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.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Systems Thinking as Infrastructure for Collective Impact and Community Engagement

This is the fourth blog post on the continuing construction of the Collective Impact - Living Cities online course Kumu map. The other blog posts related to this endeavor can be found at the Collective Impact wiki-page of the New Community Paradigms Wiki. The challenge is not only dealing with what is being presented but how it is being presented through experimentation with relational mapping as a means of accessing the material for better understanding. Kumu relational mapping is a web-based tool for tracking and visualizing relationships. This, however, also requires additional, new learning. It is the same Kumu maps, as used in the Systems Thinking Certification Program, to visually lay out the Living Cities Collective Impact course content as points on a map linking together the elements making up the five modules of the course. The question is whether this approach helps with understanding the material, not only academically but actually doing while understanding the complexity of implementing such a comprehensive undertaking?

Recently, a comment was received about Collective Impact and Kumu Relational Mapping - Creating New Ways of Seeing Our Community which saw Kumu maps as being neat and useful, although not the most efficient way to process content. This has to be recognized as being true, at least in the short term. Asking people to take on two different learning tasks at the same time is not immediately efficient, especially for individuals. Even more so if thrown in during the middle of construction of the mapping the system in question.

Too great an emphasis on efficiency, however, may not be the best course to take when dealing with complex, wicked problems requiring comprehensive approaches such as Collective Impact. The working hypothesis is that processing the content through Kumu mapping would be more effective in the long term, especially for groups, which could later be developed into more efficient approaches.

This blog has some differences with the Living Cities and Collective Impact approaches. New Community Paradigms is seeking empowerment of community members from the bottom up through deliberative democracy, scaffolded by systems thinking, and other means. It is a systems thinking aspect that has not been made sufficiently explicit in this effort. The similarities with systems thinking approaches featured in System Thinking - Concrete Wants vs Complex Realities and the Living Cities’ approach have been noted. The most explicit mention by the course of a systems thinking resource is the article “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” by Donella Meadows, though that doesn't appear until the last module. The incorporation of systems thinking, while arguably essential as a foundation, still needs to be done carefully depending on the group involved.

The use of Kumu mapping, as part of a systems thinking approach, is an attempt to take elements of the course and correspond them with the deepest levels of the systems thinking iceberg model as well as the most effective interventions of Donella Meadows' Leverage Points. In accordance with the systems thinking iceberg model, we are not only speaking of combining different methodologies or perspectives but more importantly in terms of combining different mindsets.

It is frequently cited that large, significantly abstract social systems can be difficult to understand because of the separation in the relations between various elements by time or by space. Events having a significant impact upon a community can arise from factors occurring far back in time or beyond the recognized boundaries of the system being considered, whether geographic or system's bounded.

Relational mapping can also make more explicit multiple, separate objective perspectives of a system within the same space and time. This is not the same as different subjective perspectives held by different individuals. It is looking at a system to emphasize different overall aspects of that system such as looking at a car from an engineering perspective as opposed to a design perspective. Both approaches would be dealing with the same car but would have different considerations. Each approach though is likely to influence the other approach and when combined would impact the final outcome. This means of examining a system can also occur at different levels of that system.

The last post Collective Impact and Kumu Relational Mapping - Creating New Ways of Seeing Our Community, besides focusing on some basic navigation, touched upon the element containing the journal article, Designing Public Participation Processes. It also saw the creation of a new bridge map between Module 1 and Module 2, including in this new context, the element for Designing Public Participation Processes. The remainder of this post will start fulfilling the promise to take a much closer look at the article and attempt to apply system thinking insights to the concepts involved in the designing of a public participation process. This will involve moving from the mapping of Collective Impact to dealing more directly and deeply with some of the specific territory illustrated by the map.

The Designing Public Participation Processes article provides a set of twelve design guidelines in creating a public participation system. This blog post takes those same twelve guidelines but flips their order, shuffling a few and then revamps them to better fit a new community paradigm perspective. To be clear, neither the paper nor this post sees the twelve guidelines as separate, sequential steps. The changes do though, it can be argued, influences overall design considerations.

