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, January 24, 2014

CommunityMatters knows Harwood and Harwood knows what Matters for the Communities to Change

This blog post is going to take a closer look at the recently updated Organizational, Online and Technology Based Community Change Agencies wiki-bridge. Wiki-bridge pages address topics that cross over more than one area of concern. Change agent organizations for communities and change agent efforts by communities were seen as involving Governance and Place respectively.

Yet, despite the focus of this blog being paradigm changes by communities, little has been done directly on these pages dealing with any community change strategies. New means of community governance, different ways of looking at the local economy, inquiries into complexity, design thinking, systems thinking and democratic directed disruptive design have helped frame the issues but not anything on the actual means of change or the available resources that would help bring it about. How do you go about transforming something that has been in existence for decades, if not centuries and that is such a fundamental part of the fabric of our lives? Why is it that so often when we do try, we fail?

There has though been interaction outside of these pages with activity among different LinkedIn groups and the accumulation of a number of different organizations, the later of which have now been added to the Community Change Agencies Organizational, Online and Technology Based wiki-page. 

One of particular interest is the Harwood Institute introduced to members of the NCDD Linkedin Group by Sandy Heierbacher, the Director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) to through a webinar that NCDD (wiki-page) hosted.

The webinar provides an overview of the Harwood Institute’s key framework for assisting in exploring the means and accelerating efforts to engage the community by ‘turning outwards’.

The approach Harwood Institute has developed in helping cities, organizations, and individuals speaks to the stages a community must go through before it is ready to be empowered based on community conversations, constant innovation, and nationwide research and is built on public aspirations to get things done for the common good.

The Harwood Institute's approach to change and community building is dependent upon "community rhythms" as President and Founder Rich Harwood explains in this video. 

A report (pdf) on the approach, Community Rhythms, Five Stages of Community Life, is available through NCDD.

Communities have rhythms to them that we must come to understand so that our approaches, programs and initiatives — and the building of public capital — work with those rhythms, take advantage of them, even accelerate them. This 1999 report from the Harwood Institute describes five stages of community life: The Waiting Place, Impasse, Catalytic, Growth, and Sustain and Renew. 

                                                                                                        Sandy Heierbacher 

The Waiting Place

In the Waiting Place, people in the community often hold a deep sense that things are not working right but cannot quite put their finger on exactly what it is or what to do about it; it is a kind of “felt unknown.” The situation has not reached an impasse, a breakpoint, at which people say, “enough is enough!”


Here a community hits rock bottom. When you visit such a community, you can hear people saying such things as, “it can’t go on like this anymore,” or “enough is enough!” While in the Waiting Place there is a sense of simply “waiting”... in Impasse there is a noticeable sense of urgency in people’s voices. Things have crystallized for people and the need for action is clear. Often people are afraid that they are losing their future; they are tired of “waiting.”


During this stage, a small group of people and organizations emerge to take risks and experiment in ways that challenge existing norms of how the community works. In addition, people within their community begin to discover that they share common aspirations for their community and that they can, in small ways, start to make a difference.


Over the course of this stage, Centers of Strength will be expanding; networks growing and spreading; a sense of common purpose and direction taking deep root. People within the community now see clear and unmistakable signs of how the community is moving forward and can see and feel and experience much greater leadership at all levels of the community — from the official level, to neighborhoods, within civic organizations and non-profits.

Sustain and Renew

A community in the Sustain and Renew stage must find ways to bring along new Centers of Strength, new leaders and a new cadre of citizens to be the spark plugs. Without them, the community will stagnate and possibly enter a new stage of decline.

This is in contrast to “The Organization-First Approach” more likely to be adopted by intermediary civic organizations, including city halls, that by pulling inward toward their own organizational structure raise the danger of allowing programs and professionalization to crowd out the community. The report was developed by the Harwood Institute for the Kettering Foundation (which is featured in the Governance through Community wiki-page). The report, among a number of other key reports and books, is also available here.

The Harwood Institute also makes available for download a simple set of tools called “Harwood in a Half Hour” that can be used in working with a community to start to help shift the approach to community building. The LinkedIn Harwood Public Innovators Resource Group provides an opportunity for like minded individuals to share tips, tools and information on turning outward, all to help motivated individuals become Public Innovators.

