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.

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:
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 |, 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. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Story behind the Systems Practice Challenge

The last post started the Acumen sponsored Systemic Practice course connecting it back to the posts on the previously completed Financial Modeling for the Social Sector course. In these posts, systems thinking will take the lead.

The final post in the Financial Modeling series ended with developing an abstract financial model for the very real purpose of feeding the homeless. We reached a particularly abstract juncture as the focus was primarily on a still unrealized future.  

This post will take another look back, again quoting the systems thinking mantra for this blog, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” or a longer version “Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” 

One reason models are wrong is they often don’t reflect continually changing on the ground or granular reality. Things in real life change, an RV that was to be donated for food delivery was used instead as a residence for two pregnant homeless women. Models are also wrong because they never fully reflect the entire set of systems involved. One system not examined until the end was the political one, or political reality. 

In January 2016, the mayor of Portland established a“safe sleeping” policy meaning that homeless, sleeping in a doorway, would not be woken up by authorities to be moved to another location. This has since been rescinded. The mayor had major sweeps done around town with 72 hours notice, expecting everyone to pack up and move on but without giving options where to go and sometimes taking everything they had. The supporting advocacy groups were extremely busy trying to find housing for hundreds of people or at least some place for them to pitch their tents and be safe.

Practical on the street, as well as the economic and empirical realities of the Financial Modeling course put a damper on unrealizable idealism and helped to add a focused, disciplined financial perspective. A general goal of systems thinking is to avoid so-called unintended consequences of the invariably bad type. Doing good, true good is not easy. We started though with a model and ended up with, while still wrong, a better model.

Striving towards economic growth and equity, through democratic processes such as participatory budgeting, still requires better economic understanding and a means of budgetary discipline. When Seattle youth voted through participatory budgeting to spend $300,000 out of a $700,000 budget, on programs to address homelessness, how closely was the manner in which the money was spent examined?

The term “Last Mile” used in the title of the project came from the public transportation sector concept that it is easier to get a thousand people from point A (Station) to point B  (Station) and back again than it is to get that same thousand people from point B to point B1, B2, B3, and so on for each individual destination. People may be willing to ride a bullet train or light rail but don’t because they can’t cover that last mile to their destination. 

Similarly, the unsheltered homeless often cannot cover the last mile to get to the food so the intention is to cover it for them but the difficulty of doing so is comparable to that of the public transportation challenge because of multiple changing sources and targets, a version of the Traveling Salesman Problem.  Perhaps invoking the use of apps for finding the most efficient routes. 

Creating a sustainable and scalable enterprise to feed unsheltered homeless proved itself to be embroiled in a number of complex operational systems, food distribution, transportation, and others. Multiple social systems were also operating, though often not meshing together well, a system (weak social community) of homelessness within the community, a system of economics creating homelessness (perhaps as an unintended consequence but nonetheless), an institutional system to address different detrimental aspects of homelessness, and systems of existence among the homeless (social complex) in interacting with those community and institutional systems. 

The specific challenge was delivering food to those that were not only without means of sustainable nutrition but also without minimally decent, proper shelter of any type. There is an institutional system for food provision for those less fortunate, a primary source of which is systemic food wastage, a problem in its own right. One early idea was to develop apps like Cerplus, OkCupid, Leftover Swap and Spoiler Alert, which was built by MIT graduate students, to address food distribution challenges.

“Food waste happens not because businesses intend to waste the food but because they’re often disconnected from one another and lack a real-time solution,” says Ricky Ashenfelter, co-founder, and CEO of Spoiler Alert.

"It takes so much planning," said Al Brislain, CEO of Feeding America San Diego. "All the routes, all the-- you know, making sure the temperature is right, making sure that the food is still nutritious and fresh.”

Tax legislation in 2016 allowed business to benefit by getting tax deductions for donating food thereby hopefully preventing food waste. Inefficient solutions do little though to address the underlying causes of massive food wastage in the food and service industry which is said to happen because of consumer demand for price competition, depending upon massive overproduction to remain profitable.  Most programs do nothing to address this. Instead, they help to maintain overproduction through tax incentives created specifically to make surplus supermarkets viable. This food does not, however, readily reach the homeless.

Although the community food distribution system is available to the homeless, it is not necessarily accessible to them. Local pantries might bend over backward for a person with no address. 

