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, November 19, 2014

Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles

This blog post is on experimenting with ideas through a new Kumu relational map, “Using Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles” which could be placed within the process described by the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking relational map in the last two blog posts.

Involving, in particular, the reinforcing loops of R3 Group Facilitation for Systems Thinking, as well as R4 Maintains Respect for Individuals and Time and R5 Group Development Systems Thinking from the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking map. These loops focus on either the element Dialogue Facilitation or the element Perceived & Defined Meaningfulness of Deliberation. It is where these loops meet that the incorporation of dialogue and deliberation as essential elements of democracy can be realized.

Follow up discussions within LinkedIn, particularly the groups for Community Engagement and the Enabling a Better Tomorrow: A Systems Learning Community encouraged a broader perspective. Those involved in Community Engagement agreed with the possibility of including soft systems thinking approaches, such as Appreciative Inquiry to what could be called a creative condition for the generation of ideas or content. Those involved in Systems Thinking were more aligned with the approach of being capable of providing context to the ideas and potentially being able to provide causality through harder based methodologies such as Systems Dynamics.

The “Using Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles map is designed to simulate the potential outcomes from multiple and diverse group interactions involved in a direct democracy form of community governance supported by systems thinking.

The map tracks the parallel simulation of the virtual group interaction by four groups, each made up of 46 to 72 individuals, (some could belong to more than one group) addressing one of four sets of issues, based on a Codigital project (details) and initiated at the 2014 the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) conference in Washington DC, October 17 - 19, 2014, which dealt with the identification of existing strategies and co-creation of new strategies to promote the NCDD’s mission of encouraging dialogue and deliberation.

The ideas were generated, developed through editing, voted on and then ranked by a process developed by Codigital which through an “evolutionary algorithm controls and coordinates the inputs of multiple participants in real time to generate focused, optimized collaborative output.” A simple explanation can be found here, a more in-depth one here.

The appendix of the later, featuring what is termed a Fitness Landscape, was particularly interesting as a reminder of a set of lectures on Problem Solving and Innovation by Professor Scott E. Page, who has been featured before on this blog.

Participation for the purpose of generating the map occurred between October 20 to November 7, 2014. The map did not seek to replicate the Codigital system but instead to simulate the competition of ideas in a group setting.

The common factors were the ideas created through the NCDD process and the randomly generated pair-wise voting choices generated by the Codigital system. The difference between Codigital and the map was that for the map the vote between two ideas was recorded as both a yes vote and a no vote with yes being assigned 1 and no being assigned -1. The votes for each idea were then cumulated over the duration of the project. The result of the randomly generated up or down voting meant pushing ideas accordingly, some acutely in one direction, others bounced back and forth.

The map's final outcomes then did not match the Codigital final outcomes. The map, admittedly, had a bias for ideas in the NCDD online deliberation that I supported and a relative bias against the ideas that I had submitted, as I couldn't vote on the later.

The generated pairings did not always come from the same categories of issue and it did not seem that all pairing were made available suggesting that Codigital's algorithm used some form of sampling.

Regardless of the algorithm or methodology used, all ranking systems need to address certain concerns which are more a matter of the inherent mathematical nature of the universe rather than the rational or ethical nature of humans. One such issue is the creation of a winner through a Condorcet Paradox explained here by Professor Scott E. Page, which could give the designer of a voting mechanism a great deal of latitude.

The ideas generated by Codigital were then taken through four stages of development explained in more detail in the map. One, generation of a map of the ideas for each issue with each then assigned to a particular focus, Community, Civic, Organizational or Individual. Two, the recombination of ideas from specific areas of focus across the four issues into new maps. Three, the prioritization of those issues. Four, the creation of Kumu cluster maps to discover new relationships.

Perhaps a bit ironically considering the nature of this post but not unexpectedly, two of my submitted systems thinking based ideas did not survive the Codigital process.

"What are the structural barriers in our democratic systems? Is there a real or perceptual difference between structural barriers (static) and systemic bottlenecks (dynamic)? What are the sources and what are the points of leverage?” and "Use systems thinking and relational mapping to generate, develop and evaluate community intervention ideas for selection derived from soft systems thinking such as Appreciative Inquiry.”

Some of my suggested edits also did not make it. One failed suggestion was to replace the “and have fun.” at the end of, "Get creative and innovate, with new types of public space -- local places where a diversity of citizens can meet, bump into one another, share what is important and meaningful to them, and have fun!" with ...'Work with Project for Public Places http://www.pps.org.'

The point is that there was enough opportunity for input, competing ideas, along with some randomness (at least perceptually) and uncertainty to assert a claim that the process could mirror an actual, in reality messy, process. Mirror but not truly replicate, focusing only on certain parts from certain angles.

