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, December 30, 2016

NCP - Looking for Coherent Context in Complexity

The last blog post introduced the new Kumu map of the New Community Paradigms (NCP) Wiki. This has been a long-term project and this was not the first attempt. A complex undertaking, resulting in an admittedly complex display so an introductory tour was also provided on the first page of the Kumu project map. Complex, because the multiple topics can influence each other through multiple connections and pathways in ways not usually seen in standard top down pyramid configurations of local government. 

The resources collected within the NCP wiki pages are not typically found in institutional settings but they are established and viable. They are even less likely to be configured into an overall system. New Community Paradigms, as an overall set of concepts, are somewhere between “Crazy Ideas” and Erasmus Darwin on a continuum of paradigm development.  

One, presented more fully here, is that we are not likely at this point in time to find one overarching answer to all of our challenges or a grand theory of community engagement as Charles Darwin did with evolution. Instead, we are in the period preceding in which work was being done by numerous persons mostly remaining unknown by history. One exception though as he seems to have been instrumental in Charles Darwin's development is Erasmus Darwin, his grandfather, for noting the importance of the evolutionary-intergenerational perspective. Erasmus Darwin is the one who is made to look like a monkey in the drawings from that time. The analogy being that what may appear to be crazy, or a monkey’s uncle ideas today could be an important aspect of creating, what I am calling, new community paradigms in the future. 

He was also cited in Using Deliberation and Systems Thinking to Address Healthcare Costs, along with George Box, whose declaration "All models (or maps) are wrong, Some models are useful” has become a foundational principle for NCP. These efforts through explorations and experiments are seen as small steps in small spaces, slowly building relationships and bridges between different conceptual arenas. I have little faith in grandiose global transformations.

What they all have in common is that they are limited, not only in terms of George Box’s principle, "All models are wrong, Some models are useful” but also in terms of applicability. They are narrowly focused experiments in applying systems thinking to questions of direct community governance. An analogy might be to see them as attempts to match the work of Erasmus Darwin, and others, in the natural sciences prior to his famous grandson’s theory of evolution. They are opportunities for trial and learning.

Also in the last post, Sailing Complex and Wicked Seas with Icebergs (Systems Thinking) was cited for the insight into combining both longitude and latitude in thinking about something. 

Both are needed, like using both longitude and latitude to keep a ship on course. Both are part of the same global grid but each is determined differently, together requiring new means of navigation. The danger is not in getting lost east and west or north and south but being either marooned by one's own limited perspective or being lost in a complex sea of interactions. 

An idea that came from one of my favorite PBS shows, How We Got To Now with Steven Johnson / Time (Emmy Winner). Changing the direction of one’s perspective to one based on a different set of premises can open an until then unthought of a world of possibilities. With the blog, one is able to build upon the foundation created through past discoveries. With the system's thinking models, one is able to explore and test concepts and with Kumu mapping, one can begin to think laterally putting different ideas together.

Though, admittedly, this navigation metaphor is not being applied exactly in the same manner in the two instances. It is more of a meta idea, using Kumu or any mapping to expand one’s perspective and find unrevealed connections, as discussed in Dancing through the Complexities of Thinking Systematically about Systems Thinking  

In addition to thinking about the particular specific issues, when looking at a system and establishing our boundaries of what we consider the system to be, we also begin thinking about meta-issues, the meta is the thing to focus on as higher level of abstractness or about (its own category). 

Sailing Complex and Wicked Seas with Icebergs (Systems Thinking) also considered the concepts behind the Systems Thinking Iceberg Model, which has been referenced a number of times in this blog and utilized in a variety of different ways. The Kumu project map of the NCP Wiki conveying the Structural level of the Iceberg upon which the Event level plays out over time through the Patterns level. As mentioned in the last post, these blog posts are seen being part of the Mental Model level, though recognized as being only a very small part of a community mental model. 

