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.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
As stated in a prior blog post, there is no plan to turn this blog into a data journalism site. There is still though a great deal of commonality between the efforts of new community paradigms and data journalism. Partnerships would seem to be a natural relationship. This is particularly true with new community paradigms efforts working from the outside, engaging with entrenched political institutions over a protracted period of time. This takes a more disruptive approach to establishing new community paradigms. Entrenched politicians often use anecdotal stories to support their decisions. Having a thorough analysis of the facts, especially those hidden from public view could help leverage change in a community. Even if a data based story is not of larger publication interest it could still be of importance to the community in which it is occurring.
The first challenge is finding out what data there is available. This can depend upon how consistently open the government is to transparency and open data. Those which have an open approach can offer different methods of keeping current.
Some sites will offer “email alert” functionality. The Doing Journalism with Data, First Steps, Skills and Tool course offers UK government publications as an example, here is the American version. Others will offer RSS feeds (read more about RSS). The course features the Office of National Statistics in the UK and Data.gov.uk. Here in the United States there is Data and Statistics | USA.gov.
This accessibility does not seem to be as prevalent though at the state and especially at the local levels of government and when it is available one needs to be sure that it is providing untampered and unbiased information.
Even when the institution does not offer either email alerts or RSS feeds, there are alternatives available such as ChangeDetection.com which can track changes and send update notifications with or without the willing cooperation of the institution.
There are also advanced Google search techniques that you can use to help determine what sort of information you want and where that information might be.
A Google search though can provide too much information and there can be a desire to focus the search. Searching with an exact phrase by using quotation marks e.g. “crime statistics” has fewer results compared to crime statistics with no quotes. Using a minus sign can exclude data, e.g., “crime statistics” versus “crime statistics” -national, the later will provide a more local and regional focus. You can also broaden your search with a wild card asterisk "*". Using * for example within an exact phrase such as “crime statistics city of * ” will give you a list of websites of cities and their crime statistics. You have to experiment though and the number of results generated does not stay consistent.
You can also try searching within particular types of websites for specific information. Using site:ca.gov "community health” provides community health related websites in California ending with ca.gov. Using filetype:xls will give you results formatted as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, filetype:doc as Microsoft Word documents and filetype:pdf as PDF’s.
Searching for databases is a different matter as the contents of a database might not be visible to the search engine. In that case you can use the word database "search by" instead of filetype. Databases though are the best means of organizing data for analysis if made efficiently accessible.
More advanced search operators such as Google’s advanced search, Google Guide advanced search operaters page and the ability to combine different search operators are also available.
Sometimes, however, a possibly more confrontational approach, using legal avenues to obtain information by requesting it directly from government institutions through Freedom of Information or Right to Information laws is needed, when you cannot find it online. These are rules or regulations that provide citizens access to particular types of information, such as environmental laws.
To understand these legal rules and regulations check with sources for Freedom or Right to Information laws, or connect with people fighting for these laws.
You should speak with the organization in question before making the request, to check if they do hold the data but also anticipate possible exceptions and exemptions. Consider what judgements have been made on previous or similar requests.
The second challenge, beyond gaining access, is considering the means of analyzing the type of information you are seeking, whether it follows changes over time, requiring data over time or it compares items, meaning you need data dealing with the comparison or sometimes you need data that can add context to an issue.
All of this depends though on how the institution maintains its information online and how it provides access to the public. As suggested above, maintaining the data in machine readable form within databases is the best way of establishing a transparent open data environment.
If this is the case then you can request a related data dictionary. If investigating, for example, crime, gender, victim, and suspect information gathered by the police or investigating gifts or hospitality given to individuals by organizations and that information is kept in a database, then a data dictionary can be very useful.
These have data codes, designed specifically for combining data sets that use the same code. The course provides the HES online Data Dictionary Inpatients (PDF) from Great Britain. Here is access to data dictionaries for the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obviously, it would be easier if all government institutions organized their data this way. This provides a good rationale for supporting open data laws. Often though the data is not so neatly organized and must be extracted.
There are means of collecting and extracting data usually left to those focusing on data journalism. Still understanding these methods so as to better work as or along with data journalists seems a good idea.
A primary means of extracting data is called scraping: using Google Drive spreadsheets or other online tools such as OutWit Hub , Import.io, Chrome extension Scraper or Scraperwiki. With a Google Drive spreadsheet which is available to just about everyone, it is matter of using the function formula =ImportHtml(“URL","query",index) with the URL of interest address in quotations, the type of data format which is either table or list you want, also in quotations and the sequence number of specific table or list that you want which is not in quotes.
