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, October 10, 2017

More thoughts on Systems Thinking, Complexity, Chaos and New Community Paradigms

The previous post was a fairly abstract article on applying the logistic equation, from the course Dynamical Systems and Chaos by ComplexityExplorer to New Community Paradigm system structures generally, regarding Causal Loop Diagrams of the currently under construction Community Advocacy patterns specifically. This is taking a satellite distant perspective but still with the possibility for an in-depth inquiry into the parameters of a system. It was more a matter of questions than answers and while jumping to conclusions was hopefully avoided, speculations were stretched. The abstraction, unavoidably, continues.

One conclusion reached that should be viable and understandable but not necessarily fully realized is that systems can, sans mitigating factors and based on deterministic function, exhibit stable and periodic behavior that is both constant and consistent. If it can’t be established and maintained over time, then it is not a system. If it is an established system then it is likely to develop some resiliency to drastic external or internal change. This would mean fundamentally changing a system, particularly an entrenched system would require far more energy than is often appreciated.

Another conclusion, far less intuitive, even cognitively dissonant but just as viable, is that a deterministic function can result in a random output sequence. The alternative to a deterministic function is stochastic, the same input does not always result in the same output. There is some element of chance producing a random result, similar to what happens with a fair coin toss sequence. The behavioral orbits are unstable and aperiodic.

What we have then is a deterministic, rule-based system, that once past a region of undetermined predictability, behaves unpredictably despite being a deterministic system. A system in which the function has the property of being deterministic but the qualities of its output are random.

The Complexity course teaches that it is important to distinguish between the properties of a process or a system that generates an outcome, the cause, and the properties of that outcome, the effect, especially in the long term.

The course demonstrates step by step that the logistic equation with r=4 [where r multiplies x(1-x)] is as random as a fair coin toss series. A statistical test would be unable to distinguish between the results produced by the logistic equation and that produced by a random coin toss.

The idea is that a deterministic dynamical system, is capable of producing random, or another way of saying it is chaotic behavior, regardless of how close the system is to the annihilation population {(1-x) where x is between 0 and 1}. Keeping in mind, we often don’t have any idea what is the annihilation population, just that by mathematical logic that there is one. This is applied in a relatively simple sense to a finite population, consisting of similar elements or units that die off or are eliminated and must be propagated to maintain or to increase that population and will be eradicated if not, over a limited number of time periods.

This is a result for the logistic equation that has been proven by mathematics exactly and rigorously. It can be proven, or deduced, from first principles. The claim has been rigorously established. It is not merely a computer or an experimental result.

The long-term behavior of an aperiodic or chaotic orbit depends very sensitively on its initial conditions. The idea is that a dynamical system featuring the phenomenon known as "sensitive dependence on initial conditions," or SDIC or more popularly as the "Butterfly Effect,” can with even extremely small differences in initial conditions result in a difference that can grow to become exceedingly large. This idea applies to numerous dynamical systems, not just iterated functions. It also has a more formal mathematical definition which is provided in the course.

To predict the behavior of a system with sensitive dependence requires knowing the initial condition with impossible accuracy. An example used in the course demonstrates that a difference of nanometers can result in very different results in a few time steps.

The course provides one example of tremendously improving the precision of a measured number to 15.00000001 when in truth the actual number is still 15.0 but the prediction still becomes worthless after a relatively few more time steps. To help visualize this degree of sensitivity, 15 meters is about as tall as a 5-story building, while 0.00000001 or about 10 nanometers is about 1,000 times smaller than a single red blood cell, 10 times larger than a single glucose molecule.

Something 15 meters versus 15 meters + 10 glucose molecules then will exhibit completely different behavior after just a few more time steps. Practically speaking, the difference between 15.0 and 15.00000001 isn’t simply a matter of not having good enough measuring instruments. A very small error in the initial condition grows extremely rapidly meaning long term prediction and even medium term prediction are impossible. More accurate measurements can lead to more accurate and longer term predictions but we have to work exceedingly harder to get only slightly better results. It is r, the growth factor, that makes the significant difference, not x.

The course has us imagine one version of a path of a hurricane hitting New York City, and another version hitting North Carolina based on the tiny difference of the flapping of a butterflies wings. Phenomena such as this though are essentially unpredictable because one can never measure something like this in a manner in which values are this accurate or are even physically meaningful. The course quotes James Gleick from his book, Chaos, who explains that:

‘Its like giving an extra shuffle to a deck of already well-shuffled cards. You know that it will change your luck, but there's no way of knowing how it will change it.’

Even computers are limited by finite precision and having to round off numbers can't calculate the true orbit with we thought we were dealing. The orbit a computer gives us is never the actual true orbit for a particular initial condition. The course explains that the computed orbit "shadows" the other true orbit, also known as the "shadowing lemma.”