Designing a public participation process that endeavors to reach new community paradigm levels in scope and scale would be an additionally complex effort. As with the journal article, it would involve the substantial challenge of effectively fulfilling purposes and achieving goals by engaging stakeholders in appropriate ways, satisfying all requirements, ensuring successful use of activities, methods, tools, and techniques within any constraints would require making use of interrelated design guidelines to produce a specific design, within a specific context. With systems thinking we can look further than the individual interactions making up such a process and examine some of the more abstract but still essential relationships.

The design guidelines provided by the article offer practical responses to process design issues arising due to inherent complexity. There are two general approaches, according to the article, to designing a public participation process. The first can be termed either deliberate or mandated. It is seen as a process of articulating the mission, goals, roles, and action steps and may most likely be used when such steps are all seen as key to success. This might suggest that it is the success of the project and not the process that is important. Mandated could also be defined as the institution is legally required to do it.

The second approach, using a term found in complexity science, is “emergent” involving emerging conversations between individuals, groups, and organizations, growing into broader networks of involved or affected parties to develop a clear understanding of mission, goals, roles, and action steps over time. This is more likely when participation is not mandated according to the article and the participation process Itself is the primary focus.

The purposes of a public participation process can include hard to measure intangibles. According to the article, explicitly stating the purposes of the process can help focus the design and management of participation toward the desired outcomes regarding the process. The first three revised guidelines are concerned with the system of the public participation process as a whole or overall.

1: Aligning participation goal and purposes; types of engagement; promises made to participants; engagement methods, technologies, and techniques; steps; and resources across the process reduces miscommunication, misunderstanding, serious conflicts and declines in public trust or increases in public cynicism regarding participation.

2: Developing participation evaluation measures and an evaluation process that supports producing the desired public participation outcomes. Evaluating public participation efforts by defining measures in step with deciding the purposes of engagement as opposed to whether the project was approved or not is seldom done by institutions, particularly entrenched ones.

3. Designing the participation processes to make use of information, communication, and especially other technologies that fit with the context and the purposes of the process. These technologies can include public participation geographic information systems, computer-generated visualizations, interactive Web sites, keypad voting, and strategy mapping tools. It would also include issues related to Open Data.

The next three guidelines, to be considered in the next post, are more concerned with internal dynamics of a system of the public participation process

Monday, May 11, 2015

Collective Impact and Kumu Relational Mapping - Creating New Ways of Seeing Our Community

Turns out that it is not just this blog offering a connection to the Living Cities online course to others after it has officially finished. The Harwood Institute also has it featured in an email from April 29, except they just provide the link to the first week and one is on their own after that. One then has the choice to go over the materials provided by Living Cities either directly or through these Kumu maps and blog posts. 

It has to be admitted, as someone pointed out, that these blog posts do contain a lot of material, basically because each Living Cities Initiative module contains so much material. Instead of presenting it in a more linear, narrative fashion over separate webpages, it is being presented here, at least initially, graphically on one map and that is more than one blog post of usually about four pages can handle. Even with a series, there are too many possible pathways that could be taken.

All of this might be made easier by just using the Kumu map without having to go through a blog post or the reverse. This is still in an exploring and experimenting phase right now. One experimental question being pursued is whether putting the major components of the course on a relational map, along with some new additional supporting ones, is an effective means of assisting in the learning of the material. Learning includes not only the acquiring of information but also enhancing the ability for perceiving aspects that could be questioned and finding new insights through previously unrealized relationships. 

In the last NCP post, we left connected to the Living Cities Kumu map centered on the Living Cities blog post How Can We Recapture the Spirit of Community Engagement that Built America? There are connections back to material already covered and to other written resources, a related organization StriveTogether which will reappear in weeks 3 and 5, and a number of examples of Our Work being conducted by Living Cities in this arena. Interested parties can read this material on their own now if they wish but this post will move on to other elements. 

We can now complete Module 1 by visiting Additional Resources (click to focus and double click to center). Actually, merely an empty placeholder, Additional Resources connects back to the Tamarack Institute, which was part of the Increasing Levels of Engagement focus of the first blog post of this series, and to the report, Putting Community in Collective Impact, which is part of the Harwood Institute, Community Rhythms discussion in the second blog post of this series.  We can finish with the webinar, It’s About Community, which helps tie it all together and taking a much closer look at the journal article, Designing Public Participation Processes sometime in the future.

