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.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Addressing Community Equity through Collective Impact requires a Deep Systemic Perspective

We can now move on to the Working with Communities on Racial Equity sector map and determining the best means of Working with communities to advance racial equity and eliminate disparities (map) but first, we need to build upon what has been covered to this point.

So far two other sector maps, Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change and 4 Insights Collective Impact plus Community Engagement and Racial Equity, have been covered over the last two blog posts. Hopefully, covering each sector map on its own provides for a more coherent understanding than attempting to address the entire module 5 map at once which with fifty separate elements or resources and multiple connected relationships can be far too complex to be readily absorbed. While it remains unnecessary to click on every (map), there will be, in some cases, an expansion set upon what is being termed linchpin elements and therefore an enhancement of complexity.

At some point, though they all need to come together. The geographic analogy sometimes suggested can start to fall apart at this point. First, unlike the listed places of an itinerary for an expedition, all of the elements making up this module can all happen at once, not just with the elements of this module but all the modules making up this course. The elements demanding attention don't wait for their allotted week. Second, for the better, they can also be engaged strategically in an order, both internally for each sector map and among the sector maps, more closely matching the construction of the systems thinking iceberg. This is behind the rationale to go deeper with the inherent but arguably not so readily apparent systems thinking aspect of Collective Impact.

The path taken so far, not only in direction but also in what was focused on and what was left out, can also be questioned as being merely one of many that were possible. The Kumu map though does make this more apparent than the written narrative approach with which content is hidden behind links and the overall structure of which is never truly transparent.

The most comprehensive element in the current exploration is Racial Equity and Community Engagement in Collective Impact (map) which in the case of the Kumu map links to a Vimeo video instead of an EventBrite event for Living Cities hosting a webinar. These are people walking the walk, not merely mapping out the path so there is a far greater authenticity and relevant impact but creating maps from previous explorations and discoveries still serves a useful purpose. The presenters, from a variety of sectors, public health, major city government, local non-profit community group and the Strive partnership, which under the Living Cities narrative is a linchpin element or resource organization between Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change and 4 Insights Collective Impact plus Community Engagement and Racial Equity, with another linchpin element or resource being the Living Cities Integration Initiative.

The element Why Involve Community in Collective Impact At All? (map), from the first module, helps in building an understanding of community needs by engaging grassroots community members to shape and guide collective impact initiatives and mitigate the potential disconnects that grass-tops leaders can face. It is arguably though from a grass-tops perspective because if from a grassroots perspective then the question would be how not why. There are an additional nine elements from the first module making a return visit to this the last module demonstrating that the supporting infrastructure for this effort goes deep and attention to them should not be lessened as having had been already addressed.

The What Makes Collective Impact a Powerful tool for Systems Change? (map) involves the four components that make potentially possible a variety of collective impact shared results such as reducing by 50% unemployment among working-age adults, whether serving communities with 9% unemployment rate or 19% unemployment rate. It is also a linchpin between Working with Communities on Racial Equity and theme of the central element for Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change.

There is a sub-sector map, Evidence-Based Decisions extending out from the sector map Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change suggesting again a deeper structure which also connects with What Makes Collective Impact a Powerful tool for Systems Change? and if extended an additional degree connects with all of the sector maps of this module.

There is then a need to collect disaggregated data by race (map) to build essential feedback loops (map) enabling collective impact work to address the persistent wide gap in educational attainment between white and non-white within an education system which is failing too many students of color, cradle to career. Despite the availability of data that could help, racial disparity seems to be hidden in plain sight, so we don't design solutions with the intention of addressing those disparities.

By Using Data to Close Achievement Gap (map), Portland was able to challenge a persistent urban myth that when it came to education, everything was going just fine with an overall graduation rate at about 80%, with only slight gaps separating white students and students of color. District leaders were able to adopt policies to embed analysis of these disparities as standard practice.

As Living Cities correctly asserts, however, both the head and heart are needed to understand the structural causes of racial inequality. A Head, Heart and Hands (HHH) framework (map), emphasizes developing an understanding of racial inequality using both logic and theory (the head) as well as the feelings and emotions from personal experiences (the heart) before moving to action by identifying solutions (the hands). Albuquerque’s My Brothers Keeper efforts in Unmuting the Voice of Youth of Color to Help Lead Social Change (map) applied this framework to hear directly from young men of color about their suggestions for improving the cradle to career pipeline.

