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.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why D.I. (Disruptive Innovation) in the Public Sector and Community Governance

In the last post, a strategy of applying Professor Clayton Christensen’s Theory of Disruptive Innovation to the public sector and community governance was raised. More needs to be done but the question that needs to be asked more directly is “why?” What are the big problems that Disruptive Innovation or a D.I. approach has the potential to solve that will likely remain beyond our grasp without it? Does it even matter why one innovates, let alone disrupts in the public sector?

Several premises need to be set before addressing this question. The first is that numerous communities are in serious financial difficulties. The second is that a very sizable portion of those problems are due to decisions made in the past by leaders, both public sector and political, in city halls based on auto-centric and accelerated growth fueled by debt resulting in an overabundance and misalignment of retail space relative to the economic needs of communities, not to mention the problems that accompany that. Third, the economy is a complex system and becoming more complex not only with exotic financing mechanisms but the innumerable basic interactions of business transactions by autonomous agents across a global stage. Fourth, this complexity is feeding and is fed by the realignment of the economy to metropolitan areas around the globe, which do not have their own level of representative government. Fifth, that smaller local governments are, it can be argued, in too many cases doubling down on past bad decisions, and seeking to maintain control through overly complicated processes based on twentieth century management making them incapable of addressing complex, wicked challenges of the twenty-first century. Sixth, that as a result city halls can become entrenched over time in which, despite the appearance of democratic inclusion, community engagement becomes more and more of a whitewash, effectively disengaging, disenfranchising and disempowering people over time. The result is that our communities fall further behind. A follow up premise at seven is that due to the financial difficulties facing communities and the role that public sector pensions play, in large measure due to decisions made by those holding power in local government institutions, the nature of public sector employment will change and therefore the nature and essence of local community governance. The choices are between that which is most likely to be played out being local community services are provided in an increasingly commodified manner by McGovernment type institutions and constituents become customers hoping for resolution of problems through call centers with no real hope of meaningful input or alternatively a means is devised to instill community members with the capacity of being true co-creators of democracy and having a meaningful role in the creation of their communities.

This is an extensive list and communities don’t necessarily interact directly with the first three on the list but the shifting of economic concentration through what the Brookings Institute is calling the Metropolitan Revolution does have an impact upon smaller but far more numerous communities. The inability of community members to change the direction or enhance the ability of their community because of power held by a few is also of direct consequences. Individual communities will vary in the degree to which they see themselves falling under each premise, some far more so than others.

To innovate or not is one question and it seems logical that communities would want to innovate to optimize providing better services based on the wishes of the community while holding down costs. To disrupt, and to integrate and apply that disruption through a process of innovation is another question.

For the entrepreneur working for economic reasons, the answer why apply disruptive innovation is obvious, once you understand how disruptive innovation works. It permits one to build a company from nothing that can go on to dominate a market. It’s the most effective way to innovate as a means of generating tremendous wealth. In business it could be argued, the reasons to disrupt make intuitive sense. It may be more matter though of disruptive innovation being an inherent organizing principle in economics whether the entrepreneur or market entrant has a full understanding or not. System elements within a business environment if aligned properly, including the creation of ‘asymmetries of motivation,' or perhaps incentives would be a better term in this case, will more likely result in disruption of the market in question. This raises the hypothesis that disruptive innovation could be brought about by design.

The asymmetries ascribed by Christensen cause the creation of noncompetitive space between the entrant and incumbent. The entrant initially goes after customers that the incumbent has no interest in but that is not enough, the entrant must also continually attract those of diminishing interest. If the entrant is not able over time to pull away customers from the incumbent there will be no disruption, only a new niche market. The entrant invariably works from the bottom of the market up forcing the incumbent to circle their wagons around an ever smaller number of high-end users until they also jump ship and the incumbent folds. This process of progressively moving up, however, does not need to be readily apparent at the start.