We can start then with a different approach with Module 2. This time emphasizing some of the navigational and visual aspects of Kumu mapping. Going over with the map or clicking with the mouse will reveal related, connected elements rather than depending upon forcing the focus.  Clicking a selected element, the one in the circle will reduce the connections to one degree away and double-clicking will center the selected element. 

It may have been realized by now that it is not necessary to click each link in a blog post that connects to a portion of a Kumu map if you can see the relevant element in an already open map, reducing the number of open tabs.  The blog links are intended to help to more quickly locate relevant elements.  Other tips are revealed further down below.

Module 2 introduces ways initiatives can support community groups as they contribute to a collective impact effort. There is an Intro to the module and course, along with an introductory blog post, “Amplifying the Voices of Community Members in Collective Impact”. We will come back to this particular element later in this post. 

The Four Approaches  for Working with Communities, another junction but this time with a related video, connects to three Organizations that can be spotted on the Kumu map because of their yellow colored circle (mouse over the map to reveal) which in turn are connected to the four different approaches, through either Organization Resources elements in lighter yellow or through a bridge blog post, look for "Network building among community members" in purple.

The Harwood Institute from Module 1, connects to one of the Our Work elements for this module, Creating Shared AspirationsTrusted Space Partners, deals with Network building among community members. The third organization is Nexus  Community  Partners which connects to two approaches via Our Work elements, Leadership training  (Nexus; Urban Habitat)  and  Capacity building grants

Building the Field of Community Engagement is a large collaborative Initiative element colored in a darker yellow/orange, that includes Nexus Community Partners, as well as five other core organizations: Casa de Esperanza, Cultural Wellness Center, Hope Community, Lyndale Neighborhood Association, and Native American Community Development Institute. It connects back to the Week 2 element through two Report elements colored in red. One is Distinguish Your Work and the other is a Case study: Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI).

We can finish off this quick tour of the module with Additional resources, this time  on Asset Based Community Development, as a different type of methodology, element in a lighter green, and a related Journal Article element, in a darker red, “Effective Collective Impact: Through the Power of ABCD and RBA

Here, once again, is the full Module 2 Kumu map, but hopefully this time it is easy to see and distinguish the different types of elements and how they all connect together.  Finding your way to a destination with the map though is not the same thing as exploring that territory. That still requires digging deeper into specific sources and materials. 

Here are some more tricks to make navigating easier in the future. Related elements, connected more than one degree away, can be revealed with the icon Focus button, which looks like a telescope sight, located in the toolbar at the bottom of the map. This can go out one, two or three degrees from the element being focused on or you can clear the focus to reveal the whole map, though you may still need to use the mouse on the map first. 

You can also click on a particular element with the control key depressed, which will reveal the next connected elements. Clicking on 'Nexus Community Partners' in this map, with the control key depressed will reveal 'Building the Field of Community Engagement'. This can be repeated with each revealed element until the end of the path is reached. 

If a particular element does not appear in a specific presented portion of the map, then you can place the name or even part of the name in the search box at the top left corner of the map. Try it here with - 'Distinguish Your Work'.  After locating the element, clicking with the control key pushed down will reconnect it with any other directly related elements. 

Two additional tips, there is an icon button, Zoom to Fit, that looks like two arrows heading toward each other in the toolbar at the far top right of the map. Clicking on that button will center and size the map in question to fit the mapping area. There are also three dots at the center of the line dividing the narrative section and the map section. Clicking on these three will either reveal or hide the narrative section, allowing the map section to become larger with the Zoom to Fit button.

The hope is that these posts help to begin making any inherent complexity related to Collective Impact a bit more coherent. Whether or not the effort is worth the trouble and for whom, cannot be said right now and very likely will take to the end of this series before that can be determined.

I have been following Collective Impact since last year but to be truthful have been somewhat ambivalent about it, thinking that it may be too good to be true and having some potential disagreements with a particular view of complexity. This series is my first time writing about it.