Chaos, like the logistic equation, can then be defined in a mathematical sense. A dynamical system is "chaotic" if the following four criteria are met:

  1. A dynamical system has to be deterministic, iterated functions and differential equations are certainly deterministic. A dynamical system is just a deterministic rule, if one knows the rule and one knows (with infinite precision) the initial condition, then the trajectory is unique, it's determined. 
  2. The system's orbits are bounded, unable to reach infinity. The logistic equation’s orbits start between zero and one and stay between zero and one. 
  3. The orbits also have to be aperiodic, they never repeat and they never follow the exact same path twice. They don't go into a cycle. It is a requirement that the orbits be bounded that eliminates the possibility of orbits going off to infinity. If we then have bounded orbits that are aperiodic then they are confined to stay in a unit interval and yet never repeat. 
  4. Has sensitive dependence on initial conditions, as again was demonstrated with r=4 for the logistic equation. 
This, in one sense, extends the George Box principle, "All models are wrong, some models are useful" as discussed in Sailing Complex and Wicked Seas with Icebergs (Systems Thinking). Not only wrong in being incomplete copies or maps of reality but as in being limited perspectives, especially one's own. Wicked problems can be analogous to sailing through a massive storm on the sea. The system surrounding the ship can be overwhelming to the system on the ship so people end up arranging deck chairs.

It also though provides a more in-depth understanding despite an inability to reach infinitely fine precision. For myself, having a mathematical foundation as a basis of understanding provides a great deal of confidence but confidence that can check itself. Not to predict where the storm will turn but the confidence to navigate the best possible course.

As Prof. Feldman advises, we sometimes have to invert our thinking about things with starting with an equation because we don't get handed equations, we get handed life and sometimes we can turn it into data. We can't assume that the world is made up of things that are either orderly or things that are random and that these are separate. That we are wrong in thinking that maybe they get jumbled together but they are separate things and need different types of explanation and requiring different means of managing seems reasonable.

One can get disorder from an orderly system, one can get deterministic randomness. We need then need to think about determinism and randomness in a completely different way that in a sense they are two sides to the same coin. They are not complete opposites and we need to think about them completely differently. The relationship between randomness and order is more subtle than we might have thought.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Systems Thinking, Complexity, Chaos and New Community Paradigms

Currently, while still exploring what was learned through the Digital Advocacy course and experimenting with how it fits into the NCP wiki and systems map, I have been taking a course in Dynamical Systems and Chaos taught by Prof. David P. Feldman through ComplexityExplorer.

I am now questioning what my most recently created Causal Loop Diagram maps are really telling me. What I present here, as a rough summary, is in consideration of my questions and should not be thought of in any way as an even partial substitute for the course. It is simply an attempt to try to apply some new learning. It gets abstract because it involves some mathematical concepts but the ideas in the course are for a general audience and are presented here as general as possible.

A dynamical system is simply a rule for how something changes in time. The NCP systems maps are also intended to provide this type of information though at a different level of precision. The ComplexityExplorer course deals with two types of dynamical systems, iterative functions and differential equations.

f(x) = rx(1-x)

The logistic equation, shown above, is a simple model of population growth. It's an iterated function which might tell us how a population changes from year to year. We do the same thing, apply the same function, this logistic equation with a fixed r value, over and over again, using the output for one year as the input for the next. In the standard form of the logistic equation r is a growth rate parameter, r then is something that could change, and we could then see how the behavior of the equation changes. As an iterated function time is discrete, we are not monitoring the population at every instant. A continuous change would involve a differential equation.

The logistic equation is a second order polynomial, a parabola; a very simple function studied in high school, not an exotic or complicated function. The course offers a couple of simple tools for single iterations and comparisons. It is also pretty simple to create a spreadsheet which can push beyond the parameters set by the web tools. The logistic equation is deterministic. Simply an iterated function, an action repeated again and again which ought to be completely predictable.

The first question is whether the simple circles making up the various loops of a Causal Loop Diagram convey smooth transition rather than the more likely true jumps both positive and negative found with iterative functions, then whether additional loops are sequential or occur more or less simultaneously?

The logistic equation deals with populations, as in a finite collection of items under consideration dealt with as a whole, more specifically for our purposes, a community of living entities in which interbreeding occurs among members and is subject to a growth rate parameter from internal and external forces. There is a natural positive increase in population through procreation that exceeds the forces that work against it by some factor greater than 1. The population is changeable to the point that it can be annihilated, from lack of resources, inability to compete for resources, inability to reproduce and maintain the population, and by destruction from environmental or external forces.

The logistic equation is not a means of measurement, in the same way, say as using a Newtonian Law to determine the rate of cooling of an object. As the course explained, the logistic equation is more of a caricature than a detailed portrait or photo. The NCP maps then are a few brush strokes but as has been said many times before, while wrong in terms of the totality of information provided can still be useful, in some cases more useful in conveying insights or at least a different level of insights.

If this year's population is larger than last year’s, based on r, the growth factor considered alone, is greater than 1 then next year's will be larger still tending if without bound towards infinity. If r is 1 then the population stays fixed. If r is less than 1 but greater than 0, the population diminishes approaching 0. If r, for example, is 0.5 then next year there will be half as many say rabbits and half again the following year.

The idea that populations grow without bound is though unrealistic. There is some limit to the growth. There is some maximum population beyond which the population can't pass. There will always be some limit to the number of rabbits, or whatever it is being studied. A term is then added to the equation, a term known in this case as the "Annihilation" population or "Apocalypse" population; meaning that if the rabbits ever reach this “A” population then the next year there will be no more rabbits. The rabbits eat all their food, so the following year there are no rabbits left. The maximum possible number of rabbits is determined by this function in which x is measured as a fraction of the annihilation parameter.

Notice that the Annihilation term is not actually a set number like 5,947 is reached and an entire rabbit population disappears. The logistic function does not explain why a population is annihilated. It simply applies an upper bound and defines population growth in terms of that.

