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.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Systems of Public Participation - Ideal Design versus Entrenched Reality

The previous post introduced the Designing Public Participation Processes Map which includes all twelve design guidelines cited in the Designing Public Participation Processes article, by John M. Bryson, Kathryn S. Quick, Carissa Schively Slotterback and Barbara C. Crosby, reconfigured into four groups of system's aspects, all of which are interrelated. So far, nine of the twelve design elements have been addressed in the last three posts under Systemic Design of Public Participation.

The last post raised again the complex, inherent tension within a democratic system between an ideal approach to a system of deliberative democracy, having its own constraints and challenges to being effective, against a system designed to produce desired goods and necessary functions in a manner as efficient as possible. Both being integral to the overall system but functioning on two different planes. The Designing Public Participation Processes Map could perhaps be seen as a compass or navigating system for trekking through that democratic system.

The remaining three design guidelines are seen as somewhat different being closer to the interface of design with community knowing and doing. The systems portion of the map itself was titled, “Formal System of Public Participation Design”. The article’s quote that, “design choices are not made in a linear fashion” by Tina Nabatchi can be extended to, “but rather ‘through an iterative and integrative process’ applies to the design of both the internal workings and the overall, evolving public participation system.

Interface Aspects

10. Ensuring that that a public participation process is needed for the specific circumstances, fits the context generally and specifically, and is based on a clear understanding of the challenge.

11. Ensuring that stakeholder analysis informs the design and implementation of public participation processes and involves, at a minimum, key stakeholders in appropriate ways across all the steps or phases. Recognizing that specific stakeholders may be involved in different ways at different steps or phases of the process.

12. Clarifying and regularly revisiting the purposes and desired outcomes of the participation process and design and redesign it accordingly.

Potential connections between various aspects of the design for public participation system have been illustrated. This particular set of design guidelines making up the Interface Aspects of the system also illustrates some internal connections, inclusiveness, co-production, purpose articulation.

The article credits government administrators, officials, and community leaders for having long recognized the value of public participation for a variety of purposes, processes, and decisions. Not so well understood, it seems, is how to design participation processes so as to achieve desirable outcomes, including what those desirable outcomes are and who decides on them. The article turns to what they term design science as the means of accomplishing this.

Conversely, the article asserts that there is currently limited recognition, among public administrators, of design science as a viable means of promoting adaptation and change, likely due to a risk-adverse culture and structural barriers.

The explanation the article makes is that design science purports to involve a shift from typical social science, involving hypothesis to establish general patterns of causality, to a problem-solving approach adapting research-based evidence to context-specific, contingent, and emergent circumstances through a science framework for developing and testing conjectures. Design science principles are situation and context specific, meaning that they are somewhat general by necessity, requiring thoughtful adaptation to specific situations, and readapting in response to emerging conditions. This requires being less averse to ambiguity and allowing for the chance of failure though by design this should be during early prototyping phases.

Considering then the purpose(s) to be served by a design is important. Determining the full final defining purpose of the process at the start may not always be possible or even desirable. One, because the context may change because articulating purpose is not a one-time exercise. Two, coproducing that purpose in collaboration with participants, through the public process may be desirable. The literature on collaboration tells us that it is important to include the full range of stakeholders when the seeking of consensus is the prime decision-making method and a durable solution is sought. These are two independent considerations though and achieving one does not guarantee achieving the other. Still, according to sources of extensive research cited in the article, the chances of a decision-making “blunder” increases dramatically on strategic decisions without first consulting with key stakeholders prior to finalizing purposes and desired outcomes.

Deciding who the appropriate stakeholders should be and what the corresponding approaches to engagement should be can be, according to the article, less clear with more general and less controversial participation processes. A basic strategy for engagement for informing, for collaborating, or for empowering should be based on a clear purpose of participation. Communicating with and involving stakeholders should use different approaches throughout the process even under a new community paradigm model.