As an example, the World Cup has been ongoing for the last few days so the course provides a FIFA webpage that publishes information on football agents in Cyprus. The formula for extracting the first table on the page is =ImportHtml(“http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/footballgovernance/playeragents/association=cyp.html”,”table”,1). Be warned though, you cannot just copy and paste from a Page or Word document or even blog post.
The New Community Paradigms wiki provides a variety of different of organizations, often through Facebook connections, outside the framework of institutional government that can provide knowledge and advice on a range of issues.
You need to map out what you’re interested in and which organizations, both governmental and non-governmental deal with that area. You might also seek other experts or pro-amateurs that collect and publish data by thinking about the people affected by the issue that interests you.
If looking for data in specialized areas of knowledge then you need to understand the jargon or professional language used in that arena. Sometimes you have to pick up the telephone and ask someone.
Data journalism pursues in depth analytical stories that may be beyond the capacity or interest of an organization focused on particular community issues. There may be times though when statistics or data on a certain issue are needed to make a case for change in a community. There are a number of different types of sources of information available to build a case for change.
1) National statistical organizations
2) Local, regional and national governments and departments
3) International bodies
4) Regulators and auditing bodies
5) Charities and non-profit institutions
7) Professional bodies and unions
8) Open data initiatives in your field
• Google’s Public Data page
• The Guardian’s datastore
At some point, these efforts take on the aspects of a long term campaign by an established and organized group rather than one time issues. Maintaining a data library then becomes essential. The course suggests using social bookmarking services such as Delicious or Pinboard.in. This site uses the Diigo Group Page feature for new community paradigms to organize sites and related tags. You can also keep records of your sources in a master document (Google Docs, Microsoft Excel). Proper tagging allows you to find your data fast.
If starting to work as an organized group for change through new community paradigms, then the basic idea behind organizing your means of accessing, extracting, collecting and analyzing data in this fashion is the same as it is for data journalism.
"If you need to do something more than once, get a computer to do it for you," Charles Arthur (The Guardian).
Finally, even if the data is not available or not made accessible by a government institution or city hall, it still raises questions. Why is there a lack of data? What are the implications if certain data is not collected? What about data that exists but is not shared? These concerns still fall under the endeavor to create new community paradigms.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
At this stage in its development, the New Community Paradigms model is not a realistic facsimile of the New Community Paradigms endeavor nor is any of it applicable to specific situations. It is interesting though how systems thinking is able to incorporate all of the elements together into an organized and useful system that could enable greater understanding in how to create and implement new community paradigms.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Monday, June 2, 2014
Now we are going to move close to getting metaphysical but it will be quick and we will come back. The problem is that there is a difference between, in writing or talking about what something is or what something does say dance as opposed to writing or talking about doing that something, even more so with actually doing it, dancing. There is the moon, there is the finger pointing at the moon and then there is a picture of the moon and a finger.
According to Thwink.org, what Systems Thinking does or is as an art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination”, and as science “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment,” of making reliable inferences about behavior by developing an increasingly deep understanding of underlying structure. A modified definition originally devised by Barry Richmond, who coined the term in 1987.
Mostly according because I added the italicized extensions of the definition moving the definition closer to the actual doing. People who do, with conviction, strive toward something they see as concrete. Our attitude towards problems is often less focused on the doing and more on getting it done, completed, finished. We want to be more direct, solve the problem at hand, forget it, then move on to something else.
Thinking is employing one's mind rationally and objectively in evaluating or dealing with a given situation; to have a certain thing as the subject of one's thoughts. Systemic, as used especially in physiology or pathology, refers to pertaining to or affecting the body as a whole, or pertaining to or affecting a particular body system. Thinking, as a verb, systematically, as an adverb, is then to think in a systematic manner pertaining to a system. It is not enough to recognize and understand a system as a system. Our own thinking must be systematic in the intervention of that system. There is a large disconnect between how obvious this may seem when written down and how often it actually occurs.
In understanding both what dance is or does and in knowing the doing of dance we can move to a higher level of development and begin to symbolically represent dance, to compose dance, to understand what is and do choreography. If we are thinking systematically about a dancer’s injury then we are not merely thinking of only the injury on the body or of a particular body system but also of the larger issues related to the body or particular body system. We could be thinking about diet or exercise or medications, even the dance floor.
If we do not then we not only fail to understand the problem deeply enough, we also take the means of addressing the problem for granted. Sometimes, although not as true as in the past, with no harm to ourselves or anyone else. More and more though we need to go deeper to avoid distant, unforeseen and unintended consequences and circumstances. These type of outcomes are becoming more frequent, especially in wicked problem situations that impact us all through our communities.
In addition to thinking about the particular specific issues, when looking at a system and establishing our boundaries of what we consider the system to be, we also begin thinking about meta-issues, the meta is the thing to focus on as higher level of abstractness or about (its own category). There might be a better general category term for what is being referred to here but its absence makes its need more evident.
