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.

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.

Past Posts