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.

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 onto 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 RSA 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. 

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).

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