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, June 13, 2013

From Community Attachment to Community Empowerment

Over the past few months the posts of this blog have dealt with various aspects of community engagement including, community governance as an arena for community engagement and Systems Thinking as a possible avenue for community engagement. What has not had enough attention is what is it that engages members of the community, not what can be done to get them engaged but how engaged do they get and why?

It could be easily argued that what we have now under our current system of incumbent, often politically entrenched, governmental institutions is not working and actually actively discourages, albeit covertly, community engagement. This means ignoring apologetic protestations about having elections every four years and noticed public hearings being the necessary limits of democratic integration by the community. Further, history would also argue that working in direct opposition to such politically entrenched government institutions at its own game seldom works.

New Community Paradigms would therefore have to set up a new system of community engagement to work within its new perspectives regarding community governance. This means recognizing that people have different motivations for being engaged and will be engaged at different levels of interaction.

New Community Paradigms has been arguing for a greater reliance upon direct democratic deliberation in community governance in the post Of, For, By the People and now Through the People. Community Governance Revisited for example. 
This does not require that 100% of a community population be 100% involved with 100% of the community decisions that must be made as a function of a community working as a corporate body or city. The current system of politically geared representative democracy, even during the few weeks of an election, does not reach anything near this level of interaction. 

It would require a means of assimilating desired community changes on a continual basis while at the same time creating enough community cohesion that there wasn’t a constant state of disruption or upheaval. Such a system of community governance would have to create enough general agreement to be able to implement programs and projects sought by the community and see them to completion over an extended period, often a period that exceeds that of most political terms of office. 

We already have a scale for the greater degrees or levels of community engagement that being the Ladder of Citizen Participation (Sherry R. Arnstein) to attain greater Citizen Control as discussed in the past post, Looking for Non-Experts to Create New Community Innovations then Make sure They are Disruptive. Arnstein’s Citizen Control would equate to the New Community Paradigm’s idea of community empowerment. The Arnstein levels of Partnership and Delegated Power on the Citizen Participation Ladder would be encompassed by the community engagement level of New Community Paradigms.

The New Community Paradigm idea of community participation diverges from Arnstein because it portrays engagement that is no longer based on direct interaction with civic institutions but involvement with the overall community through those civic institutions. These type of activities would include participating in the community’s 4th of July activities, annual community clean up programs and other activities that are outside the power structure of city hall and more based on neighbor to neighbor avenues of assistance. They may be included on Arnstein’s Ladder at the levels of Therapy to Placation and are more prone to the abuse of Manipulation but they are also more firmly established in the concept of civil society.

We also have a step outside of the lower end of a community engagement scale. One that moves below the level of active community involvement, if only at a minimal level, to simple attachment to the community.

This idea of community attachment was introduced early on in this endeavor back in October of 2011. This sense of attachment, however, can go as deep as other forms of engagement and has been portrayed as being the ‘Soul of a Community’. It arose as a means of finding the soul of your community and the reason to create your own community paradigms accompanying early explorations of Places or Placemaking.

Through the efforts of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup after:

Three years and close to 43,000 interviews later with people in 26 communities, the study found three main qualities responsible for attaching people to place:
  • Social offerings, such as entertainment venues and places to meet, 
  • Openness (how welcoming a place is) and 
  • Area’s aesthetics (its physical beauty and green spaces)
The fact that people are not showing up to community meetings does not mean that they are not attached to their community. This also means that the actions of any form of community governance, whether through the status quo of city council government or the establishment of direct democratic deliberation through New Community Paradigms, is usually not the primary reason why people are attached to their community.

This coupled with an appreciation of the role of civil society in establishing the legitimacy of governance should provide a basis of humility in efforts to establish New Community Paradigms.

The idea of community attachment without community engagement means that any governing body might find itself unknowingly (or knowingly) misinterpreting the will of the community as a whole resulting in a loss of attachment and thereby a loss of community members who move out over time leaving those behind in a downward circle of community decay.

Community attachment, even if it is outside the desired levels of community engagement, can be understood as a force or factor for community cohesion. This is true even when significant portions of a community does not acknowledge even the best intentioned efforts at community governance.

Under New Community Paradigms recognizing the role of community attachment provides the ability to see the community in a more holistic manner, particularly with economic factors and economic development. It is those who are attached to the community that will make up the majority of those providing the workforce to businesses and customers to merchants.

The idea of community attachment coupled with Placemaking encourages the community’s form of governance to go beyond focusing on revenue creation for the civic governmental entity’s utilization to the overall economic enhancement of the community as a whole.

Including community attachment as part of the spectrum of community engagement moving along from community attachment to community participation to community engagement and finally to community empowerment also provides an explicit avenue for greater engagement by the members of the community thereby strengthening the establishment of New Community Paradigms.

What is needed is the means to implement a community based system of community governance and expand it to making it function in a viable manner through new technology and concepts in change management and community leadership but that is likely to require first disrupting the current forms of civic institutions of governance.

Past Posts