead, start looking for the walls of your community’s, your profession’s, your organization’s paradigm.  Think about what you and your peers are assuming, and what the alternatives might look like.  Talk to people who have a different perspective — who come from other professions and other places.  They might not want to rock your boat either, but there’s no harm in pushing them a little… and see what you can learn.;
Della also cites the column which Umair Hacque wrote titled “Make the Dangerous Choice to Dissent” which fits in nicely with the philosophy of this blog.

Della comes back though to the pragmatic needs of communities. What does it mean to have a Wise Economy, and what does it matter to you?

The Wise Economy, then, is about making communities work, truly work, on multiple dimensions and for the long run.  For that reason, building a Wise Economy is not just a job for planners, or economic developers, or any other single community – building specialization.  The fundamental challenge of the Wise Economy is to make better decisions that will build the kinds of communities where we all want to be, and that means that it has to involve all of the people who make a community what it is.  That means elected officials, infrastructure managers, business leadership and the residents of the community.  I hope you’ll come along for the ride. 

I am happy that there are others that I can meet on this journey that are trying in their own unique way to make changes and create their own style of new community paradigms.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Formally Introducing the New Community Paradigms Mind-map

The New Community Paradigms mind-map was recently introduced but not formally.  This introduction is admittedly an expression of my inner geek and a growing interest in Systems Thinking.

This is still at a rudimentary stage of development subject not only to the addition of new data and information as well as revisions and reorganization but it provides a useable conceptual framework.

As explained previously the different ideas making up the mind map mirror the concepts found within the wiki-sections and wiki-pages of the New Community Paradigms wiki.  The posts of this blog have also been interrelated with the mind-map.  The mind-map makes use of the same information as found in this blog and the related wiki but provides pathways for different insights.

The continuing process of creating the mind-map helps to demonstrate why functions in any enterprise, whether public or private, may first be separated then segregated and finally become 'siloed' working for their own continued existence and not their original mission if left unexamined and unchallenged.

This is also true of the conceptual framework behind thinking about a system of community governance and economic development.  Economic concerns and environmental concerns are often put in opposition to each other as if we have the choice of succeeding in one but not the other or that the other would simply take care of itself.  Even when not put in opposition, it is often difficult to see how different functions can be related to each other so we concentrate on one to the detriment of the other.

The New Community Paradigms mind-map helps to both discover unrealized connections and redefine connections.  One example was changing from a concept of Community Environment to Community Ecology. provides the following definitions:


  [en-vahy-ruhn-muhnt, -vahy-ern-] Show IPA
the aggregate of surrounding things, conditions, orinfluences; surroundings; milieu.
Ecology the air, water, minerals, organisms, and all other external factors surrounding and affecting a given organism at any time.
the social and cultural forces that shape the life of a personor a population.
Computers the hardware or software configuration, or themode of operation, of a computer system: In a time-sharingenvironment, transactions are processed as they occur.
an indoor or outdoor setting that is characterized by the presence of environmental art  that is itself designed to be site-specific.


  [ih-kol-uh-jee]  Show IPA
the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment,including other organisms.
Also called human ecology. the branch of sociology concerned with the spacing and interdependence of people and institutions.

It was judged to be more appropriate to associate the word ecology with community rather than the word environment because it provided a greater biological orientation to the concept of community and the process of relating to the environment.  It is differentiated from the concept of Places at the highest level of the map having an equal, related but different function.

The concept of Community Ecology connects to the concepts of Sustainability and Environment, which in turn connects back through Built Environment (which still needs to be developed) to Places and the concept of Livable Communities.

Thinking about relationships and interactions between the community and its environment also assists in starting to consider the relationship of Streets and Transportation to Community Ecology, Places and Regional Economics.

The system of mind-mapping involves creating a framework of parent and child connections concerning various ideas, concepts, data or other features.  It also includes something called a jump link which is for concepts that are not related in a hierarchal manner but are still important for understanding, such as Community Ecology with Streets and Transportation.

