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.

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.

Past Posts