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.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bridging Differences in Approaches through Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking

It has been more than a month since the last blog post. Seasonal holidays were partially to blame but a good measure was due to pursuing some new concepts discovered over the last series of blog posts along with their related Kumu maps. These sought to combine ideas concerning direct democracy, involving both participatory and deliberative aspects of democracy together, with systems thinking.

A Map for Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking (Kumu map) began the integration of the two and incorporating the insights of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) on dialogue and deliberation. Direct Democracy and System Thinking Map - Some Potholes on the Journey continued with a closer critique.

The last post, Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles and its related Kumu map endeavored to test this line of inquiry by running a simulation, in parallel, of ranked group voting with an actual NCDD Codigital voting project (Download the NCDD/Codigital report here). That NCDD project, in turn, was based on a previous NCDD Codigital project (details), launched at the 2014 National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) conference in Washington DC to deal with four perceived barriers to the dialogue and deliberation community’s success through four essential questions.

  1. How might we eliminate structural barriers in our democratic systems? 
  2. How might we more clearly delineate our field of practice for ourselves and for those we seek to serve? 
  3. How might we make our D&D work more equitable, inclusive and empowering? 
  4. How might we overcome the lack of trust in our Democracy, leaders and one another? 
The last post dealt more with the differences between the NCDD/Codigital project and the Kumu map that paralleled the process to highlight some limitations of both systems.

The Kumu map has the inherent limitations of all models, being wrong but hopefully useful (via George Box). The last post also discussed some limitations of ranked voting systems. These issues are expanded upon and discussed more fully in Arrow's impossibility theorem - Wikipedia and the article in the Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Apr. 1954), pp. 114-123 which discusses Arrow's work.

The primary difference though between the NCDD/Codigital approach and the Kumu map approach was one of process and intention. The later moving from basically abstract ideas to areas of application, to connecting ideas together for strategic application to begin overcoming what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton called the Knowing-Doing Gap. The point is never an evaluation of NCDD or its activities but a means of testing the concept of integrating systems thinking with community-based systems of direct democracy and whether the integration of the two could be mutually beneficial.

This blog post looks at the similarities or where the two approaches could potentially agree. The juncture of the two is created by the extension of elements of the Kumu map, Stage 3 Priority Issues and Stage 4 Cluster Maps to incorporate some of the top ranked NCDD objectives. Kumu clustering reveals connections between different ideas and suggests how they could be made to work together toward common goals. It is still a simulation or an imaginary model but it could be feasible for a community to adopt such a strategy proposed by the Kumu map, and hypothetically even more feasible is the combination of the two approaches.

Below are some of the top ranked objectives of the NCDD/Codigital project clustered with prioritized and other connected Kumu map objectives to attain common goals.

"Focus on D&D work at the local level, where engagement efforts are much more likely to influence decisions” was the top ranked idea in the NCDD project for the question, “How might we overcome the lack of trust in our Democracy, leaders and one another?” and a priority community issue under the Kumu mapping system.

"Engage members of NCDD, IAP2, IAF, OD Network, AoH & other overlapping through different networks to explore how we might support each other's work & combine efforts where appropriate" was ranked third under “How might we more clearly delineate our field of practice for ourselves and for those we seek to serve?” While made a priority issue under the Kumu map it was also seen as a community issue and connected to a number of other related issues including the priority Trust objective of focusing on D&D work at the local level.

For the question “How might we make our D&D work more equitable, inclusive and empowering?”, the top NCDD objective was, Framing: Ensure that the community is the key framer of the issue(s), was seen as a civic issue but not a priority one. It was connected though through clustering to similar concerns from access, trust, and barriers. The priority Kumu issue to which it was connected was “Celebrate individuals who have opposing views rather than attempting to marginalize them”.

The second-ranked NCDD goal, "Co-design the process with the community, developing appropriate and accessible materials and engaging and mentoring community members as peer facilitators" was also seen as a community issue, was made a priority and was connected through clustering to ‘Focus on D&D work at the local level’ and other objectives.

The third-ranked objective, "Go beyond the D&D to involve the fields of social justice, community development, environmental justice, civic renewal, etc., to bring principles of equity and mobilization to D&D, and for D&D to offer these fields our principles of deliberation" was seen as organizational because it was NCDD defining itself. It was not seen as a priority issue as it was seen as going in the wrong general direction for NCDD (raising a point of personal bias, mine). It was, however, a clustered connection because indirectly the work of NCDD could help bring this about.

The 'Why?' of the four questions, important in overcoming the Knowing-Doing Gap, was not sufficiently addressed, at least directly by either of the two approaches. In particular from the Kumu perspective of moving from an organizational setting to a community-based setting. Much of the why for the NCDD project had been likely settled at or shortly after the conference but as far as I can tell never explicitly documented. Not that it would have been necessary for their internal purposes. The why of the goals may have resonated so well within their community that they did not need to be made explicit.

The supposed ‘why’ for new community paradigms would still be an extension of the simulation but I believe would still have resonance and further lend support to the hypothesis that such a system could be made to work if implemented. Such a perspective though would include systems thinking objectives which admittedly were not included in the NCDD approach nor did they reach priority level within the Kumu map. It is the reason that systems thinking is seen as a system of scaffolding the means for direct democracy. The lessons thus learned are to endeavor to transform the organization and its members to bring about the desired transformation of a community and its members.

The why of the four essential questions also work from the perspective of finding pathways to new community paradigms and overcoming different types of barriers, including from a systems thinking point of view.

What are the structural barriers in our democratic systems from a systems thinking perspective? Is there a real or perceptual difference between structural barriers (seen as static) and systemic bottlenecks (seen as dynamic)? What are the sources and what are the points of leverage? How are these points of leverage implemented to achieve elimination and maintain elimination of barriers to ensure continuity of the new configuration? Are these changes to be implemented internally or externally? What is our field of practice and whom do we seek to serve? What stops us from serving them beside the structural or systemic barriers to our democratic systems? What can be done to overcome these additional impediments? What are the apparent sources and actual sources creating a lack of trust? These questions have as much importance for establishing new community paradigms or any community building process as they do for the organization of NCDD.

This blog will continue to exam these and other related questions and has established a new wiki-bridge page Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking for this purpose. However, that still leaves one or two elephants in the room. First, all that has been at least reasonably established is that such a system as described above could work if implemented but so far it has never been and any means of doing so have not been adequately laid out. Second, it could be readily argued that within the examination of these questions more attention needs to be paid to the soft systems aspect of the Map for Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking (Kumu map), the R1 Deliberative Democratic Dialogue loop, as opposed to the more dynamic systems thinking approaches of R2 Working with Systems Thinking loop. It was pursuing these new avenues of inquiry that kept me occupied since the last blog post and will likely do so for some time in the future. One avenue being participation in an online discussion on "Dialogue, Deliberation, and Systemic Transformation” that arose as an outcome of the NCDD project, another being continuing learning about Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language recently introduced but proving to have important connections and third being to once again develop the concept of democratic directed disruptive design which is seen even more as an essential catalyst for meaningful, substantive and sustainable community change .

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