This can be more in keeping with the softer systems thinking approaches explored through the NCP Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking, especially Exploring with the Dialogue, Deliberation and Systemic Transformation Community to Discover New Possibilities parts 1, 2 & 3. The follow-up, A Map for a Pathway to New Community Paradigms, illustrates the challenge of spanning these two systemic perspectives, hard data and soft connections, into one. This can potentially be extended even more deeply as discussed in The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 2 of 3, particularly with the potential of Art as a Path of Social Disruptive Innovation Towards New Community Paradigms. One newly discovered example and one that might add another H for healing to the Head, Heart and Hands (HHH) framework (map) is the group Hidden Voices.

Engaging with community members of color is critical then to ensuring that social change efforts are sensitive to the different lived experiences and historical contexts of people of color in the U.S.

Collective impact initiatives that target racially and ethnically diverse communities need community members of color to be “at the table” in the literal sense that is, as an integral part of the accountability and governance structures that define how the cross-sector partnership operates as explained by Needle-Moving Collective Impact Guide : Capacity and Structure, (map) one of Three Guides to Creating an Effective Community Collaborative for Needle-Moving Collective Impact by the Bridgespan Group.

Living Cities goes on to ask the question again (map), Why Involve Community in Collective Impact At All? (map). Their answer is that community members of color need to be engaged at least at the levels of involve, collaborate or co-lead to truly influence how collective impact efforts promote equity. However, the chart that Living Cities provides in the first article still does not include the promises made by both IAP2 and Tamarack which were raised at the start of this endeavor. This is not to suggest some failing by Living Cities, they are correct as far as they go but without the promise, the conversation is far more unilateral.

The Kumu map, instead refers back to the element, originally used in the first module, for the IAP2 community engagement continuum of goals (map) which has been reconfigured making it possible to jump to one of three different sector maps in which it plays a role.

Equitably partnering as established by a government institution such as a city hall with its community members could include, for example, offering two-way translation services to all stakeholders when working with non-English speakers. True equitable partnering though would involve community empowerment including on-the-street efforts such as Urban Habitat Boards & Commissions (map) providing explicit training to community members of color to occupy more formal positions of leadership locally. This then involves the continuing development of resources identified in Week 2 of this course (map) focused on Amplifying Voices of Community Members (map).

Friday, August 21, 2015

People like systems change, they just don't like thinking about it (systems) all that much.

In the previous post, Collective Impact is seen as being fundamentally about systems change, which has really been an underlying theme throughout this exploration. In this post, the central article of the sector map Four Early Insights (map) {remember you don’t have to open every (map)} begins incorporating equity considerations into Collective Impact work more directly. 

What is missing in my view is more on systems thinking, at a deep level, to help successfully navigate these system changes. Any systems thinking connections so far have though been raised by this blog and not the Living Cities' Collective Impact course. I realize that I am going up against the systems thinking fight club rule but without understanding its potential role we cannot achieve the level of change required.

The first actual inclusion of systems thinking in the course is Jeff Raderstrong's Living Cities article, Racism, Collective Impact and Systems Change: Tying it all Together (map) which cites the classic systems thinking piece, Donella Meadows’ “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” (map) as required reading for anyone working for social change.

“The most effective means to intervene in a system being the power to transcend the paradigms or mindsets out of which the system — its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters — arises.” 

What needs to be avoided is thinking of the twelve leverage points as merely a check-off list. Yes, they can be used in that way but they also point to something more suggested by the systems thinking iceberg model which has been cited a number of times previously. There are four levels of the iceberg but it is still one iceberg with the majority of it out of view.

One of the four insights is that conversations about race and class can be incredibly difficult to navigate because of the sensitive nature and that some communities may not have the capacity to constructively facilitate them because of where they are as a community as a whole or perhaps different components of the community are at different stages.

As discussed in Putting Community in Collective Impact (map, includes video link), first introduced in Module 1, from the Harwood Institute and in Stanford Social Innovation Review (map), working at a deeper and holistic level calls for systemic community intervention. Also closer in line with the foundational levels of the systems thinking iceberg model are the original Stanford Social Innovation Review Collective Impact article (map) and Putting Community into Community Engagement (map).

Another insight is the need to recognize the difference between equity and equality in community engagement and I would venture community empowerment.

The poster above is a common way to demonstrate the difference between equality and equity on the Internet. This blog is going to question some of the assumptions behind it a bit more.

It makes the valid argument that treating everyone the same is not the same as treating everyone fairly. This is part of the reason though why this conversation is so difficult because much of it rests on perception.

In the “equality” picture, each person is given the same sized box, meaning the tallest person still has an advantage over the shortest. In the “equity” image, the shortest person is given, not the biggest box, but two boxes to stand on, achieving the no doubt admirable social goal sought by Collective Impact or similar endeavor by overcoming perhaps historical disparities such as lack of early childhood nutrition. Invariably glossed over it seems though is the question where did the boxes come from, who made them, and how was the box taken from the biggest person, bringing them down to minimal visibility?