To be more functional, the map would have to be made capable of aggregating and potentially recombining input from a large number of participants rather than just one which raises the potential for greater complexity.

The Codigital process featured relatively little or only restricted dialogue and deliberation through group editing though the larger NCDD process did have online dialogues going on in other venues. The map obviously had in reality, none.

In the early stages of the Codigital process, there were a number of examples of what could be called pet projects and pet peeves, some quite good but not necessarily strategic in nature. Later, the ideas were more frequently of a broader nature of concern or focus and the input from others started to reveal different though perhaps not fully explicit choices in directions.

One such choice was to the degree that NCDD would focus its energies on established political power such as city councils as opposed to outside city hall and within the community itself. Optimally, it should be both but as this blog has continually argued many times there are city halls whose political power is entrenched. Another choice in a direction that seemed to be suggested was whether NCDD should maintain it focus on the principles of dialogue and deliberation, which is for the most part absent from our current political discourse, and focus more on particular political outcomes.

Would it be possible to find a meaningful ‘why’ that could then be translated into a ‘how’ perhaps through systems thinking causal loop diagram models? These types of questions were not addressed to any extent in the Codigital process and only alluded to in the map but are necessary to get over what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton named the Knowing-Doing Gap.

Of interest is the question whether it would be possible to combine the map with a Codigital-like process along with a Virtual Systemic Inquiry process and what sort of influence this might have on the dialogue and deliberation process if participants not only saw the ranking of ideas (aside - not sure a competition among participants is the most optimal means of evaluation) but then also saw visually how it related to other ideas and the principles that were driving the ideas on a continually updated basis.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Direct Democracy and System Thinking Map - Some Potholes on the Journey

The previous blog post featured a relational map combining, Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking, which made a reasonably sound argument that such a system of governance could be possible, someday. 

It has been suggested before that systems thinking could serve as a scaffolding for efforts at direct democracy. More recently, from the other side of the coin, it was argued that the implementation of a systems thinking process could derive benefit from means of participatory democracy through deeper participation by stakeholders. This extends that argument to a community setting.

There are, however, limitations to both the model and to the actual proposed system being represented that need to be recognized and addressed before any of that will ever happen.

First, as for the model or map, the George Box principle still applies, "All models (or maps) are wrong, Some models are useful. It is not intended to be a complete representation of reality. The advantage is that we can change and hopefully improve the model far more readily. One such update has been made.

The "Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking" relational map now incorporates the concept, as discussed in "Systems Thinking - Sailing through Wicked Problems on Complex Seas” post, of the consolidation between systems thinking and direct democracy involving  a dual track approach related to systems thinking, a soft approach and a dynamic approach, each serving different purposes. 

Soft Systems Methods, such as Appreciative Inquiry, Idealized Design, and Soft Systems Methodology, could be employed for purposes of exploration and understanding in connection with reinforcing loop R1 “Deliberative Democratic Dialogue”, to obtain a compatible vision. These methods are useful for exploratory purposes to attain greater understanding and potentially draft a compatible approach to the wicked problem, treating the issue as a question of epistemology, as in what can we know or find out about the world?

Dynamic Systems Methods, are typically employed for improving goal seeking and viability once a compatible or finally determined upon vision has been obtained. The hard or dynamic system takes a more ontological approach. Systems Dynamics, in particular, can be seen in contrast to more general, often relatively qualitative modeling systems, as a rigorous methodology employing the development and use of formal computer models. These methods would be more involved in the  prototype development of systems thinking models for the purpose of future community intervention and would occur in reinforcing loop R2 "Working with Systems Thinking" through the collaboration between the "Systems Thinking Facilitator”, "Staff" and "Civic and Community Groups”. 

The R3 “Group Facilitation for Systems Thinking” reinforcing loop sees the two different systems thinking methodological approaches begun in R1 (Soft Systems) and R2 (Dynamics Systems) begin interacting together.

The flow of process within R5 "Group Development Systems Thinking" leads both through "Facilitated Systems Thinking Learning" and "Employment of Systems Thinking Models and Methods" is seen as leading to greater "Understanding of Systems Thinking" which when combined with enhanced R4 “Maintains Respect  for Individuals and Time” reinforces the entire system.

The actual R6 “Implementation of  Systems Thinking  Intervention” within the community would be a result of "Outcomes and Decisions" arising from "Perceived and Defined Meaningfulness of Deliberation". 

