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.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Establishing a Foundation for Democratic Belief

Continuing the response to Caleb Crain's article The Case Against Democracy as part of The Active Citizen in the Digital Age course from the last post. Again, the order of ideas here do not correspond to the order of ideas in the article.

Brennan takes a third person perspective of ill-informed voters (them) on behalf of a second person perspective of the modern, cultured intellectual New Yorker reader (you). So when he says, “You are more likely to win Powerball a few times in a row” than making your one vote count making learning about politics not worth even a few minutes of time, he doesn't mean “you” the readers but the readers putting themselves in the shoes of the potentially lazy or self-sabotaging (them) but regardless still seen, for the purposes of a straw man argument, as rational actors who indulge themselves in more emotionally appealing approaches to democracy, as in you reason for the general welfare, they feel for themselves. The specious claim by Brennan, that not voting does a neighbor a good turn because “If I do not vote, your vote counts more,” is also conversely if you do not vote then my vote counts more.

Crain recognizes that gaining franchise or the right to vote is the primary means that historically disadvantaged groups such as blacks and women have been able to gain political leverage. The votes of blacks and women (well some women) served, as he says, as the defense against the most reckless demagogue in living memory supported by white men advantaged by the current system. While the defense was not sufficient, decreasing that defense even further does not make sense to me. 

I won't deny though general voter ignorance having a shape which can be manipulated but question the "balance" derived by political scientist Scott Althaus. A mix that although calculated doesn't actually exist in nature. I could also agree with Caplan that voters ignorant of economics tend to be more pessimistic, more suspicious of market competition and of rises in productivity, and more wary of foreign trade and immigration but the answer is not greater constriction of voting and ignoring the information derived from those votes. 

When Brennan reports on the advantage of knowledge about politics by more educated, higher income, Republicans, he is also indirectly referring to a rigged system of campaign contribution corruption and gerrymandering that by its own rules disenfranchise blacks and women. Disenfranchisement whether intentional or not is not incidental. Widespread failure to pass even a mild voter qualification exam should call into question the criteria for the exam and who has real access to establishing its rules.

The federal system feature of not paying too much attention to voters was designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the people from,”the artful misrepresentations of interested men.” In modern democracies, voters usually delegate the task of policy and administration causing Brennan to struggle, as Crain says, to reinvent the “representative” part of “representative democracy,” if instead voters need to know enough about policy to be able to make intelligent decisions themselves. It is as when they don’t know with some California’s ballot initiatives or the recent British Brexit vote, that disaster is especially prone to strike. The challenge is finding an optimal solution between the two.

Brennan and others seem to apply cognitive shortcuts of letting broad-brush markers like party affiliation stand in for a close study of candidates’ qualifications and policy stances to individual voters when it is actually a networked application among a group which can be helpful even if party stereotypes aren't well enough understood by particular individual voters. 

I can agree with Brennan who argues that voters would need to know “who the incumbent bastards are, what they did, what they could have done, what happened when the bastards did what they did, and whether the challengers are likely to be any better than the incumbent bastards,” to impose full accountability through “retrospective voting” or the simple heuristic of throwing out incumbents who have made them unhappy.  This is not only a very limited solution but a backward solution having both no real current benefit and no proactive future benefit unless the electorate makes a better guess about the future but then the system has four years to re-entrench itself. Such a process of getting backward applied solutions under our current entrenched political systems (plural) allows canny politicians to be cavalier about campaign promises and still be long-lasting resulting in perennial voter dissatisfaction and eventual disengagement. 

If all one values about participation are the chance to influence an election’s outcome for only one’s self then Brennan is right such participation is worthless as odds are, you won’t. He is also right as he has previously written that participation can be meaningful even when its practical effect is nil, because of the social bonding it creates. He assumes though that no comparable duty exists to take part specifically in voting, because other kinds of good actions can take the place of voting, believing that voting is part of what is termed a larger market in civic virtue. Those other components cannot though make up by themselves for the loss of voting from the total civic virtue or social capital created with the inclusion of voting. The overall capacity of civic virtue is diminished for the sake of administrative efficiency.

Democracy, according to Brennan is said to separately be analogous to either farming, as part of a larger market in food or to clean air, a commons seen as an instance of market failure, dependent on government protection for its existence but as Crain asserts if judicious voting is like clean air then it can’t also be like farming. 

When Brennan asserts that “It would be bad if no one farmed but that does not imply that everyone should farm,”  this is a false equivalency. We have to ask what if any is the difference between one’s duty to vote and one’s duty to farm? Farming was a specific agency for specific good when farming was largely self-supporting. So most had to farm or were forced by others to farm but such a specific agency would not have been adopted for protecting only one’s farm from invasion or for building a church.  Now farming is a more specific agency for general good within the marketplace. Voting is a general agency for general good that makes possible our individual specific agency and specific goods. 

Brennan also compares uninformed voting to air pollution which Crain sees as a compelling analogy. I don't.  While your commute by bicycle probably isn’t going to make the city’s air any cleaner, the joint effort of creating bike lanes and other means of getting out of cars can and does make an empirical difference. So even if reading up on candidates for the civil-court judge on Patch.com  still gets crooks elected, there are other civil sector actions that can be taken between elections. These don't, however, replace voting.