"Taken a further step, the organizing principles of the Systems Thinking Iceberg model can help us to better understand and utilize or leverage the feedback loops making up systems. It has been used by this blog in attempting to explain abstract principles of how external causal loops could influence a specific system to the extent that it becomes in reality part of a larger system needing to be addressed as with Complexity Assailing Our Communities, to develop deliberative systems to understand multiple, intertwined issues across multiple sectors as with Healthcare Costs, and to organize diverse entities to take action across different sectors to address common concerns through Collective Impact efforts."

The effective use of modeling, especially through Kumu relationship mapping based on systems thinking has become an integral part of New Community Paradigms. Moving over a year between beginning to see Systems Thinking as a disciplined process for Community Governance, as a means of scaffolding direct deliberative democracy, to Getting Deep into ST - Systems Thinking Certification, which asked:

" to shift your perspective of the world from how it is usually presented as a machine subject to being broken down into smaller pieces and therefore controllable with the right levers. It asks you to look at your world as an interrelated system or a series of systems. The emphasis, at this point, is not on whether the world is a single system or multiple systems, rather it is how we approach the nature of such a system."

The greatest shortcoming of the New Community Paradigms Wiki Kumu Map project is that I built it myself and it would be far better for others if they built it or their own version of it for themselves as explained in Enabling a Better Tomorrow through New Community Paradigms via Systems Thinking

An experiential truth, one that you have to go through yourself, is that these different perspectives between the different systems being examined and system thinking itself, and between the various types of systems thinking and the different levels at which they operate are not as separate and distinct as they seem.  

They may appear so when presented on the pages of this blog but in their consistent utilization, there is a tipping point at which the complexity begins to become more coherent. The uncertainty may remain because that is always a factor within the complexity and some may prefer to ignore both the complexity and the uncertainty. Unfortunately, this is usually unsustainable and leads to unintended and invariably bad consequences. 

The ‘Moonshot’ challenge then is getting the members of your organization or community willing to work past the hurdles to reach beyond that point.

This assessment does not consider my own shortcomings but even in that case, Kumu mapping allows one to not only return and correct mistakes resulting from too quickly moving on with new explorations and experiments but also reevaluating based on new insights. At this point in the journey, establishing the pathways is more important than establishing the destinations which are seen as better being left to individual communities to determine. 

The desire is that if New Community Paradigms ever achieved its intended potential that it would then be as useful to a tea-party based community as it would be to a progressive green community. The two communities would use different resources in different manners but there could still be an underlying set of principles developed. The real challenge is when the two communities and versions in-between are conjoined together into an even more complex whole. 

NCP endeavors to search for new ways of Connecting Complexity with Community using Systems Thinking as scaffolding for a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles. The latest exploration is learning more about Asset Based Community Development, Social Networks and the Commons connecting Associational Life as another possible replacement for top-down political control by the invariably privileged few.

It is upon this basis, a system of associational relationships to develop community wealth that Asset Based Community Development seeks to help communities find solutions to community challenges. This requires not only connections but diversity as well according to Professor Scott E. Page, an assertion that has a mathematical basis

The community working instead on developing its own new community paradigms. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Kumu Map of New Community Paradigms Wiki

This blog post's purpose is to introduce the New Community Paradigms Wiki Map created with the Kumu relational mapping program. For more than five years, New Community Paradigms has been meandering meaningfully through a host of public, civil and community issues. It could be more truthfully called, "Explorations and Experiments in Discovering Potential Pathways to New Community Paradigms" (EEDPPNCP) but that seemed a bit long. It has been a means of interacting with new ideas of interest providing the opportunity to interact with some interesting people who propagate those interesting ideas. 