Second issue, it is based on a world that doesnt yet exist. It implicitly presumes that systems thinking has become an integral part of the K-12 school curriculum as envisioned by the Waters Foundation and that dialogue and deliberation are the principle tools for community governance and not campaigning and debate. It goes beyond the current institutional based concept of democracy, which is seen as often being entrenched and moves instead toward a more community based direct democracy. 

There are other limitations to the model. In terms of a working reality, the map assumes only smooth sailing. In truth, the system could break down at each stage of the process and feedback to debilitate the entire system. It should also be appreciated that not only something can go wrong at each step of the actual process, necessitating a thorough review and response but that each step is important in its own right and is not merely a stepping stone to a final outcome. It does not provide for the actual creation of the infrastructure necessary to make such a system possible. It also does not look to any elements or processes outside the proposed system which could interfere with the implementation and continued existence of such a system which are present in our current system. Finally, it does not offer a process or program as how to disrupt that existing system so that the system envisioned by this relational map could be put in place. 

Even with all these constraints, the effort is still worthwhile in seeking new avenues for community governance. This blog leans towards raising theoretical questions or lines of inquiry, providing its own wrestled with insights, as well as those of others with more knowledge, and pointing to available resources, though not necessarily in that order.

For further future development, the model defined by the relational map and the system of governance it proposes to represent also needs to recognize that there would still be an aspect of persuasion, both positive and negative. Some models or systems are built to be inspirationally (or manipulatively) persuasive rather than logically or rationally convincing. Both inspiration and rationality though are important if we want long term and sustainable impact. Understanding social networking influences would also be important.

It would need to be designed, as Vivien Twyford recently discussed, as means of Recognizing and Responding to Complexity.  It could involve extensive use of the Internet, as would Virtual Systemic Inquiry, in mutual support of the previously proposed use of online communities to encourage direct democracy for on-the-ground communities. It would, however, still carry the caution to run the technology; don't let the technology run you.

There would be a need for mechanisms for when optimal solutions could not be attained and some form of compromise or otherwise determined final outcome, including not taking an action, would need to be implemented. 

It should also be recognized as the course instructor Gene Bellinger has suggested, "Given the same set of facts different people come to different conclusions... because? And isn't it the because we should seek to understand? A systems perspective should enable us to do that... shouldn't it?" 

The answer is yes, we should seek to understand the 'because' and a systems perspective should enable us to do that but that doesn't address a community's need for a resolution. It could help eliminate personal and perhaps irrational biases from community decisions as Google is attempting with their hiring practices. I am basically a liberal but if this proposed system of governance was implemented in a community that was authentically of a tea party, libertarian philosophy then that outlook should be reflected if this system is truly democratic at a community level.

One can also expand upon this question and have it address the asserted audacious step of Enabling a Better Tomorrow. This endeavor, though idealistic in destination and often contrary to standard institutional government thinking, contains, (we won't say, 'concrete'), meaningful examples found in the New Community Paradigms Wiki, both in terms of process and results, from different approaches to community governance.

Recently, this blog has taken pains to distance itself from what is seen as the overused and misused metaphor of 'concrete' and to stop running away from the absolute necessity of abstract thinking. Absolute necessity may seem overblown but abstract thinking is seen as being at the heart of systems thinking. Even though the word concrete will no longer be used unless speaking of driveways or such, we still need to start talking about making things real. Something can be considered real if it is connected in a meaningful way with what is considered to be of importance. The hurdle is successfully asserting that it is possible to change the present and create the future through such connections.  A systematic approach to community governance through systems thinking generally, and Virtual Systemic Inquiry specifically, could be considered real if it can be meaningfully applied to New Community Paradigms and other similar efforts.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Map for Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking

This blog consistently repeats itself, making a point of connecting to and building up from previously established material. This time some of the material used to assert concepts presented in the last post will be used again but from a different perspective. This series of blog posts, inspired by the STW/STiA Systems Thinking Certification course, has approached the material from a number of different angles and perspectives which invariably overlap.
  1. Working, as an individual, to study systems - segments 1-4.
  2. Working as an individual (consultant) with a group - segments 5-8.
  3. Working as a member of a group or community on systemic inquiry (Virtual Systemic Inquiry if Web 2.0 is heavily depended upon) - segment 9 pts 1.
In this post we continue moving closer to:
  1. Global - working as an integral part of a larger network or community - segment 9 pts 2 & 3, segments 10 & 11 and finally Certification.
Under this current scenario, an imaginary community has adopted the principles of both direct deliberative democracy and participatory democracy,  as well as that of systems thinking, and is endeavoring to converge them all together. The hypothesis is that systems thinking can assist in this convergence, recognizing that this would be a fundamental change which could justify the use of the word paradigm within the title, Pathways to New Community Paradigms. This relationship is illustrated in the Kumu relational map Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking.

