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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ABCD Conflict Consensus Debate and Systems Thinking 1 of 2

This post is being written immediately after finishing and before publishing the last post, even though the last post is believed to have done an adequate job of delineating the issues of what is now seen as a core debate between what I will call the Scottish conflict model, and to use their designation, the ABCD consensus approach to community development. 

There is still a need to look into both sides more deeply to understand the differences. This post will focus a bit more on the ABCD perspective while still keeping in mind the concerns of the Scottish conflict model but to attain a sufficient enough level of understanding I will need to return to systems thinking. It has taken four posts to get to this point, it will take longer than one standard post, and a good deal will be contained within this space of exploration until reaching what are seen as possible limits and commonalities for the Scottish conflict model, for ABCD, and for systems thinking.

This though may present an issue with some, previously having written Asset Based Community Development Lessons for Systems Thinking to find some points of commonality between ABCD and systems thinking, this post will use systems thinking to understand aspects of ABCD but many in ABCD see systems as synonymous with institutions and tools of bureaucratic manipulation.

This negative connotation associated with systems and especially “The System” is understandable.'s definition of a System takes this top down management perspective of systems and while there is some truth to this interpretation, it is also limited or constricting in my view.  Particularly when “the” of “The System” is being used as a marker of unconditional preeminence rather than a means for specifying or particularizing. 

According to a more general definition by Wikipedia, and Merriam Webster indirectly:

"A system is a set of interacting or interdependent component parts forming a complex/intricate whole. Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning. 

The term system may also refer to a set of rules that governs structure or behavior. Alternatively, and usually in the context of complex social systems, the term is used to describe the set of rules that govern structure or behavior."

I lean toward, Donella Meadows, one of the authors of Limits to Growth, who has a similar definition, “A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something…. a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections and a function or purpose,” but her definition can be expanded upon from these simple foundational steps to Dancing with Systems. More importantly, in terms of endeavoring to bring about transformation, she identifies points of leverage within systems.

For myself then, the only thing that deserves to be called “The System” is “The Universe” and everything in it is parts of myriad instances of “a system”. Institutions are composed of multiple systems, sometimes espoused systems conflicting with actual in use systems, or systems of administration contrasted with systems of organizational culture. ABCD in my view fits the Donella Meadows’ definition of a system. It is a system, a complex, human based system, that must exist within, and by its purpose interact with the complicated, procedure based, institutional systems aforementioned.

Based on the premise that there is a difference between complicated and complex systems, what I see as the Wikipedia complex/intricate contrast could be replaced with intrinsic as a defining attribute of complexity and complicated as the manifestation of the intricate. For both there has to be mutual iterative interactions between events. It does not necessarily have to be directly two way, it can be a one way loop with numerous intervening events or elements in-between. 

Both types of systems, complicated or complex, are developed to influence or manipulate larger complex cultural or social systems. Their approaches to complexity are also different and these differences can be categorized according to Warren Weaver's Science and Complexity.

The rules for complicated systems are usually imposed from without even when those supposedly imposing are elected every four years or so or are placed by circumstances into leadership. An autonomous management entity usually comes into play even with oppositional or conflict models to lead the fight. Even fully human based cultural systems will involve some forms of complicated systems of control, the question is to the level this is true and how effective it works out to be.

The fundamental rules of complex systems arise from within the (particular) system itself. The rules of a complex system are defined by the interaction of the components of the system, intrinsically related to each other. It is this type of relationship which allows emergent properties to arise from a system, wetness attributed to a relationship between hydrogen and oxygen, life from the organic based relationship of carbon based chemicals as contrasted to inorganic chemicals, the emergence of consciousness from the holographically intrinsic relationship of neuron synapses within the human brain, the Arab Spring Uprising.

A conflict model often operates on intricate, complicated lines in opposition to an institutional system which also endeavors to operate imposed complicated systems of top down control but through intricate lines that are often obscure or hidden. 

A complicated approach to a complex social system can be analogous to Warren’s disorganized form of complexity. As Daniel Bassill writes, after the 2009 Copenhagen accords, makers of a Collation of the Willing in 2013 proposed mobilizing people as  a ‘swarm’ suggesting that with the Internet it is possible to create an online hub that could support the growth of the climate change movement. It had the laudable objective ”in order to address the climate crisis we have to first address inequalities”. These type of movements though, in my view, often seem to treat people as the molecules in a chamber of gas creating movement through heat or pressure thereby creating change through external sources of force. 

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. Rather than finding creative ways to ‘reclaim the state’ ABCD instead seeks to reclaim the commons. This to my mind is more analogous to Warren's organized complexity, later adopted by Jane Jacobs

"All of these [referring to a long list] are certainly complex problems. But they are not problems of disorganized complexity, to which statistical methods hold the key. They are problems which involve dealing simultaneously with a sizable number of factors which are interrelated into an organic whole."

As a systems thinking proponent, one common means of understanding the world is through the Systems Thinking Iceberg Model which has been featured before in this blog. The Donella Meadows Institute has its own perspective on the Iceberg Model. I am not going to go into detail about the Iceberg model on these pages but understanding it is important to what follows.

In my view, the Scottish conflict model primarily operates at the Event level and especially at the Structure level. The Pattern level is not necessarily ignored but there is less attention paid to understanding the patterns than there is to identifying and opposing what is seen as components of the entrenched system structure responsible. Mental models are often replaced by imposed established ideology. Patterns, as far as they are seen to exist, are set in terms of a continuing conflict. The question is whether this creates a truly independent system capable of replacing an existing entrenched system or is it rather merely an oscillating system in different states of conflict that never truly transforms? 

ABCD focuses more on the Pattern level and the Mental Model level. It focuses especially on those community generated Patterns ignored by institutional government service providers by which communities focus on their own strengths rather than being defined by others according to their weaknesses. These are the events celebrated and repeated across communities until they become an integrated part of the community. 

More important though is the creation of new Mental Models adopted by those following new patterns. This is not merely positive thinking but taking actions which has community, as well as personal, impact and repeating those actions in a manner which feeds back into the community creating the conditions by which they can be sustained and become resilient.

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