It is the entrant, entrepreneur or startup firm, who is incentivized to move or to react to the different elements of the business environment moving them into alignment through management processes to result in the disruption. This is done though by incentivizing customers or users to adopt a specific solution to a specific Job-To-Be-Done or JTBD of the customer which the incumbent has failed to adequately address. Overall, this starts as a limited or narrowly focused solution meaning that only a small part of the market will choose the entrant over the incumbent but overtime through technical improvements, proper management, greater customer education and acceptance and most importantly that this occurs within a noncompetitive field due to the “asymmetries of motivation” there is a transformation from scarcity to abundance not only for the individual participants of the system, particularly the entrant and customers (incumbents, not so much) but for the economic system overall. If the right solution can be found for the true JTBD of the constituent as opposed to ‘it doesn't come in that size’ approach of incumbents, little outside motivation is required and users become co-marketers and in some cases co-innovators.

The value created for the customer in fulfilling the JTBD does not exist before the disruption and is great enough to substantially improve the economic value of both the customer and entrant and especially the monetary assets of the entrant, all of which in combination are greater than the loss of economic value of the incumbent which are for the most part transferred to the entrant and customers.

What about in public service and community governance? There is a long list of specific issues that could be addressed to consider. Do we first prioritize? Which is more important, introducing more self-service options for government, building community engagement, changing how we select representatives and the rules of engagement for their terms, fixing a corrupt tax system, or figuring out a way to get our debt under control? Is basic infrastructure, roads, bridges, or is border control more important or the social safety net? Why are we unable to balance the books? Why are people disengaged or feel they aren’t empowered and that government is the enemy? Are there limits to good governance?

There is very unlikely a D.I. magic bullet which addresses all of these but then that should not be expected. At this stage, it is not even necessary to directly determine the means of addressing any of these and even if we did, it would likely be a sustaining innovation without an organizing principle of disruption behind it. Much of the success of D.I. in the private market is more apparent in hindsight and solutions to JTBD are only fully understood after they have been adapted and adopted for some time. No one should assume limits to what could be created as possible solutions in the future. It can also be proposed that the list of issues raised above are in reality more from or in reaction to an incumbent led perspective and that what is needed is to take some time to apply design thinking methodologies to create better JTBD solutions focused directly on the perspective of the community and its members. Without a D.I. perspective, the more likely approach is to simply wait for the next sustaining innovation to appear which in reality does nothing to change the nature of community governance and especially not that of entrenched community government institutions. What should be examined more closely are more general factors defining the application of disruptive innovation to the public sector.

There should be expected to be fundamental differences between using D.I. in the private market economy and the public sector. The driving incentive of private market disruptive innovation is the personal motivation of the entrepreneurial entrant. D.I. can also, however, be viewed from a systems perspective made up by the relevant components of the economy or business environment in which the D.I. could potentially occur.

The organizing principle of D.I. is admittedly not as great within the public sector or community based governance as it is within the private market economy. It could not be assumed but instead would have to be purposely applied. The intention is to argue that this is needed to bring about the desired paradigm level changes needed by our communities.

Would it be possible to create something similar to the “asymmetries of motivation” within the public sector and at the same time address relevant community based JTBD or civic issues that could be scaled? Could a comparable shift from scarcity to abundance be made within an environment, with which community governance was concerned, by the community itself?

If the answer is even a possible yes, if the deliberative design of disruptive innovation could be applied to the creation of new community paradigms then this strategy should be pursued. There is no expectation of quick fixes by sudden bursts of D.I. insight. Community advocates, those incentivized to take on a D.I. perspective, could though raise the potential of innovative disruption shifting, at a community level, a field of scarcity and abundance over time. At first through disrupting innovations as opposed to disruptive innovations in that the former do directly challenge the incumbent or through basically outside sustaining innovation efforts of organizations such as Code for America. The public sector incumbent can then choose to oppose or adopt the specific innovation. One example of disrupting innovation is the Building a Better Block approach initiated often through a Tactical Urbanist perspective. These, by themselves, may not though result in the paradigm level changes that are coming but that will not be defined in a manner of our choosing if left to their own devices. Going beyond these though is not something that can be done after the fact. An approach featuring an organizing principle of natural community inclusion which did not require the blessings of any entrenched city hall would be arguably optimal.