Most basic technical or operational issues facing communities don’t require substantial changes in the applicable knowledge or technology base, stakeholder relationships, broad organizational strategies, or governance mechanisms. Reality requires making and living with choices in a world with limited resources and possibilities and not every community based undertaking requires full community participation. It is when problems are more complex and politically divisive as they are with Wicked Problems that changes in the pertinent knowledge or technology base, new concepts, and different stakeholders and different stakeholder networks need to be included.

A common perspective though, raised during LinkedIn discussions, is that the 'public engagement' process is used by government institutions or organizations looking for a rubber stamp of approval of predetermined outcomes and are generally not truly open to meaningful discussion of alternatives or the opening up of new possibilities. Institutional planners are often uncomfortable when new ideas, not their own, are put forward. How can we then design public participation in policy making that is open to new ideas bubbling up? First let's look at what arguably occurs more frequently today.

The Design map serves as a template for possible public participation processes but as actually manifested through different relationships with different social entities in the community environment could take on numerous forms. The Public Participation Designed for Entrenched Incumbents map includes all of the same design guidelines as the Designing Public Participation Processes Map but organized very differently through causal connections. The last post stated that causal connections or loops were not developed for the Design map. The term entrenched, as used in ‘entrenched city hall’ by this blog was also reviewed recently.

A question raised through discussions on LinkedIn was whether the Designing Public Participation Processes Map included institutions or organizations? It does not, except as how they might endeavor to fulfill a role or function within the process. The Entrenched Incumbents map does, though these roles or functions could change under different configurations.

Also different is that the Entrenched Incumbents map involves the design guidelines or elements organized into processes or pathways for the active accomplishment of some objective rather than as system’s aspects serving as a template. Though seemingly an obviously overall beneficial goal, it is not necessary for all processes to serve the same overall purpose.

The Incumbent Control Pathway provides a pathway for approval of projects and policies desired by the incumbents through control over these design elements and over the public participation project management team, in whatever form it may take. There are still other elements of the design elements intended to advance participation but the public participation project management only has to put in a weak or diminished effort creating perhaps not barriers but an Incumbent Restrictions Pathway difficult to pass through. This leaves an Advocacy Intervention Pathway which has positive elements, including Inclusive Processes, but will not prevail unless community resolve overcomes the systemic influence of Participation Goals and Purpose set by the incumbents. All three pathways together do not include the connection between Community and Government which is shown as delayed as the main form of intervention, elections, take place usually only every four years. Next post will take us back to the Amplify the Voices of Community Members map.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Digging Systematically Deeper into Designing for a Public Participation Process

So far, in digging deeper into a systemic approach to a Collective Impact effort, we have focused on a process to Amplify the Voices of Community Members through the concepts for Designing for a Public Participation Process system. We have looked, narratively, at both the overall aspects and the internal aspects of such a system.

This inclination to dig deeper into some of the material making up the Living Cities Collective Impact online course has led to the creation of a new map, using a different design to illustrate Designing Public Participation Processes, consisting of four different aspects of the system, suggested by the Designing for a Public Participation Processes article, with each including three of the article's twelve design guide elements.

The Overall Aspect or perspective is how the Designing for a Public Participation Process system works in achieving its stated goal or purposes. Mousing over the “Overall Aspects” text in the narrative box of the map will highlight that section of thje map. Underneath it is the three design guidelines seen as being part of this specific aspect. These particular guidelines are seen as being closely related to each other. This is a different functional perspective from the “Internal Aspects” of the system. These and the other two aspects are all part of the same total system and it would make little to no sense to isolate any of them.

These are not the physical components of the system, like the engine of a car, but different perspectives of the functions of the system. A car has a subsystem which provides necessary power for movement. It could be gasoline, electric or Hydrogen powered but to be mobile, the car needs a means of propulsion to be incorporated into its design.

