This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.


It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.


It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.


Monday, 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. 

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