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.

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 a 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". 

The 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 principal 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 for 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 possibly 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 an ad hoc community groups along with the involvement of community members, in general, comprise the makeup 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 two loops reinforcing loops of the Community VSI (structure) map are tied in with the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking map

This begins the construction of a dynamic system that is maintained because there exist feedbacks from an element or an entity or entities within the system that maintains 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 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 extend 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 was 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.

Past Posts