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.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Beginning an Exploration of Collective Impact

This blog post involves another change in the direction of exploration being undertaken by this effort to create new community paradigms. Over a number of recent past posts, certain supposed dichotomies have been revealed through digging deeper into what could make a system of deliberative democracy more viable.

The last post, Creating Democracy is Complex features one Kumu map that displays, on a 2-dimensional plane, a tension of choice between Produces Desired Goods and Necessary Functions, as an outcome of institutional government activities, and the challenges in endeavoring to attain a democratic ideal of keeping Citizens at the Heart of the political process.

A separate Kumu map displays the interaction between the same ideal of Citizens at the Heart of the process but combines it with the attainment of an overall Political Ideal, again on a 2-dimensional plane. Despite the potential to reach an optimal ideal summit, this Deliberative systems map still incorporates numerous pathways that must be included for success, potential alternatives or choices that can influence those pathways, and constraints that can hamper progress.

It is when both maps or planes are considered together that the tension of a dichotomy between an ideal of governance and so-called practical reality becomes all the greater. Many elements under consideration lay on both planes but in very different configurations. The work to create a more deliberative democratic system then exists in a larger more complex system involving in part the acquisition of power by which to have the authority to make decisions. The Integrated Deliberative Systems map illustrates this moving across from unruly politics of social life to official decision making body, crossing different levels of deliberation and decision making.

The blog post, A Map for a Pathway to New Community Paradigms, written prior to the last one was the culmination of a series of blog posts and unsurprisingly also included Kumu maps. That time exploring the elimination of a supposed dichotomy or divergence in approaches between two general systemic methodologies, either hard, analytical or soft, participatory, so as to better bridge the challenge of complexity and wicked problems facing our communities through the greater use of deliberative democracy.

Going back to the last post, Creating Democracy is Complex, a comment was left asking, “This is academia pushed to extremes. Does anyone apply these concepts to their everyday life?” The answer is no. That was never the intention. The purpose is to discover new pathways to breakout of our everyday lives, which these days often means having little control over how our world is developed and used, in ways that we can only achieve by working together as a community. Still, the criticism of academic idealism has some validity. The theoretical underpinnings are seen as absolutely essential in developing new viable systems of change, prototyping of change management systems, without creating unnecessary harmful disruptions. At the same time, proposed solutions cannot be left in an ideal state untested.

This then brings us to the current change in direction, actually more of a change back to pathways that have been previously scouted. This time the endeavor will be an online expedition to explore on-the-ground initiatives for meaningful community change.

On March 17, 2015, Living Cities began a free 5-week e-course to equip those involved in Collective Impact initiatives with tools for including and working with community members. Collective Impact and in particular the forum around which it is organized, is a combined effort spearheaded by FSG - Social Impact Consultants and the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions.

The e-course took participants through five modules that offered resources, discussion questions and interactive exercises designed to help collective impact initiatives better understand why and how to work with community members. The course has ended but a Kumu map Living Cities Collective Impact is being constructed, as a primary organizing source, to map out all of the resources provided by the course, with a few more added on. A new Collective Impact wiki-page is also being created.

The first week of the Living Cities course asked, "Why Involve Community Members in Collective Impact?" The Module 1 Kumu map centers on the first week’s question and expands beyond that central point to provide resources that can help answer it. It portrays processes similar to those suggested by, Leveraging Grantmaking: Understanding the Dynamics of Complex Social Systems, which deals with the development of a 10 year plan to address homelessness in Calhoun County, Michigan, and Making the Connections based on the Wellesley Institute Urban Health Model, which deals with issues of community health, demonstrating how programs can be made more successful when lessons derived from system thinking are heeded.

This blog post though is going to start off a bit more skeptical, making the central focus for the particular portion of the map to be explored a NCDD Community Blog post on, “How Not to Use the IAP2 Spectrum in Engagement”, written by Max Hardy, of Max Hardy, Consulting and formerly of Twyfords. The article is not part of the original course offerings but it does a good job of looking at questions of community engagement and helps to develop metrics for those claiming to espouse such goals.

The Living Cities course provides a chart depicting Increasing Levels of Engagement between decision making bodies working with community change agents and the community at large. The chart was developed by the Community Impact Forum through adaptation by the Tamarack Institute and from the well established community engagement continuum of goals of the IAP2. Original materials are accessible in the narrative section of these and some of the other elements making up the maps through a provided url address. It should not be assumed though that the three charts are the same. The question is what changed and why?

In truth, quite a bit, which should be recognized while at the same time appreciating that the three organizations being compared may have different philosophical bases or approaches in striving towards similar goals and that any effort towards community empowerment has to also recognize certain constraints and develop accordingly.

Each of the Levels of Engagement charts includes the categories of Inform, Consult, and Involve. The IAP2 and Tamarack charts have Empower as their fourth category. Living Cities does not empower, it works instead to provide opportunities to Co-Lead.

Both Living Cities and Tamarack borrow from IAP2 but are selective and choose differently in what they do borrow. The IAP2 approach includes, besides definitions, promises and examples. Tamarack includes only promises and Living Cities includes only examples. These may only be matters of semantics but they set a foundation and should be kept in mind when determining if and specifically how to implement these initiatives.

The IAP2 and Tamarack promise to keep the community informed and IAP2 provides examples through websites, open houses and fact sheets. Living Cities’ examples include e-mail, newsletters and sending press releases on announcements and progress.

There are further modifications in what is and is not included. IAP2 incorporates the potential of opportunities being considered by the community in the way that they define community engagement while the other two do not.

Living Cities' policy is to gather feedback from targeted stakeholders on projects goals, processes, shared metrics, or strategies for change. The IAP2 promises to, beyond keeping the community informed, adds listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decisions. The inclusion of aspirations can be seen as important and Tamarack also does not have it in their chart.

For the category Involve, Living Cities will ask for input on initiative strategies, invite to small groups or individual presentations on initiative. IAP2 will seek public comments, focus groups, surveys, and public meetings. The interaction is again seemingly at different levels. Other examples of differences can be found.

The point of the Hardy article “How Not to Use the IAP2 Spectrum in Engagement”, however, is that the Spectrum can too often be simplistically applied. The most ideal application would be that of the IAP2 but in many cases the Living Cities initiative could actually represent the best opportunity for meaningful change. Tamarack may seem to lie between the other two but a bit of deeper research into the Tamarack Institute revealed that the “How Not to Use the IAP2 Spectrum in Engagement” article had also been included in their March 2015 issue of Engage!. A bit more digging revealed their report, Our Growing Understanding of Community Engagement, another additional resource, which provides an even deeper explanation of Tamarack's inclusive philosophy towards community engagement. The narrative section of this specific element also provides an additional set of resources with links to the six most valuable documents cited within that report. With a skeptical but hopefully more informed perspective, we can proceed with the review of the rest of the course.

Past Posts