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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles

This blog post is on experimenting with ideas through a new Kumu relational map, “Using Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles” which could be placed within the process described by the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking relational map in the last two blog posts.

Involving, in particular, the reinforcing loops of R3 Group Facilitation for Systems Thinking, as well as R4 Maintains Respect for Individuals and Time and R5 Group Development Systems Thinking from the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking map. These loops focus on either the element Dialogue Facilitation or the element Perceived & Defined Meaningfulness of Deliberation. It is where these loops meet that the incorporation of dialogue and deliberation as essential elements of democracy can be realized.

Follow up discussions within LinkedIn, particularly the groups for Community Engagement and the Enabling a Better Tomorrow: A Systems Learning Community encouraged a broader perspective. Those involved in Community Engagement agreed with the possibility of including soft systems thinking approaches, such as Appreciative Inquiry to what could be called a creative condition for the generation of ideas or content. Those involved in Systems Thinking were more aligned with the approach of being capable of providing context to the ideas and potentially being able to provide causality through harder based methodologies such as Systems Dynamics.

The “Using Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles map is designed to simulate the potential outcomes from multiple and diverse group interactions involved in a direct democracy form of community governance supported by systems thinking.

The map tracks the parallel simulation of the virtual group interaction by four groups, each made up of 46 to 72 individuals, (some could belong to more than one group) addressing one of four sets of issues, based on a Codigital project (details) and initiated at the 2014 the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) conference in Washington DC, October 17 - 19, 2014, which dealt with the identification of existing strategies and co-creation of new strategies to promote the NCDD’s mission of encouraging dialogue and deliberation.

The ideas were generated, developed through editing, voted on and then ranked by a process developed by Codigital which through an “evolutionary algorithm controls and coordinates the inputs of multiple participants in real time to generate focused, optimized collaborative output.” A simple explanation can be found here, a more in-depth one here.

The appendix of the later, featuring what is termed a Fitness Landscape, was particularly interesting as a reminder of a set of lectures on Problem Solving and Innovation by Professor Scott E. Page, who has been featured before on this blog.

Participation for the purpose of generating the map occurred between October 20 to November 7, 2014. The map did not seek to replicate the Codigital system but instead to simulate the competition of ideas in a group setting.

The common factors were the ideas created through the NCDD process and the randomly generated pair-wise voting choices generated by the Codigital system. The difference between Codigital and the map was that for the map the vote between two ideas was recorded as both a yes vote and a no vote with yes being assigned 1 and no being assigned -1. The votes for each idea were then cumulated over the duration of the project. The result of the randomly generated up or down voting meant pushing ideas accordingly, some acutely in one direction, others bounced back and forth.

The map's final outcomes then did not match the Codigital final outcomes. The map, admittedly, had a bias for ideas in the NCDD online deliberation that I supported and a relative bias against the ideas that I had submitted, as I couldn't vote on the later.

The generated pairings did not always come from the same categories of issue and it did not seem that all pairing were made available suggesting that Codigital's algorithm used some form of sampling.

Regardless of the algorithm or methodology used, all ranking systems need to address certain concerns which are more a matter of the inherent mathematical nature of the universe rather than the rational or ethical nature of humans. One such issue is the creation of a winner through a Condorcet Paradox explained here by Professor Scott E. Page, which could give the designer of a voting mechanism a great deal of latitude.

The ideas generated by Codigital were then taken through four stages of development explained in more detail in the map. One, generation of a map of the ideas for each issue with each then assigned to a particular focus, Community, Civic, Organizational or Individual. Two, the recombination of ideas from specific areas of focus across the four issues into new maps. Three, the prioritization of those issues. Four, the creation of Kumu cluster maps to discover new relationships.

Perhaps a bit ironically considering the nature of this post but not unexpectedly, two of my submitted systems thinking based ideas did not survive the Codigital process.

"What are the structural barriers in our democratic systems? Is there a real or perceptual difference between structural barriers (static) and systemic bottlenecks (dynamic)? What are the sources and what are the points of leverage?” and "Use systems thinking and relational mapping to generate, develop and evaluate community intervention ideas for selection derived from soft systems thinking such as Appreciative Inquiry.”

Some of my suggested edits also did not make it. One failed suggestion was to replace the “and have fun.” at the end of, "Get creative and innovate, with new types of public space -- local places where a diversity of citizens can meet, bump into one another, share what is important and meaningful to them, and have fun!" with ...'Work with Project for Public Places'

The point is that there was enough opportunity for input, competing ideas, along with some randomness (at least perceptually) and uncertainty to assert a claim that the process could mirror an actual, in reality messy, process. Mirror but not truly replicate, focusing only on certain parts from certain angles.

To be more functional, the map would have to be made capable of aggregating and potentially recombining input from a large number of participants rather than just one which raises the potential for greater complexity.

The Codigital process featured relatively little or only restricted dialogue and deliberation through group editing though the larger NCDD process did have online dialogues going on in other venues. The map obviously had in reality, none.

In the early stages of the Codigital process, there were a number of examples of what could be called pet projects and pet peeves, some quite good but not necessarily strategic in nature. Later, the ideas were more frequently of a broader nature of concern or focus and the input from others started to reveal different though perhaps not fully explicit choices in directions.

One such choice was to the degree that NCDD would focus its energies on established political power such as city councils as opposed to outside city hall and within the community itself. Optimally, it should be both but as this blog has continually argued many times there are city halls whose political power is entrenched. Another choice in a direction that seemed to be suggested was whether NCDD should maintain it focus on the principles of dialogue and deliberation, which is for the most part absent from our current political discourse, and focus more on particular political outcomes.

Would it be possible to find a meaningful ‘why’ that could then be translated into a ‘how’ perhaps through systems thinking causal loop diagram models? These types of questions were not addressed to any extent in the Codigital process and only alluded to in the map but are necessary to get over what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton named the Knowing-Doing Gap.

Of interest is the question whether it would be possible to combine the map with a Codigital-like process along with a Virtual Systemic Inquiry process and what sort of influence this might have on the dialogue and deliberation process if participants not only saw the ranking of ideas (aside - not sure a competition among participants is the most optimal means of evaluation) but then also saw visually how it related to other ideas and the principles that were driving the ideas on a continually updated basis.

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