The Harwood Institute has worked in economically distressed and struggling communities such as Newark, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan. They have enhanced their relevance and impact in the communities they serve by creating a group of “Beacon Communities” to develop a critical mass of public innovators and partnering with influential organizations like United Way Worldwide, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the American Library Association.

Last year, Rich Harwood, facilitated a series of meetings in the grieving city of Newtown, Connecticut to help decide what to do with Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of the horrific mass murder of children and school personnel the previous December. The philosophy which guided the work in Newtown and brought about an emotional, yet harmonious, decision was based on a guiding principle, found in Rich Harwood’s latest book The Work of Hope, that fixing our politics shouldn’t be our top priority.  According to Rich Harwood, “The central task in our society is to restore belief in ourselves and one another that we can get things done, together.

Another private organization taking a similar bottom-up, inside out approach to community building from perhaps a more technical perspective with its own take on Social Ecology through The Science of Community is the JKA Group, which also has its own LinkedIn group, Social Ecology: The Science of Community.  The concept of Social Ecology meshes with concepts introduced earlier in Seeing Economy and Community as Ecosystem Another Way of Shifting the Paradigm concerning rebuilding local economies,  So how do we start building Wise Economies?  Economies = Communities = Ecosystems.

Finally, at least for this post, is CommunityMatters, also with its own LinkedIn group has hosted a number of conference calls of interest to this effort.  One of the primary objectives of this effort was to gather resources to assist in the creation of new community paradigms and CommunityMatters offers a treasure chest full. More will be done on CommunityMatters in the future in exploring the partnerships they have formed, many of which are already featured in the New Community Paradigms wiki such as Project for Public Spaces, NCDD (National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation), Strong Towns, AmericaSpeaks, Everyday Democracy, Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and the Harwood Institute, other relevant organizations agencies such as Connecting Communities Learning Exchange, Orton Family Foundation, Grassroots Grantmakers, New America Foundation, The National Consortium for Creative Placemaking, Heart & Soul Community Planning, The Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, Harvard - ASH Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and their Project on Social Innovation will also be explored and added in future posts.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Better Deliberative and Participatory Democratic Community Based Governance through Systems Thinking

This blog post is on incorporating principles of systems thinking into a system of direct deliberative and participatory community based governance by using a systems thinking model, Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking.  The concept of deliberative and participatory community based governance was first discussed in the early stages of this effort with Using Online Communities to encourage Direct Democracy for On-The-Ground Communities and was related with resources found under the People’s Governance in California and Community Governance wiki-pages.

Systems thinking has also been previously discussed.  Resources gathered and organized so far and related blog posts can be found under the Systems Thinking Approaches wiki-page.  However, until the blog post before this one, those blog posts had been about system thinking working within various areas of concern related to new community paradigms with a vantage point looking from the outside in.  This post and the one before it are the first time using system thinking means of conveying concepts through system thinking models. The last post focused more on factors regarding the mechanisms of systems thinking. This post will expand upon that to include direct deliberative and participatory community based governance. 

The last post dealt with a systems thinking model developed by Gene Bellinger. Gene runs the (STiA) Systems Thinking in Action LinkedIn group, and a host of other systems thinking learning resources on the Internet including STiA Brain and Systems Thinking in Action Wiki. Gene used to make a systems thinking (ST) model that told a story by unfolding the presentation of elements and links making up the system under consideration.  This particular ST model dealt with factors that would likely encourage groups or organizations to use and continue using systems thinking principles.  From a systems thinking perspective, few people could make a better argument for this than Gene.

Any model not made private in can be ‘cloned’ or copied, so I cloned Gene’s model and renamed it, A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking, other than that, I made no other changes.  Gene had used his model in an online community discussion regarding the future of the now Systems Thinking in Action LinkedIn group, so it was designed to have a relevant impact upon the nature of the group.

My purpose in cloning the model was to demonstrate how systems thinking could be used by a group as a means of collaborative communication, particularly in comparison with written means such as blog posts.  The last blog post provided ‘a build a watch to tell the time’ explanation of the A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking model. This was, of course, redundant but it made explicit how the story could be presented by the model unfolding. It also made the point that writing as opposed to the ST model was far less efficient in conveying the information.

The Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking model is going to be allowed to speak more for itself.  It works in the same manner as the previous model.  Clicking the [Step Forward] button at the bottom right hand corner of the model’s page moves the ‘story’ one step forward revealing elements and links, developing their relationship. Relevant information is provided at the bottom bar of the model with each step. Additional information can be found in each element (or in each link), by placing the mouse over the element and clicking on the ‘i’ icon that is revealed. The model will demonstrate the potential relationship between systems thinking and direct deliberative participatory democracy. This blog post will deal more directly with pertinent aspects of the model itself. 

I will describe some of the differences between the two models. When you open up the Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking model, the embedded A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking is already on the page in a dimmed state. I kept the A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking model almost unchanged, wanting to show how it is possible to build upon models to develop and expand upon ideas. 

Instead of starting with ‘A Better World’ as the end goal, the new model starts with ‘Civic Community’, which is quickly explained to be made up of various community and civic groups.  A more relevant point is that the system is then bifurcated into two separate dynamic subsystems, direct deliberative participatory democracy and systems thinking. 

This bifurcation is made readily apparent with this latest ST model, whereas with the A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking model, the group dynamics were somewhat more subsumed under the development of the systems thinking process. Another change made in the more current model is that links are labeled.  This allows you to more precisely define the relationship between the elements. The label ‘adopts' was chosen because the principles defining direct deliberative participatory democracy and the principles defining systems thinking would in turn be used in defining the community, as a system, from that point on. Another change with the links is that some are made bi-directional with the premise being that the influence or affect can go both ways. 

The elements and links of the A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking were maintained, but reformatted so that the participatory democracy elements are gathered in the top right hand corner of the new model and the systems thinking elements are gathered in the bottom left hand corner. Most of the new links for the Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking model are purple or violet (depending upon how big your crayon box was when you were young). The A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking model links are blue, making it easy to determine where the two models interact. Based on the design decision to keep the original model and work around it, the unfolding of the A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking component of the current model is for the most part in reverse order.  

The new model also introduces two new re-enforcing loops similar to those found in the previous model.  Under the new model, each R loop is provided a title, as proposed in the last blog post, under the ‘i’ icon. R5, Deliberative Democratic Dialogue defines the relationship with the group dynamics of the A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking model. R6, Creating Proto-type ST models, introduces an additional component of systematic intervention with the community group and other staff, based hypothetically on design thinking concepts. (The differences between design thinking and systems thinking and how they can be related needs to be explored more in the future.)

One change made from the A 'Better World' thru Systems Thinking model is that the Discussion Perceived Meaningfulness was renamed Discussion Perceived and Defined Meaningfulness. As is explained in the related ‘i’ icon for the element, “‘Definedmeaningfulness is added as good or bad the decisions will define and provide meaning for the community. BD The element Discussion Perceived and Defined Meaningfulness is in the center of the new model with multiple links connecting to it.

A new element is also included, by repurposing a variable primitive. Under, primitives are the various text boxes, pictures, stocks, links, flows and variables that can be used in making up the models. The variable primitive is usually used to set a value for something defined numerically or mathematically, such as the interest rate on money in a bank. I wanted to convey values in a different manner and differentiate it from the other elements in the model.  In this case the focus is on the possible values created by the system.  This hierarchy is admittedly hypothetical at this point.

“Decisions or outcomes between competing proposals are endeavored to be reached through a collaborative process that may or may not work. This means that such decisions could reach a level of: 1. Synthesis, 2. Collaboration, 3. Compromise, 4. Prioritization, 5. Competitive Selection.”

A third new re-enforcing loop, R7 Enhancement of Systems Thinking, is revealed, delineated by green links.  The model finishes off asserting that, ‘A Better World’ helps to create ‘A Better Community’. 

The Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking model is a simple, even simplistic model. It only provides positively re-enforcing loops. It could perhaps be demonstrated more openly that a balancing loop is inherent within the system between systems thinking and deliberative democracy, with each one influencing the other to be maintained within certain parameters.  There are no negatively re-enforcing loops. One could imagine an element being included within the deliberative and participatory democracy subsystem being made up of a small group of individuals allowed to dictate the outcomes of the larger group.  Using A Ladder of Citizen Participation by Sherry R. Arnstein as a metric, those factors at the bottom of the ladder of engagement would be apparent if the group excessively limited the engagement of the larger community, and at the top if the group was exceedingly open and transparent or perhaps even not in existence. The same could happen with the systems thinking subsystem with a manager that only selected certain projects that specifically benefited those in the selected group and in turn helped guarantee continued employment. Taken together, these two elements could create an ‘entrenched’ government institution within the community that could continue under a facade of democratic protocols despite not truly adhering to democratic principles. It doesn’t demonstrate how two or more proposed alternative interventions might work through the entire model.

If you wish to learn about systems thinking in more detail, I am again going to recommend the book Beyond Connecting the Dots Modeling for Meaningful Results, Copyright © 2013 Scott Fortmann-Roe and Gene Bellinger featured in the right hand column of this blog.

Beginning using Systems Thinking for New Community Paradigms, not just talking about it

Another area of inquiry this blog has delved into in the past and is still exploring is systems thinking. Systems Thinking as a disciplined process for Community Governance, New Community Paradigms Thinking Requires Systems Thinking, Systems Thinking: Recursion for Reconfiguration and Reconceptualization and the creation of the Systems Thinking Approaches wiki-page explored the inclusion of systems thinking into community development and community-based governance. Further knowledge was acquired from the Model Thinking class through the University of Michigan taught by Professor Scott E. Page featured on Coursea. However, nothing has been done so far directly with systems thinking methodologies, design or implementation.

The use of systems thinking in community-based governance would be a paradigm shift because it would focus on not what we do but on how we do things, even on how we think.  It requires a different perspective from what we have usually employed in the past. It has a different means of expressing ideas, through diagrams or models instead of words. It demonstrates the relationships between elements making up a system examined as a whole instead of separating them through reduction. 

This post considers a particular system model or diagram based on or cloned from a systems model developed by Gene Bellinger, who runs the (STiA) Systems Thinking in Action LinkedIn group, and a host of other systems thinking learning resources on the Internet including STiA Brain and Systems Thinking in Action Wiki.

A system being examined can be revealed through a step by step process called storytelling, unfolding by clicking a [Step Forward] button until the entire system and its inherent relationships are made explicit. One online program for building systems thinking models that does this rather well is  This blog post is a written description of such a system thinking ‘story’ diagram as a narrative translation of the diagram providing both a comparison and more explicit though lengthy explanation. This blog post is seventy-five percent longer than usual to introduce and fully explain the systems thinking model in question.

This particular ‘story’ explains the relationship between the development of a systems thinking based intervention as a product or tool to address a challenge facing a group, and the process that such a group, especially one without expertise in systems thinking, might adopt in the development of that systems thinking based intervention and whether that group would be likely to do so again in the future.  This particular story includes some specific system thinking concepts but the primary focus is on how the elements of two dynamic processes relate (though one is subsumed within the other) to each other creating a whole system and how it unfolds to make itself understandable.  

A systems thinking diagram can be presented on one page and once unfolded can be basically comprehended with a single viewing. Well, at least by most. This may be a matter of becoming familiar with this method or perhaps some will always prefer narrative and the stories we create to explain our world. Competing narratives, however, are difficult to combine into a common platform of concepts whereas a diagram can readily make the relationships more explicit. 

When you open the model, you will see a blank page except for a Better World at the top of the page, a menu bar above that and buttons for [Start Over], [Exit Story] and [Step Forward], as well as the words, "the objective is to create a better world" at the bottom of the screen. 

In the story, a group or organization deciding on adopting a systems thinking approach to developing interventions establishes a goal of making A Better World. This is started by clicking the [Step Forward] at the bottom right corner to take the first step through Successful Interventions based upon systems thinking. The systems thinking (ST) diagram will show the two labels connected with an arrow to convey the idea that Successful Interventions contribute or add to A Better World.