Some could argue that it must have been the biggest person, or the rich or entrepreneurs or business people who made the boxes possible in the first place. The poster assumes that the biggest person willingly gives up his box but while some may appreciate the need to address historical discrimination, they don't necessarily want to substantially give up on that which they see themselves as having had personally worked hard for.

This means one of two things, either the biggest person believes in a community goal of letting everyone in the group see the game or the two others, through a majority vote say, took a box from the biggest person and gave it to the smallest, with no loss to the middle person. The first is becoming less true because the rich can pay for the social goods they wish for bypassing community means of addressing those issues. The second is also unlikely to be achieved because it proposes the middle class working directly with the disadvantaged class which does not seem to be the common tendency. Where this has been true, it has likely been a combination of both appealing to the sense of community of upper income and establishing political pressure from income levels below. These assumed distinctions are, no doubt, very simplistic but they recognize a reality that must be dealt with. It is a visual analogy, so it shouldn't be stretched too far but it can hopefully provide some additional insights.

Living Cities does this by recognizing the need to include both grassroots and grass-tops. Engaging grassroots community members to shape and guide collective impact initiatives are intended to mitigate the potential disconnects grass-tops leaders can face in understanding community needs and should cover several different considerations to take into account when developing specific engagement strategies. This is where the questions raised above about equity and equality can come into play.

Living Cities’ Collective Impact insight into attempting to redefine power recognizes that power conventionally resides in the leaders and institutions that have authority to make unilateral decisions. It is not quite as apparent though that the ability by community members to quickly identify what is and isn’t working is also power in the same fashion.

The Living Cities’ Collective Impact insight into defining community is bifurcated in part to those people who will be impacted by the changes the Collective Impact partnership seeks to make, and in part to those who have been historically left out of the decision-making process. Addressing one group doesn't mean addressing the other even if they are the same people.

Collective Impact partnerships can help overcome this by highlighting the importance of incorporating community feedback into the work of the larger partnership but as suggested in Feedback Loops Keep Collective Impact Impacting we need to go further to understand the feedback loops comprising the system itself. As demonstrated in Systems of Public Participation - Ideal Design versus Entrenched Reality, what is presumed to be working within a system may not always be the case.

There is also still the further need to move from basically abstract ideas to connecting ideas together for strategic application, 
to the why, to begin overcoming what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton called the Knowing-Doing Gap (page 7). 

We can then move to the upper levels of the systems thinking iceberg model with again StriveTogether (map), a network of cities addressing cradle to career education systems working with the Equitable Engagement Workgroup (map) in cradle-to-career work, which can include local students and youth as well as communities of color.

The reality is that it is not enough to give all community members an equal opportunity to engage in the Collective Impact effort to be successful. There still remains the need to actively meet communities where they are and create targeted opportunities around the unique needs of community members, in particular, those historically disengaged from civic decision-making. These tough, courageous conversations are an important starting point for any movement towards overcoming the Challenge of “Necessary but Not Sufficient” in Introducing Racial Equity to Grantees (map) in addressing Living Cities' Work on Racial Equity and Inclusion (map).

Next blog post we move on to the Working with Communities on Racial Equity sector map and determining the best means of Working with communities to advance racial equity and eliminate disparities (map).

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Thinking about Deep Systems Change through Collective Impact

This post will be the first on the Kumu mapping of the fifth and final module of the Living Cities’ online Collective Impact course. There is a wiki-page with relevant links, Kumu maps, and blog posts concerned with this Collective Impact experiment and exploration.

The focus here is placed on the sector map Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change, revealing a bias towards a hard system thinking approach to systemic changes dealing with the deeper levels of the systems thinking iceberg model and which purposely avoids beginning by attempting to alter people’s personal prejudices.

First, a reminder that you don’t have to open each map link on this page
Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change is organized as explained in the Sector Map section of Navigation

Some of the elements populating the Collective Impact as Tool for Systems Change sector map have been featured in previous modules, suggesting that they could provide a deeper infrastructure and relate to other components across a Collective Impact approach. One, How Living Cities Thinks About Systems Change (map) has been added as a result of digging deeper into the material provided by Living Cities. Other elements unique to Module 5 are Connected Problems Require Collaborative Solutions (map), Backbone Organization or Function? (map), The Working Cities Challenge (map), Cross-Sector Partnerships (map), Diagnose the Adaptive Challenge (map), Disaggregated Data by Race (map) and Evidence-Based Decision Making (map). All of which together support the central theme of What Makes Collective Impact a Powerful tool for Systems Change? (map) introduced in Module 3 Kumu map.

