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, 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.

Past Posts