The civic or civil realm is not at all explored, the market realm is by way of analogy though how is both questionable and debatable. Saying that voting may be neither commons nor market but instead combat, even if gentle discounts the civil aspect.

The market's ability to weave self-interested buy-and-sell decisions of individual actors into prudent, collective allocation of resources is vastly overstated, so depending upon an “invisible hand” in politics comparable to Adam Smith's in economics is just as questionable. If there is an equation to explain how democracy works it isn't going to be tidy. It is going to be complex. This still doesn’t argue for top-down control by an elite, even a highly knowledgeable elite. 

The economist Joseph Schumpeter didn’t think democracy could function all that well whether or not voters paid too much attention to what their representatives did between elections, regulating voters as passengers having no thought of  “political back-seat driving.” Gears in the engine would probably be a better analogy. Voters, as passengers, could simply choose to take another bus if taken to a destination not of their choosing, again a backward solution.

The last presidential election could be seen as a result of the cost of shirking duty being spread too widely to keep any malefactor in line (assuming Madison’s ”the artful misrepresentations of interested men”). Interpreting the conscientiousness of the enlightened few being no match for the negligence of the many is more problematic. The designation of conscientiousness or enlightenment isn't a mantle that can be permanently applied to any one group. If the analogy of uninformed voting is air pollution, an overly negatively biased interpretation in my view, then the analogy for civic virtue should be air. A better analogy then may be nitrogen in the atmosphere, more inert but still dangerous if levels get too high, air pollution could then be corruption.

So why do we vote, for personal reasons or for social duty? Does voting enable one to take an equal part in the building of one’s political habitat and how does this impact one’s economic market habitat and one’s civic society habitat?
We don’t vote or participate to only define ourselves, we also vote to define our communities, be that at a local, state or national level. Voting should not be considered merely a form of pure self-expression limited to individualistic concerns expressed through multiple choice. Yes, as Brennan counseled, “If you’re upset, write a poem,” but one can write a poem to have others take action against human suffrage through different avenues including voting.  Multiple contributions are expressive.

Our current institutional system weakens the incentives for duty but it’s not clear that the civic duty itself is lightened. Crain states that “The whole point of democracy is that the number of people who participate in an election is proportional to the number of people who will have to live intimately with an election’s outcome.” 

I agree with Crain that what Brennan’s model omits is that sometimes democracy itself can be in danger because of an election. The combat analogy used by Crain sets the metaphorical contrast between soldiers worrying more about letting down the fellow-soldiers in their unit than about abstract allegiance against personal calculations of the cost of showing up at the front factoring in the chances of being caught and punished for desertion. Voters feel their duty most acutely toward friends and family who share their idea of where the country needs to go. It is for this that democracy should be designed to develop, encourage and protect, so for me the proper metaphor if we are going to use the idea of combat is Dunkirk


A Case Against the Case Against Democracy

Although still struggling to put together all that was learned through the Systems Practice Course, another Stanford Online course, The Active Citizen in the Digital Age has been started. 

It should be noted before starting on a response to The Case Against Democracy as part of The Active Citizen in the Digital Age course, that the article only deals with one of the three realms to be dealt with by the course, the political. It does not touch on civil society, an absence which is critical and only by indirect analogy, the marketplace. This is my interpretation and response which requires first reading the article and doesn't attempt to follow ideas in the same order. This discussion forms a philosophical basis for what is being attempted with new community paradigms so the response is extensive.

Caleb Crain's article first starts off appealing to the modern, cultured intellectual so that when he criticizes those who confuse the work of Marx with that of Madison they know he isn't talking about them, that others are to be blamed for failing democracy, not them. This deflects then from any notion that it was democracy or at least what was claimed to be democracy that may have failed those others. Instead, the New Yorker reader is asked to judicially question whether one shouldn't take on the entire burden because its readers will be assumedly included with the in-group. Let's keep in mind that Plato was an aristocrat. 

The basic problem is that elites, bad elites not good ones (and who are elites because they are neither poor nor immigrant), fearing the ignorance of both poor and immigrants restricted ballots to their own favor. In opposition to a more general altruistic ideal of “if a man is ignorant, he needs the ballot for his protection all the more." This lack of protection "helped racists in the South circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment and disenfranchise blacks." This is still occurring today though in different form so the form of democracy must also evolve to adapt to maintain any criteria of fairness. 

I don't see fairness being equated with randomness as in the flip of a coin so the claim that therefore, "It must be that we value democracy for tending to get things right more often than not, which democracy seems to do by making use of the information in our votes," is a conclusion requiring to big of a leap for me. Instead, for me it is also a question of agency, and in exercising that agency we can determine to be morally proportional in toto in allocating with our fellow citizens in our community. I don't understand the concept of a decision that is better without saying for whom but less fair without again, not stating for whom. Democracy should not be designed to be a zero sum, winner take all game defaulting then to gridlock when it isn’t in an ideal representative form. 