Absorbing the source information provided by the Living Cities’ online Collective Impact course is essential, Greater familiarity with the various Kumu maps and the different relationships between the elements, as set by Living Cities, will then begin to reveal deeper connections and other possible relationships, especially if working in a group setting with different people having varying affinity with different elements, making individual contributions to a unique group perspective.

Going deeper into the elements of the map, How Living Cities Thinks About Systems Change explains how, “Too often, leaders attempt to apply programmatic, technical fixes to complex, interconnected systems level problems.” Ben Hecht President & CEO of Living Cities writes that Connected Problems Require Collaborative Solutions. It is, as has been stated before, a matter of transforming our mindset.

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. The starting point is to see things differently from the current, dominant worldview which in so many ways is no longer relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves.” – HRH The Prince of Wales

We are learning by trying different approaches on the ground, seeing how institutions and individuals respond across sectors and measuring results. Deploying an existing or starting a new nonprofit or government institution or even business as a lead or czar institution won’t work though for these challenges because one, trends in funding for these efforts over the past few decades provide only restricted funds with little to no indirect costs, making it virtually impossible for any single entity to play the ‘connecter’ role alone in most places. Most organizations of any type will have neither the bandwidth nor the breadth of relationships and visibility across issues and sectors for it. Just as important, is the need for distributed leadership across institutions, starting with the individuals who lead those institutions.

Finally, institutions tend to stay in their own lane with funding, incentives and history invariably encouraging such behavior. Interconnectedness only happens when there is an intentionality to do it and the endurance to stick with it over time. The natural order can only be overcome and behaviors truly changed only when some institution or person is charged with getting up every day and connecting the dots. Strive Together (map) calls this function the ‘backbone’ of these efforts with funders specifically paying for it.

StriveTogether defines the difference between a Backbone Organization or Function? When working with an array of different communities looking to navigate the often contentious discussions around where the larger coalition should end up, they came to the conclusion that what is likely needed is a “backbone function” not a “backbone organization.” Not simply a matter of semantics, but a completely different way to approaching the staffing of collective impact work. Instead of a central power center controlling a traditional hierarchical paradigm, it is the sharing roles that, “Need to be taken on so as to connect the dots instead of recreating the wheel.

The Working Cities Challenge (map) is one such initiative, advancing collaborative leadership in Massachusetts smaller cities and to support ambitious work to improve the lives of low-income people in those cities, in which Living Cities is participating.

There are other substantial shifts in mindset required to determine How to Achieve Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (map) that paradoxically both take longer than the standard election cycle but also require some sense of urgency, hopefully, instilled by the effort itself but still nonetheless requiring leadership. This type of leadership is often more at home in the business world. Those having an entrepreneurial spirit that can be applied to the social sector need to be, as Jim Collins would say:

"Interested in the sheer exhilarating pain of the journey. You’re not going to have that immediate gratification of accomplishment. You are going to be immersed in it and working and suffering toward it for a long time--the way artists suffer. You have to enjoy that sense of extended discomfort. It’s the quest, it’s the training, it’s the growth, it’s pushing yourself. You really get off on that. If you think standing at the top of the cliff is where the joy is, you don’t understand it. The real joy is in all the pain and growth and suffering and creativity required long before you get to the summit."

Such an undertaking would require tremendous support from the community and could quickly be derailed by a few politicians seeking to hoard their own power.

Perhaps the greatest mind-shift is that adaptive challenges are difficult to diagnose (map) and implement because their solutions require people to change their ways; involving human complexity meaning the problems themselves cannot be abstracted from the people who are part of the problem scenario itself, and then to determine what to conserve from past practices, what to discard from past practices, while inventing new ways that build from the best of the past.

This approach is based on Evidence-Based Decision Making (map) involving the making, capturing, sharing, and application of data and experiential evidence to ensure that funding streams and efforts are achieving the desired results. This in turn requires feedback or in the case of Collective Impact 3 Fabulous Flavors of Feedback Culture (map) involving a feedback culture and feedback loops, requiring to my mind both an understanding of the feedback loops that make up the system being influenced and collecting the information that is needed to know whether or not you are on track. Culminating with the creation of a data infrastructure, that gets the right information when needed through cross-sector partnerships building on the feedback culture and feedback loops, keeping them informed and creating change that can last regardless of administration turnovers.

It is with such a foundation that one can then begin using methodologies such as Disaggregated Data by Race (map) to help bring about transformational change with a renewed focus on addressing racial disparities, learning key lessons about the importance of using data to develop a baseline for identifying outcomes and continuous improvement, not as a tool to penalize leaders or point fingers at specific sources of the problem without fear that a commitment to transparency to the community could be interpreted as targeting students of color as the problem. This approach informs the StriveTogether Theory of Action in supporting children and youth from cradle to career.