This blog has though been only one component of the journey, another is the New Community Paradigms (NCP) Wiki which serves as the storehouse for discovered online resources and created personal insights on these matters. Together, the blog and wiki are built upon concepts from the MITWorld video Media in Transition 6: New Media, Civic Media which put forward the idea (at 8:27) of “time-based” durable, static versus "space-based" ephemeral, dynamic in terms of storage and transmission. These were then blended with the ideas of Alex Bruns' in “Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage” page 102, of blogs being based on temporal organization, in which the most recent articles are placed in the most prominent position, making it difficult to serve as an in-depth platform for learning as contrasted with wikis, which implement a space-based structure seen as allowing both for deeper exploration of issues and an opportunity for greater collaboration. These differences are seen as being based on infrastructure versus interface. NCP attempts to combine these concepts together to create an expandable learning platform with some depth but still generally accessible. There isn't any claim of authority or correctness associated with the ideas gathered from either the blog or the wiki. Simply an offer to make them available so that they might be considered as to whether or not they could be beneficial. 

Through the explorations and experiments initiated by the NCP blog, the NCP wiki has grown encompassing a host of topics from Asset Based Community Development to Systems Thinking, many that were at first of little knowledge but one learns over time by engaging. The wiki is basically organized on a hierarchical basis, similar to the sections and chapters of a book. Wiki sections, involving broader concerns such as Economics, followed then by wiki chapters, composed of related wiki pages, such as Budgeting for Community Prosperity or Economic Growth and Equity respectively, extending to more inquiries leading to specific wiki focus pages such as B Corporations

It is within the designated wiki pages that the majority of the online resources are found. The other pages serve for the most part as organizational infrastructure for the wiki which has evolved over time. With each new exploration or experiment, new pathways have been forged and newly discovered relationships have altered the overall conceptual landscape. It becomes quickly obvious though that these relationships, particularly considered in total, become very difficult to visualize. Each wiki page is individually isolated and any connections to other concepts, within other wiki pages, are beyond the horizon of the page. 

Providing an expanding hierarchical landscape, however, was not sufficient. This form of organizing was too close to the institutional structures to which this effort was designed to find alternatives. An effort has been made then to discover and delineate relationships hidden by the standard organizational structures to assist in overcoming the conceptual silos often found in institutions. To this end, relationships between concepts that may not be seen as being directly subsumed under each other but still seen as being influential have been identified. 

Taking this approach a bit further, some new ideas or concepts were seen as being bridges between more traditional sectors found in most mainstream institutions. An endeavor has also been made to identify these bridges and new elements in a manner that makes clear their importance to the community rather than to the institution. 

Under this Kumu scenario, the New Community Paradigms Wiki is the territory and the New Community Paradigms Wiki Map, is obviously the map. The explanatory ability of this blog post is limited. The tour of the map provided below being in truth more seamless within the Kumu environment as each of the subsequent links would not open into new tabs. Another avenue for learning about the map is provided then through the New Community Paradigms Wiki Map Tour presentation in which nearly everything stays in one window.

An example of a wiki bridged connection is Participatory Budgeting which is seen as a bridge between economics and governance, more specifically in the wiki between Budgeting for Community Prosperity and the wiki focus on NCDD’s related resources under Governance through Community. Economic Growth and Equity is also seen as being related to the concept of Participatory Budgeting.  The Kumu mapped bridged connections of Participatory Budgeting are then graphically seen as a bridge between Budgeting for Community Prosperity and the wiki focus on NCDD under Governance through Community in the Main Wiki Map.

The map of the wiki is not designed to provide detailed information as does the wiki itself. Instead, it illustrates relationships across the entire wiki. It provides a different perspective allowing for the potential of new insights as suggested by the blog post, Sailing Complex and Wicked Seas with Icebergs (Systems Thinking) that latitude thinking is different from longitude thinking. It does though take some time to get familiar with this. 