An outside of city hall, grassroots generated from the community approach which incorporated a disruptive innovation perspective would have the potential to take these ideas, recombine them, re-adapt them, re-apply them through better focused JTBD solutions in an environment of imposed 'asymmetries of motivation’ with an overall long term objective of establishing far more expansive use of radical, or as recognized by this effort fundamental, community engagement. What needs to be developed next is who and how and what determines them? The particulars of this theory of disruptive innovation in the public sector and community governance, such as JTBD or how incumbent businesses and entrenched city halls have equivalent roles in a system of disruptive innovation, despite having no other commonalities, needs to be developed further.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Applying Disruptive Innovation within the Public Sector and Community Governance

In this post an argument for applying lessons learned from Professor Clayton Christensen’s Theory of Disruptive Innovation to the public sector and in particular community governance will begin to be developed. This has been on the back-burner for a good while and most of the work that resulted in this has come from discussions and readings provided through colleagues in the Disruptive Innovation group and more recently Disruption by Design group on LinkedIn.

In the previous Innovation Through Community; Innovation By Community post, the difficulty in generating more meaningful innovation within the public sector due to structural system problems with our current form of local institutions of government was raised. A means needs to be found that not only implements the change being sought but that also disrupts the elements of the system working to stop that change. Unlike past politically based forms of disruption which were usually disrupt first then innovate after, a way needs to be found by which the innovation and disruption occur simultaneously, that shifts the balance of influence through a process of innovation that entrenched institutions of government have minimal means to stop. The post following after made the case against Entrenched City Halls and why they can fail communities despite having the appearance of being democratic.

Developing a theory of disruptive innovation within the public sector will be difficult because disruptive innovation has become such a misused term, especially within the public sector. Most examples of disruptive innovation cited by the public sector are mislabeled either purposely or inadvertently, usually to make a more persuasive sounding argument for something. We are not looking for the next disruptive product or disruptive service or disruptive technological advancement but a continual means of innovation (which could include technical or management processes) by some form of disruptor, be it an entrepreneur or other change agent, that drastically bends the growth curve up, substantially shifting the value inherent within the system from one of scarcity to abundance and thereby disrupts the current system.

So it needs to be made clear that we are endeavoring to utilize the concepts of disruptive innovation as developed by Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard University. A section of the New Community Paradigms wiki has been set aside to gather additional resources related to disruptive innovation. This will not be a comprehensive examination though. The stories of companies such as Apple, as a disruptor or Kodak, as the disrupted, are known and this post will leave telling the specifics of such stories to others. The intricate details of the theory will also be left to others. This post will focus on laying a foundation how disruptive innovation can be applied to the public sector by describing elements of the process and how and why it can disrupt certain components of a system in question and at the same time transform the relationship between scarcity and abundance for other components of the system in question.

Once that is established, we will then need to later determine boundaries as to where the theory can identify applicable factors that can be applied across different systems. As Professor Clayton devised his theory based on the workings of private free-market economics, its application to the public sector will be done by finding the most robust analogies between the two systems. Even if the application of disruptive innovation to the public sector is primarily figurative, it should still have the potential to have an impact upon the system and therefore able to cause meaningful change.

Another problem with explaining the concept of disruptive innovation as a process which could be purposely applied is that on the surface it is not intuitive and how it gets one from point A to point B is not readily apparent until one digs deeper. This is in part why it is effective because the industries or the companies within them being disrupted do not realize the threat and the resulting disruption seems to come out of nowhere. It is all the more effective though because after a certain point, along the path of innovation discerned by Christensen, little can be done to prevent the disruption and its inevitability becomes clearer in hindsight. This is also one of the ways the public sector misses the essential aspects of disruptive innovation. It is not just a matter of creating a brand new mousetrap for the world and everyone beating a path to your door. Someone or something finds itself being prone to being disrupted in the process putting organizations of all types in the position of being the guy at the poker table who does not know who the sucker is.