The maps used so far have been composites consisting of elements, containing various resources, related or connected together. Each element, whether blog post, journal article, video, organization, or other resource is connected to others based on a graphic organizing of the Living Cities Collective Impact course, with a few other resources added in.

The Designing for a Public Participation Processes map defines relationships differently. It reflects a single, integral system, taking different perspectives on various, separate functions of that system. There is more of a functional relationship between elements, either through belonging to common system aspects or active, mutual connections. What has not been developed are causal connections or loops as used in previous efforts.

There are no connections displayed from inside the system to outside the system. The nature of the outside boundary is defined both by the system and by the environment or community in which it exists. The boundary of the system is permeable but the exact manner of connections across it is not specified. Some individual elements can belong or relate to both within the system and outside of it. All elements or aspects within the system are directly or indirectly related to each other. Some, but not all of these have been identified and displayed.

Conflicts or breakdowns in connections are as important. Conflicts do not exist within the system, these would be better designated breakdowns. Conflicts, originating outside the system though could be manifested as intended breakdowns within the system. Conflicts, such as those cited by the article about the authenticity and legitimacy of the participation processes, which would cross the boundary of the system, could stem from different expectations rather than purposely attempting to manipulate the participation process.

In the past, this blog has railed against the notion of concrete results. Russell L. Ackoff in Toward a System of Systems Concepts spoke though of concrete systems. There is, however, no disagreement between the two. A so-called concrete result is a supposed state within a moment of time of a concrete system, meaning a system that contains at least two elements which are objects. The Design for Public Participation system is mostly an abstract system, meaning it is made up of concepts which are defined in large part by the relationship between them and preset assumptions, axioms or postulates.

There are also agents involved in the system. It is a purposeful system, which Ackoff defined as one that can, “…produce the outcome in different ways in the same (internal or external) state and can produce different outcomes in the same and different states". More importantly, it is also an Ideal-seeking system requiring consideration of differences between goals, objectives, and ideals and some concepts related to them. This puts it more in line with the Deliberative Systems map than with the Institutional Democratic Theory map cited in Creating Democracy is Complex, which means there is an inherent tension. How it could be integrated into the Deliberative Systems map and where it could be placed in the Integrative Deliberative Systems map would depend upon the final manifested design.

How this might play out in reality can be demonstrated through another systems thinking modeling tool, an InsightMaker model titled, New Community Paradigms Entrenched City Halls. The Design for Public Participation system could be seen as navigating between the Overt Reality and Underlying Reality of that process.

There also needs to be an aspect which provides foundational, infrastructure or support for the various elements, going beyond each separate aspect.

Foundational Aspects

7. Creating an appropriate set of rules to guide the overall work to be done, operational decision making, and a project management team structure to facilitate if needed. This, as the article asserts, involves recognition of rules, the substance of rules, and structures for enforcing rules.

Who gets to be involved in decision making and in what ways, regarding operational rules, general policies about the work to be done, and constitutional rules regarding who gets to make what kinds of decisions is based on influences prior to and outside the system. The rules, as part of the system could help provide a pathway to the system's goals of allowing a process for participants, all participants not only a few, to build commitment among themselves, make or contribute to important decisions and self-monitoring.

8. Securing adequate resources and designing and managing participation processes to generate additional resources to produce a generally favorable benefit–cost ratio for the participation process.

Implementing a public participation designed to be inclusive of different self-interests and motivations to address problems, could generate unexpected resources, such as knowledge, commitment to follow-through, and enthusiasm, for decision making and policy implementation. Participants may provide new information and new ways of understanding issues generating better projects and policies, securing buy-in for decisions, limiting delays, mistakes, and lawsuits and enhancing government–community trust, social capital, and infrastructure for ongoing community action. These are difficult metrics to quantify and control though.