In making the case that systems and systems thinking really are a thing that could be applied to these areas of change requires at the same time keeping true to the course with systems thinking principles. Both are needed, like using both longitude and latitude to keep a ship on course. Both are part of the same global grid but each is determined differently, together requiring new means of navigation. The danger is not in getting lost east and west or north and south but being either marooned by one's own limited perspective or being lost in a complex sea of interactions. A primary tool for navigating systems is the systems map

All of the different sections listed on the Front Page of the wiki can be found in the Main Wiki Map's narrative section (left side of the screen) under "Go to:", clicking on one of these sections will take you to a new map reflecting that particular section. The map section of the Main Wiki Map (right side of the screen) displays the major bridge connections between the primary concepts of the wiki. The specific elements (colored circles) comprising the Main Wiki Map and their relationships to each other are illustrated in the Wiki Bridges Map. Mousing over the bulleted elements of the narrative section of that map or any map will highlight that element within the map itself.

Each section, such as Places Map, when accessed from the narrative section of a map will open into its own map with both its specific and related elements being displayed in relation to each other. Mousing over the bulleted elements with the narrative section will again highlight the particular element within the map section.

With individual elements, such as Place as Social and Economic Engine, it can then be possible to see that element's relationship within other sections of the wiki, such as within Places, Economics or within the overall Wiki Bridges Pathways Map. It is also possible to open the actual wiki page using the provided URL link.

Relationships can be extended. Understanding  Participatory Budgeting and Microeconomics is seen as a bridge between Participatory Budgeting and Budgetary Discipline based on a premise that participatory budgeting should not be merely a wish list. Budgetary Discipline is also seen as being related to Homelessness - Seeking Solutions or being potentially related as more precise connections are yet to be made but a need for such a connection being seen as paramount for a community to be financially resilient and sustainable. 

Some connections are more constructed in nature. Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking has been a primary effort in finding pathways to new community paradigms serving as a bridge between Systems Thinking and (again) NCDD under Governance through Community. Other connections, such as under Asset Based Community Development, are more similar to hypotheses still being explored.

While the Wiki Bridges Map displays the elements and their relative positions, the Wiki Bridges Pathways Map is composed of wiki sectional bridges maps, such as the Places Wiki Bridges illustrating that section’s primary pathway of connections which in total extend across the entire wiki.

None of these pathways are set in stone nor is the relative position of concepts unalterable. They are also definitely not the only possible pathways. They are intended to serve as a means for coming up with new pathways to discover new ideas or relationships. All together, they may seem complex but starting from a single element one can hopefully begin to see undiscovered pathways for new community paradigms.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Evaluation through Logic Models versus Theory of Change with ABCDE

Now that a larger framework has been created in the last post for Wendy McCaig’s conversation concerning perspectives on evaluation, we can take a more direct look at Measuring Success in ABCD – Continued. We will be working with Kumu relational mapping again, so I will be explaining a few things along the way since it has been awhile and for some readers, this could be the first time. 

The  CDCD Asset Mapping Process graphic Wendy provided has been re-created, and displayed on the right-hand side, of the interactive Kumu map CDCD, Citizen-Driven Community Defined

Also available is an interactive Kumu version of the Approaches to Poverty Map that Wendy provided in her blog post, 3 Approaches to Poverty: Relief, Betterment, Development. Wendy's original maps are also available within the narrative section of the Kumu map by clicking on the underlined link. A lightbox will be revealed on top of the screen. As explained in the Kumu map narrative section, the lightbox is closed by clicking the X at the top right corner. Other maps will be provided separately in this post but are also included in the narrative section of the Kumu map CDCD, Citizen-Driven Community Defined or in other related maps. 

Within the narrative section of each Kumu map, if you mouse over dotted underlined text then that element will be highlighted in the related map. Click the underlined text and the narrative for that element to open up. Click the map's white area and the narrative and map will reset. In the Kumu environment, the maps stay in one window. 

There are differences with the interactive Kumu versions of the maps and Wendy’s graphics. The Kumu CDCD Asset Map includes the social concerns that the community initiatives are supposed to address. Wendy’s map displays multiple Resident Led Initiatives for each Action Team. The Kumu map only reflects a particular initiative for each neighborhood, each of which addresses a particular community concern related to kids’ safety.  

The Kumu Approaches to Poverty map has both the Poverty Alleviation component and the Wealth Creation component but are displayed as separate circles. The Spiritual Need element is placed between these two. 