The Live Cities Integration Initiative (map) involves testing three strategies believed to be central to catalyzing lasting, transformative change that benefits low-income people: collective impact (map), public sector innovation (map) and capital innovation (map), also added to the Kumu map. However, what remains essential and foundational is the need to involve the community in the Collective Impact effort (map).

Working with communities to advance racial equity and eliminate disparities (map) is, according to the Kumu map, the center of its own sector map and will be addressed in the near future but first, we will next look to 4 Insights Collective Impact and Community Engagement and Racial Equity.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 3 of 3

The previous blog post continued the discussion on design thinking and Collective Impact making the argument that design thinking should be integrated with systems thinking (as well as artistic thinking) to have the greatest impact on addressing the complex, wicked challenges facing communities.

The idea of combining design thinking and systems thinking has been around for some time with Innovation as a learning process: Embedded Design Thinking by Sara L. Beckman and Michael Barry from 2007 or Systems & Design Thinking: A Conceptual Framework for Their Integration by John Pourdehnad, Erica R. Wexler, and Dennis V. Wilson from 2011.

Part of the problem is agreeing on what they are separate so as to enable agreement on what they are combined. Practitioners are fairly comfortable with some ambiguity in their own field but misconceptions about the other could make cooperation difficult. The supposed Lessons Learned — Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform the Future of Design Thinking, from June of 2009, by Fred Collopy would seem to give neither side much hope since design thinking still seems in the same boat as systems thinking.  What Collopy doesn’t seem to have considered is that each could learn from each other, particularly if they were used to target the same challenges addressed under Collective Impact. 

The first step is to determine What is Design Thinking, Really?, from back in July of 2010 in which Venessa Miemis cites the term design thinking as referring to a set of principles, from mindset to process, that can be applied to solve complex problems, coined by IDEO’s David Kelley. 

She goes on to review Change by Design, by IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown, getting to the meat and potatoes of addressing Collective Impact concerns with chapters titled ‘The New Social Contract,’ ‘Design Activism,’ and ‘Designing Tomorrow – Today’, framing the opening pages of the book:

What we need are new choices – new products that balance the needs of individuals and of society as a whole; new ideas that tackle the global challenges of health, poverty, and education; new strategies that results in differences that matter and a sense of purpose that engages everyone affected by them.

The perspective had of systems thinking is important in this partnership. Some seem to wrongly assume that systems thinking only addresses well understood problems, with one best answer to that problem and the path to finding that answer being linear. Others believe that systems thinking involves making changes to a system that will lead to the elimination of a problem identified within one of the system components. Russell L. Ackoff though admonished us to Never improve a part of the system unless it also improves the whole. The fact that these errors or disagreements over definition are not only limited to those on the design thinking side of the issue complicates things.

Systems Thinking and Design Thinking from Triarchy Press correctly defines a systems thinking approach (in contrast to taking a reductionistic approach to complex systems like a business, separating it out into component parts and trying to manage each part as well as possible) as looking at relationships (rather than unrelated objects), connectedness, process (rather than structure), the whole (rather than just its parts), the patterns (rather than the contents) of a system, and context. While its definition of design thinking as using the definitions and assumptions of systems thinking and focuses on applying them to innovative processes for problem-solving and decision-making is arguably too restrictive.

Design thinking is about empathy and systems thinkers are the better for it makes the argument that “The combination of design and systems thinking can deliver a truly holistic understanding of a current system, generate ideas that will transform the system while yet continue to maintain a whole systems view to ensure the new system is sustainable.” This is not merely a touchy-feely appeal and this blog is not backing away from the need for the proper type of business discipline in the public sector. Empathy according to MixMashups' Gary Hamel drives innovation

In more recent articles, arguments have been made for design thinking to take lessons from systems thinking. In a Fast Company article of May of this year, Why Designers Must Put Invention First, Paddy Harrington quotes Charles Eames who said, "Eventually everything connects—people, ideas, objects, etc....the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se." The Eames office had a diagram of three overlapping circles representing the interests of the design office, the interests of the client and the interests of society as a whole, that explained their approach to their practice. Their work, the Eames said, was at the intersection of the three. The Eames talent, however, provided them the luxury of choice. 

Realistically, one won’t have the luxury of choosing clients if pursuing social change through design thinking and Collective Impact. How then Paddy Harrington asks can one, “...(establish a purpose that drives our practice more deeply and lets us work with more self-determination?” His answer is that Eames' approach is still the best guide for staying on course: first, connect everything in order to understand relationships, influences, and possibilities. In Richard Saul Wurman’s view, ”...[Eames] was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work."