Stories of disruptive innovation can start off as the David and Goliath sort. Disruptors, entrepreneurs or startup firms, play the role of David with seemingly meager weapons and the incumbent, as in the well established, undisputedly in power, market leader, sometimes even iconic business with a long history of financial success and domination over the market assumes the role of Goliath. In some ways disruptive innovation may be more like stories of Popeye and Bluto when Popeye finds the spinach but what the spinach is changes with each new and different innovation. (I am a Baby Boomer, Google it if it’s not familiar)

The incumbent market leaders or the Goliaths and Blutos, once they are established, appear to remain unbeatable because they are the ones coming up with sustaining innovations, the ones proclaimed as new and improved in the advertising. This is when one most often hears empty claims of disruptive innovation being made as in not only new and improved but super new and improved. This means that their customers and especially high-end users continually get better service through features with better quality and improved reliability making them the safe bet. These improvements can be small and incremental or significant but they are targeted to the already defined customer base with the intention of making the base population larger at the price point set by the business or to raise the price point high enough so that even if less customers are added in numbers the overall profit for the company goes up. Customers that show loyalty by being able and willing to pay the price for the standard offering or better yet move up to the premium offering are rewarded. Those not included within this relationship are left behind to no obvious detriment to either the chosen customers or incumbent business. People get use to Goliath or Bluto being the biggest badass in town and assume it will remain that way.

Disruptive innovations or DIs, led by the Davids and Popeyes, are seen as overall inferior or underperforming solutions compared to those being provided by the market or sector leaders. Where DI agents are able to begin to compete is on a different set of benefits, such as simplicity, convenience, accessibility, significantly lower price, or ease of use that satisfy a need either not met or underserved by the incumbent market leaders. By doing so, they create what Clayton Christensen termed “asymmetries of motivation” and a new dimension of value.

This new dimension of value can be created in two ways, first through low-end disruption which means offering lower quality or performance, perhaps missing features, though at substantially lower costs making it appealing to users who can’t afford or can’t access, or new users, along with others, that don't need the full features of the incumbent market solution.

The new dimension of value can also be created through new market disruptions that provide the means to accomplish a new category of previously unrealized objectives or goals with which the incumbent has decided or defaulted to not compete. It is good enough though to meet the particular customer’s goal or what has been termed in disruptive innovation literature as the Job-To-Be-Done or JTBD. A DI directly addresses some JTBD of the customer at an acceptable price making them willing to put up with the lack of features or quality as compared to the incumbent offering.

The incumbents ability to offer sustaining innovations to its defined customer base only cements its position as long as it offers them at a pace that keeps it ahead of whatever competition it may have. Incumbents create the products or services to be bought and the market reacts within the confines of this solution choosing between better or worse alternatives. Customers adjust themselves to optimize their use of the solution offered, not the other way around. Incumbents over time mold customers expectations and train them to become dependent upon the incumbents offerings and stop seeing the possibility of alternative solutions. At some point though these sustaining innovations stop making a difference and buying decisions become based solely on price, the one providing the best offering at the lowest price becomes king of the hill.

There is, however, still those who are not being served, or are being underserved and sometime even over-served by the incumbent business. If the DI agent goes after these customers then the incumbent sees no reason to compete. Initial offerings to these customers can be seen as mere toys flying below the radar of the incumbent market leaders.

When David or Popeye start off, they and their customers may have no idea of the full potential of the innovation that they are offering. This is where the DI agent finds his sling or spinach. What it does is provide a track for continual, while still sustaining, innovation has the very important difference that it is within a noncompetitive arena with the incumbent business allowing Popeye to pop open the can of spinach unhampered.

