This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Thursday, 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.

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