The Social Problems and Community Focus of Wendy’s article is on kids’ safety within an environment besieged by gun violence, sexual predators and unsafe streets made all the more dangerous because the kids don’t have anywhere else to play. Each Neighborhood Initiative addresses one of these concerns.

The intention is to dynamically integrate the CDCD map and Approaches to Poverty map together to begin to answer the five community questions posed by Nurture Development.  

 1. What are the things that only residents/citizens can do in response to this issue?
 2. What are the things that residents/citizens can lead on and achieve with the support of institutions (governmental, nongovernmental, for profit) in response to this issue?
 3 What are the things that only institutions can do for us?
 4 What are the things that institutions can stop doing which would create space for resident action?
 5 What can institutions start offering beyond the services that they currently offer to support resident/citizen action?

In addition, there is the inclusion of three possible Paths of Influence found at the bottom of the Kumu Approaches to Poverty narrative. Again, mousing over each of the dotted underlined paths reveals that path within the map area to the right. Clicking on one of them will open the narrative and reveal the elements involved in that path while clicking on the map white space will take you back. 

The idea for the paths of influence is based on the ABCD theme of “From what's wrong to what's strong.” The Social Emotional Needs of one person could be seen as a deficit but addressed in the aggregate by connected others towards any one person's needs or a group's needs or everyone else’s needs, especially if combined with the communal addressing of Spiritual Needs becomes a strength. 

Under Influence Path 1, the journey is a politically oriented one in which the community attempts to influence the government institution.  Under Influence Path 3, the journey is more of one of partnership in which the community needs to work both with the government institution and on its own at the same time. It is still possible though for the community to take Influence Path 2 in which the community takes action on its own though as reflected in the actions of Better Block and its provision of open source placemaking, it can sometimes be a matter of asking for forgiveness rather than permission.

Two of the Neighborhood Initiatives are seen as primarily addressing Social Emotional Needs. Showing the kids that the community cares for them. At their current degree of interaction, though these community actions through specific members fit 1. What are the things that only residents/citizens can (or would) do in response to this issue? To what degree they address other needs are questions that would still need to be asked. 

Resident Led Initiative 3, takes place in Neighborhood C. In this case, it is very likely that the possible choices invoked are “(2) What are the things that residents/citizens can lead on and achieve with the support of institutions (governmental, nongovernmental, for profit) in response to this issue?”, or “(3) What are the things that only institutions can do for us?”, to resolve physical safety needs or fulfill environmental needs related to health and welfare such as parks. In such circumstances, the community needs to go beyond providing only social-emotional support. Circumstances will dictate which of the paths of influence or others the community decides to take. 

It might be possible to expand programs such as the Cocoa Station under skill 2 to environment 3 and others to help create a more pedestrian-friendly environment. Additional skills could be added to each neighborhood and more detailed understanding of each environment and applicable social concerns could be provided. 

None of this has, however, reached a point of evaluation. Not only evaluating the individual projects put out by the community but also evaluating the means by which the community puts out such projects and implements them. In the last post, Cormac Russell provided a number of different evaluation methods, Developmental Evaluation, Most Significant Change, Narrative Therapy and Marshall Ganz's work (pdf) on Public Narrative moving to a Theory of Change and on to a Theory of Practice, all  beyond the standard Logic Model’s limitations that concerned Wendy.  Part of the reason that they are more comprehensive is that they are initiated when the project or program is beginning or even prior, question assumptions and extent even beyond completion.

Marshall Ganz's work (pdf) could be especially relevant to the paths of influence getting people to tell their stories in a manner that creates community cohesion thereby focusing community resolve. This post and the related Kumu map will focus on a Theory of Change, specifically as envisioned by Acumen. The example provided is based on the Last Mile Food Truck project proposed in the Financial Modeling and Last Mile Homeless Food Truck blog post series. A second Acumen course was taken on social impact using the first course as a foundation. The Acumen Theory of Change involves considering one’s assumptions at each step of the process and acquiring evidence to support one’s conclusion. There are also other questions to be considered and a recognition of possible pitfalls.  

