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 29, 2015

Exploring Collective Impact - Community Matters - A Lot

The last blog post, Beginning an Exploration of Collective Impact, began as the title implies, an exploration of the Living Cities' free 5-week e-course on Collective Impact initiatives, and the forum around which they are organized, for including and working with members of the community. This post continues using the Kumu map Living Cities Collective Impact for navigation, expanding on and clarifying that exploration and discovering different ways that it can be connected with what has previously been documented on these pages in discovering New Community Paradigms. 

We can venture back to Week 1: Why Involve Community Members in Collective Impact and the related Living Cities blog post, Why Involve Community in Collective Impact At All?, which leads back to what was discussed in the previous post. Before extending further though we can take another couple of excursions off the directed path, this time to look more closely into the Community Rhythms Toolkit of the Harwood Institute. The Harwood Institute has been featured on these pages before in CommunityMatters knows Harwood and Harwood knows what Matters for the Communities to Change, which is included in the Organizational, Online and Technology Based part of Community Change Agencies wiki-bridge page.

Perhaps more salient information is available in the articles provided by the course, such as found at Roundtable on Community Engagement and Collective Impact, here as related the Stanford Social Innovation Review article. Of particular interest is the quote from the article by Paul Born, president and cofounder of the Tamarack Institute:

In the early days of a collective impact approach, we often find that one of two mistakes is made. One is that we gather only the grasstops. That is, we think somehow it’s about shifting power. So we bring the powerful players into the room. The other mistake, almost as common, is that we don’t engage any of the power players because we’re afraid that it will be perceived as a grasstops initiative.

As Richard Harwood, founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, observed:

We say we want to put community in collective impact, but we don’t do it. That may be because we are afraid, we don’t want to lose control, or we don’t want to create certain risks, but there are two results. One is that we increase the likelihood that our collective impact will not succeed because there won’t be true community ownership and we won’t be able to mobilize the energies and the public will of our large communities. The other is that we will miss an opportunity.

The Harwood Institute establishes a set of prerequisite conditions through the concept of Community Rhythms: The Five Stages of Community Life, explained here  as a guest blog post, and in more detail through the Harwood Institute Report, Putting Community into Collective Impact

We can also take a closer look at the Problem with Community Outreach, through the related Collective Impact Forum blog post, expanded to include the other three posts making up the series Collective Impact in Neighborhood Revitalization. 

Going back then to the Kumu map that displays the 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, it could be argued that instead of focusing on the establishment of deliberative democracy with citizens at the heart of the process being the goal, that as a third party, non-governmental entity, Living Cities is focusing on necessary production of goods and functions of the community as the goal and is asserting that the involvement of the community is not only beneficial but essential in achieving that goal. The question is how and by what means involved? Our current systems of institutional government over communities, particularly by those seen as being entrenched, often fail in this aspect.

New Community Paradigms has constantly argued for a greater reliance upon direct democratic deliberation in community governance, particularly through the post Of, For, By the People and now Through the People - Community Governance Revisited.

One specific tool of community engagement cited in the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum is the concept of Deliberative Polling®. The concept of Deliberative Polling® was developed by the Center for Deliberative Democracy  at Stanford University and was featured in the blog post Using Online Communities to encourage Direct Democracy for On-The-Ground Communities as one of this blog’s first explorations of Deliberative Democracy. This was incorporated, along with similar efforts, into the  People’s Governance in California wiki-page. Entrenched government institutions invariably fail with this aspect as well.

New Community Paradigms is seeking empowerment of community members from the bottom up through deliberative democracy, scaffolded by systems thinking, and other means.  Concerns were therefore expressed regarding the concepts of Increasing Levels of Engagement, between grassroots and grass tops, defined by Living Cities as contrasted with that of Tamarack and the IAP2, as something seemed to be lost in translation. This was mitigated to some extent though through the insights of Max Hardy’s article “How Not to Use the IAP2 Spectrum in Engagement” and the Tamarack report,“Our Growing Understanding of Community Engagement.  

New Community Paradigms or NCP also does not envision ever attaining 100% empowerment, engagement or even participation by all community members. This was acknowledged in the blog post, From Community Attachment to Community Empowerment which discussed the potential relationship created by incorporating the concept of Community Attachment into Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder (as defined here by the Citizens Handbook), a recognized basis for the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum. NCP borrowed the term Community Attachment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup Soul of a Community’ project.

“The fact that people are not showing up to community meetings does not mean that they are not attached to their community. This also means that the actions of any form of community governance, whether through the status quo of city council government or the establishment of direct democratic deliberation through New Community Paradigms, is usually not the primary reason why people are attached to their community.” 

This raises, through a related blog post, another connection of the six degrees of separation type through Della Rucker, Principal of the Wise Economy Workshop. The New Community Paradigms connection in this case was through Looking for Non-Experts to Create New Community Innovations then Make sure They are Disruptive. Della Rucker, more importantly is also EngagingCities’ Managing Editor and had interviewed Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, in July of 2013, on civic tech's potential impact on low income populations in the blog post, Transforming Community Systems Through Partners and Tech: Living Cities charts the way forward | EngagingCities.

The NCP blog post before this one also asserted that similarities existed between the Living Cities’ approach and some examples of systems thinking approaches that were featured in System Thinking - Concrete Wants vs Complex Realities as part of the Systems Thinking Certification process. It has to be admitted though that the similarities were seen only from this side and raising them so soon likely goes against the basic rules on how to break the first rule of systems thinking. There isn’t any explicit mention of systems thinking resources until the last module. That resource is the article “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” by Donella Meadows which described a hierarchical structure of interventions to alter the way systems work. As pointed out in the Donella Meadows Institute post, Coming Back to Our Systems Roots, which tells of a move or return to “System Dynamics in Policy Design and Analysis”:

We live in a world of remarkable, adaptable, complex systems. They are inside of us and all around us, from the tiny system of a single cell to the vast systems of the world’s oceans and our global communications networks.

The problem with complex systems, though, is that it turns out we human beings are not much good at recognizing, understanding, or communicating them.

A connecting question then between these two perspectives may provide a better answer on How Can We Recapture the Spirit of Community Engagement that Built America?, which can then be expanded as being at the heart of the work making up the Living Cities' efforts.

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