Epistocracy or “government by the knowledgeable," defined in the abstract first by Estlund's  then by Brennan versus the general notion of "democracy" only vaguely defined by suggested shortcoming, faced three valid philosophical objections which would only make the case why it shouldn't be rejected not preferred in what is set as an up or down vote as if you can't deny all three then you must choose epistocracy.

One, deny that truth is a suitable standard for measuring political judgment but to which of the two stated propositions does this apply, the administrative or the consensual? I would assert that the general proposals that, "Democratic procedures tend to make correct policy decisions," and  that, “democratic procedures are fair in the eyes of reasonable observers," involve two different distinct but paradoxically not separate multipurpose systems, one of administration and one of consensus, mashed together like forcing repealing magnetic poles in a generator. They are necessary together in seeking to attain a desired goal but do not naturally fit together. A demonstrably better administrative outcome resulting from decisions requires facts or empirical truth but the determination of what that outcome should be will necessitate debate which as Hannah Arendt pointed out “constitutes the very essence of political life,” but it should also include deliberation to reach consensus a part of civic life, an aspect of democracy absent from the article. 

Two, deny that some citizens know more about good government than others. It is not necessary to do so though. We often defer to others in our community based on their superior knowledge but we don’t surrender our own agency. Voting is a matter of general agency. In choosing a representative or expert, I am not necessarily giving up that agency as I would if others had absolute power to decide for me regardless of their own specific expertise in one area versus another area.

Three, deny that knowing more imparts political authority or the “You might be right, but who made you boss?” argument.  Except that we do impart authority for knowing more, just not absolute authority, political or otherwise. 

There are supposedly only two practical arguments against Estlund’s analysis of epistocracy. One, the possibility that epistocracy’s method of screening voters might be biased in a way that couldn’t readily be identified and therefore couldn’t be corrected for. Wait, what method of screening voters? Who screens them? Even Crain admits that, “Without more details, it’s difficult to assess Brennan’s (epistocratic) proposal.” It is not like we have absolutely no criteria now for whom should be allowed to vote but it isn’t determined by an elite or at least when it was we decided over time to change that. Historically, we have had a greater sense of suffering more from and therefore moving away from rule by the elites rather than extolling their efficiencies. 

Now let's turn to Brennan's argument that it’s entirely justifiable to limit the political power of the irrational, the ignorant, and the incompetent have over others as it would be to disqualify jurors who are morally or cognitively incompetent. Is this a valid practical equivalency though, could one actually be found incompetent to serve on a jury but competent to vote, considering a major supply for the jury pools are from the voter rolls? 

Brennan’s answer to demographic bias also seems weak to me. While empirical research may show that people rarely vote for their individual narrow self-interest, they are more likely to vote for their group or class. The division on Social Security may not be based on age, more likely income but Brennan cannot assure us that it isn't based on the means of selecting the epistocracy. Brennan also seems to assume that it is the bottom 80 percent of white voters who are oppressing blacks and the enlightened perspective of the top 20 percent of elites would apply crime and policing policies undoubtedly more favorable to poor blacks but leadership in Washington D.C. makes me seriously doubt that. 

Feeling more unjust in giving the knowledgeable power over the ignorant than in giving those in the majority power over those in the minority is an abstract and conceptual notion of universal suffrage as is Brennan’s assertion that the public’s welfare, or of the populace without consideration of the actual individuals making it up, considered by the epistocratic elite is more important than any other one theoretical or imagined individual's hurt feelings

Suffrage,  however, is not a matter so much of knowledge over ignorance which we actually do, teachers over students, doctors over patients, nor is it a matter of majority versus minority.  It is a matter of power over the powerless. Knowledge is a weapon for the powerful and ignorance is a prison for the powerless. South African apartheid provided the minority knowledge and power over the majority which had to be overcome.  This was a more heartfelt defense of democracy by those who were colonized as opposed to that made by those that did the colonizing.

So would a polity ruled by educated voters perform better than a democracy, and if not could some of the resulting inequities then be remedied after the fact? First, our current democracy is not absent of educated voters so it would be only selected educated voters who became responsible for remedying those inequities or at least some of the inequities based on an assumed utilitarian noble oblige. Who determines who makes the grade and then the choice? Underrepresentation is usually based first on group then on remedied through individuals deemed worthy by the group who has the abundance of representation. How many votes is the majority represented group going to be willing to give? How beholding will those being bequeathed those votes be to those who gave them? 

A group can also deliberate, something we hope for from among our representatives but that seems lost these days and something not really made apparent with epistocracy. Both Brennan and Estlund instead seem to be restricting democracy to an individualistic competition between political opponents on a debate field aggregated to the group or in this case a select group. Intellectuals galled by the ignorance of the many need to remember that democracy is supposed to be with other people. I don't agree with the article's author's view that democracy is fundamentally combat, albeit gentle. It needs to be far more and can be. Epistocracy seems a top down means of defining community that could be contrasted with bottom up approaches more akin to Charles Leadbeater's Pro-Am Revolution applied to the civic space.