The use of the wordbothis applicable because some see deliberative forms of democracy being at odds with participatory forms of democracy. Diana C. Mutz made this argument in her book, "Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative versus Participatory Democracy”. This is arguably true within the competitive based system of electoral manipulations so often manifested in our current system. Others though see the possibility of converging both deliberative and participatory democracy together and moving towards a new model of radical democracy. Lorenzo Cini does so in his paper "Between Participation and Deliberation:Toward a New Standard for Assessing Democracy?

The previous blog post used the "Community Based Virtual Systemic Inquiry"  Kumu map to create a platform for the interaction between members of a Virtual Systemic Inquiry team, an imagined New Community Paradigms team, coming together with internal community groups and outside advocacy groups to form a Community Based VSI team. There could be a number of these Community Based VSI teams possible focusing on different areas of concern to the community, not to city hall, to the community because the concerns would arise directly from the community. The basic idea behind the New Community Paradigms Facebook Connections wiki-page is to provide resources for connection to different advocacy groups. In this scenario, of our own devising, the infrastructure of government has been defined directly by the community and not by any form of entrenched institutional political power.

Civic Community, in the last blog post, was defined as the interaction of civil society with the institutional infrastructure of government. Civil society, as has been previously asserted by "Civil society as a platform for new community paradigmsand "Community paradigms as a set of community relations is the true basis for a democratic form of government, not institutions. 

Established and ad hoc community groups along with the involvement of community members in general comprise the make up of this Civic Community. It is from this originating point that two paths are taken involving systems thinking.

The Community Based VSI team begins with R1 Deliberative Democratic Dialogue. The R1  Deliberative Democratic Dialogue also designates the first reinforcing loop of a larger related Kumu map Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking.  The first two loops of the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking map are tied in with the Community VSI (structure) map. 

This begins the construction of a dynamic system that is maintained because there exists feedbacks from an element or an entity or entities within the system that maintain their continuing existences, subsystems of reinforcing loops which build upon each other. Your car battery helps start your car, which when running uses your alternator to help recharge the battery to start your car again. There are limits, we sometimes need to replace batteries, alternators or even cars but the entire system remains viable for long, extended periods with care. 

The elements making up the R1 Deliberative Democratic Dialogue loop have been presented before through a "Better Deliberative and Participatory Democratic Community Based Governance through Systems Thinking. This was an earlier attempt to incorporate principles of systems thinking into a system of direct deliberative and participatory community based governance through an Insight Maker systems thinking model, Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking.   

In both the Insight Maker model and Kumu map, the interaction of elements consists of adopting principles of Direct Deliberative and Participatory Democracy, Respect for Individuals and Their Time, Civic & Community Groups and Civic Community, all of which are seen as reinforcing one another. The other essential element is Dialogue Facilitation which was changed from Discussion Facilitation to better reflect the insights of the NCDD.

This continues a focus on community governance assisted with Web 2.0 resources from the early stages of this effort with "Using Online Communities to encourage Direct Democracy for On-The-Ground Communitiesalong with other related resources found under the "People’s Governance in Californiaand "Community Governancewiki-pages.

The second reinforcing loop is "R2 Working with Systems Thinking". The common element between the first two a reinforcing loops which diverge to parallel tracks is "Civic and Community Groups" who can work with both  "Systems Thinking Facilitators" and with community government "Staff". This would involve the development of specific proposals for projects, program or policies either from the community or from selected or assigned leadership of the community.  The principles of Design Thinking would very likely be in play here. 

The utilization of systems thinking with community governance is a transformational process so having someone or some organization to help guide that process is seen as being important. New Community Paradigms also does not envision the elimination of public sector employees, only a change in their relationship with the community.

With the next reinforcing loop "R3 Group Facilitation for Systems Thinkingwe leave the Community VSI (structure) map and reside solely in the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking map, unfolding it as we advance.

The new elements involved, along with the elements of the first two reinforcing loops begin to come together to converge on two particular elements, Dialogue Facilitation and Perceived and Defined Meaningfulness of Deliberation (different from dialogue). The goal is to go far beyond merely giving people an opportunity to have their chance to speak on an issue. How does the community as a whole come up with viable, sustainable solutions while continuing to respect the principles of direct deliberative and participatory democracy as well as individuals and their time? Some of the elements that are suggested to influence this are Stays on Track along the Deliberative Democratic Dialogue track and Defined Intent along the Working with Systems Thinking track. 

