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.

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).

Past Posts