Limiting faith in democracy to only the “ennobling power of political debate” is no more reasonable a proposition than the supposition that college fraternities are the only aspect of college that builds character. We may not respect corpse-eating any longer but many still strive to emulate sacrifice of body and blood for others. So we first must determine what signifies human dignity to us then determine if voting rights fulfills that in a way we finding meaningful. 

Part 2

Friday, April 28, 2017

Systems Practice versus Thinking pt 2

The last post returned to the Systems Practice course begun earlier this year and defined certain of its operational terms, such as factors, forces, and themes as pieces in the creation of a system puzzle or map. This post will continue explaining the systems practice process of putting those pieces together contrasted more generally with systems thinking and with Kumu mapping. The question that will remain on hold, for now, is how does this apply to alleviating homelessness? This must be addressed first to effectively apply the methodology. 

In Kumu mapping, factors are elements. It is the Kumu connections forming relationships between elements that represent forces.  Similar to gravity as a force only occurring when two or more bodies are in relation to each other. A theme, or collection of commonly related forces, is not quite yet a Causal Loop. To be a loop, those forces and themes need to be organized into a persistent feedback configuration. Until then these themes organized into connected forces are what I call causal influence pathways. One such pathway or theme could then be "cost of living” which might consist of a number of different enabling and inhibiting forces among them  "community bonding" as the interaction of which served as a means of stabilization that lessened the negative impacts that occurred when the cost of living increased because households within a community decided to share resources.

An interim step particular to Systems Practice before finalizing the creation of feedback loops is S.A.T. or Structural, Attitudinal, Transactional analysis. The purpose of SAT  is again to assist in being holistic in the analysis by avoiding focusing solely on those things best known to one's own particular background such as an economist tending toward only economic forces or a social worker focusing only on social forces.

SAT classification is supposed to help make sure that your group is taking a holistic approach when identifying factors and building loops by identifying causes and effects, as well as later in the course when the focus is on leverage points for building a strategy on how to more readily change the system. Once, however, these loops are woven into a systems map there is no longer a need for the formal labeling of SAT and it can fall away as a separate artifact.

There isn't any formal connection between SAT and  Kumu mapping. SAT according to Rob the course's instructor, can be thought of as scaffolding and the Kumu map as the building. The scaffolding helps one in constructing the building but then as said falls away when you are done. I have the same metaphor in mind when applying systems thinking to participatory democracy. It is a means not an end in of itself.

A common systems thinking tool that I believe could be related to SAT analysis and be useful in helping those not familiar with the methodology is the Systems Thinking Iceberg Model. It could be introduced again early in the course and definitely prior to SAT. The Iceberg Model as a meta-perspective of the system does not fall away as does SAT but maintains direct correspondence with the Systems Practice components aligning factors to events, aligning loops and themes to patterns, both SAT and the Iceberg have a structural component, and finally the attitudinal aspect of Systems Practice corresponding to the Systems Iceberg mental model level. 

Another subsequent step that systems practice takes, as part of a dynamic and holistic analysis in identifying feedback loops through putting the pieces together is an Upstream-Downstream analysis. Following any factor or element in the direction of its connecting arrows to another factor, which denotes cause, defines downstream relationships and any arrows connecting into any factor from another factor, denoting effect, defines upstream relationships is the basis for Upstream-Downstream analysis.

The Upstream-Downstream analysis becomes the "seeds" or relevant puzzle pieces in the process of loop building by identifying a few important connections to start the process of identifying persistent patterns. Moving from an Upstream-Downstream analysis to actually building feedback loops though is not a one to one transition. The loops, once created, take on an importance of their own moving beyond what was captured in the Upstream-Downstream analysis. By the time one gets to the Upstream-Downstream analysis, and then subsequently to creating the feedback loops, any distinctions one might assume between enablers and inhibitors tends to break down. 

The course's concepts of upstream/downstream or cause/effects are then arguably dependent on which element was the starting point.  Because a feedback loop (A —> B —> C —> A, etc.)  of forces or dynamics are circular upstream-downstream analysis is artificial because if you travel far enough along a closed loop, any upstream factor will also be downstream.  Start at B then A is upstream and C is downstream. "Happiness" could be seen as a driver and as an enabler for “Wealth,” which could then become an enabler in turn seen to drive “Happiness”.

Overly simple loops though, those with just two factors such as, “Wealth" > “Happiness” —> “Wealth" indicate a need to zoom in and ask what is it about wealth that leads to increased happiness? Is this always the case? Does wealth sometimes lead instead to depression and unhappiness? If so, why? What other factors explain why these patterns vary?

In assembling loops, factors need to be worded as nouns that can be scaled up or down. The "level of corruption" is a more appropriate factor label than is a "high level of corruption". There isn't  a correlation though between how specifically worded a factor is or how elaborate a loop is for the potential of that loop to produce insights into how to engage a system.  The most powerful loops of three to four factors having both profound meaning and being simply worded can be termed “elegant,”

From a non-technical, more social perspective, similar to one provided during Systems Thinking Certification, factors could be thought of as characters in a novel interacting with other characters with arrows showing causal connections and forming sub-plots through loops. Taken together, these sub-plots will form a plot and eventually a rich story or novel through a dynamic system map. 