The example provided is specific but it needs to be remembered that it is also hypothetical. The blog series was on the Acumen Financial Modeling course involved far more than financial accounting considerations including the systemic difficulties inherent in implementing such projects. The financial models proposed were though fantasy finance or imaginary impact investing as is the concept of social impact here. The full extent of lessons learned has of yet to be determined and revealed, so further inquiries can be expected in the future.

The more relevant question is how this could be related to the three neighborhood initiatives and the particular paths of influence they might take. Were some of the solutions proposed low hanging fruit or could more ambitious projects be developed by the community with our without the assistance of government or non-profit institutions? Assistance would not necessarily have to be directly related to specific projects, it could be related to how the community approaches change through processes such as placemaking with the Project for Public Places or participatory budgeting through the Participatory Budgeting Project or other means of greater community. The relevance of the mapping process is not the completed maps but the process of the community expanding and enhancing its efforts at community empowerment.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

ABCD, Social Networks and the Commons connecting Associational Life

Cormac Russell had an interesting discussion with Wendy McCaig on Twitter a while ago during which I made a suggestion that the topic would be suitable for a blog post. Wendy took the suggestion to heart and wrote, Measuring Success in ABCD – Continued, the "Continued" being from a previous post,  3 Indicators of a Strong Community. Which as the first part looked at evaluating communities on an Asset Based Community Development basis, as a whole, in terms of social capital bonding (connecting neighborhood residents together) and bridging (connecting volunteers from outside the community with residents, or I would presume, the community with other communities within a common jurisdiction), while the second part, Measuring Success in ABCD – Continued, looked at evaluating programs, activities, and projects within a community, by the community and for the community but still needing to interact at some level with institutional entities be they government or nonprofit. These are different forms of social networking that need to be made to work together.

In a post from 2015, 3 Approaches to Poverty: Relief, Betterment, Development, Wendy differentiated between a Poverty Alleviation System which addresses surface issues, such as institutions providing individual relief or means of individual betterment and a Wealth Generation System which looks to underlying causes that impact overall community development. Institutions, however, can use control of the first system and surface issue level to restrict access to the second system and underlying cause level. The question is how the community can integrate the two systems together putting a causal understanding of the Wealth Creation system on top of a Poverty Alleviation System that works through community development to address individual betterment or relief as needed. In the meantime, there is still the need to face the numerous challenges found in all communities and sometimes that requires the assistance of institutions.

Institutions insist, for arguably good reasons, upon evaluations as criteria for receiving funding but this can put the community into a dependent role.
A dilemma then facing Wendy is that most institutional funders of public services, whether government or non-profit philanthropy, including United Way, want agency defined outcomes, linear measurements of attendance or level of engagement found in the traditional Logic Model, not community led impact. Cormac suggested a number of alternative forms of evaluation and assessment including Developmental Evaluation, Most Significant Change, Narrative Therapy and Marshall Ganz's work (pdf) on Public Narrative moving to a Theory of Change and on to a Theory of Practice.  There is evidence based research for these approaches, the challenge is educating funders to the importance of this to community development.

This also raises the importance of a community answering five questions raised in the Nurture Development post, What We’ve Tried (in isolation) Hasn’t Worked: The Politics of Community so that the locus of the question and control is the community, not the institution.

1 What are the things that only residents/citizens can do in response to this issue?
2 What are the things that residents/citizens can lead on and achieve with the support of institutions (governmental, nongovernmental, for profit) in response to this issue?
3 What are the things that only institutions can do for us?
4 What are the things that institutions can stop doing which would create space for resident action?
5 What can institutions start offering beyond the services that they currently offer to support resident/citizen action?