Harrington further addresses embracing complexity and uncertainty citing Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, who wrote:

"Categorizing always produces reduction in true complexity…Any reduction of the world around us can have explosive consequences since it rules out some sources of uncertainty; it drives us to a misunderstanding of the fabric of the world."

In response, Paddy Harington advises that “Rather than simplify a complex situation, we must start with a certain kind of fearlessness in the face of the unknown and establish tools to help us find answers in the absence of tangible information. And once we embrace that unknown, it’s the methodical application of those tools toward solutions that point us in a better direction.” This is a perspective that NCP can agree with, seeing Complexity as Cradle for Creativity and Innovation in moving from incoherent complexity to coherent complexity.

In the Fast Company article, Why "Design For Development" Is Failing On Its Promise, also from May of this year, Panthea Lee writes about noticing her colleagues wrestling a growing nervousness about how much design can create positive change and with the ways that, "design for development" is falling short of its promises.

She cites possible market-based reasons for this. In functioning markets, the user or customer is made powerful because of control of the money to spend. The users of a development program have no money so are often marginalized and powerless with no voice to compel governments to listen to them. Commercial projects have a clear idea of their user or customer and clear measures of success. Public sector design projects have no set "bottom line.” How does one then define the metrics for "improved governance"?  She recognizes at the same time that democracy requires people driving for themselves and that it is not simply a matter of having an easy answer or to "know the right solution. ” This means moving beyond defined terms of "evidence-based design decisions" and the desire to "drive positive change" so as to create a shift in what the work is serving.’’ She goes on to argue that, “(T)he world’s most intractable problems are deeply rooted in massive systems, while design is a discipline focused on the edges”

Traditional design focuses on creating and improving society’s outputs and interactions, such as a sleeker mobile phone or a more efficient way to buy
coffee. When these skills are translated over to the public sphere, design 
still tends to focus on outputs instead of the real systemic problems.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review makes the argument that design thinking applied to Collective Impact is capable of Turning Empathy into Action and lists the positive contributing attributes of each. 
It is this blog’s position that to be capable of, for example Solving Democracy’s Design Problem and moving from actual systems in the world such as Public Participation Designed for Entrenched Incumbents (Stafford Beer’s POSIWID) to more idealized, yet viable visions of Designing Public Participation Processes Map will require systems thinking as scaffolding for such a large, collaborative and scalable undertaking.

The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 2 of 3

In the last blog post, the Acumen/IDEO Design Thinking class (map) was looked at as part of the Living Cities online Collective Impact Course and compared with a similar program previously offered by the Stanford University dschool.

The stated NCP goal in taking a design thinking class the first time was to see how it could be incorporated into a community-based direct deliberative democracy approach to community governance. Design Thinking has had its own NCP wiki-page for some time. It has been of interest and relevance to New Community Paradigms for the reason that it is seen as being both solution oriented and inclusive, intentionally bringing in a variety of perspectives to face a challenge, not limited to only those with particular areas of expertise. Making it potentially useful to a diverse group of community members coming together to discuss problems, say with traffic and school crossings or other community challenges.  

Greater use of design thinking could scale from improving individual user interface with a particular app to helping to implement larger scalable, community-based, collaborative efforts such as Collective Impact or The Next Systems Project by deeply understanding the needs of the community. Another developing premise is that design thinking can help navigate the maze of complex ‘wicked’ challenges facing our communities. The Acumen/IDEO course comes closer to achieving those goals.

Important lessons were still taken from the Design Thinking Action Lab. The Stanford University d-school approach cited in Incorporating Design Thinking into New Community Paradigms emphasized the importance of drilling down to the individual.

Design Thinking demonstrates that there is an important difference between designing for individuals as the average of a class or for a group of individuals and instead designing for one specific individual. The later is more aligned with a human-centered design or user-centered design perspective by emphasizing a deeper understanding of problems from the perspective of different stakeholders, not as a member of a class or a category, but as a unique individual. It can be applied in this way to the creation of innovative products, services and processes.

Looking for extreme users can also help provide insight in understanding the experiences of people at the statistical edges, “(P)eople who are in extreme positions one way or the other are exhibiting needs more acutely than the average person,” according to Andrew Haeg, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University. 

The Knight Digital Media Center believes that design thinking can develop better solutions for community organizations, especially foundations, and community media. This perspective can be extended, according to the Knight article, “Can design thinking power better solutions for community foundations?, to small groups of people by diving deep with them 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 Incourage Community Foundation’s initial goal was working with the community of Wisconsin Rapids on developing new ways of listening, talking and interacting, so as to encourage a culture ripe for self-organizing and collective action. The impact of their work with residents was increased through incorporating adaptive skills and design thinking. 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. Design thinking can help community foundations frame the question, “How might we craft information solutions that meet the deepest needs of our community?” 