For small populations very far away from annihilation, with P much less than A, we should have the potential for rapid growth. When, however, P gets to be large, enough that the rabbits start running out of food, is when population growth starts slowing down approaching its limit. Once the population gets large, the Annihilation term starts to matter more and population growth slows down. There is an absolute upper limit, at the annihilation or apocalypse number, which if reached the population completely crashes.

Nobody should think, however, that the logistic equation actually controls real rabbit populations or fox populations or moose and wolves populations for that matter. It is simply a thought experiment to interpret as the reality, what's actually happening, and what will happen. A rabbit population once established and under normal circumstances would be unlikely to reach either the maximum of the Annihilation Population or total collapse. If an increase in foxes decreases a rabbit population then there will likely be a subsequent decrease in the fox population from a lack of prey and the rabbit population may rebound, explaining the parabolic shape of the curve of the function.

Arguably, many of the elements of the NCP maps could be considered to be populations serving different even opposing functions within a community. There has to be a certain portion of the community population comprising or utilizing the elements making up these maps. I am not sure how to determine an Annihilation population equivalency but the annihilation of elements is possible fundamentally changing the system. The NCP CLD maps denote positive and negative forces or influences by blue and red connections, respectively. The actual nature of Community Advocacy portrayed by the Kumu map then is a result of the net influences making up the particular configuration of the system at that point in time. Causal Loop Diagrams also repeat but adding in more loops, at likely different rates of growth or influence, can create numerous complex outcomes. With the NCP maps, increased calls for greater transparency and open data in government could result in greater pushback by entrenched government institutions. How much of an equivalency is there then with the logistic equation applied to rabbits? Open Data and transparency are ideas made manifest. Can they be propagated and annihilated the same as rabbits or perhaps viral infection would be a better analogy?

The logistic equation is capable of cyclic behavior that is stable or attracting. Different r values can also give rise to cycles of different periodicities, a cycle of period 2 takes two iterations to complete a cycle. The logistic equation with an attracting cycle of period 4 takes four iterations to cycle back then it repeats. It’s attracting because nearby orbits are pulled towards it. If a population is in such a cycle and gets pushed off, it will return back to that cycle.

While the NCP CLD maps are cyclic in nature, they don’t convey periodicities even though subsequent revolutions along the paths could result in far different outcomes with each completion. InsightMaker would seem to be better at this than Kumu. There is though a great probability for interacting cycles to move towards stable orbits regardless if they are desired, particularly when involved with Entrenched Government Institutions. Entrenched Government Institutions have been dealt with before, most recently with Active Citizens in a Digital Age Embracing Organized Complexity. This might raise the question whether the ideas being considered here apply to Warren Weaver's concept of Organized Complexity in "Science and Complexity". I believe it does as the parameters set by the equation don't depend upon the actions or consequences of any individual member but the community as a whole.

However, for a logistic equation with r=4, and other values, the orbit is aperiodic. The orbit doesn't hit some regular cycle, it just keeps bouncing around all over, never repeating. An incredibly repetitious process which always produces something new. The orbit and never settles into periodic behavior. In other words, it is chaotic, a concept which needs to be explored further.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Difference between Mapping Pathways and Traveling the Road

During week 5 of Active Citizen in a Digital Age, the course guided us in considering how to allocate responsibilities in addressing our shared social goal. Our team's stated mission was to reduce the economic inequality of low-income people by providing access to affordable healthcare, education with job training, and housing. How we were going to do this was a little less clear.

Our plan was to include advocacy activities such as who would volunteer, donate or seek donations to a particular association or charitable nonprofit. How would this make a difference in achieving our goal? Also, who would spend time or money or both specifically focused on policy change or political action? This could include attending public hearings or council meetings on certain topics, organizing people to vote, participating in peaceful protest activities, or donating or seeking donations.

The plan was intended to focus on the type of influence or change that was to be made in one year's time. The one-year time frame provided the potential for including all aspects including ending up with a vote through an election or action by a political body.

We were to explain how the different tactics are meant to fit together and our reasons for choosing those tactics and any tradeoffs we had to make.

When I looked at the assignment, there were a number of questions that came to my mind. My questions were pretty basic. Were we focusing on all three of our objectives in general or picking one and focusing on a particular aspect of an issue? How were we providing access? How were we making it affordable? What type of influence or change were we seeking? Specifically, what policy change or political action were we going to be focused on?

It also seemed that the theme of the first part of the assignment was concerned more with the civil sector while the second part of the assignment was concerned more with the political sector. Which were we going to focus on, the first, the second bull, or both?

If focused on the civic realm then how would our actions make a difference in achieving our goal? If focused on the political realm then at what level of government? If organizing people to vote then I presumed we were speaking of an election through a vote by a political board was also a possibility. If both, how are they then to be related together to explain how our different tactics are meant to fit together? Peaceful protests would seem to be in reaction to a political action. Seeking donations would seem to be as important as making donations (they have a course on that).The one-year time frame provided the potential for including all aspects including ending up with a vote through an election or action by a political body.

As is often my habit, I decided to create a Kumu map of the course’s state Mission and Actions, based on a self-selected choice of healthcare, to make more explicit the relationships between various factors or elements. Opening the map and mousing over the text in the left-hand column will highlight relevant parts of the map but I will also discuss here. The map consists of a Civil Sector and a Political Sector which is organized in such a way that they are seen as working together. Their limitations are made more discernible when viewed separately. The civil sector has difficulty making fundamental changes being often relegated to merely holding the line in terms of social damage. The political sector can’t access the deeper perspective of civil society.