This is where disruptive innovation has its greatest impact because this new dimension of value is what moves the value inherent in the system from a state of scarcity to abundance. It is at this point that truly meaningful change could start to be implemented.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Entrenched City Halls Defined then Disrupted

In the last blog post, the idea of combining disruption and innovation was suggested as a strategy for implementing New Community Paradigms in communities in which politically controlled bureaucratic government institutions are entrenched.

This post will provide clarification as to what is meant by an entrenched city hall or a politically controlled bureaucratic government institution that is no longer serving the community by reviewing past arguments made over the course of this effort.

The potential push for disruption against an arguably entrenched city hall is based first on the philosophical premise that the democratic basis for the power of governance is based not on the authority of government institutions but on civil society.

The idea of ‘entrenched city hall’ started taking form back in 2011 with Why is this so hard? It's complicated and it's complex but that's OK which promoted the idea of a community creating its own community paradigms despite the complexity of doing so.

There has been an unstated assumption throughout the posts of this blog that ‘City Hall’ has failed to adequately address the need for an economically and environmentally sustainable and livable community. That is obviously not going to be true for all cities and the degree to which it is will be different from city to city. In some cases the effort will find a willing partner and the collaboration will create a new more expansive form of community governance. In other cases there will be push back from the incumbent institutional government. The key issue is whether City Hall truly represents the community as a whole or only special interests or privileged key community members. If it is the later, then there are pathways that can be taken to weaken and subsequently disrupt that control in a sustained and innovative manner.

For this to happen requires greater Community Governance - Third Path to City Government, a move away from current entrenched forms of closed city government to more open forms of community-based governance. It also requires recognizing, as did Governance by the Community or Not - Getting with or past City Hall that:

There is a difference though between governance and government. New community paradigms does 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 work is another challenge for new community paradigms.

The idea is that the community itself makes more of the decisions directly through some system of direct deliberative democracy or a hybrid with the current system rather than indirectly through a mayor and city council system. Support for such an approach will be considered in greater detail in the future but for now the focus for this post is on the factors involved when Community Governance Takes On City Hall in determining the balance of influence between political leaders, public sector and the community at large. 


The standard argument is the degree to which the process of running communities should be by politicians or by the public sector. This can, however, be a false choice as politicians and the public sector or bureaucrats often come together in a disjointed form of control in which city council members use their political power to force short term decisions that make poor long term sense for the community and city management works to protect the political self-interests of the city council members. Even when this is not overtly excessive, it can still significantly define the culture of city hall.

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. 


The second problem with the standard approach to institutionalized community government is that it can discourage ongoing community participation in city government as A Ladder of Citizen Participation by Sherry R. Arnstein explains.


The usual claims that change can come about through elections every four years have little merit as there may be in reality minimal opportunities for true community participation between elections and elections are always under processes controlled by the status quo power culture. Not necessarily in mechanical terms of voter suppression or such but by the culture already instilled by the daily process of city hall control that results effectively in disenfranchisement. Worse, any successful election of a new slate of officials 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 status quo power system stays in place.

Again, it should be stated that there is no claim that this situation applies to all cities or even in the fullest extent to a substantial number. It does happen though and one of the worst examples has been the City of Bell though on the positive side Bell can also be seen as An Example of Civic Renewal From Broken City.

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 having an impact on the public, whether intentional or through negligence.


This argues that new alternative methods of community transformation need to be developed to change the balance of power in favor of a broad based community vision and away from entrenched city hall bureaucratic politics when the supposedly democratic process has become corrupted not through blatant illegalities but through the small corruptions of a system turned to protecting itself at all costs and turning away from the real needs of the community.

It should be recognized though that arguing against the existing system is different from arguing for a system proposed to replace it. That will still continue to be needed to be done in future posts. There are though additional challenges beyond getting past an entrenched city hall.

