This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Systems Thinking as Infrastructure for Collective Impact and Community Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past Posts