The next loop "R4 Maintains Respect  for Individuals & Timeis a general system reinforcing loop directly asserting the result arising from the interaction of both tracks and  previous reinforcing loops while also establishing a required focus to maintain those interactions. 

"R5 Group Development Systems Thinkingfocuses more on the Working with Systems Thinking track. Facilitated System Thinking Learning positively influences Understanding of Systems Thinking which in turn contributes to Perceived and Defined Meaningfulness of Deliberation making the Employment of ST (systems thinking) Models and Methods more likely, again reinforcing the Understanding of Systems Thinking. 

The final reinforcing loop is "R6 Implementation of Systems Thinking Interventions” At some point, after all the discussion, debates, dialogues and deliberations a final Decision or Outcome is determined by the community calling for the implementation of some Systemic Intervention. Whether or not these do what they were designed to do determines the number of Successful Interventions and if it Creates a Better Community. It also influences the Perceived Utility of Systems Thinking which in turn influences the Perceived and Defined Meaningfulness of Deliberations and the likelihood of future Systemic Interventions. 


This is not, however, the whole story. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

NCP + VSI = A Potential Path for Meaningful Community Change

In recent posts, the need and development of Virtual Systemic Inquiry or VSI as a means of collaborative team effort has been made through participation in the STW/STiA Systems Thinking Certification course in developing Systems Thinking as a potential resource as part of a Community's Management and Technology.

The goal now is to extend the concept into a larger community context developIng a flexible system that incorporates a broader based Community VSI approach (Kumu map) integrating the concerns of on-the-ground, community based groups and the community-at-large and begins the process of establishing new community paradigms.

The VSI concept has similarities to a program featured back in 2009 through a blog supporting the Millennium Development Goals. The ICCO, an interchurch organization for development cooperation working towards a world without poverty and injustice that allows people to live in dignity and well-being, had developed a similarly structured platform. The ICCO Alliance, its partners and sponsors were focusing on the ground efforts in aid relief, seeking to extent their reach and effectiveness by using Web 2.0 tools, do-gooders looking for help from the computer geeks. The result then was a platform named ComPart (Communications Partnership), since then they have opted for their own internal Portal with the needed features built in.

Back then this approach was in line with the more academic ideas behind concepts on the Integration of Collaborative Information Systems in Web 2.0 (pdf), but from a pragmatic field operative perspective it was a matter of needing to communicate and collaborate with other aid organizations separated by continents. The inclusion of a VSI approach maintains the virtual component and adds a systemic inquiry component, potentially providing greater leverage for addressing wicked challenges. The expansion into a community setting puts the process into the hands of those most affected and closest to the problems.

Community based VSI would promote extended engagement by the community to address seemingly intractable problems. As discussed in “Still Looking for Non-Experts to Create New Community Innovations? Look outside City Hall", the ‘public’ or ‘community’ is not an extension of city hall or the studio audience for city council meetings. The public or the community is more properly classified under civil society which can be understood, as can community paradigms, as a set of community relations. This makes it a complex system as opposed to a more complicated one that could be successfully manipulated through management by a few at city hall.

The direction suggested by Della Rucker was to more fully utilize the community's resources. 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. ” This requires expanding beyond the usual cadre of public sector professionals and finding new avenues for people-powered innovation through the inclusion of whom Charles Leadbeater calls pro-amateurs into a process of Enabling Generative Interactions and Integrating Interactions as discussed in the last blog post.

There is a need then to connect to the community but at a deeper level. A metaphor that has been applied is endowing communities with a soul, undoubtedly a more abstract concept not captured by most standard government metrics. “Finding the soul of your community and the reason to create your own community paradigms”, one of the earlier posts for this blog, had not only a poetic perspective but an economic basis with a positive impact on the community.

It does not require top down complicated oriented leadership from city hall to attach people to their community as was demonstrated by the study's focus on Long Beach, California which reflected that neither the economy nor the perception of local leadership were a key driver in attaching its residents to their community. Good economics and finance are essential to the sustainability of a city but they are not the soul of the community and do not make up all of that community's wealth. The objective then is to be more adept at capturing the community's insight, wisdom and wealth assisted through community based VSI which could be a means of establishing new community paradigms.

As might be expected from the preambles of the New Community Paradigms wiki and blog, the establishment of such a New Community Paradigms VSI team would be designed to have access to online resources and advocacy communities, using those resources to write new rules for their community that are chosen directly by the community itself rather than imposed by entrenched institutions. The reality is that such a team has not as of yet come into existence. This effort started off as a set of conceptual inquiries examining a series of 'why not' propositions, basically subsumed under the question, "Why not a different form of community governance?" and so far has remained conceptual.