This blog has advocated for ‘radical’ community engagement and through it far greater inclusion of Non-Experts to Create New Community Innovations.

This has its own set of challenges:

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 benefactors 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.


Finally, many city halls constituted under the current form of local government structure are becoming increasingly unable to adequately address the ‘wicked problems’ facing our communities because it means adopting a complex approach to finding solutions as opposed to the more traditional, complicated, machine based approach as was argued in Complexity as Cradle for Creativity and Innovation.

Public Sector organizations though, particularly at a local level, are often not able to do this as well. Instead, reacting to protect their status they end up imposing unseen additional layers of complicated or closed processes that are essentially subconscious from an organizational perspective that in time become culturally implicit. It is a means of maintaining power by becoming entrenched as a system both operationally and culturally. This is why so many local city halls or other public sector organizations prefer the more traditional organization as machine approach in which complexity is seen as chaos and why community engagement in some communities remains stuck at the bottom rungs of Arnstein’s Ladder.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Innovation Through Community; Innovation By Community

One of the underlying concepts running through this endeavor to create New Community Paradigms has been the concept of innovation. It has been alluded to a number of times and it has been an implicit component of this effort. It has not been dealt with explicitly or directly though. This blog began by exploring newly discovered arenas for understanding how we build communities, such as placemaking, community ecology, economic gardening, and radical community engagement to obtain a better understanding of them. Especially with community, considerable time was spent considering different means of community governance, whether by city hall through community, by community without city hall, or community in opposition to city hall. It also began exploring different approaches to these areas of concern including systems thinking and design thinking.

Innovation has recently been connected with community engagement and community empowerment. Innovation has also been connected with complexity. The focus has been on the hurdles to innovation, one being complexity, but made far worse by being entangled in an entrenched system of politically controlled bureaucratic institutions. The focus has also been on seeking avenues for community innovation by embracing complexity through the community itself. There is a proposed dynamic relationship between complexity, community and innovation.

The original intent of this effort remains to establish a foothold in society and especially in local communities for the creation of something new, original and important in community governance. It is to come up with a process of creating and bringing together novel ideas in such a manner that they have a meaningful affect on community and on society. It goes beyond seeking to improve what is already existing by doing them better. Instead it looks for ways of doing things differently by rethinking how we use our community resources, all resources available to the community not just those provided by government. This is an approach tailored to fit the definition of innovation put forth by Wikipedia.

There have been though a number of examples of those striving for innovation in diverse and multiple arenas provided through the New Community Paradigms wiki. Innovation in Governance features the HBR Insight Center: Knock Down Barriers to Innovation to help identify innovation obstacles that have been hiding in plain sight and show surprising ways to overcome them. Examples of innovation also include those involved through community governance, including the Kettering Foundation: What Does It Take for Democracy to Work as It Should? and the Involve Foundation. Community change agencies seek to embrace innovation, such as Innovation in the UK - Nesta and the Centre for Civil Society which through social innovation seeks the empowerment of ordinary people and strengthening of civil society. (This effort often goes beyond our own shores to find new ideas)

Communities working to establish livable and healthy communities may do so through efforts such as Philips – Looking beyond solutions to create meaningful innovation, or can work to create environmentally sustainable communities in cooperation with organizations like the HUD Sustainable Communities Resource Center which assists in fostering local innovation.

In the economic development arena KnowYourRegion.org through the U.S. Economic Development Administration, explores regional and local approaches to business innovation and competitiveness across the United States. Also enhancing economic and business development are Small Business Innovation Research, and Innovation in American Regions: Tools for Economic Development.

Through the idea that communities manifest place as both economic and social engines, organizations such as Strong Towns can seek to take innovative approaches. CEOs for Cities provides “a civic lab of today's urban leaders catalyzing a movement to advance the next generation of great American cities to excel in the areas most critical to urban success: talent, connections, innovation and distinctiveness.”