All of this fits in with a larger question or trend of large scale transformational efforts by non-government collaborative consortiums. Other examples include the newly arising The Next Systems Project sponsored by the Democracy Collaborative and another is NetGain: Working Together for a Stronger Digital Society lead by the Knight, MacArthur, Open Society, Mozilla, and Ford Foundations working together. I am wondering how this all fits together particularly within the seams between institutional government, civil society and individual community members. For most individual community members these are outside the normal political processes and administrative systems, crossing jurisdictional boundaries, and go beyond the usual civil society relationships. 

It was mentioned above that we would return to the introductory blog post, “Amplifying the Voices of Community Members in Collective Impact”. Under the narrative section for this element on the left side, in bold is Bridging Module 1 and Module 2.  Clicking on this link will reveal a new map. This map contains material and resources from both Module 1 and Module 2, along with additional new material and resources. Most of the various elements discussed so far are represented though there are a number of new Organization Resource type elements provided. Reading the actual blog post, Amplifying the Voices of Community Members in Collective Impact together with the Modules 1 to 2 Bridge map is intended as suggested above to strengthen the learning and future applicability in designing new Collective Impact Initiatives. 

So far, this has amounted for the most part to skimming the surface despite the amount of material contained in either the blog posts or Kumu maps.  It will be necessary to return, more than a few times. The final design currently being developed is intended to not only make it easy to return later for deeper exploration but to make it possible for others with a cursory understanding of the content and process to go on their own pathways of exploration to find new community paradigms.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Pew Center on Open Data, Whether Half Full or Half Empty, What's the Next Half of the Journey?

This post will be a slight detour from the pathway being taken by the previous two NCP posts concerned with Collective Impact. The Facebook group Open Government and Civic Technology - (The global #opengov group) recently had a post on Americans’ Views on Open Government Data | Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and provided different views on the topic.

This brought to mind the past NCP blog post, Open Data as End and Means of Civic Disruptive Innovation, as well as the wiki-page that arose later, Transparency and Open Data in Governance and related blog post, Open Data - Left or Right, Inside or Outside, Works for Creating New Community Paradigms.

The Facebook post was submitted by Alex Howard of @digiphile, who also wrote 15 key insights from the Pew Internet and Life Project on the American public, open data and open government | E Pluribus Unum. According to the Sunlight Foundation Blog's perspective, “New Pew study: Public is optimistic about open government and open data”. In his Civic Innovations blog post, “Hearts and Minds and Open Data” writer Mark Headd wrote that it, "suggests a tremendous opportunity for organizers working in cities across the country to engage people to use data for new apps, services and visualizations." Steven Clift of the E-Democracy Forum and @democracy saw, “this survey as a huge wake up call to #opengov advocates on the #opendata side that the field needs to provide far more useful stuff to the general public and care a lot more about outreach and marketing to reach people with the good stuff already available.” Alex Howard also did a follow-up post, “Half empty or half full? Mixed reactions to Pew research on open data and open government” which extended the variety of perspectives even further.

Whether half full or half empty, it still puts us at being not any more than half way done. The question is being done with what? If it is transforming our means of democracy then this should be seen as nothing more than getting our foot in the door.

It has to be kept in mind that for the most part, especially in terms of truly impactful engagement and empowerment, we are on the outside of often entrenched systems of community governance. Did anybody think that the entrenched systems of bureaucratic, political power would fade away when enough apps became available?

Open data does not mean easily accessible or willingly shared. The need remains to penetrate the walls of entrenched bureaucratic, political systems often putting such efforts, and therefore the needed design focus of app developers, closer to that of community data journalists. This doesn't mean that everyone needs to become a local community data journalist. It does mean creating platforms to move from community data to community information and on to community wisdom, but open data and apps alone will not accomplish that, far deeper systemic transformation is needed

Most of the community and civic related technological innovations have been of the sustaining variety, for the most part sustaining the status quo, making changes on the edges. Significant examples of change can be found, yet for people to reach a tipping point to bring about true transformation, not only what they do but how they do it and why they to it, we need something much closer to disruptive innovations.