The next [Step Forward] of the ST diagram then reveals more concepts indicating that Successful Interventions contribute or add to the Perceived Utility of Systems Thinking, which in turn adds to the likelihood that Systematic Interventions will be utilized which in turn reinforces the likely reoccurrence of Successful Interventions.  This circular relationship is known as a reinforcing loop. 

Additional information on the particular elements making up the system or in this case concepts can be found by placing the cursor on each of the labels to reveal a small ‘i’ icon in the right top corner which when clicked presents notes for that particular label  All of the notes were written by Gene and are being used so has to provide the most optimal explanation of how a systems thinking approach works. They are quoted in this post as part of the narrative explanation. Each [Step Forward] will also reveal additional information at the bottom of the model’s screen. 

This specific reinforcing loop is concerned with the implementation of system thinking interventions. It does not consider why or how they were created or the consequences if they are unsuccessful in except that it would assumedly decrease their utility. 

Loop R1 {Implementation of Systems Thinking Intervention}
Successful Interventions to
A successful intervention is one that accomplishes what it was intended to do and makes the encompassing whole better. This is based on the Ackoff statement that one should never improve any part of a system that doesn't also improve the whole. 

The perception is that systemic interventions will promote successful interventions and those successful interventions will result in a better world 
as well as promote the perceived utility of Systems Thinking. (More on Russel L. Ackoff and his career)

Perceived Utility of Systems Thinking
Both participants understanding of Systems Thinking and 
the perceived meaningfulness of discussions are considered to 
contribute to the perceived utility of Systems Thinking.

Systemic Interventions
Systemic interventions are those which are developed based on one of the existing models or methods which embrace the Systems Thinking paradigm.

The next [Step Forward] shows a separate reinforcing Loop R2 {Group Development of Systems Thinking}. Starting with Understanding of Systems Thinking, the attached note explains, An understanding of Systems Thinking is considered essential to promote systemic interventions and the perceived utility of Systems Thinking. This refers to the ability and willingness of a group or organization to use systems thinking as a means of developing and applying systems thinking based interventions. This contributes or adds to Employment of ST Models and Methods, which attached note explains, Actually employing a Systems Thinking model or method for the investigation is expected to improve the perceived meaningfulness of the discussion.

This in turns adds to the Discussion Perceived Meaningfulness by the organization or group considering the use of systems thinking based interventions. Well facilitated meaningful discussions are expected to promote both an understanding of Systems Thinking and its perceived utility. Again adding to the starting point Understanding of Systems Thinking making this another reinforcing loop.

The next [Step Forward] reveals three new arrows establishing new relationships between one Understanding of Systems Thinking and Systemic Interventions; two Understanding of Systems Thinking and Perceived Utility of Systems Thinking and three Discussion Perceived Meaningfulness and Perceived Utility of Systems Thinking. The point being conveyed is that the process that an organization or group employs in developing systems thinking strategies and models have influence on the continued implementation of system thinking based interventions. 

The next [Step Forward] reveals Loop R3 {Facilitation of Group Development for Systems Thinking} but this time connected directly to the R2 loop by way of Discussion Perceived Meaningfulness which contributes or adds to Discussion Facilitation. The attached note explains, Facilitation is intended to promote the perceived meaningfulness of the discussion by keeping it on track and ensuring that the interactions are respectful of individuals and their time. So if the discussion is seen as meaningful by the participants because the systems thinking interventions have been successful, it will be easier to keep the discussions on target and to create new successful interventions.  The arrow is again indicating adds to or contributes to, from Discussion Facilitation to Stay on Track, This is considered very closely related to respectful of individuals and their time. Keeping the discussion on track is expected to make it more meaningful. and subsequently back to Discussion Perceived Meaningfulness. Overall, this loop has more to do with the organization or group itself and how it creates and develops system thinking interventions.  There may be potentially successful interventions possible but if a group cannot work to develop them it makes little difference.  

In the next [Step Forward], a fourth reinforcing Loop R4 {Respectful of Individuals and Their Time} basically makes explicit and reinforces one of the ideas already presented in the Loop R3 {Facilitation of Group Development for Systems Thinking}. 