My own potential personal path of involvement was based in part on my past experience working in city government and past and still, unfinished work exploring Effective Virtual Collaboration and its expanded perspective Community Based Virtual Collaboration.

This was fine as far as it went but I needed to include my path as one component of a Collective Action Plan with the others on the team. I had access to everybody else’s narrative as they had access to mine as well as to the basic map I created. With this information, I endeavored to map out a path for each of the team’s participants. My pathway connections' thicker widths make it possible to see where my pathways and the pathways of others overlap.

The team leader Participant 1’s Path emphasized the political sector more though hopefully growing out of an educated and enthusiastic base of support. The far more challenging undertaking though would be carrying this forward to final attainment of the goal.

Participant 2’s Path incorporated the new platform Educate Evangelize which I came to see as very important. One has to change people's mindset before they can change much else. I put Participant 2's path more on the civil side leaving the subsequently educated and enthusiastic to decide for themselves which political path to take. This doesn't preclude political action by Participant 2 but to educate truthfully about something means to my mind connecting with people in the field.

Participant 3’s Path towards change was seen as emphasizing the civil sector connections with various associations and nonprofits and by working with them to impact policy change by working hand in hand with political change. Again, this did not preclude political action by Participant 3 simply that there was an emphasis on working with groups like the American Medical Association (AMA), American Association of Retired People (AARP), American Hospital Association (AHA) and Federation of American Hospitals (FAH), American Cancer Society (ACS), National Physician Alliance (NPA) and Planned Parenthood through which one can leverage these organizations and participate in their efforts to influence elected officials.

Participant 4’s Path towards change emphasized the promotion of financial contributions expanding beyond personal giving.

Each of these paths is a different story which is not being revealed here. The map simply demonstrates how those stories could interact in creating a larger story. It was interesting to note that despite not having any input into the selection of the team members, the Paths of All Participants covered nearly all of the platforms and actions put forward by the course. The All Paths loop brought together all of the individual paths through collaboration. Besides connections related to Crowdfunding to be discussed below, only one connection was missing and that was spending money to organize people to vote which likely needs another level of organization and effort.

Week six of the Active Citizen in a Digital Age course got into the market sector of democratic advocacy including boycotts. Other advocacy support financial tools cited were Crowdfunding like IOBY (In Our Backyards), impact investing as with B corporations and Embedded Giving.

Crowdfunding which was also included in the Combined Paths map connecting the personal actions of spending money, what the course referred to as political spending and donating or seeking donations, what the course referred to as financial support of civil society efforts with the various platforms for action, working with associations or nonprofits, taking political action, working on policy change, or the added education and evangelizing.

The Crowdfunding element’s influence could then be further extended integrating other elements together. Crowdfunding obviously raises money but it could also work through the advocacy systems connector loop, integrating even further.

We created and I mapped out pathways to achieving the goals for which we were advocating. What became obvious to me is that no one path would be enough. The issue I had is that we had no specific modes of traveling those paths. As has been asserted before, "There is also still the further need to move from basically abstract ideas to connecting ideas together for strategic application, to the why, to begin overcoming what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton called the Knowing-Doing Gap (page 7)".

Friday, July 14, 2017

Active Citizens in a Digital Age Embracing Organized Complexity

Week 5 of the Active Citizen in a Digital Age course sought to develop an understanding of how we can engage directly with our political systems using the Internet and digital tools so as to develop an understanding of the ways in which they are changing democracy. Part of this is understanding how to make sense of news in the digital age, so one can be informed and hopefully use credible information for political action.

The course is mostly concerned with advocacy in the support or opposition of government action and how civil society does this.  Civil society, according to the course, “…Can be thought of as the place where minorities are protected, galvanized, organized, and gain access to the systems of government.” This is put in contrast to the fundamental principle that democracies are run by majority opinions. 

The question arises though, if civil society is working to protect the democratic rights of minorities, then why does civil society have to work in opposition to the government in this aspect? Because certain portions of civil society support those actions of government. Does this mean that portion of civil society has the majority opinion and vote? No, it could be a matter of structural components of the system, e.g., Gerrymandering or situationally induced views that can change when circumstances change. One shouldn't think of majority as monolithic or opinions as concrete.

Even in the digital age, with so many ways of engaging it is still a matter of real world organizing, communicating, funding, campaigning and finally voting.  Some of which is done in person, much of which can now be done digitally. In some cases being simply digital versions of these basic activities. For example, Turbovote, which provides election reminders, gets people registered to vote and applications for absentee ballots and the already NCP wiki featured MapLight which provides information on political funding. On the NCP Kumu map, MapLight is directly related to Transparency and Open Data in Government, making it an important tool in ensuring credible information for political action but one that needs to be used in conjunction with other resources. 

It has long been held by this blog that governance is different from government.  The former being a social activity taken on by a community and the latter being the establishment of institutions to implement those activities. The course differentiates between the outside-in relationships of civil society with government institutions and the inside-out relationships of government institutions with civil society.  This configuration already sets up a biased relationship conceding a greater centrality and implied ascendancy of power to the government institution diminishing democratic intent. 

Outside-in functions by civil society to influence government, besides the more formal civic functions, include easy actions such as gathering signatures for petitions or the use of hashtags on social media content. Digital makes obtaining a large number of signatures or retweets on Twitter or likes on Facebook far more possible but let us keep in mind Zeynep Tufekci warning about Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win from the last blog post. 