Innovation sought in the social realm and public sector can occur at different levels with for example the APTA (American Public Transportation Association) working to strengthen and improve public transportation through advocacy, innovation and information sharing at a national level, while organizations such as the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation can contribute to the creation of the Model Design Manual for Living Streets for local implementation.

Even community arts can seek to embrace innovation through organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports “artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities”, or BGL Architecture, which through the BGL Team was involved in “expanding beyond art and using design public programs, experiments, and installation to explore how the interventions and innovations that decentralize, decelerate, localize, and democratize communities can reinvent urbanity...”.

Undoubtedly, many of these claims of innovation could be questioned even attacked or discounted as lacking or self-serving marketing, particularly those made by government institutions. These are still though available resources and innovation calls for the better use of resources to generate and utilize any resulting novel ideas in beneficial ways.

The objective is still to provide these as potential resources that are not to be seen as the exclusive property of government institutions but rather redefined as being for the benefit of anyone seeking to remake their community, whether that be as a source of information, or of advocacy or of direct action. Now begins the additional task of determining how to use them in a comprehensive manner.

There is still something missing though. The ability to be innovative in concept is not enough if it cannot be implemented because of the structural problems with our current form of local institutional governments. This means not only implementing the change being sought but also disrupting the system working to stop that change. Most attempts have been to first innovate and then hope the disruption will be far reaching having a substantial affect on our system of community governance. Unfortunately, the innovations in community governance or community building and development implemented so far have been what are termed sustaining innovations, so that while beneficial have had little to no affect on redefining the larger system. It only makes sense to work within the system if the system is working for you. If it is not or is only ostensibly doing so then deeper changes at a paradigm level may be needed. It is not a viable option, however, to first attempt to impose disruption and then implement innovation afterwards. A way needs to be found by which the innovation and disruption occur simultaneously, that shifts the balance of influence through a process of innovation that entrenched institutions of government have minimal means to stop.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Connecting Complexity with Community

So far the overall approach in the exploration of complexity by this blog has been from more of a business perspective. Complexity is seen as one of the major challenges for business in the twenty-first century by, among others, both the Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the Economist Intelligence Unit. Three posts coming from very different perspectives, and while none gave a full picture of complexity, together they form something that begins to look like an elephant.

The first of the three separate perspectives on complexity was from a global, systems approach. The second examined the industrial approach of the twentieth century, now seen as being inadequate to the challenge of addressing complexity. (One note before moving beyond management based on complicated, mechanistic processes as opposed to complex processes. A substantial part of the world is still based on algorithmic processes that can be managed through a command and control approach. The argument is not that this management approach is no longer relevant. It is that it should not be applied over the long term to complex challenges.) The third perspective began moving towards a twenty-first-century approach by demonstrating some of the weaknesses in the industrial models of the last century.

More still needs to be said though about the twenty-first-century approach set forth in part by the HBR articles Embracing Complexity An Interview with Michael J. Mauboussin by Tim Sullivan and Learning to Live with Complexity by Gökçe Sargut and Rita Gunther McGrath. These HBR articles from 2011 require us to understand that complexity is largely unpredictable and therefore unmanageable using a traditional management framework and methodologies based on reductionist approaches and "machine" analogies. The twenty-first-century approach requires managers to instead set clear limits and goals than to a large extent "let go" while still providing support systems to the people implementing solutions to assist them to 'self-organize' toward that well-defined end. It requires respecting that those closest to the problem understand the required actions. What is more important is recognizing that this isn't a straight line process. It is a process that requires establishing more trust as opposed to greater control.

We are reaching the point that almost every issue in business is by its nature complex with numerous 'actors' and an ever-changing internal and external environment resulting in the creation of an adaptive system. The same is true for communities as well. Complexity for both businesses and communities is in large part complexity created by adaptive systems as studied by the UCLA Adaptive Systems Laboratory or by Scott Page, Professor of Complexity, Political Science and Economics at University of Michigan and external Santa Fe Institute faculty, who has been cited previously in the posts Systems Thinking as a disciplined process for Community Governance and New Community Paradigms Thinking Requires Systems Thinking. There is still the need though to connect in a meaningful way to the community. Complexity, although it may not be perceived as an apparent direct threat, is still a significant problem for communities.