9. Establishing the legitimacy of the participation process, for both internal and external stakeholders, as an effective form of engagement and a source of trusted interaction among participants. The form that participation takes must be seen as:

  1. Legitimate by key stakeholders 
  2. Able to attract internal and external support and resources 
  3. Producing interactions building trust and legitimacy among participants 
  4. Promoting necessary communication 
The article cites the International Association for Public Participation or IAP2’s widely used community engagement continuum of goals, as featured in the first module and the nature of promises to be made to stakeholders and the community as first brought up in the post, Beginning an Exploration of Collective Impact.

For each strategy, regarding different levels of permitted participation there are different kinds of engagement ranging from ignoring, engaging as a data source, informing, consulting, involving, collaborating, and finally to empowering stakeholders to make all decisions themselves. This also implies use of different kinds of tools and techniques.

Logistically, a project management team, as mentioned above, could also be required for important, broader scale, and more time-consuming processes. This has been made a distinct element of the map. It could include sponsors, champions, and facilitators, as well as others. It would also lead to a need for adequate support staff and other resources to function effectively, depending on the scope and scale of the process, challenging a favorable benefit–cost ratio outcome. There will also be another aspect providing more of the actual interface with the community. Both will be examined more closely in the next post.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Systemic Design of Public Participation to leverage Community Engagement in Collective Impact efforts

The previous blog post dealt with the challenge of disseminating teachings on Collective Impact, systems thinking and Kumu relational mapping, all at the same time. The post before that provided some advice on navigating through Kumu maps but there still needs to be a better connection built between the concepts graphically organized through a Kumu map and the territory of Collective Impact concepts using systems thinking. That process was attempted to be started with a closer examination of the element for Designing Public Participation Processes, using the twelve design guidelines suggested by the article in question, as part of a new bridge map between Module 1 and Module 2 of the Living Cities Collective Impact online course. The first three guidelines, as revised by this blog and dealt with in the previous post, are concerned with the system of the public participation process as a whole or overall. The next three guidelines, are more concerned with internal dynamics of the public participation system. These start with different types of agents that can influence the workings of the system by how their roles are defined.

Public Participation Design Guidelines

4. Properly fulfilling leadership roles of sponsoring, championing, and facilitating

Leadership, according to the article, is needed to help people facing problems having no easy answers to stay in a productive zone between avoiding problems and being overwhelmed by the stress of tackling them. The article sees the three essential leadership roles as being sponsors, champions, and facilitators. This NCP blog has a somewhat different perspective on these relationships.

Sponsors, according to the article, are people with formal authority to legitimize and underwrite participation efforts. They have the power to protect (or hinder) the participation process and ensure that the results of these efforts have the desired impact on policy making. This includes establishing policies and providing funds and staff needed to enable a desired level of participation, as well as endorsing and raising the visibility of public participation efforts. The question NCP has, whose desires are being fulfilled, those of the public or those of powerful sponsors?

Champions can have considerable responsibility but often little real power for managing the day-to-day work of the participation effort. They also usually cannot supply the resources and legitimacy required to bring diverse groups into the participation process. They must rely heavily on informal authority earned by demonstrating competence and building trusting relationships. The work of championing thus requires generating enthusiasm for the effort of public participation, building the support of sponsors, and sustaining the effort through setbacks, including those sometimes imposed by the institution's sponsors.

Facilitators are meant to be process experts who “know what kinds of behavior, process, and underlying structure are likely to contribute to high-quality problem solving and decision making”. So a background in systems thinking would arguably be helpful, though what type specifically is more debatable. They structure the participation processes, maintain neutrality toward outcomes, and help groups work together productively. Facilitators help others manage conflict by coaxing participants to air their views and to listen to each other’s views.

How these roles are interrelated says a great deal about the system, because once established, the system is likely to maintain itself even if certain agents or even roles are attempted to be changed. It is necessary to look at what the system actually does, not what we had the best intentions for it to do.