Digital tools can go beyond this though. They can be used to organize people, help them communicate with each other and with the broader system in which they exist. This has been true for both sides of the political spectrum from the Tea Party in 2010 to progressives marching in the streets today. 

The political agenda may be different but the digital tools remain the same. Groups like Indivisible are featured in the newly created Advocacy For and By Community wiki page which is explained more fully here. The course cites Kathryn Schulz’s New York Times article reminding us that in our digitally driven world, one of the oldest ways and powerful medium to make your voices heard is to contact your elected representatives by calling them (actually phones have gone digital as well). Using digital tools can help your organization or group grow to a larger size much more quickly but it also lets those in opposition to you know what you are doing by the digital trails that you leave.

Inside out, government institutions provide public services to those in civil society but they don't necessarily do so equitably and can become entrenched over time. The means by which governments interact with its citizens has changed because of civic tech, technology in the civic space. This again differentiates between civil society and civic space as was discussed before but now with a digital component. 

The nature of these digital programs can depend upon from which perspective they are being created.  These changes are often not initiated by governments from the inside-out. Many arise in the civil society sector to make government more transparent and accessible like

“What Public Resources dot org is doing is literally making the public law public.”  

The OSET Foundation builds digital into the infrastructure of our democracy through open source election technology. It sets the standards for voting systems around the world to help re-establish trust in voting, our most basic democratic function. It is not a government institution but a nonprofit election technology research institute.

The course continued to warn about dangers inherent with using digital technology by examining the impact upon politics and democracy. Stating, it has the potential to empower the voiceless, actually a debatable statement. The course didn’t use potential as a modifier rather presuming the concept, empower can convey the sense that someone with power delegates to someone without power (more so in the UK) and it often isn’t a matter of the powerless being voiceless but the powerful being purposely deaf. Still, many who did not have access to making their voices heard now have multiple pathways that they can take but then so do all the other voices benign or malignant. 

The Internet makes increasingly obsolete what the course called the intermediaries, political parties, legacy media, and my addition institutions of government which created the barriers and therefore the power pockets of the pre-Internet world. Intermediaries are still necessary today but now they can make connections increasing the power of others.  This is a transition from scarcity to abundance, invoking one of NCP’s more controversial ideas. The course though may give the impression that this happens far more easily than happens in reality. One person having access to millions is one thing, one person among millions having access to millions is another thing. 

Other dangers arising from the Internet include lack of access to reliable information to make informed choices are examined in Can Democracy Survive the Internet.  This NPR Radio program features both the author of the original article, Nathaniel Persily, a law professor at Stanford University and  Zeynep Tufekci discussing this more deeply. These dangers can be made worse with the excess virility of information including the creation of “fake news”. Even foreign governments have increased capacity to influence our elections by injecting “fake news” into the discourses. 

“One of the difficulties in defining “fake news” is that one person’s propaganda is another person’s persuasion.”

The other two concerns with the Internet were echo chambers and privacy. These may actually feed into each other. There is not only, no civil society space, on the Internet, there is also no individual privacy on the Internet as was also discussed previously. There is, therefore, no community on the Internet save what trust we place in other people. Allowing for the privacy of others because they allow for our privacy, we also trust in their authenticity as they trust in ours. A lack of authenticity or anonymity may disclose not only a lack of conviction but even a lack of humanity.

The course places the responsibility of this primarily on the individual, particularly the individuals taking the course. The course seemed to emphasize community joined efforts in the background readings but more individualistic endeavors in the videos and assignments. 

On an individual basis, efforts can only be aggregated as a statistical class. To allow for collaboration to create meaningful change requires some level of community. The transition from aggregated individuals to collaborative socialization moves the community from disorganized but predictable and manageable complexity to organized complexity, difficult to predict, less manageable but creative (see Science and Complexity - Warren Weaver). 

As the course states, people do need to be careful as to what actions they take on the Internet, whether directly through blog posts or the creation of apps or indirectly through retweets and Facebook likes. The problem is that the advice came across as a discouragement. The problem with that advice is that only those taking the course would be following it. Those creating or propagating fake new have no such stipulation. This cannot be effectively countered with only the cumulative efforts of individuals. This doesn’t mean not taking any actions. It requires community or as Jane Jacobs saw it a level of organized complexity. Jane Jacobs concept of eyes on the street could also be applied to the Internet. The more people see something or are made aware of it, the harder it is to purge from social consciousness and the more it can grow to create new paradigms for the community. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Organizing to Achieve Social Change through Digital Citizenship

The last blog post finished off with Zeynep Tufekci and her TED video, Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win.  As was said, the video deserves its own post. The words that follow, however, have been summarized and edited from the original transcript. 

Tufekci speaks to the many challenges facing digital approaches to democracy across the globe. The problems that we face in the United States though are different from those faced by protesters in Turkey in both kind and degree. We have far greater capacity to establish ourselves, our weaknesses are more likely to be internal rather than external threats. 

Tufekci speaks of how a global awareness campaign can start with a network of tweets or that Facebook page can serve as a hub for massive mobilization. It can also do the same for a local effort and these opportunities should not be discounted as they can be scaled up if not inflated before doing so. As she says, everything can be organized partially with the help of new technologies. “Digital connectivity was used for everything from food to donations.”

