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.

Past Posts