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.

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 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.

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