All of this leads to reassembling or stitching together or I would suggest quilting together a systems map. First though is determining what was the referred to as the Deep Structure of the system from the myriad of enabling and inhibiting themes and forces that ended up becoming loops. This will be revealed in the next post.

As one of our teammates said, an advantage of drawing Kumu maps is finding dependencies and loops where they were not necessarily obvious. This is the main outcome of connecting many different feedback loops into a systems map. It is according to Rob the interconnection among the loops that surfaces dependencies and more importantly, areas of possible leverage for making longer-term systems change. 

A further question arose, in creating a Kumu map, as for whether the more granular we can get the more likely we are to find unseen things. Rob used examples from the financial crisis to come up with factors such as debt, rich people hoarding money so it's not available to the economy, bad institutional practices by bankers and others. However, going deeper into technical details like derivate pricing likely would not help in coming up with a useful solution. He asserted, if however, we identify that the prevailing market economy doctrine is not based on scientific fact but has rather become something more like a religious paradigm, we then add a substantial insight into the whole picture. That is a tremendously large step though to take a group through unless they are already inclined, perhaps in some cases too inclined, to such a view.

This brings me to yet another suggested systems thinking based resource and that is Donella Meadows' Twelve Leverage Points as at least a background resource. 

As I have said before, using the development of the concept of time in navigation as a metaphor, I see Kumu mapping as a means of latitudinal thinking in relation to the more common linear or longitudinal thinking that together help in making a global complex perspective more possible.

I started, as I usually do, directly mapping relationships after creating a few experimental maps to test out some ideas, identifying factors from there and developing loops directly and building the map from there. Again, I have to admit that a result of my approach was that it allowed narrowing the focus to an overly limited path. Others, using the Systems Practice approach, with limited or no systems thinking background, provided important insights, like being able to look at the picture on the puzzle box blown up but perhaps not having the necessary pieces themselves.

The course's instructor Rob had spoken of the difficulties of mapping in a fifth-week video.  I could see his point if I had followed the Systems Practice procedure from the beginning as it was very different from my usual approach. 

One of the primary issues that systems thinking seeks to address though is the tendency of people to only look at factors in immediate or near immediate approximation. What then may be an enabling force in one loop may become an inhibiting force in another related loop. In this aspect, systems practice may be a bit weaker for those with less experience in systems thinking.

Instead of considering enabling and inhibiting forces, I focused on adds to or moves in the same direction and detracts from or moves in the opposite direction of Causal Loop Diagram building, letting the system tell me what was enabling or inhibiting over an extended number of degrees across the system. This becomes all the more important when transitioning from abstract mapping to applying the lessons learned to the real world wicked challenge. Because I do not want to see this process be a “one-off” in community empowerment, I will add, even recognizing it being far more involved, one other suggested systems thinking resource to be included and that is systems thinking archetypes

This completes the critique of the system's practice process from a first time, limited understanding perspective. It is undoubtedly necessary to take the course oneself to verify what has been suggested but we can get some further idea of its utility. How then did we map out the specific challenge of addressing homelessness?


Systems Practice versus Thinking pt 1

Since January 31 of this year, I have been involved in a course titled Systems Practice but haven’t written about it since February 4.  For myself, there were three objectives in taking this course. One, come up with some useful insights for Jo Foraker's endeavors to create the Last Mile Food Truck as a sustainable system to provide nutritious food to the unsheltered homeless living in camps around Portland, Oregon featured in the blog series Modeling the Last Mile to Feed the Homeless parts 1 to 6.  Next, in doing so, to demonstrate the potential of systems thinking to assist in coming up with practical solutions. Third, to do so through real world interactions with nine other individuals, though still online, group process. It has to be admitted that there have been some challenges with all three. 

My involvement in the Last Mile Food Truck concept has been in existence through two other Philanthropy University / Acumen courses, Financial Modeling and Social Impact. Those courses demonstrated that what the Last Mile Food Truck project was attempting to accomplish, finding effective means of addressing homelessness, was far more complex than might first be assumed

The course sought to answer three questions beyond the specifics of any particular challenge. One, how does the environment within which you work operate as a complex, dynamic system? The course helped with this by taking a distinct approach to systems thinking. Two, how will your strategy engage the system in order to have a highly leveraged impact? The course endeavored to assist here as well though that depends on the level of achieved leverage. Three, how will you test your assumptions and hypotheses so you can learn and adapt effectively was considered though not really addressed at least not by our efforts.

Something first needs to be established before proceeding further. I will have to declare here that systems practice both significantly informed the approach I contributed over time and induced me to substantially change it in ways during the course that I would not have if I had worked solely on my own. 

Second, this analysis will be abstract, looking at meta-issues related to homelessness. The decision to make the tangible effort to feed the unsheltered homeless or any act of social contribution is not based on how viable or sustainable a system to do so is. It is based on moral conviction which can be a driving force even under conditions of impact which are exceedingly limited or even diminishing. Any inability to establish a viable, sustainable system does not lessen the worthiness of the effort. There are, however, realities that have to be met to establish such systems. 

