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, January 31, 2013

Looking for Non-Experts to Create New Community Innovations then Make sure They are Disruptive

LinkedIn colleague Della Rucker of Wise, who has been featured on these pages before with Seeing Economy and Community as Ecosystem.  Another Way of Shifting the Paradigm, and Breaking through the complications to face the complexities and coming out whole had an article that dealt with issues of interest to this blog.

The article was - Go Find Some Non-Experts. You Probably Need Them which raises questions regarding the role of internal staff versus outside consultants and, what is more important, on the relationship of both as professionals or experts to non-expert pro-amateurs in the community.  

Della believes that “we have an enormous supply of non-experts who can “approach challenges with a clean lens, bringing together diverse experiences, knowledge and opportunities. We call them the Public. They know stuff. They’ve done stuff.”

It is also her belief that “[P}eople who will come up with creative solutions to solve the world’s biggest problems…will NOT be experts in their fields.”  

The person that come to my mind when contemplating expanding beyond the usual cadre of public sector professionals and finding new avenues for innovation is Charles Leadbeater.

The term pro-amateurs comes from Leadbeater.  He presents a major challenge to the exclusive control of the social innovation agenda by the professional and consultancy-based public sector industry.   What I really like though is the idea of community based innovation. 

Innovation is another issue raised in Della’s article.  Della believes this to be important because, “our communities are in a moment where they desperately need what the business world calls “discontinuous innovation,”   

According to ,“Discontinuous Innovation is innovation that, if adopted, requires a significant change in behaviour.”  This brings up an interesting concept of a community creating its own innovation that induces a beneficial change in behavior to implement that innovation.  Creating a positive feedback loop for both the beneficial behavior and the innovation.  

I am looking instead for disruptive innovation within the public sector, particularly at the local community level.  According to, “An innovation is disruptive if it ultimately replaces the technology that preceded it.”  The technology I am focused on is our current institutional form of local community governance.  I will leave the detailed what, how and whys for future posts but will say here that my interest is not based on the potential use of new disruptive innovations by institutions of city government but that those same institutions are prone to being disrupted in a similar manner to companies that end up being disrupted because they have an entrenched and restricted growth pattern that is unsustainable.  

The connection with Della’s focus on discontinuous innovation is that some communities may not be capable of discontinuous innovation until their institutions are innovatively disrupted, whether those institutions do it for themselves or it is done to them.  

They also connect in a more fundamental manner.  According to Innovation-Creativity.comDisruptive innovation initially underperforms along these dimensions. They introduce products and services that are not as good as what exists in the market, but which are simpler in function, more convenient and cheaper on the pocket than existing items.”  

Discontinuous innovation addresses the question “if we have to change our behaviour then why would we want to use such a new technology and the answer is that the new technology creates substantial new benefits for its users.”  

This gets to one of the basic concepts of disruptive innovation and that is the job-to-be-done.  More on that in the future but for now it means that if a discontinuous innovation creates a more convenient and cheaper way of doing things which is seen as creating substantial new benefits for a community, despite being labeled as “not as good” by the professionals in city hall, it has the potential of being disruptive.  Conversely, a disruptive innovation that finds a more convenient and cheaper means of doing the job-to-be-done sought by the community could potentially create the means of changing the behavior of the members of the community and therefore the community itself.  City hall does not have to be in the picture.

The conundrum is creating a sustainable albeit amorphous body of non-expert pro-amateurs derived from the community that will effectively implement discontinuous innovation beneficial to the community.  First is the obstacle of getting far enough up the Ladder of Citizen Participation (Sherry R. Arnstein) to attain Citizen Control.  Then it is working within the complexities of local and regional economics development.  Assuming the city hall in question has not put up obstacles regarding participation, it is then a matter of accessing these community resources and effectively using them.  No simple tasks by any means. 

Della recognizes that trying to find these living community resources through large, usually city hall sponsored, gatherings often only gives the illusion of participation.  