“But that homeless person has to figure out a way to get the groceries back to camp or shelter and the street person is limited to what he can carry on a daily basis. It is very limited what kind of healthy ‘walking food’ the pantries carry”. - Jo

Besides a lack of choices, there is an inability to keep food fresh once it is distributed because it is given in quantities too large to be used in a timely enough manner. 

“They don't have much choice in food so they end up with five loaves of bread that go bad before they can use it.” - Jo

Overall, the most financially effective and sustainable remedy to address homelessness is providing homes rather than continually providing services which while necessary in the short run do not make a significant enough of an impact to bring about the needed change in the long run. The last post cited the study coming out of Calhoun County, Michigan

The most ironic obstacle to implementing the fundamental solution was the community’s very success in providing temporary shelters and supports.”

However, while building homes may be one of the best remedies for homelessness, lack of a home is not, it was proposed, the primary etiology of the detrimental and acute afflictions of homelessness. It is a lack of community, separation from deeply structured community or social relationship network that can be defined as civil society. 

Such a social structure can be taken for granted by most of us because we can make decisions to bypass such relationships but remain, even if only subconsciously, confident that they will be available if we need them. Including those community relationships that we forge through our economic transactions. While this does not encompass the whole truth of homelessness and as a model is wrong, it might provide an important insight.

While it is obviously good that a beneficial social effort is sustainable that does not lessen any immediate needs. The question of scaling to assist more people does not make current local efforts to meet such needs unhelpful. The financial model helped to prevent wasting resources on enterprises if unviable and to expand them if viable.

Extending services to help different organizations find people that might be helped further, moving individuals from the streets and camps to supportive, permanent housing options and back into the community was considered. A larger question then was whether this more focused approach would make a long-term difference for only some of the homeless or would a far less focused approach help more people if only temporarily.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Learning to Apply a Systems Practice to the Wicked Problem of Homelessness

This is the beginning of another online course sponsored by Acumen and another course in collaboration with Jo Foraker with whom I worked with on the Modeling the Last Mile to Feed the Homeless series. In that course, the focus was on financial modeling but systems thinking modeling was always included underneath near the surface. Again, only a flavor of the course is going to be provided here and not the course itself. Instead, the focus, as before, will be more on how the course connects with new community paradigms.

This course is more directly on Systems Practice and is being taught by Rob Ricigliano of Omidyar Group’s Systems & Complexity Team. It appears that it will seek a more pragmatic or on-the-ground application of systems thinking than did the previously taken systems thinking certification course. One new aspect will be how to launch a team. This course will also be using the often featured Kumu relational mapping tool. Here is a perspective on Kumu by Rob Ricigliano.

The course focuses on solving what it calls groundhog day, whack-a-mole and opposite day problems, a little imagination will paint a picture. Another more operationally viable term is "wicked problem". The trouble for those trying to communicate this reality to others is that this reality can be confusing, frustrating and messy. The course sees systems thinking as a necessary mindset in addressing this reality by providing clarity and insights into points of leverage within such systems at which the greatest impact with modest force is possible. It makes it possible to enhance an organization’s adaptability to changing environments. Making it more aware of causal ripple effects, those instances of cause and effect which are separate in time and space from the more ostensibly obvious events within our immediate reality. 

Homelessness is seen as a wicked problem, a complex problem involving large scale system inputs and outcomes having very close, personal and detrimental impact on those afflicted by it. It will arguably require then a wide perspective to find viable solutions. 

In particular with the issue of homelessness in which communities have spent a large amount of money on shelters in many large cities yet did not reduce the overall number of people living on the streets within those cities. 

The course explores why. With the homeless shelter question, the suggested answer is “Shelters were never meant to provide a path to sustainable living.” Beyond that, no one program can address all of the underlying challenges facing our communities. They are all interconnected and interwoven. It is a complex perspective on reality as opposed to an imposed complicated top-down perspective. 