One suggested insight that arose from past explorations is that the human etiology of homelessness, especially chronic homelessness, could be defined as community-lessness, not a lack of physical shelter, as bad as that obviously is but the lack of truly viable community that arises from being in that situation. Qualitatively, in terms of psychological well-being, this is a far more detrimental situation compared to someone who is poor but still has a home and is still part of a community. Even if a community is destitute, it often has systems in place to help its members cope. Social support systems in this country may be created for the very low income but more for those who still fit within society’s framework. The homeless for the greater part do not, so programs need to be specially designed for them. The homeless instead need to adapt to the system as it exists, the system does not adapt to them and even upon adapting, the homeless still remain outside the system which is often more interested in control than it is in true integration.

The most viable long-term social community-based solution to homelessness may be the creation and provision of permanent housing, as the aforementioned study coming out of Calhoun County, Michigan indicated That though will take an extended amount of time and the homeless, in the meantime, need food for sustenance and nutrition to maintain health. Our current food systems, however, are not well designed to assist the homeless, especially those who are not in shelters.

This post and the next are meant to look more specifically at the process of systems practice and how it relates to systems thinking because I don't believe they are quite the same thing. It took awhile though to realize that the differences were due to systems practice's attempt to focus on group interactions in coming up with solutions. Despite having finally come in line with the systems practice way, there are still a few things I would like to see be done differently. 

I had some background in systems thinking but came with my cup perhaps too full. In some ways, I had been working backward until about more than half way before coming in alignment with the course and with the team. I had a personal problem with the advertised use of Kumu mapping not occurring until after the third week. Personal, because I started using Kumu just a little before the beginning of the course which put me out of alignment with the course or perhaps more accurately with the others on the team.

Many people taking the course were more likely familiar with the usual linear reductionist approach to understanding which means breaking things up into smaller pieces for ostensibly better control. The challenge then is developing a means of helping them to cross over to a more holistic, systems thinking or in this case a systems practice perspective through a group process. I don’t believe, however, that there was a strong enough foundation in systems thinking provided at the beginning of the course and introducing Kumu at the very start could have helped with that.

Systems Practice introduced terms such as factors, forces, enablers, inhibitors, and themes as parts of their approach to systems thinking.  Unfortunately, these operational terms were not defined either adequately or precisely enough, at least in my view, often being exchanged with other terms generating some confusion and necessitating questions raised by one of our teammates. Those questions provided a substantial amount of information for what is written in this critique. The terms are all intended to result in the end in the creation of feedback loops (Causal Loop Diagrams) familiar to systems thinking but prior to that Systems Practice has a few unique steps of its own. It wasn't clear until later in the course but thanks to the questions asked by one of our teammates and others, we can start with defining what is a factor?

In Systems Practice a factor, according to Rob Ricigliano the course instructor, is "something, a person, an environmental condition, an attitude, an institution, a phenomenon, etc., that makes other things happen or has agency." What in terms of map display Kumu calls elements. That one thing or a factor changing another thing could also be thought of as a driver, which according to the course could be categorized as either enabling or inhibiting within the system under question.

The first step then in the Systems Practice mapping process is brainstorming as many factors as possible related to the system under review, based on a previously established mission focus through what the course calls the Guiding Star, Near Star and Framing Question created prior by the group. Skipping this earlier part, for now, this stage then is only a collection of factors at this point in the mapping, presumed to be part of a system but with no real understanding as of yet of the relationships, like cutting up a picture for pieces of a puzzle. To emphasize the point, a collection is not a system, it requires dynamic or purposeful assembly.

The course then has participants collect factors or drivers together into separate clusters as either enablers or inhibitors. It is necessary now to stop and insert the System Practice concepts of forces and themes. These served supposedly as an intertwining path or steps that resulted in confusion for me as to how they all relate to the overall Systems Practice process. 

Taking a step back with the benefit of some hindsight, they are part of the dynamic assembly mentioned above occurring after factor collection. We spoke before of factors being drivers as either enablers or inhibitors. Enablers and inhibitors can also be thought of as forces. In the process of separating enabling forces from inhibiting forces, it is also possible to subsequently combine such forces into various themes or collections of common ideas. 

So a collection of related enablers should become a cluster of enablers or an enabling theme and the same is done then with inhibitors. Similar, it would seem, to the practice of separating outside, edge puzzle pieces from inside pieces or sky pieces from the ground ones. 

It is presumed to be less confusing for a group if the clusters are made up of either all enablers or all inhibitors but it can result in getting clusters with the same names on both the inhibitor side and the enabler side such as enabling factors that drive the cost of living down alongside inhibitors that drive that same cost of living up. It will then end up being suggested doing two different types of loops based on a particular thematic cluster, one on the dynamics that drive the cost of living down and then one on the dynamics that drive the cost of living up. 

Another reason for separating forces into two groups of enablers and inhibitors is to ensure that the group is putting sufficient attention not only on those that make things worse but also on those factors that make things better before merging them into loops. The tendency had been for groups doing the mapping to focus on what was not working, what was making things worse, giving too little attention to the things that stabilized the system or could even make things better. It is hoped that focusing on enablers and inhibitors separately gets groups to put significant attention looking for those "forces" or phenomena that aren't thought about in the first place, particularly on the enabler side of the equation. I believe that this also should have been made more explicit earlier in the course. 