If Design Thinking could be implemented in a community setting it then could perhaps develop into a needed skill by community development workers in the public and private sectors but not on its own. It needs to be integrated with other approaches to community building and change. The primary bias for this blog has been towards systems thinking and more recently, Collective Impact. While it might seem that design thinking is being relegated to a secondary role it has, I believe, the potential to be a significant catalyst.

Since October of last year, this blog began, with A Map for Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking, a more concerted effort of proposing models, such as Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking map, integrating systems thinking with a system of deliberative and participatory or direct democratic community governance. These maps are made up of Causal Loop Diagrams, involving feedback within the system in question.

Within that map, the role of "Civic and Community Groups" is envisioned as being the juncture between the two foundational reinforcing loops R1 Deliberative  Democratic Dialogue and  "R2 Working with Systems Thinking”. This would involve working with "Systems Thinking Facilitators" and other community government "Staff" on the development of specific proposals for projects, programs or policies which would come from the community or from selected or assigned leadership in the community. The actual creation of the projects, programs or policies should require the use of design thinking.  This, it can be argued, would support both the implementation of systems thinking in a complex and participatory mode within Jackson’s SOSM Framework. It could also assist in integrating Community Groups into a system of Community Based Virtual Systemic Inquiry

There are capacities that are important in both systems thinking and design thinking, including the importance of mindsets, whether the seven mindsets of the IDEO approach to design thinking or the foundational mindset of the system thinking iceberg. This might mean that design thinking could help in overcoming, though likely not eliminate, the inherent and sometimes conflicting dichotomy between hard and soft system thinking approaches, (approaches which can be seen in the general tendencies of people) as was discussed in A Map for a Pathway to New Community Paradigms. It could also be helpful, if it follows IDEO’s balanced pragmatism, with overcoming potential stumbling blocks with working with community activists that might arise if there isn’t a set discipline to walk the space between stifling creativity and becoming too attached to an idea that isn’t going anywhere,.

The community impact of design thinking could also be extended further. 
Art as a Path of Social Disruptive Innovation Towards New Community Paradigms asserts that communities should add artistic thinking to design thinking and systems thinking as means of generating public involvement and community innovation. These three types of thinking can be seen as being both independent and integrated at the same time. 

Design thinking could help ensure that artistically inspired endeavors properly focus on important community needs and systems thinking could help in understanding the impact on the larger environments. Ideas such as those found in the Debunking 10 Myths of Innovation by Richard Evans, President, EMCARTS INC could contribute insights that could be of great benefit to communities. 

A number of other organizations have been able to tie an artistic mindset to community related concerns. They could then work to better integrate the talents of artists and cultural organizations toward helping people engage in civic and community life.  Animating Democracy, a project of Americans for the Arts helps to identify, develop, and advocate for public and private sector policies, practices, funding, and initiatives that advance the role of the arts in fostering citizen participation and social change. Art VULUPS does so with geography, environmental science, land use planning, sustainability, art and creativity concepts.

Artistic thinking can help reach deeper insights, generate more ideas and seep into the community's fabric so that its influence becomes one more of dispersion within a complex community system rather than a transfer of information from one institution to another. An artistic perspective should not be left to the end though but made foundational in community design through design thinking, systems thinking and other approaches to achieve Collective Impact through new community paradigms.

The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 1 of 3

The next three blog posts are going to take a closer look at the Design Thinking component of the Applying Business Concepts to Community Engagement map featured in the last post. This post will give a taste of what the course offers, what was different with another design thinking course and what is different from the usual standard government approach. The next two posts will focus on the why and how of design thinking as it relates to Collective Impact.

The Acumen’s Human Centered Design course (map), based in large part on The IDEO Field Guide to Human-Centered Design (map) was basically audited this time, due partially to lack thereof, for access to materials it might provide and to compare it to the Design Thinking Action Lab course taught by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro completed two years ago through the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (aka dschool). 

The New Community Paradigms Design Team at Design Thinking Action Lab blog post began the series on the Design Thinking Action Lab online course. The story continued with Learning more about What is Design Thinking?, and the creation of the five member, all from California, New Community Paradigms Learning Squad. The series was completed with Incorporating Design Thinking into New Community Paradigms which has the distinction of being the most viewed post by far of this blog’s existence. While not all of the resource links in the blog posts survived and the specific course has not been offered since, there is now the dSchool boot camp bootleg publication and alternative offerings. 