The proposed NCP/VSI team could be seen as an internally based community Virtual Systemic Inquiry team, made up of a certain number of diverse community members, who could be expanded upon to collaboratively incorporate others both inside and outside the community.

Community members could be part of the local NCP/VSI team and be connected to other local community groups, be working with outside advocacy organizations, having connections with or as an expert, either professional or pro-amateur, with an outside Virtual System Inquiry team servIng as go-betweens between the outside VSI team and their own Community Based NCP/VSI team (Kumu map).

These groups could also work with both a Systems Thinking Facilitator and with community government staff. The use of systems thinking with community governance would be a transformational process so the utilization of someone or some organization help guide that process until participants are more comfortable is seen as important. City staff would still be seen as responsible for assisting in realizing the goals established through community sponsored studies or strategic plans.

Another alternative means of integrated community interaction and establishing a framework for deliberative and participatory democracy was suggested by the World Future Society in an article Building and Connecting Communities, in their Futurist magazine, was a "Mobile Networked Governance for the Creative Molecular Economy, to serve as an avenue through which community building ideas, originating from the community”.

The blog post, The Problem with the Future is Getting There and It will need Disruptive Innovation, raised some philosophical issues with the overall article. Disagreement with an unstated or unexamined assumption that we will be able to passively transition from a materialistic economy into a transformational society as a matter of inevitable evolution rather than purposeful decisions and disagreement with putting the community into a passive role, either implicitly or indirectly by omission. New community paradigms does not presume to merely develop citizens into a “Future Forward Workforce” as if they were a passive commodity. Any redefinition of economic development through community building will have to involve the community, not as passive recipients but as active creators.

Predicting the future is hazardous enough, but claiming the future will be delivered gift wrapped with a bow, no assembly needed or that it is a foregone conclusion, merely accept the new world order, calls for looking for alternatives to use in the creation of new paradigms for our communities. Systems thinking is one possible resource as systems thinking's primary purpose is to enhance understanding and connection not prediction.

A process of Community Based Virtual Systemic Inquiry could be potentially seen as a catalyst for a community based system of deliberative and participatory democracy facilitated by systems thinking. This will be discussed in more detail in the next post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Community VSI - GPS for Herding Cats?

The last blog post started to look at Virtual Systemic Inquiry as a viable method of collaboration in addressing difficult or even wicked problems. That first stage, and the original concept, was designed for a relatively small team of individuals, disconnected geographical coming together, albeit only virtually, for the purpose of addressing a specific issue. Individuals could perhaps serve on multiple VSI teams but it would be circumstances that would govern the make up of a specific team. It is unlikely, under this scenario, that many of the VSI team participants would be serving in the role of on the ground stakeholders to a truly significant extent.

It is no longer likely that the essential participants at the various stages of the process are all going to be located geographically close together. Traditional meetings will make little logistical sense. The manner in which we usually communicate ideas will not work, either because, as mentioned before, geographical separateness, time schedule conflicts or due to the size of the group or community involved. So if within the context in which we operate, virtual collaboration is appropriate but as the old tools and processes don't work well enough, what then are the options?

What then is the potential for expanding the concept of Virtual Systemic Inquiry into a larger community context, which would significantly involve stakeholders, and how could that be made to work? In this post we will look to the remaining elements of the VSI process and how they could start to be incorporated into a community context.

A good deal of virtual interaction has already been integrated into local institutions of government.  Most cities have a webpage, and possibly other systems of web based community governance, expanded with the inclusion of Facebook pages and Twitter for many advocacy groups. The next step is incorporating systemic inquiry into a systematic process. This, however, means reexamining not only how we work with virtual tools of community governance but how we engage in Virtual Collaboration.

The Internet and World Wide Web, provide much of the context in which we typically work today. How collaborators should go about effecting a meaningful result within such an environment is still a relevant question. The more traditional word processing and spreadsheets and even basic email will likely not suffice in this new context and will simply further overload any potential participants. It is not merely having a set of tools with which we've developed a level of comfort or that could be easily learned. 

It is also not a matter of having the latest apps freely available but also including changes as to how they are to be used. The rise of data journalism, as an example, not only incorporates new tools but also entirely new technical approaches to information with 'Big Data' and other community engagement approaches with 'Open Data'. At the same time, the simple excel type spreadsheet remains a very effective research tool and more importantly, the underlying principles of journalism still apply.

It is a matter, as was asserted earlier in this effort that one should run the technology; don't let the technology run you. It is a matter of how the tech tools are used by increasingly larger populated networks with correspondingly larger number of connections resulting in greater complexity with at least the potential for emergent attributes.