We have to set them up to succeed Controlling axe-grinders ain’t enough.”  We have to start doing real public engagement. 

As Della has said elsewhere:

“We need to give them the opportunity -- and in many cases, a push. By push, I mean that we can set up public engagement activities to push people to think deeper -- we can structure the feedback methods, for example, so that people have to identify their position's ties to larger issues, or its potential unintended consequences.  I frankly think that we're selling them short if we don't create an opportunity for as many as possible to given the best insights of which they are capable.”

For myself, the next step is to create a disruptive model of such innovation that can be used by communities to create new community paradigms for themselves.  There will still be a role for the economic development professional though not based on a top down or outside-inside model. The function of the professional is going to have to change dramatically in relation with the community becoming more of facilitator for community empowerment while at the same time becoming all the more creative in community building.  More, however, needs to be said about creating community engagement.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Boomers to Remain Part of the Community Paradigms

Strong Towns, one of the organizations supported within these pages, has recently featured a couple of articles regarding Baby Boomers.  Charles Marohn, better known as Chuck, the Executive Director of Strong Towns, has had a couple of posts on the subject of Baby Boomers.  This is a significant issue for me and a major impetus for creating this blog.  

The first was a Best of Blog series under the banner which asked Can Baby Boomers be part of the solution?  The question was posed in a less confrontational manner than an article I cited in my Reader Comments “Generational Warfare: The Case Against Parasitic Baby Boomers”.  

Chuck actually asked two questions.  Are the majority in the Baby Boom generation capable of substantively reforming America's current set of institutions, systems and programs?  

My answer to this question is yes, contingent on understanding that you don’t need the majority, most will remain uninvolved, but a large portion of Boomers who realize a need for change because of where the world ended up.  It is also depends upon Boomers not being isolated or alone in their efforts to create positive change.

Is it reasonable to expect those Baby Boomers with power and wealth, in positions of authority, such as elected office to substantively reform the institutions, systems and programs they came to control?  

First, most Boomers are not in this position.  They are not the ones who created the auto-centric development pattern or failed to fund pension systems.  They are, admittedly, the ones who made what seemed to be the best choices at the time for their families depending upon promises made for working within the system.  Many now see the viability of alternative systems of development and governance.  Many more, I believe, could be persuaded. 

Beyond this, I find the possibility more doubtful.  The problem from my perspective is not one of generations but of systems.  We are beyond the tail end of a system that has far outlived its arguably usefulness for most.  Unfortunately, it is those in power, very often on city councils, that keep perpetuating this system of oil dependent development.  Changing this will require to my mind social forms of disruptive innovation, like radically revising our current forms of municipal city council governments.

The next article, which was more declarative, was at Strong Town Networks on Generational Change (you need to join to see this but it is worth doing particularly because it is now free) which cited an article asserting that, “Behind the fiscal cliff is a struggle between racially diverse millennials and aging white baby boomers”.  In this article, Chuck raises a more philosophical point for discussion.

There is a quip attributed to Winston Churchill that goes something like this: If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative when you are old, you have no brain.  American society seems ready to test that insight.

According to some sources, including Wikiquote, Churchill didn’t say it. Quips often sound good when rolled off the tongue but a little digging can get to the heart of things.

"Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains."
  • Often attributed to Winston Churchill ([5]). The phrase originated with Francois Guisot (1787-1874): "Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." It was revived by French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929): "Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head."
Someone also pointed out that this did not fit with Churchill’s own life. He entered politics as a Conservative and was a Conservative at age 25. He switched to the Liberal Party at age 29 and was a Liberal at age 35. (He returned to the Conservatives at age 49.)” Further, it can fairly be said that Churchill's political viewpoint and guiding principles did not change radically, despite his twice switching his allegiance.