Their achievements, their outcomes, however, are not really proportional to the size and energy they seemingly inspire. Hopes rightfully raised are not really matched by what they were able to achieve as end results.  The problem, as she points out is that while social media helps empower protest, it paradoxically can also help weaken them through the very way technology empowers social movements.

Why then haven't successful outcomes become more likely if digital technology makes things easier for movements? Being easier to mobilize does not always mean being easier to achieve results. Overcoming this requires deep diving into what makes success possible over the long term and applying the lessons in multiple domains.

Tufekci compares the Occupy movement of 2011 with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Occupy movement started in 2011, with a single email from a magazine, Adbusters, that had 90,000 subscribers. In two months there were 600 ongoing occupations and protests in the USA.  After a month from Occupation in Zuccotti Park, one of the largest global protests ever organized was held across 82 countries, 950 cities. Years after Occupy sparked a global conversation about inequality, many of the policies that fueled it though were still in place (or are now being put back in place by the Trump administration). 

The Civil Rights Movement in 1955 Alabama protested the racially segregated bus system through boycott (market sector), navigating a minefield of political dangers, facing repression and overcoming, won major policy concessions, navigating and innovating through risks. 

Tufekci uses the metaphor of the Internet being our Sherpa helping to climb Mt. Everest by taking the fast routes and not realizing the benefits of slower work that goes into organizing all those daunting, tedious logistical but still essential tasks.

The Civil Rights Movement created the kind of organization that could think collectively and make hard decisions together, create consensus and innovates, and maybe even more crucially, keep going together through differences. The Civil Rights Movement innovated tactically, on-the-ground actions from boycotts to lunch counter sit-ins to pickets to marches to freedom rides. 

The painstaking, long-term work that put on the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech, 1963, wasn't just a march or a powerful speech, it also made those in power realize they had to take not just the march, but the capacity signaled by that March, seriously.

Occupy's global marches, in comparison, were organized in two weeks, but didn't necessarily convey long term commitment, instead one sees a great deal of discontent. 

The magic is in the capacity to work together, think together collectively, which can only be built over time. Movements that scale up very quickly without the organizational base that can see them through the challenges are like startups that get very big without knowing what to do next, and which rarely manage to shift tactically because they don't have the depth of capacity to weather such transitions.

Today's social movements want to operate informally, avoiding institutional leadership, with many wanting to stay out of politics because they fear corruption and cooptation.

Tufekci agrees that they have a point. Modern representative democracies are being strangled in many countries by powerful interests. But operating this way makes it hard for grassroots organizations to sustain over the long term and exert leverage over the system. This leads to frustrated protesters dropping out, and even more corrupt politics. Part of this arises from the complexity of both the problems and the environments in which they exist and the inability of our institutions to meet these challenges because they double down on complicated top down management approaches to addressing them. 

Politics and especially democracy without an effective challenge to power or the status quo hobbles, because the causes that have inspired the modern recent movements are becoming more and more crucial.

Tufekci believes that it is not true that the problem is today's movements are formed by people not taking as many risks as before. I agree that is not the problem. The problem is not realizing the unintended consequences within the system that arise from taking risks or not taking risks. 

She also has an argument with Malcolm Gladwell about today's protesters forming weaker virtual ties. Leaving that until later, I am not sure the two perspectives are as mutually exclusive as they might seem to be. 

All of these good intentions and bravery and sacrifice by itself are not going to be enough to bring about the change needed.  Movements have to move beyond participation at great scale very fast and move to the next level, even if it is at a small local level,  of how to think together collectively, develop strong policy proposals, create consensus, figure out the political steps and relate them to leverage the systems needing to be changed. 

Digital awareness-raising is great because changing minds is the bedrock of changing politics. In New Zealand, a group of young people is developing a platform called Loomio for participatory decision making at scale. In Argentina, an open-source platform called DemocracyOS is bringing participation to parliaments and political parties. Both can work with large and small scale efforts. They are great, and we need more, but the answer won't just be better online decision-making. To update democracy, we are going to need to innovate at every level, from the organizational to the political to the social and in every sector of our democracy. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Active Digital Citizens Seeking New Community Paradigms pt. 3

Having  now covered weeks one, two and three, the fourth week of the course, The Active Citizen in a Digital Age took a look at volunteering and donating but the focus will be on another concept raised in the material, social capital. There’s a need to differentiate, nuanced though it may be, between the NCP perspective on Civil Society and the Active Digital Citizen Perspective. 

NCP does not see Civil Society as an “institutional manifestation of our basic human rights to peaceable assembly, free expression and, privacy,” but rather as the Australian Centre for Civil Society does as “the relationships and associations that make up our life at grassroots levels of society, in families, neighbourhoods and voluntary associations, independent of both government and the commercial world”. The difference is the level of dependence on institutions not the exclusion of them. Civil Society is the basis for Community Governance in that it recognizes that the right of the community to govern arises from the community itself through civic interactions and is not bestowed by any governmental institution.  As proposed by Laurence Demarco,  The difference between Civil and Civic, Civic refers to the 'local state' — “where citizens participate in local health boards, schools, community councils, planning partnerships and all the other mechanisms ultimately under the direction of the state.”  Civil society means voluntary actions undertaken by citizens, not under the direction of any authority wielding the power of the state which has a tendency to encroach. A similar perspective is presented by Larry Diamond, What Civil Society Can Do to Develop Democracy.