The biggest problems facing communities today are seen as complex and difficult enough to earn the label ‘wicked’. Complexity can have even greater negative effects without the community realizing that it exists by hiding the true sources of problems while at the same time obscuring avenues to possible solutions. It becomes worse if the institutions responsible for addressing complex problems are unable to correctly ascertain the nature of those problems and are inadequate to addressing them continuing with the same failed approaches and false assurances. Complexity is a problem for communities when local conditions appearing or made to appear simple or if complicated under control give a false sense of security while the larger environment is in truth complex creating unforeseen and detrimental effects. Complexity is a problem for communities if fear and misunderstanding, sometimes propagated by government institutions, whether implicitly or explicitly, keeps the community from realizing that the source of creativity and innovation within their community is connected to complexity. That while their active involvement can increase complexity overall, it will at the same time make complexity far more coherent (see Complexity Addressed From On High).

Organizations dealing with large populations have difficulty managing or even understanding complexity because they are not able to see the myriad of interrelationships within the environment or ecosystem that makes complexity a reality. The most complex aspect of the world facing both businesses and governments today is the necessity of dealing with multiple free agents or what are more commonly known as customers and constituents. Over time, more and more people are moving from being passive recipients of directed by market desires to having an impact on their world by being engaged creators of community. This may be actually more true of the economic realm than it is in the political realm where so many merely serve as paying cheerleaders for a particular political party or candidate or remain effectively disempowered or disenfranchised or merely disinterested because no actions result in meaningful change.

One can imagine an individual in a community with little involvement in the community’s civic matters, perhaps due to the difficulty of working through the politics or bureaucracy of city hall, sitting in a traffic jam with no idea of what is occurring ahead of him. He might fume about the price of gasoline and wish for more roads to be built to solve his traffic problems or about climate change but likely if one asked about the role of complexity the response would be a blank stare. In the mind of this community, member traffic is not complex, it is merely tedious forcing one to wait for apparently no reason. The price of gasoline is not complex, it just goes up. Climate change is not complex either, just big businesses polluting too much but what can you do? None of it is worth bothering about since nothing can be done, at least not by members of the community like him. It is not even particularly apparent how it is all interrelated, so where do you start? Dealing with City Hall and trying to get anything done through it and their experts. who we supposedly hire or elect to solve these problems, now that is complex.

Individuals alone, regardless of the level of authority, cannot address a high degree of complexity within a system, whether that system is one that arose naturally or one that was created, only another system can through a natural or an organizational interface. Individuals though are at the heart of such a system which often means working collaboratively through a network.

The point that needs to be stressed is that complexity should not and cannot be ignored or deferred. That it should not be seen as an ominous dark cloud sucking creativity and life out of everything. It should not even be seen as a problem but as an opportunity. Even though the perspective provided by the systematic, global approach may be in isolation impractical, it is still true as the post Complexity as Cradle for Creativity and Innovation argues.

Taking a position on the matter is important because it will become a foundational stone for what will be proposed in the future. New Community Paradigms needs to deal with complexity as it is a fundamental factor in transportation infrastructure, community ecology, and urbanization, as a significant influence in the increasing economic consolidation or concentration in metropolitan areas in parallel with expanding economic globalization and other significant areas of concern.

Having a handle on complexity will also be essential in determining how to bridge an ever increasing chasm between government institutions and individual citizens or constituents left floundering to choose between what has been termed objectless protest by the Economist Intelligence Unit or acquiescing to offerings of commodified government services while in reality having a diminishing or no real say in the forming of their own communities.

Complexity provides an institution or community with other options or pathways that when properly addressed adds to its ability to be competitive and sustainable, and therefore should be embraced.

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