Discussion Groups are the standard first response to the question of collaboration, virtual or otherwise. It should be recognized though that there are important differences between discussion, dialogue and deliberation. Our community based discourse, including virtual discourse on web platforms such as LinkedIn, phpBB, etc. is too often stuck at the level of discussion. We need to find ways to evolve those discussions to the level of both dialogue and deliberation as envisioned together by the NCDDWe will use the term, 'means of discourse' or 'discourse' to cover all three.

The expectation or hope seems to be that thoughts initiated in a discussion will lead to other thoughts in a reinforcing manner finally leading to a better understanding of the situation as well as an approach for dealing with the situation. More often than not this turns out to be a fix that fails for structural reasons. Discussion groups seldom achieve consensus, particularly if it is perceived that there is little need for a consensus to be achieved. The unfolding of the content remains essentially linear although in truth is conceptually intertwined. It is very difficult for multiple participants to build on separate dimensions of understanding within this linear environment in any meaningful manner.

It seems the basic nature of discussion groups is to be divergent which is not necessarily a bad thing. From a design thinking perspective it can be a good thing. It is the nature of thoughts to provoke other thoughts, this divergence though can wear people down and cause them to lose interest because of being pulled in multiple directions by tangents of thought seemingly only slightly on topic, if at all. Keeping the discussion on track, from the perspective of those responsible for managing the collaboration, might seem as an impossible a task as herding cats.

The last post was on the first set of steps in the VSI process. Step one was Enabling Generative Interactions in which we looked to Integrating Interactions. If the stakeholders are seriously interested in understanding a situation as a basis for developing a project, program or a strategy to improve a particular situation then developing and working with models is seen as essential. Allowing collaborators then to keep track of the development of the model and their contributions to it is essential. The component tools should then be employed in a manner that glues things together.

The first thing that should be created is a focus page. A wiki is one means that could be used as the focus page because of the ease of multi-user updating allowing everyone involved in the collaboration to know that whatever aspect of the investigation they're looking for that the appropriate links can be found on that focus page. Discourse could be initiated with a link to the Focus Page with multiple discussion threads focusing on particular aspects on the inquiry.

Concept maps could be developed in Insight Maker and in Kumu. Once initiated a link to the concept map is also added to the wiki with thought exchanges on the concept map conducted though the discussions (at this phase it is discussion). Formal models have also been developed in Insight Maker and Kumu, again once initiated a link to the model is added to the wiki and exchanges on the model are conducted through discussions. Kumu is beginning to be seen as the best means of simplifying the architecture and integrating the multiple pieces of the puzzle, being Focus Page, Discourse, Concept Maps and Formal Models.

What is most essential for stakeholders engaged in developing a strategy for dealing with a difficult or complex situation or wicked problem facing their community is to optimize their understanding of the situation by understanding the relevant relationships and the implications of those relationships.

The most viable approach to accomplishing this is for stakeholders to work together to understand the particular relationships by building their own models. In this way they not only develop a better understanding of the relationships, someone else doesn't have to later help explain the resultant model to them. They gain ownership of the issue and can instead help explain the model to others when it is presented to larger portions of the community through a process of community discourse that rises to dialogue and deliberation.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Virtual Systemic Inquiry - GPS for New Community Paradigms?

The next segment of the STW/STiA course moves back by two segments and three blog posts. The Kumu map for this section covers the development of a process termed Virtual Systemic Inquiry or VSI.  It is designed to provide a review and means of collaborative communication in developing a systemic approach, as involving an entire system, to community wicked challenges.

An extended and updated multi-video explanation of this Predicament is available to begin providing an extensive explanation, for a fairly involved process in which both the steps and the rationale behind them.




The basic Predicament is that difficult and wicked challenges require sets of multiple individuals with diverse backgrounds but geographic or other logistical factors make working together difficult.


Short version, it is a process using web-based resources such as Cacoo, Debategraph, Gmail, Google Docs, Insight Maker, Kumu, LinkedIn, Lucid Chart, MediaWiki, ooVoo, Prezi and Skype to communicate and collaborate through systemic process interventions with others in an effective and efficient manner. despited being geographically, and therefore also time zoned separated, 


A series of Insight Maker, some of which are highlighted and expanded upon below will help make the argument in support based on insights from this course and past new community paradigms articles. 


The logistical challenge of selecting the most appropriate people to participate in the collaboration and developing the means of interaction to improve the likelihood of effecting the intended results remains.
According to a VSI perspective, it's not reasonable or appropriate to expect a single individual or even a small group to determine how to intervene meaningfully and effectively to address a complex wicked situation. That is, however, exactly what we do in most local governments, selecting five individuals for four years who then head a complicated oriented management system based on a solitary figure setting a top down agenda to address complex issues and when it doesn't work we get another person and repeat. 

