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.  

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