This arguably places civic society between civil society and the political sector of democracy with the institutions spoken of by the Active Digital Citizen being institutional touch points between the community and government power.  The human touch points are volunteers.

Although the course warned of dangers with digital interactions and democracy, one organization seen as utilizing technology very effectively is VolunteerMatch. Greg Baldwin, the President of VolunteerMatch talked about utilizing technology to make the world a better place and how technology has changed volunteering for the better.

The NCP wiki page Voluntary Participation and the related NCP Kumu map, which provides a non-hierarchal graphic representation of the wiki, places Voluntary Participation  as a bridge between Civil Society and Governance.  Another bridge from Civil Society to Governance is Data Journalism and Community Information to help the community keep an eye on the government institutions. Both would arguably be needed to ensure the independence of Civil Society sought by Active Digital Citizen and others. 

The course cites Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, The Collapse and Revival of American Community in which he argues the breakdown of “social capital” because of pressure on time and money, the disintegration of the family unit, media, television, and generational change resulting in the  diminishment of networks of trust and reciprocity that these connections advanced. A sharp decline in neighborhood bowling leagues leading to many more people bowling alone being the illuminating example. 

Putnam’s book was previously included but not cited as part of the Collective Impact Living Cities Kumu project as an extension of How Can We Recapture the Spirit of Community Engagement that Built America?, Kumu map of a Living Cities blog post of the same title

The concept of social capital, according to Putnam, depends on people believing that if: “I’ll do this for you, without expecting anything specific back from you, in the confident expectation that someone else will do something for me down the road.

From very early on with a Second look at Making Cities Work, social capital has meant creating an environment from which there was more from which draw to bring about new community paradigms. This would require a good deal of volunteering from members of the community, as participants actively pursuing their role as the producers of democracy.  Volunteering is not limited though to formal volunteering in a community but all forms of altruistic social interaction. Volunteering at its best is a face to face proposition which means creating social connections within a community, helping to increase the democratic participation being sought. 

Building 'Social Capital' within a  community through community engagement can be seen as the planning process of building both 'Bonding' and 'Bridging'.  One metric whether community engagement has been successful or not is the extent to which the process has helped the community to build social capital, making the community stronger and more connected.  

"Social Capital" can, however, be seen by some as being part of a technical discourse with which the majority of people are not engaged, making it a more useful term when examining community engagement from an exclusively systems perspective. 

The organic based direction a community takes can be diverted by institutions attempting to fulfill what they see as their institutional mission.  Even when well intentioned, professionals whether directly involved in community engagement or more likely indirectly as part of some other function, say economic development, often lack a true understanding or appreciation of what community engagement as a means of building real community capacity is about. Instead of talking about community engagement what should be talked about is an engaged community.

Even if one starts with the right motivations and frame of reference, it is still difficult to work with a community that is disengaged or disenfranchised or with a group that lacks sufficient social capital in the larger community.  This can arguably be widely applicable as many if not most people in any large community feel disengaged, as social capital is only generated where people are actively engaged.  The individual then rather than the organization becomes the most basic component of community engagement.

Stuart Graeme promoted Colin Williams’ ideas of individual community engagement, "Fostering community engagement and tackling undeclared work"  consisting of "spending time, engaged in unpaid activity, doing something that aims to benefit someone (individuals or groups) other than or in addition to close relatives, or to benefit the environment."  

This doesn’t have to happen through organizations but could arise more like a "good neighbor" concept.  Graeme also seemed  to suggest that these 'good neighbors' could be the ones to start in engaging with the community to build the connectedness comprising the Bonding' and 'Bridging' of 'Social Capital.'  It would be based, in my view upon the existence of what has been labeled ‘Civil Society, particularly when thinking of community paradigms as a set of community relations. The connection with Civil Society is made stronger yet in Community paradigms as a set of community relations.

Only later was a connection realized with Asset Based Community Development through ABCD, Social Networks and the Commons connecting Associational Life which 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 presumably, the community with other communities within a common jurisdiction). 

In a more recent post connected with this course Establishing a Foundation for Democratic Belief, I argued that Brennan was right as he said to have previously written that participation can be meaningful even when its practical effect is nil, because of the social bonding it creates. He assumed though that no comparable duty existed 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 or social capital is diminished for the sake of administrative efficiency.

The assignment for week four included one question which was:
Give two to three reasons why you think volunteering is important/effective

Volunteering through civil society is important to a community because the political institutions and market institutions cannot be expected to be able or to be trusted to fulfill all the needs of the community, especially in addressing Wicked Problems. Our challenges are increasingly complex. Our responses to these challenges cannot be merely simplistic but need to be coherently complex. From a systems perspective, we need to focus not only on what Chris Argyris called Single Loop Learning but Double Loop Learning as well. 

I will finish up with Zeynep Tufekci: Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win but in the next post as it deserves its own podium. 

Active Digital Citizens Seeking New Community Paradigms pt. 2

Continuing from the last post, the third week of  The Active Citizen in a Digital Age course dealt first with why digital matters to democracy in two parts, the first on the nature of digital data itself and the nature of networks arising from the interaction of that data. We create a tremendous amount of digital data in our every day, the vast majority having nothing to do with our ideas of democracy. Fundamentally different and in addition to other types of physical based resources we need to be concerned with in engaging as active citizens, digital is still concerned with how are we going to use our time and money? Digital data is the instructor informs us, a non-rival and non-excludable good unlike the other two. “Basically that means that lots of people can use it at once and it's hard to keep others from using it.” 
The nature of the network, exchanging digital data over networks, mobile, wireless spectrum, cable or broadband, is made up of physical structures. One important feature being the vast quantity of information that can now be stored. Every digital action gets recorded and stored and that storage keeps growing, not necessarily accessible, intentionally or not but it does keep growing. There are entities, usually market-based companies involved with maintaining this digital infrastructure making such exchanges happen from app and software developers to equipment builders, to network providers creating access to the creators of digital products we are interacting with, be it social media companies or search engines. 