What is more important for the generational discussion, was that it was put forward during times in history, including Churchill’s, when people had the good manners to pass away at around 60 years of age or before.  Now everyone has to deal with Boomers sticking around for another 20 years of so as one of the larger population bumps in history.  Thereby putting pressure on our retirement systems.  The quip is often put in 20 year segments, liberal at 20 and conservative at 40.  Many Boomers are now 60 bringing on a whole new perspective.   

The biggest question is not whether we should apply this to ourselves as individuals but whether we can apply to ourselves as a society.  Does it bode well for our society to have Boomers become more conservative?  A recent Los Angeles Times article, “Parties' role reversal complicates spending debates” emphasizes the divisions between Boomers and Millennials, as does the article “Behind the fiscal cliff is a struggle between racially diverse millennials and aging white baby boomers”.  I personally found the photo in the article particularly ironic, but that’s just me. 

The 'fiscal cliff' drama highlighted how the small-government GOP now relies on older people who use entitlement programs created by the Democratic Party, which is now favored by the young.

This is dependent though upon following partisan politics and not looking for community based solutions.  There are those making the case that Boomers and Millennials can work together in building solutions to challenges facing our society.  

Sometime ago, during my more personal blogging phase, I also had questions on the role of Boomers in building the future and whether it was a matter of “Boomers Ruling the Old World or Helping to Raise Up a New One”.  I wanted and still want to choose a new one.  

The Gig - FORTUNE on had an article “Money v. meaningful work, the battle continuesfeaturing Tamara Erickson, now Founder & CEO of Tammy Erickson Associates and provided a hopeful scenario of Boomer and Generation Y collaboration in the workplace.  

...Tamara Erickson — one of our recurring Gig experts and president of the Concours Institute — says shows that Yers value expertise above all else, including authority. Meaning that, a lot of the time, we’ll take the old guy with great stories and good advice over the younger one with a big title. So for those senior folks in the public sector or nonprofit world, retaining their Yers may just be a matter of sharing a few tales about the lives they’ve changed.

A Salon article on How to solve the boomer retirement crisis from February 2012 recognizes that, “If boomer retirees keep flooding suburbs, the cost of providing for them soars” and asks “Can we get them to cities, instead?”

For instance, a big issue for seniors is range — how far they can comfortably get from their homes. In cities, that often boils down to where’s the next bench, and where’s the next bathroom? So when San Francisco tears out its public seating to keep the homeless from sitting down (a dubious policy anyway), it inadvertently creates an environment hostile to older people.
Again, you have evidence that this should be seen as a systems problem despite it being put into generational terms “You’ve got this whole generation that moved to the suburbs thanks to government subsidies,” says Howard Gleckman, author of “Caring for Our Parents” and a fellow at the Urban Institute. “They got tax breaks for moving there and now they’re staying.” Even city-dwelling boomers — up to 65 percent of them — head for the land of the lawns once the kids move out.

I appreciated and shared that Hazel Borys (@hborys) of PlaceMakers recognized that both “Boomers + GenY want something the housing market isn't providing: 1-3 BR small homes in walkable, transit-rich, job-rich places. #cplan” and should therefore be able to work together on a common future.
An SFGate article from December of the past year asserts that, “Baby Boomers likely no drag on economy.”  While this can be argued, it does make the point of seeing these challenges as opportunities.  

The one question a startup doesn't want to get from its board of directors is this one: 'Why did you leave money on the table by ignoring a market of 100 million people with $3.5 trillion to spend?’

Returning to the How to solve the boomer retirement crisis article and someone to whom the Boomers should have paid more attention. 

“Cities need old buildings,” Jane Jacobs famously wrote in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”  “Chain stores, chain restaurants, and banks go into new construction. But neighborhood bars, foreign restaurants and pawn shops … studios, galleries, stores for musical instruments and art supplies … these go into old buildings.” Her point was that what serves a purpose in cities isn’t always readily apparent. Cities need the giddy energy of youthful upstarts and the stability of middle-aged workers and parents. But just as as we’re surprised to learn that they sometimes need a McDonald’s, we find that they need old people, too.

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