5. Managing power dynamics to provide opportunities for meaningful participation, exchange, and influence on decision outcomes. Stakeholder identification and analysis are critical tasks to ensure that marginalized groups are at least considered and may have a place at the table.

The problem is when some, what the article calls 'powerful stakeholders' but are as likely to be what the article refers to as 'Sponsors', see their power being reduced. Business-as-usual participation efforts, as the article admits, often simply rationalizes and replicates the significant influence of sponsors or so-called powerful stakeholders, eliminating differences by assimilating people into the process and pacifying them. The supposedly participatory process ends up including only the “usual suspects,” of people who are easily recruited, vocal, and reasonably comfortable in public arenas. Another source of power disparity in the participation processes is privileging expert over “local” knowledge. There is agreement with the article that none of this should be considered authentically participatory.

The article though states a belief, one I would categorize as naively hopeful, that in a cyclical fashion, as trust grows, it may substitute for formal structure in the ways in which it can control and standardize behavior because trust facilitates the sharing and diffusion of values and norms about standards of behavior. This is very unlikely to happen on its own within our current system, even less so with what NCP terms entrenched systems.

The term ‘entrenched’ as used by New Community Paradigms, and usually found as ‘entrenched’ city halls, refers to political institutions, often local, that through an evolution of community culture have created controlling subsystems of political and economic power that become entrenched, sticking regardless of any form of further democratic intervention. Entrenched, is similar to what Project for Public Spaces called 'ingrained', the premise being that the “current culture and structure of government and civic infrastructure may actually be the greatest obstacle (more than money, ideas, talent, infrastructure, etc.) to successful “Placemaking” which applies equally to issues of Community Governance.

The questioning of entrenched city halls also arose along with the questioning of the wisdom of being overly depended on top down command and control management by governmental institutions, particularly the local public sector, being too often disconnected from the community and enmeshed in bureaucratic complicatedness to effectively address ‘wicked’ problems which by their nature are complex.

An ‘entrenched’ government institution within a community then could continue under a facade of democratic protocols despite not truly adhering to democratic principles. This means then ignoring apologetic protestations about having elections every four years and noticed public hearings being the necessary limits of democratic integration by the community. Further, history would also argue that working in direct opposition to such politically entrenched government institutions at its own game also seldom works.

The challenge is managing the diversity, conflict, and power dynamics successfully through the second or emergent approach suggested by the article, purposely building or growing a network of trusting relationships. Trust can be built by sharing information and knowledge and demonstrating competency, good intentions, and follow-through, and conversely not failing to follow through or taking unilateral actions that undermine trust. Growing trusting relationships can also be effective in conflict management by ensuring that disagreements are problem centered, not person centered, another systems thinking perspective, and by helping less powerful stakeholders trust the process and other participants more through the effective management of power differences. Engaging all participants in coproducing the agenda, in developing policy and in decision making is seen as a way to share power more evenly.

6. Employing inclusive processes that invite diverse participation and engage differences productively. Consensus building is time-consuming, perhaps seen as inefficient, requiring specialized facilitation skills as well as political and logistical commitment. Facilitators can help participants examine underlying assumptions, shift from firm positions about particular outcomes to a more open-ended identification of the interests that parties wish to address, and openly explore multiple options for action.

A key challenge to full public participation is ensuring that the appropriate range of diverse interests (of applicable stakeholders) is engaged, including those normally excluded by institutionalized inequities, usually caused by institutions. The problem is that an increase in diversity can initially lead to increased conflict, requiring the participation process to clarify the source of the conflict through data, relationships, values, or the decision-making structure. Taking claims seriously and developing processes can allow for resolution, when conflicting facts arise, through interaction among participants in group learning is again another area in which systems thinking could be useful.

Participants sharing assumptions and mutual learning is a potential desirable outcome in situations of uncertainty and controversy when all stakeholders have incentives to come to the table and mutual reciprocity is in their interests. The challenge is establishing this as a basis for civic infrastructure.

Past Posts