So the group has various collections of factors organized into different themes bringing up the image of a puzzle party, though a closer analogy would be if instead of puzzle pieces each person brought their own photos of their particular perspective to create one common collage. Now it is a matter of putting them all together.




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Finding More Pathways for Vehicles of Change

This blog post is going to be a continuation of the last, adding more online resources to the New Community Paradigms Wiki and again provide associated locations on the NCP Wiki Map.

Because New Community Paradigms doesn’t configure community governance functions in the same manner as traditional hierarchical, largely in separate silos, top-down command structures many of its approaches are means or process oriented rather than goal oriented.

One example is Community Management and Technology, the map of which displays a number of different approaches to addressing social problems. Among these are Community Tech Tools map.

Community Tool Box is a free, online resource offering thousands of pages of tips and tools for taking action in communities to those working to build healthier communities and bring about social change. Over 300 educational modules and other free tools for community assessment, planning, intervention, evaluation, advocacy, and other aspects of community practice.

Poplus is about sharing code so that every organization using digital technologies to hold governments to account, challenging corruption, and demand the right to transparency doesn’t have to write their software from scratch

Another pathway is Systems Thinking Approaches, the map of which tied directly to Systems Thinking but bridges to Community Management and Technology through Systems Thinking Theories, Methods and Tools Table which is seen as being related in turn to Change Management and Processes, a bridge, as reflected in the narrative section to the left between Community Change Agencies, Systems Thinking, Change Management and Technology and Asset Based Community Development.

A new resource under the Systems Thinking Online Training, Books, and Methods section is the updated Beyond Connecting the Dots (Now free and downloadable Mac and Windows)

Beyond Connecting the Dots is a new kind of book on Systems Thinking and Modeling. Rather than being constrained by the printed page, it runs digitally on your computer or your tablet. Because of this, it can provide you an exciting experience that goes beyond the printed word. The models in the book are truly interactive and you can directly experiment with them within the book as you read about them.

Online Version: http://read.beyondconnectingthedots.com/
User Name: reader
Password: feedback

Community Arts has been featured before, its map connecting to Soul of the Community. Storytelling and Social Change: A Strategy Guide | Working Narratives with communities to tell great stories that inspire, activate and enliven our democracy by drawing on participants’ personal experiences and local cultures. By telling stories—whether in the form of performance, radio, video, or other media—communities build power, envision new democratic possibilities, and change culture and policy. Their work is located at the intersection of arts, technology, and social change.

Design Thinking was also connected with Collective Impact as reflected on the map. A new resource is Design Impact, a non-profit social innovation firm made up of designers, community development practitioners, social entrepreneurs, and educators. Their mission is to: • INCUBATE projects that transform communities, • EQUIP leaders with social innovation tools, and • ADVANCE methods of creative community change.

Transparency and Open Data in Governance are seen as a bridge from Governance linking particularly to National and State Movements, to Community Management and Technology linking to Maplight. The recent elections arguably make this all the more important.

Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a Steering Committee including representatives of governments and civil society organizations. This version of the Advancing Open and Citizen-Centered Government | whitehouse.gov, however, is an archived historical material from the Obama administration that will not longer be updated. The Trump administration version will be linked to once it is made available.

In the third Open Government National Action Plan, the Administration both broadens and deepens efforts to help government become more open and more citizen-centered. The plan includes new and impactful steps the Administration is taking to openly and collaboratively deliver government services and to support open government efforts across the country. These efforts prioritize a citizen-centric approach to government, including improved access to publicly available data to provide everyday Americans with the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed decisions.

Data Journalism and Community Information is seen as being associated Civil Society within the map while being related to Transparency and Open Data in Government in Governance.

Doubtful News’ “Beyond Doubtful” list of no-go-to sources | Doubtful News is the latest new resource.

Doubtful News’ “Beyond Doubtful” list of no-go-to sources The purpose of Doubtful News is to expose questionable claims in stories you find on the internet. Mostly we deal with major news outlets because those are the stories that people will search on to find additional information. We get those searchers who then can see some science-based, rational takes on paranormal, anomalies and alternative subjects in the news.

The final addition is Data Sources also under Community Management and Technology under the map. The Overview | National Equity Atlas is an introduction. More is expected to be rolled out related to this new and expanding resource in the future.

The National Equity Atlas is a living resource, and our team is working to add new data and functionality to this site and produce new equity analyses that inform action. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Finding Pathways for Vehicles of Change

This blog post is going to break from the current Systems Practice focus (most recent post first) of the last two blog posts to update the newest resource additions to the New Community Paradigm (NCP) Wiki. This time though it will also tie them to a location on the recently unveiled Kumu based NCP Wiki Map, that was rolled out over four blog posts and which now has a home on both the NCP blog and wiki. If this is the first time with the NCP Wiki Map then there is a tour which provides a general explanation

The NCP Wiki map seeks to develop connections or bridges across sectors. All of the updates in this post are part of or are in some way connected to the Places map but can be followed to Healthy Communities or to Community Ecology

It is the resources, available online, found in the New Community Paradigm (NCP) Wiki that are the vehicles for change. The NCP Wiki Map connotes possible paths that could be taken. The posts of this blog are but one rationale or mental model for taken a particular path or using the suggested vehicles, one among many possible. 