The last four questions raise related follow-up questions. What influence does the community have over the institution to induce it to do for the community what it can’t do for itself, or to support the community in doing what it can do for itself, or to create space for the community to grow in that capacity, or what the institution can do to go beyond its current level of community support? This is not only a question of capacity for both the community and the institution but of motivation as well, particularly if other communities are competing for institutional influence on a political basis. 

This raises the concerns put forward by what was deemed the Scottish Conflict Model in the last post whether it is feasible to bridge to an institution when the relationship between a particular community and the ruling institutions may be a confrontational one. In such cases, there is an even greater need for social networking through bonding and bridging. It needs, however, to be tied together in a manner that is collective and inclusive.

As reported in Asset Based Community Development Lessons for Systems Thinking, “A viable way to be collective and inclusive from the bottom up, according to Cormac and those with a similar mindset, is to work through the concept of the communal Commons to enable some type of Coalition of the Doing in determining the relationship between Capitalism and the Commons".  

It becomes a matter according to Cormac then of not reforming (institutional) systems but reclaiming the Commons. The Commons, according to Wikipedia, “…is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately.

As cited in ABCD Conflict Consensus Debate and Systems Thinking 1 of 2, “In outlining ‘12 Domains of People Powered Change’ Russell provides paths for solving some of the most pressing social problems by restoring bonds among people.

"The challenge is not the reformation of institutions, it’s the reseeding of associational life. When our associations strengthen, they will not only put manners on our institutions but will also stop outsourcing citizen and community work onto those systems. Then we will begin to discover that the Good Life is ours for the creating.”

Cormac cites Ivan Illich in discussing the limits of institutions in advocating for a return to the commons. 

"In areas of childcare, healthcare, mental health, environmental and ecological sustainability, local prosperity and public safety, we desperately need to start a new conversation that takes a view from the bank of the river, a view that does not dismiss the river, but takes it in, alongside the rest of the ecosystems (our non-institutional capacities).”

According to Cormac, the average person has 51 other persons in their associational lives. He cites Dunbar to argue that we need 150 persons. So one measure is the other 99 relationships. The Dunbar, to whom he is referring is Robin Dunbar, the originator of Dunbar's Number, a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Here is a ForaTV video of Dunbar explaining his theory. 

The number of 150, according to Dunbar "refers to those people with whom you have a personalized relationship, one that is reciprocal and based around general obligations of trust and reciprocity." According to Cormac, these are friends and neighbors not other service users, family or professionals, “It comes down to how many unforced and unpaid for relationships of acceptance we have in door knocking distance.

There is not, however, a single Dunbar Number but rather a scale of numbers, of ever-widening circles of connection.  According to Dunbar, there is a cognitive limit to the number of relations that any one primate (including humans) can maintain because "this limit is a direct function of neocortex size, and ... this in turn limits group size where stable interpersonal relationships can be maintained." It consists then of four layers, or "Circles of Acquaintanceship," which scale relative to each other by a factor of 3— 5 intimates, and then successive layers of 15, 50 and 150. The first group, of three to five, is our very closest friends. Then comes 12 (the size of a jury) to 15, those whose death would be devastating to us. The next circle is made up of 50 persons, or “the typical overnight camp size among traditional hunter-gatherers like the Australian Aboriginals or the San Bushmen of southern Africa.”  The number of people increases while the emotional connection decreases with each successive circle, so it is not just walking distance but emotional distance as well.  Beyond the 150 number, there are further rings, for example, fifteen hundred being the average tribe size in hunter-gatherer societies, the number of people who speak the same language or dialect. Even larger circles involve even greater levels of complexity.  

It is upon this basis, a system of associational relationships to develop community wealth that Asset Based Community Development seeks to help communities find solutions to community challenges. This requires not only connections but diversity as well according to Professor Scott E. Page, an assertion that has a mathematical basis

Within this framework, the Commons are both place-based with associational networks as a people based commons,  and the Social Network is also both people based with the commons as a place based defined social system so that the smallest associational successes of ABCD can reverberate through the entire community (system).

Past Posts