Two new concepts are added in the next [Step Forward] following that directly or indirectly add to both Discussion Facilitation and Discussion Perceived Meaningfulness. The inclusion of a systems thinking STW moderator, Moderator ensures that all approved discussions have and that the initiator agrees to moderate the discussion”, who contributes to Discussion Facilitation as well as contributing to Defined Intent. Having a defined intent for the discussion is expected to increase the likelihood of facilitation as well as perceived meaningfulness. In this case, the focus is on improving the development of the systems thinking intervention model rather than on enhancing the discussion by the group. Developing an intervention which attempts to reach divergent or opposing goals at the same time will not work. The group has to first decide on its goals and ensure that they are all properly related.  If a specific goal or set of goals is established for the systems thinking based intervention, then this, in turn, will allow such Defined Intent to optimally contribute to both Discussion Facilitation and Discussion Perceived Meaningfulness.  

The STW moderator, the next [Step Forward] reveals, also contributes to Facilitated ST Learning.  In other words, the group learns while doing. The attached note explains, It is expected that meaningful discussions alone are not sufficient to promote the ongoing development of Systems Thinking understanding. As such the STW moderator will facilitate learning programs personally or by other members of the group. This naturally contributes to an Understanding of Systems Thinking and all the related and subsequent iteratively reinforcing loops.

This particular systems thinking diagram deals with the utilization of systems thinking interventions by a group in general.  It does not specify a particular systems thinking intervention, the type of group considering the intervention or the process by which the group determines the intervention or how it implements that intervention. The next stage of development will be to create an expanded model that separates the group interaction through direct participatory democracy as a dynamic process and illustrates how it and the process of creating systems thinking interventions could support each other.  

The explanation provided by this post is far longer and would be more difficult for a group working to all comprehend together than would a systems thinking model.  The systems thinking model provides a basis for disciplined collaboration.  Further explorations into incorporating systems thinking into direct deliberative community-based democracy will be made in the future. For anyone wishing to begin their own education into systems thinking modeling, I am going to recommend the book Beyond Connecting the Dots Modeling for Meaningful Results, Copyright © 2013 Scott Fortmann-Roe and Gene Bellinger featured in the right-hand column of this blog. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Code for America moving Beyond Transparency to Civic Disruptive Innovation?

Last month the post Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation continued to reassess the potential of Code for America as a viable agent for change in light of the previously made statement that it basically creates sustaining innovations rather than truly disruptive innovations.

Since then there has been an increasing appreciation for the role that Code for America could have in the future in implementing disruptive innovation of the public sector by elements of the civic arena.  The question is how to incorporate such a possibility within a new community paradigms endeavor.

It is the publishing of Code for America's recent print and e-book Beyond Transparency; Open Data and the Future of Civic Innovation that holds the most promise but to what degree that promise will be met is still an open question both inside and outside of the organization, reaching a level of disruptive innovation is yet another matter.

Before getting to Beyond Transparency, it is necessary to first get to basic transparency or the establishment of open data by government. This was covered by a Code of America panel Open Data - Getting Started wiki-page on the New Community Paradigms wiki.  The Open Data - Getting Started panel discussed how to get communities to adopt and establish open data policies and practices.  As was noted in the Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation, "The discussion, at one level, reenforced the perspective that Code for America was for the most part a source of sustaining innovation.  On another level, it helped to plant the seeds for innovation applied through what can be termed disruptive design."

First, let's establish that Code for America is primarily geared towards hackers, using that term in the best and widest sense. What Code for America does is for the benefit of communities or the people living in those communities, usually through local government institutions, but the main body of people engaged in Code for America are hackers. 

Code for America has its own community online, which is to be expected, or more accurately communities, all of which seem loosely organized. Code for America Brigade has a Google Group with at last count 1910 members which discusses among themselves such topics as how city size affects city open-data-ness? More relevant for later in this post, Mark Head discusses Open Data and "Exoproduction" based on his blog post on the same topic. Code for America Brigade features specific geographic locations like Code for Los Angeles with 54 registered civic hackers at last count. Overall organization seems amorphous in structure though not in purpose.  