The points along the Kumu path of this segment deal with management or meta-management issues that can arise when addressing various systems. These occur across systems involving people, materials, production and end products, time management, avoidance of mistakes, limitations, system fixes, acquiring new learning, organizational culture and behavior, financial relationships, sustainability, and whether the potential exists to become victims of the system or systems of the victim. Each is looked at individually but is also related back to what has been learned previously in the course through Kumu map’s visualization of the relationships.
The approach in addressing these meta-issues of the course though is back to hands-on experimentation, not metaphysical inquiry. The assignment for this segment consists of, “using one of the diagram forms presented to date develop models for two situations which are near and dear to you”. I chose a Causal Loop Diagram based on one of the models presented within the segment, New Learning Inhibited (IM-7018). I cloned the model, substantially reorganized it and extended it but nevertheless still maintained its basic structure.
The result is New Organizational Learning Inhibited through Bureaucratic Over Complicatedness & Corruption (IM-16192). The model is in storytelling format so one uses the “Step Forward” button at the bottom right corner to move through the model. The model is intended to integrate some of the concepts of theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning raised by Chris Argyris in, "Teaching Smart People How To Learn” and a number of concepts considered by New Community Paradigms.
The model starts with a balancing loop diagram Problems/Solution Generation (B1) of the commonly found command oriented top-down approach to management based on so-called Newtonian principles (the Newtonian principles are not so-called, the claiming a basis for management is). It needs to be recognized though that this has been, and can still be under the right circumstances, a very successful approach. Management finds problems to solve by use of Command Structure Management. The environment though continually raised new problems, some from the manner in which management has organized the environment and new learning about the environment, as a complicated machine requiring new algorithms is required, which is then applied to the new problems.
There is a point though at which this method begins to break down. Systems move from complicated to complex because they begin to become non-linear and demonstrate emergent properties, or perhaps the ability of the complicated management system begins to lose its capacity to contain those aspects of the always complex system. The approach exhibits “Decreasingly Effective Action” (R1) through “Inappropriate Actions” based on an over-dependence upon “Outdated Thinking, Communicating and Learning”, and the effectiveness of (B1) is diminished.
If the institution attempts to maintain the status quo it can become overly dependent upon “Typical Bureaucratic Intervention” and an increased dependency upon “Defensive Routines” which maintains the appeal of “Outdated Thinking, Communicating and Learning”, as Status Quo Bureaucratic Institutions (R2). This approach inhibits “New Learning” by the organization and the potential of “Insightful Intervention” which is what the institution needs. This can be true of private or public institutions.
If extended further by institutions then this trend can result in “Corruption of the System” through a “Status Quo Politically Based Corruption of Entrenched Institutions” (R3) to defend the institutions continued existence in its current form, which means maintaining its current form and status of power. It does not even have to be to the benefit of those individuals currently in power. New players can be brought in but the system will be maintained regardless of any well-meaning but ineffectual attempts to change it. This goes beyond the usual idea of corruption as an illegal or unethical act by someone. Corruption of a system is anything that prevents a system from fulfilling its intended purpose. Well-meaning regulations that result in detrimental and unfailingly unintended consequences are therefore corruptions of a system. There is also the ability of institutions such as public sector institutions like city halls to impose legally sanctioned constraints that benefit the few rather than the system as a whole. This is also a corruption of the system. These three reinforcing loops are, in my view, repeated single loops as defined by Argyris which metaphorically twist the system into knots, entrenching the system into the larger environment.
The means proposed for Breaking the Entrenched Loops Reinforcing Loop (R4) and instilling Argyris’ double loop to provide “Insightful Interventions” into the workings of the institution or the system itself is, as stated in the original New Learning Inhibited Model, “Being on Purpose”. This was never actually explained but it still rings true so it is maintained it, my model.
There are two ways under New Community Paradigms that communities can be on purpose. One is community governance, through participatory democracy, as considered through Community Governance and the wiki-pages and related blog posts found under it. It is also believed, however, that this approach needs to be supported or scaffolded through Systems Thinking Approaches so that members of the community are not merely engaged but become empowered with the ability to effectively address the challenges even wicked challenges facing their community. The second way is Democratic Direct Disruptive Design, first, introduce through Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation and based, at least analogously, on Clayton Christensen’s theory of Disruptive Innovation and extending that concept to Disruptive Innovation in Governance. This is still only part of the strategy that is required though to implement new community paradigms. We will need to incorporate more if we wish to succeed in creating a better tomorrow and we will undoubtedly need, I strongly suspect, some form or forms of systems thinking to accomplish it.
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