Perhaps the most significant difference between working through the two design thinking courses is that the Acumen/IDEO course is primarily designed with a group-guided learning structure, in a collaborative hands-on environment working on one project. With the Design Thinking Action Lab, we worked on our own individual projects for class credit but supported each other as a group through the phases of our class projects. Support was only  virtual though. The limitations with such an individual approach, not only to design thinking but to Collective Impact were recognized in the last post. The actual Acumen/IDEO course also seems to provide more written material from what I remembered of the Stanford course. 

The IDEO Field Guide shares the philosophy of design and the seven mindsets that set IDEO’s approach to design thinking apart: Empathy, Optimism, Iteration, Creative Confidence, Making, Embracing Ambiguity, and Learning from Failure.
                                                                                                 page 10, The Field Guide to                         Human-Centered Design

Other course materials cover the three main phases of design thinking: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation that according to Acumen/IDEO all design challenges move through. Similarly with the Design Lab, the first phase was framing or defining the problem by establishing empathy with the ultimate stakeholder. The challenge could be examined through different lenses and stakeholders by talking to them and learning about their perspectives so that one discovered their unique problems needing to be tackled.

Government very often takes a one size, or more to the point ‘our’ size, fits all approach. Government programs are usually designed to fit the specifications of funders or overseers, too seldom truly focusing on user needs. It has been a common philosophy of government that if you set the program resources up so as to keep those deemed undeserving out then the rest of the program will be able to take care of itself. 

The next step was Ideation with the Acumen/IDEO or Ideate with Design Lab, which for the Design Lab assignment consisted of coming up with 50 ideas that could address the specific insight derived from the empathy and definition stage. From the 50 or in my case 35 ideas, three were chosen as most practical, most disruptive and a favorite. From those, two were selected for the next stage of the assignment Prototype and Test. 

The fundamental idea taken from this next stage was of a failing forward, and fast approach. The Acumen/IDEO Human-centered design approach involves tinkering, testing, and failing early and often. Acumen/IDEO also emphasizes the power of tangibility, to ‘make it,' the human-centered design process being about making ideas visual, tactile, and experiential by making it. 

This means not only making tangible prototypes of ideas but sharing what has been made, and further iterating based on the feedback obtained because one hardly ever gets it right on the first go.

And we know that making an idea real reveals so much that mere theory cannot. When the goal is to get impactful solutions out into the world, you can’t live in abstractions. You have to make them real.
                                  page 20, The Field Guide to                          Human-Centered Design

The concept of prototyping or pretotyping to fail more efficiently, effortless and at far lower costs was also explained, through the Design Lab course, by Alberto Savoia, Google's Innovation Agitator and Engineering Director, through his "The Pretotyping Manifesto" which was presented to the Stanford Graduate School of Business in January of 2012.

This is an approach followed by many innovative companies in the private sector but still seems inexplicable to many if not most in city hall. Government institution management is often not comfortable with an iterative process concerning the creation of something, wanting instead a final finished product without mistakes to be presented to the city council and public. They are often fine though with an iterative process of very small changes in how they do things.

This often means that once a course of action has been decided upon early in the process that everything is then done to justify that decision including selling it to the public. The notion that an idea should be allowed to fail and then try another one is inconceivable because it would mean that upper management or the city council had been wrong about something. At least this dismal perspective seemed truer when the design thinking blog series was first written. There does seem to have been some positive changes realized throughout the public sector though whether it is moving towards being enough is still a question.

It further requires being capable of frequently shifting gears, between what IDEO calls diverging and converging, moving from concrete observations to highly abstract thinking, and then back again throughout the process's three phases, and spending a surprising amount of time not knowing the answer to the challenge which  is unlike other problem solving methods. Raising a related question by the Stanford class forum, also asked by the Acumen/IDEO course, ‘How comfortable are you with uncertainty? ”

Perhaps the most important difference is not in the courses themselves but that Acumen is not an academic institution but a dedicated change agent one.  They believe in the importance of incorporating the principles of design thinking when creating solutions to problems of poverty so that low-income communities are provided with choice, not just charity and are seeking others with this mindset through free courses, including this one, at

This means that they go beyond a project-based focus to a practical one of we can make an actual impact on the world focus.

Human-centered design is uniquely situated to arrive at solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. By starting with humans, their hopes, fears, and needs, we quickly uncover what’s most desirable. But that’s only one lens through which we look at our solutions. Once we’ve determined a range of solutions that could appeal to the community we’re looking to serve, we then start to home in on what is technically feasible to actually implement and how to make the solution financially viable. It’s a balancing act, but one that’s absolutely crucial to designing solutions that are successful and sustainable. 
                                                                                                  page 14, The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

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