That pathway is a much longer haul, still being explored and requiring more steps. It will also require greater use of design thinking, not only to improve the user interface with an app within particular systems, but also within larger scalable, community based, collaborative efforts such as Collective Impact or upcoming The Next Systems Project in deeply understanding the needs of the community.

The Knight Digital Media Center believes that design thinking can develop better solutions for community organizations, especially foundations, and community media. Design thinking as used by design firms such as IDEO and others is based on a human-centered, design-based approach to helping public and private sector organizations innovate and grow.

Design thinking can help community foundations frame the question, “How might we craft information solutions that meet the deepest needs of our community?” It is done, according to the Knight article, “Can design thinking power better solutions for community foundations?”, by diving deep with small groups of people, to really understand their day-to-day behavior, their context, how they feel, what they do and how, instead of talking with a scientifically representative sample. The Stanford University d-school approach makes going even further explicit, drilling down to the individual. Looking for extreme users to understand the experiences of people at the statistical edges is also insightful. “The idea is that people who are in extreme positions one way or the other are exhibiting needs more acutely than the average person,” said Andrew Haeg, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University. “If you can talk to them they're going to help you understand problems that a lot of other people share or help you understand dynamics that are shared by a lot of other people."

The next question is how to apply this to communities? The Incourage Community Foundation’s initial goal of working with the community of Wisconsin Rapids on developing new ways of listening, talking and interacting, to encourage a culture ripe for self-organizing and collective action, was through adaptive skills but the foundation’s work quickly began incorporating design thinking which increased the impact of their work with residents. Applying adaptive skills prepared the ground so that a human-centered design approach created deep roots helping to transform the people and the culture of the place where they worked and lived. As sharing and spreading lessons about the resident-centered process with other organizations was seen as an important objective, a defining question then became: “How do we nurture the demand for information in the community?“

This started my thinking about Alex Howard's response to a Facebook comment with better questions. “A majority of American adults use open data in apps and services but do not realize that they do so. Do people need to be ‘engaged’ to find use in it, even if they're unaware? More broadly, under what conditions would providing access to data created with public funds to the public be a useless idea?"

The last NCP post addressed the need to be 'engaged' question. Apps and services using open data can be applied to all levels of Increasing Engagement (Kumu map). This would also include adding the concept of community attachment to that list. This still leaves open the question as to how to move people up the list to true engagement and beyond to empowerment. There isn't likely to be any sort of tipping point though if those using the apps, those curating the apps, and those designing the apps are focused only on specific grass-top organizations.

For New Community Paradigms, an ideal approach would be a bottom up one endeavoring to build a viable civic network by being able to follow these Tips from Beth Kanter and find local data nerds and build a local data hub, again from | Knight Digital Media Center. While this approach still focuses on grass-top organizations like nonprofits, it does attempt to reach into the community. Kanter's original post suggested setting up something like Chicago CivicWorks' online services, mobile apps, reports, or local services accessed by interactive text messaging and provided 10 strategies for finding volunteers and others to assist with data projects.

There is also the need for better community related content creation that is not only transparent but also factual, meaningful and viable. Again, from the Knight Digital Media Center, Public Lab’s DIY science plugs community into civic decisionmaking. Using low-cost tools, Public Lab is able to inject community knowledge into civic decision-making about local environmental concerns. Public Lab lists scores of DIY citizen projects on its extensive community populated Wiki website. It also puts accessible tools into the hands of the community not only resulting in good solid data being collected the tools themselves become self-replicating and viral through the provision of hand drawn, illustrated guides on how to create them, along with video tutorials walking people through each step of the process of using them to collect data. Open source licensing has also fed into Public Lab’s sudden growth.

By enabling ground up data-based research and communication, by putting the tools, the media platforms and devices into the hands of the community, Public Lab addresses a huge information gap with local governments and the industries whose policies impact the environment that community members can fill? The outcome could be a media campaign, interfacing with journalists or calling for a larger, systematic study of a certain area.

Working towards and attaining all of this in a comprehensive fashion by which it becomes ubiquitous will undoubtedly make things more complex, the challenge is making it all coherently complex, even simple if possible, which means continuing to develop new community paradigms.

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