Code for America does connect with other online democratic efforts such as the E-Democracy forum extending into the public square online or with the even more on the ground efforts of CNU Public Square. They are teaming up with Code for America, through MindMixer, to talk about how to use technology to improve the way governments and citizens work together through a nationwide call for ideas — Ideation Nation. Non-hackers can to interact with Code for America through the online newsletter #Meta Sights and Sounds from Code for America. The November issue provided a chance to Advocate for open data through an article by Tim O’Reilly, What’s Really At Stake in Better Interfaces to Government and a Book Review: Beyond Transparency by Susannah Vila. 

Vila recognizes that Beyond Transparency could be an important, but still early step in broad based community based civic innovation.

Beyond Transparency is a milestone for the civic innovation community both because it codifies what’s been learned and delineates what has not yet been learned. As Goldstein, the former CTO of Chicago and co-editor of the book, said recently, the civic innovation community now needs “to launch past to the next step, we have made good work, but there’s a lot more to do we do government as smart as we do other sectors? That should be our challenge.”

The participants in the Beyond Transparency - Meet the Authors video Featured in Beyond Transparency - Code for America wiki-page of the New Community wiki also addressed the issue, both from the idealism of advocacy and the pragmatism of creating viable public programs.

Steve Spiker, @spjika author of CHAPTER 9 Oakland and the Search for the Open City talked about the human aspect of open data and extending it into other social areas that are not currently using open data. "Design can take open data to a different level by  providing information to the public in a different ways then when the government controlled all the data from a single point.", according to Cyd Harrell, Code for America author of CHAPTER 12 The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: Data and Design in Innovative Citizen Experiences.  Greg Bloom, @greggish, author of CHAPTER 19 Towards a Community Data Commons, spoke of discovering and making available civic resources outside of government.

John Bracken of the Knight Foundation and author of CHAPTER 20 The Bigger Picture: Ten Lessons for Taking Open Government Further put forward two focuses, first news and information and second community. "Think past the progress we've made and think a little bit about the gaps where we really haven't made progress." Bracken also expressed the desire to move beyond the hopeful Idealistic stage to a more practical heavy lifting door-to-door level of work. John Fry of Revelstone, co-author of CHAPTER 18 Benchmarking Performance Data believes, "You can progress by sharing your information with others." And that "Sharing information with the public in a meaningful way can actually get you to the goals that you want." Jonathan Feldman Chief Information Officer City of Asheville, North Carolina and author of CHAPTER 5 Asheville’s Open Data Journey: Pragmatics, Policy, and Participation expressed the perspective that you need vendors and the market place because you can't do it by your self. 

Finally, Mark Head, Chief Data Officer for the City of Philadelphia, blogger at CIVIC INNOVATIONS  and author of CHAPTER 21 New Thinking in How Governments Deliver Services, discussed dealing with information technology procurement being situated in between raw data and community hacked apps as explained in Open Data and "Exoproduction" blog post cited above.

Nancy Scola, in her Next City article, Beyond Code in the Tomorrow City asked Jennifer Pahlka, the organization’s founder and executive director, to pinpoint what might be the most relevant criticism of Code for America. 

You can’t,” Pahlka says, “solve the world’s problems through apps.”  “No, of course you can’t,” she continues, on the potential for apps to save the universe. “But you can start a dialogue. You can figure out ways that give people new tools and get them re-excited about government. You can give people opportunities to be the agents of culture change.” 

Scola goes on to write, “In fact, asking what happens to the apps post-fellows leads us to a critical, if behind-the-scenes, debate about the future of Code for America. It boils down to whether the non-profit will be most successful if it focuses on refining its often rough-hewn apps or, instead, what seems to be its raison d‘être circa 2013: Rallying others around the government innovation flag.”

Rallying around the government innovation flag would be a good start but that would only be at best government blessed rebellions and what is needed is something closer to a revolution, not a violent one through the disruption of force but one made possible through the disruption of innovation.  As was observed in the Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation post,

Moving to open data can be more though than a means of providing an online community-based infrastructure allowing for future innovation. The establishment of an open data platform could help move an institution from a system of centralized, complicated-oriented, mechanistic control system to a more open complex adaptive system.  

That would greatly increase the likelihood for civic disruptive innovation and enhance our ability to meet the wicked challenges facing our communities.

Past Posts