One positive example cited by the course and in the past by this blog, is the Calhoun County, Michigan study which used systems thinking to address homelessness. They looked at the “whole system” under which the incentive for funders and providers had been to provide quick fixes, addressing the immediate problem, rather than sustained change. They used systems thinking to determine where they could effectively intervene with higher level approaches such as housing first. This worked even when unemployment in the area was rising.
  1. Setting goals
  2. Good Systems Analysis
  3. Finding Opportunities for Leverage
  4. Preparing to Learn and Adapt Effectively
The course considers how to do a systems analysis through a dynamic systems map of key forces affecting the system under study. How to identify opportunities for impact or leverage points within that system to create the desired change. How do we get started on the process of learning and adapting so that if we manage to do that very well in the context of the complex system (meaning constantly shifting) we are working in we are able to adapt?
  1. Mindset for how the world works and how to create change.
  2. A set of tools and processes as to how to actually design and implement actions for change.
Rob then goes into what they mean by a system or what makes a system, differentiating it from more tangible physical systems such as an automobile or the healthcare system. Complex social systems produce results or consequences such as homelessness or other social ills to use his examples. This type of system is made up of complex forces that affect each other and more importantly for one’s efforts the issue with which you are concerned. For example, the “things” that produce homelessness are likely diverse but not isolated, they are interrelated in a manner that I would deem organic and intrinsic. These relationships between the things or factors contributing to homelessness can interact in unpredictable ways. 

So a system has discrete and diverse components or elements that are interdependent and interact in complex ways that dynamically change over time. This makes predictability more difficult, not impossible but the ability is far more constrained as one needs to constantly reassess one's systems analysis and the time frame for an accurate prediction can be shortened. 

The Omidyar Group’s take on systems thinking consists of three key components. It is a mindset. A way of thinking about how the world works and how to work with that messy world to promote desired outcomes. It is a set of tools to do analysis and develop a strategy. It is a particular set of processes which demands collective intelligence and sense-making resulting in collective action. This requires certain specific processes, such as participatory deliberations and dialogue.

The course recognizes that there are certain problems that are not solvable by directly addressing the apparent symptoms of the problem. With homelessness, it was the notion that we build shelters but that didn't actually solve the problem. It may have gotten certain people off of the streets but they were replaced and increased by more people. It can be necessary to look at the entire system to determine what it is about the system that is producing that and other negative outcomes. The conundrum is that certain acute challenges cannot be ignored until a complete and permanent solution to the chronic problem is found.

The feeding of the unsheltered, isolated homeless (even in homeless camps there is still isolation) is one such challenge. Those that can’t find occupancy in the shelters can also find themselves isolated from the community's food systems.  The direct approach to the problem, getting food and taking it to the camps is already known to be a tremendous logistical challenge. The question is how to create a system, an enterprise that works most effectively and efficiently in the existing larger systems and that can also, hopefully, begin to change that larger system to not only stop whatever activities it is doing to create the problems but to also directly work on the larger system issues to resolve them.
  1. The nature of the environment one is working in.
  2. The nature of the goal you have set for yourself.
  3. One’s ability to implement this type of approach.
Rob then goes into three criteria for determining whether a systems approach should be applied. First is the nature of the environment one is working dynamic and constantly changing? Have supposedly obvious approaches been tried before and failed? Can change be overwhelming, not just for oneself but especially for those one is trying to assist? Even solutions that may work in one case don’t work in another. 

The second is the nature of the goal that one is striving to accomplish. This one is more problematic. Rob speaks of relief efforts to feed a specific group of people for a specific period of time or to house them so that they don’t die of exposure which can be seen as a relatively mechanical process. However, I don't believe the distinction is so apparent or that the Last Mile program truly fits into that configuration. The relationship between doing A to get B is not as deterministic in dealing with the unsheltered homeless as it can be with other forms of relief aid. 

Now it is true that finding ways to permanently house homeless individuals or better to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place would be a higher point of leverage within the larger system. However, in focusing on the first approach of finding ways to permanently house the homeless, the status of those individuals in terms of health must also be considered and malnutrition and anemia will make helping them far more difficult. How all this will be addressed though will change from place to place. 

The third is what is happening with one’s self. Are you in an enabling environment, the ability, time and resources that allow you to step back and have the means and capability to think through the building of a strategy, say like taking this course then systems thinking is worth investing in. Rob warns, however, that it is not a magic solution. It does not make complex issues simple or worse yet if wrongly interpreted, simplistic. What it can do, from a new community paradigms perspective is make that complexity coherent. 

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