All of our mutual digital transactions also involve a third party, intermediary infrastructure providers. This matters because all of the data representing the information we are exchanging (information turned into 1s and 0s) is stored on their servers. The nature of digital means that there is a difference between what gets remembered, what gets shared, and what will last when action is taken in either the digital space or the analog space.  
More information and insight on this topic is available through the Digital Impact Toolkit from the Digital Civil Society Lab at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society which supports the ethical, safe, and effective use of digital data by civil society organizations.
The course recognizes in the second part of the lesson that the two components of the first part lead to the dangers of going digital. In part because digital democracy plays by a different set of rules than does analog democracy. How we participate in civil society is influenced, impacted, and defined based on the nature of both digital data and its network infrastructure.
The problem is that digital infrastructure is built by companies, usually for-profit and is monitored by governments. Therefore there is no individual, private space in the digital world so there is no real civil society in digital space. According to the course though, civil society needs to function as an independent space separate from markets and governments.

“Civil society is an institutional manifestation of our basic human rights to peaceable assembly, free expression and, privacy.”

Lucy Bernholz, Senior Research Scholar, Stanford University, PACS
Director, Digital Civil Society Lab (and course instructor) wrote her own perspective on this issue. She produces the Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint (2016), an annual industry forecast about the ways we use private resources for public benefit. Particular interest should be paid to pages 20 to 23. 

“Yes, we can use digital tools to expand free expression and assembly; yes, these tools can be used to expand the voices we hear and participation by many. But civil society actors - in the US specifically - are fooling themselves if they think that digital tools are innately and always democratizing.”

She points out that civil society actors - in the US this means nonprofits and foundations as well as social movements, protestors, and activists - must protect the right and capacity to organize online, to express oneself and assemble peaceably outside of government or corporate control in digital spaces, if we are to maintain that right and capacity offline.

The digital rights agenda is civil society's agenda.

The challenge then is how to reclaim and protect this loss of civil society? There are apps that are designed to protect privacy by encrypting communications for example. There still remains though the essential real world on-the-ground (analog world) steps of finding allies, working together, crafting a strategy and message which requires having a private space to come together. 

Open Society Foundations United States, an organization which works to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people, video  Shrinking Civic Spaces discusses how and why governments across the world are shutting down spaces for civic engagement and how civil society can unite to prevent it.

"Solidarity between the online blogger and the gay rights activist, between the NGO that's getting shut down and the social movement that's turning out on the streets. Because although those actors might look and think that they're different from each other, what they have in common is they're all manifestations of our right to organize and mobilize..."
Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary General and CEO Civicus
           (4:45-5:08 of  Shrinking Civic Spaces)

The course also provides a link to an Oxfam video on some examples of civic tech projects. The video is a rather long webinar so here is the Google Doc of the presentation (23 slides) which has the advantage of making the associated links available. 

Our assignment for the third week was to create a team list of citizen actions that were digitally dependent, discuss the list as a team and list the team's responses to each of the following three prompts:

  1. How do digital tools allow us to participate more/better/at greater impact than before?
  2. The downsides of using digital tools for participation are significant. In what ways do you think digital tools should not be used for engagement in civil society (certain things, in certain ways)? Why?
  3.  What role do digital tools play in your team's action plan from Assignment #2?   
The team members each submitted their own lists and our team leader did a rather good job in organizing them into common themes.
  • Digital tools can take over for other forms of civil participation.
    • Digital tools make communication and organization faster and more possible.
    • Digital tools can make us more informed and expand our thinking.
    • Digital tools can spread false and misleading information very quickly and without check, as well as encourage superficial understanding of issues.
    • Digital tools can take over for other forms of civil participation.
    • Digital tools can lead to entrenched, narrow modes of thinking.
    As far as how do digital tools allowing us to participate more/better/at greater impact than before for myself, I cited access to the digitally available resources from different organizations in the NCP wiki, for example, Healthy Cities, Project for Public Spaces and Regional Governance and Policy. I also turned to new ways of thinking featured in the wiki, such as Systems Thinking Applications or Design Thinking or Community Arts or Asset Based Community Development. Then applying these to democratic processes involved concepts such as Governance through Community.

    The question of what are the significant downsides of using digital tools for participation and in what ways, (see Usman Haque) and when do you think digital tools should not be used for engagement in civil society have been dealt with before for some time?

    Digital democracy requires a level of individual digital literacy or fake news storytelling which can take over the community conversation. Tools like Big Data can be a two edged sword and used against the community interest. We often use digital technology in a superficial sense not drilling down into understanding the workings of the systems we wish to transform or the unintended consequences that could arise from our actions. I am also of the view that we can put ourselves into opposition or a role of permanent underdog rather than actually transforming governance. Instead of transforming a persistent deleterious entrenched system we merely enter into a subsidiary oscillating relationship with it.

    Part 3

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