Large scale collaboration then is essential if one wants any hope of addressing wicked problems at a community level in a meaningful and effective manner. Collaboration though presents a number of challenges itself because it, in truth, it brings in more complexity. The goal is to have it become, along with the issues being addressed, closer to what has been termed coherent complexity

Complexity though, its true nature, can still remain hidden for a number of reasons despite the significant complexity inherent in the wicked challenges facing our communities being immense. Many of these wicked challenges are the result of emergent properties of larger, even global systems that cannot be understood or fully comprehended by individuals or even by individual components (institutions, political parties, countries) of a larger system. Even if understood, they often cannot be adequately addressed by any of the individual components or subsystems alone. 

Wicked problems have become so complex, incoherently complex, that they're broken down and perceived as complicated by not only the general public but also those tasked with addressing them with top down complicated and reductionistic based management  systems, sometimes tending to reach high levels of bureaucratic complicatedness. 


Not only are the wicked challenges or situations themselves complex but the environment in which they exist, as an integral part of the challenge, and thereby the processes by which they must be addressed, particularly the social aspect, is also complex.
The model Perspectives on Csikszentmihalyi's views on Complexity vs Complicated illustrates important differences between complicated oriented problems and complex oriented problems which makes such an approach even more problematic.

Based on this Realization that situations warranting collaboration are invariably complex, and wicked problems are highly complex, collaboration is logically envisioned then as the most likely means to produce meaningful and effective outcomes. The complex nature of the wicked problems have, and are expected to continue to overwhelm previously employed tools and methods.

The problems most successfully addressed by management systems based on reductionism and complicated algorithms are seen as being highly differentiated with little integration. Solutions then tend first towards greater differentiation followed hopefully then by integration. Seldom though are they able to achieve both differentiation and integration at the same time with any long term success. Complex systems though can be both highly differentiated and highly integrated. This means that when imposing a complicated management system upon a complex system challenge that either differentiation or integration is going to be disregarded and therefore not adequately addressed. 
This then requires an integrated toolset, for which the VSI method provides both Tool Requirements and Tool Evaluation. VSI uses a wiki, as does New Community Paradigms, but as a focus page for the collaborations because of the ease of multi-user updating, allowing anyone involved in the collaboration to know that whatever aspect of the investigation they're searching for that the appropriate links can be found. 

Concept maps could be developed in Insight Maker and Kumu then linking those concept maps to the wiki with issue exchanges on the concept map being conducted through attached discussions. More formal models could also be developed in Insight Maker and Kumu. Again, once initiated, a link to the model could be added to the wiki and issue exchanges on the model again conducted through discussions. Kumu could potentially become the apparent heir simplifying the architecture by combining multiple pieces of the puzzle, focus page, discussions, concept maps and formal models together. It might though be too specialized and internalized though for use with larger groups.

Tools alone though will not be sufficient to ensure meaningful and effective outcomes. The participants must also be able to develop an integrated mindset to offset the natural and, in the right context, still definitely useful differentiations that they bring to the effort.  This will be different for different levels of the process but to be collaborative, a mindset founded on a shared vision is important with participants being on the same wavelength.

It is of critical importance for everyone involved to understand the intent of the collaboration by having them involved in the early establishment and the refinement of the intent from the beginning. Having the collaborators engaged in the development of the intent helps develop a sense of ownership which provides a basis for individuals to stay engaged and contributing. The challenge from a new community paradigms perspective is how to expand upon this to include an entire community.

Even with a well defined intent and community or group ownership of the challenge, working with a distributed group of individuals through multiple applications will require efforts expended on an ongoing basis to maintain focus. It is essential that all the component tools that may be employed be glued together in a manner that allows collaborators to keep track of their contributions and the overall development.

The Enabling Generative Interactions requires an integrative mix of differentiation and integration meaning that it can potentially become coherently complex in a manner that complicated top down management systems cannot. 

Micro-worlds are models of the relevant relationships of a challenging situation or wicked problem set up in a manner with which people can interact to study the implications of their actions and as such are hopefully better able to understand the situation. A problem is that people often create these Micro-worlds unconsciously then tend to treat them as video games, seeking to understand only enough to win the game and miss the deeper underlying set of relations that are responsible for that micro-world working the way it does.
This review of Virtual Systemic Inquiry will continue in the next two blog posts and will be integrated with the Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking Insight Maker model in the next post and later as a Kumu map.

Past Posts