One tweak of the New Community Paradigms mind-map is to redefine the jump links to serve as bridge links  defining certain concepts as the conceptual intersection of two separate and perhaps seemingly unrelated concepts.

One example is Place as Economic and Social Engine which is connected both to the concepts of Places and Economics through the wiki and associated blog posts.  It also provides a conceptual connection to Strong Towns though it needs to be made clear that the connections are from my perspective not necessarily theirs.

Tomorrow I am going to write about someone who expanded the concept of ecology even further applying it not only to the economic concerns of the community but to the overall health of the community itself.  Now just have to think about how to map it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reviewed What and How, Now the Whys

The last two posts (here and here) (written not computer generated) provided a review and a regrouping of this effort to create  'new community paradigms' after the summer hiatus.  It has been nearly a year since this effort started with a good deal of that time spent working on the supporting online infrastructure.  It is time to review the whys, both big and small.

The small why was a desire to establish a foundation for the argument for the ostensibly lofty goal of creating new community paradigms. Ostensible because even though the goal is not within the apparent reality of most, requires significant transformations in all areas of community governance and economic development, is inherently complex and requires more exploration in new territories and likely future reassessments, revisions and regroupings, it is still possible to achieve through technology placed under a system of citizen based democratic governance. This argument though still continues to need to be build further.

This effort, the big why, is still to directly provide resources and connections to supportive groups to members of a community in creating new community paradigms on their own  of their community through community governance by the members of that community, with or without city hall.

The primary focus is on citizen based democratic governance, more specifically direct participative democracy as featured in the Governance through Community wiki section and related blog post.  Although having a technologically adept community is important in this effort, technology itself takes a supporting not a starring role as discussed here.   We already have the resources necessary to start building  new paradigms for community governance and to enhance the ability to fulfill the economic needs of the community's members as discussed here and here.  What has been missing is the means of utilizing these resources and the community will to do so.

This brings up the at first seemingly unattainable chasm created arguably as a symptom of the current system of local political and economic power.  Most people are not involved enough in their communities to make the necessary changes.  Many currently have zero involvement because they have been turned off by the current system of power which becomes all the more entrenched because people are not involved.  This is a matter of learned helplessness which can be unlearned.

Others continue to try to make changes but are locked out by the current benfactors of politics occupying city hall which often has the appearance of a democratic system but the culture of entrenched power.

In future articles, it will be asserted that this is not as unattainable as may be seemingly apparent.   While members of a community may have different degrees of involvement in their community, it is still possible to organize to generate the necessary community will for change.

For this to be even considered possible one would have to be able to first demonstrate that the current political and economic development system was starting to crumble under its own weight because of its increasing inability to provide true economic benefit to communities and explain why this was happening.  This is not the primary focus for this blog but the media is full of stories of cities going bankrupt and organizations such as Strong Towns arguing that the current template for economic development is a giant ponzi scheme. These stories are often featured in the related Economic Development in San Gabriel plus World Facebook Page and Community Paradigms Twitter feed.  It would also be necessary to argue that continuing on the current path is not sustainable.  This argument can be made for both economic and environmental reasons.

There is though no choice in abandoning the current system, only in trying to determine what will replace it, the quicker, the better.  Those decisions, are in part, already being made by those in power under the current political system of city and municipal government and related economic development benefactors.  They will not only hold on to the old ways as long as possible despite any destructive tendencies, they will also try to mold any replacement of the system not only to their own benefit but in support of the culture entrenched under the current system.  In many cases, the culture of the existing system is so pervasive that the system repels attempts to change it even when someone does try to do so with the best of intentions.  This is the reason for a lack of faith in any politician or political interest that claims to be the only means of bringing about change but only if they are voted in.

This may be like a small drip of water against a giant stone but I know that others are working on this in their own way and if we continue to consistently and persistently work on realizing these new paradigms for our communities we will start seeing desired changes at the most fundamental levels.

Past Posts