The State of Placemaking 2016, brought more than 450 dedicated public space practitioners, and policymakers to chart the future of the placemaking movement structured around ten major issues that converge in public space,  referred to as “transformative agendas.” Placemaking, as a determining aspect of Places, can be seen as being most comprehensively defined by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS).  

In the NCP Wiki Places map, the circled Project for Public Spaces is seen as arising from Places and being related to the more general Community Places. (double clicking a circled element opens up wiki page, clicking “On Kumu Wiki Map” at top of a wiki page opens up the map). It is the wiki page Community Places that contains the blog posts, near the bottom of the page, seeking to define the developing NCP mental model for placemaking.

Place as Social and Economic Engine was one of the first wiki bridge pages and an early basis for developing a mental model for NCP as defined by blog posts listed at the bottom of the wiki page. It was so named, again as an extension of the correction to the same erroneous presumption underlying placemaking, that the strata of the geographic community below the businesses, city hall politics and those residents connected with city hall were of secondary value. While in truth, it is the created physical attributes of a place that are the dynamic foundation or engine of the community’s social and economic generation.

Place as Social and Economic Engine is the home for Strong Towns, who introduced the newest addition VERDUNITY, a team of civil engineers, planners, and sustainability specialists with expertise in land use planning and zoning, municipal finance, transportation planning and design, stormwater management and green infrastructure implementation, and urban design and placemaking. They started VERDUNITY  because they realized that elaborate, expensive infrastructure projects were making things more economically fragile and unsustainable. This was a disruption in their way of thinking, of their mental models. They are now working on changing other people’s mental models of how they think about the way we have been planning and building our cities and neighborhoods. More will be said about VERDUNITY in a future post.

Place as Social and Economic Engine on the NCP Wiki Map is seen as a bridge between Place and Economics (access between Places and Economics via a link is in the narrative section to the left). 

The newest addition to Planning the Urban Landscape is New Urban Mechanics, a network of civic innovation offices that explore how new technology, designs, and policies can strengthen the partnership between residents and government and significantly improve opportunity and experiences for all. It could have arguably been put under Community Change Agencies but personal choice and only personal was that these programs were more closely related to the existing underlying physical, placemaking, and political infrastructure of a community. The related blog posts, again listed at the bottom of the wiki page, provide some perspectives on a past effort in Los Angeles history to redefine the larger urban landscape. 

Planning the Urban Landscape approaches Places from a broader perspective looking not from the build up of smaller changes over time but the accumulation of those changes overall. It is seen as a bridge between Places and Community Ecology

Under the wiki page Healthy Cities is the recent addition of Bridging Health & Community, an extension of  the previously listed Creating Health Collaborative which aims to transform how we approach health so that it goes beyond institutional healthcare and public health to include fostering community agency, strengthening the field of practice that bridges those in the health sector and those who foster community agency helping to establish the critical link between a community's ability to make purposeful choices and its health. Being able to measure differences in life expectancy by income across areas and then to identify strategies to improve health outcomes for low-income Americans would be a useful ability. Health Inequality Project uses big data to help accomplish this.

The bridge from Places to Healthy Cities, under the Healthy Communities map, is Planning for Healthy Communities. It could also be an element in the Pathways to Healthy Communities map and the Art and Healthy Communities map. Two specially constructed maps that put together a path that incorporated elements that are often placed in silos and considered distinct and separate. 

Taking a higher altitude perspective, the Wiki Bridges Map connects all the New Community Paradigm sectors, including Places, Healthy Communities, and Community Ecology, together. 

A closer look at the pathway for Places indicates that at under the current New Community Paradigm configuration, Healthy Communities and Places are well integrated together but Community Ecology is somewhat isolated. 

Could Bridging Health & Community and Creating Health Collaborative under Healthy Cities be integrated with New Urban Mechanics under Planning the Urban Landscape and extended from Places to Community Ecology integrating the two together more closely?

There are also other deeper pathways that could utilize the online resources found in the NCP Wiki. Under Project for Public Places (click the URL or double click the circled element to open the wiki page) is Agenda Spotlight: Placemaking and Health - Project for Public Spaces.

There is growing evidence showing that place impacts people’s health on multiple scales. From obesity and chronic disease to depression, social isolation, and increased exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants, the world faces very different health challenges today than it has in the past, and many of these challenges are directly related to how our public spaces are designed and operated.

It could be an important component of the Pathways to Healthy Communities map and naturally be expanded to be encompassed by Community Ecology. How it is used could be determined in a number of different ways depending upon the needs of a particular community. 

It is believed though it has not been adequately examined that finding specific potential pathways for the utilization of online resources will greatly help in the development of new community paradigms. 







Past Posts