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.

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 (updated 1/30/2019) 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, Prezi and Skype or other similar programs to communicate and collaborate through systemic process interventions with others in an effective and efficient manner. despite 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