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, April 11, 2018

Finding Our Stars Near and Far to Navigate the System

This is the third post on the current Systems Practice course, what Acumen is calling A Practical Approach to Move from Impossible to Impact and what I am calling SP USA. There hasn’t though been as of yet any use of what is usually considered systems thinking tools, particularly systems mapping tools such as Kumu or Insight Maker to reveal systemic relationships. Plectica was used but primarily as a quick sketch to help organize information on a more analytical basis. Before systems mapping though, we needed to establish some system mindsets, including seeking system health, not mission accomplished, seeing patterns, not just problems, unlocking not imposing change and being adaptable.

Systems Practice Mindsets from Systems TOG on Vimeo.

The SP USA course takes its time to have participants in the process work together prior to committing to mapping the destination and journey they wish to take. The first step was having the fellow travelers have to come together.

The first post of this series called attention to the Kumu map Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking as a possible template under a community governance model. This turns out not to be the case. Although there was a diversity of different ideas there was not a diversity of differing ideas as there was with the first Systems Practice course, likely because there are fewer people this time. The Kumu Community Based Virtual Collaboration map may be a more applicable model because of our geographical separation. Each member of the team could be seen playing a different role. Steve Kennedy and Sander Fleuren could be seen as experts, Dohn Taylor and Shawn Ng as community activists though external ones, and I could be seen playing the role of a New Community Paradigms advocate. As such, there is no claim on my part as to the in-depth subject knowledge of the experts or the passion of the community activists. Simply the belief that using systems thinking or more specifically systems practice would add notable value to the process.

When first thrown together, we did not have a common vision. That slowly began to come together through the creation of the Complexity Spectrum and our, what might be considered online brainstorming. An issue, as mentioned in the last post, was that the ideas were not being directed at a better understanding the system under question but rather finding silver bullet solutions to the problem. It had been a matter of reacting rather than proactively planning to navigate to a desired future state by a Guiding Star and a Near Star as well as a Framing Question.

Yeu Wen, our course catalyst, introduced in the last post, again provided advice:

"Guiding stars are best described as a vivid future state that provides a direction rather than measured goals. In that respect, do every member of your team share a common understanding of the difference between a system state that is healthier than a previous state? In your case, a less plastic-polluted state than another? Counting plastic items is not a good idea. So what is?

The framing question can be more targeted towards discovering the forces at the bottom of the iceberg, i.e. the beliefs and perceptions of stakeholders. Here in also lies the crux of the direction your guiding star can provide :-)"

He made the point that there is more to being healthy than merely not being sick. He recommended the use of the "Systems Thinking Iceberg", which I have also found useful. Another resource is "Donella Meadows 12 places to leverage systems" which also emphasizes paradigm shifts in the beliefs and perceptions of stakeholders.

Guiding Star (The aspirational state or desired future)

We are trying to move the City of Bangkok and the entire country of Thailand from both being blighted by and blighting oceans with plastic pollution to being plastic pollution free.

One discussion was on whether our focus on the locale for the Guiding Star should be larger than Bangkok. One consideration was whether Bangkok, as an instance of a system being described, was basically segregated or isolated from the rest of Thailand, suspected by me to be due to rapid urbanization, and how this might have impacted other areas in Thailand. Is the mismanagement of waste solely within the region of Bangkok or merely its impact? Or conversely, the source is Bangkok but the impact is spread across fishing communities along the coast?

Those more recently familiar with Thailand due to travels there agreed that the problem of plastic pollution is not exclusive to Bangkok but also extended across the country. There was also though the perspective that Bangkok is segregated and stand-alone from the rest of the country. It is by the far the largest city and has problems that are unique or at least magnified compared to other cities in the country. It can be noted that Bangkok is twenty-one times larger than the second largest city Nonthaburi

An implication considered of broadening the guiding star would be to influence the selection of solutions or business models working in a close-knit metropolis would likely not work in rural areas and visa-versa. Another question was whether the social entrepreneurs were local or from the outside through international agencies? The working assumption regarding the social entrepreneurs is that they are local.

Not having included entrepreneurs, particularly social entrepreneurs, more prominently in the Complexity Spectrum became to be seen as a mistake. Entrepreneurs can be seen as being part of a system and capable of being integrated into the larger social system and therefore should be considered. Systems of weak entrepreneurialism will operate differently than those with strong systems. However, at this point, how they would be integrated was not clear.

Near Star (near-term 5-10 year desired but provisional outcome)

Stakeholders, who can affect and are affected by plastic pollution in Thailand are able to work effectively toward the elimination of plastic waste.

The first Near Star we came up with was:
Bangkok city actors are able to work effectively toward reducing plastic pollution.
As a recovering city bureaucrat, the term “city actors" sounded too institutional or government oriented. The more community-based term “stakeholders” was suggested though it can have similar issues. It can include community actors but often from the perspective of those in power.

The aforementioned Rwanda article, "Smugglers work on the dark side of Rwanda’s plastic bag ban" is a good example of unintended consequences arising from not really understanding the system that is being changed in great part from imposed top-down solutions, without concern for the economic needs of those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. The imposed solution was made though through the concept of Umuganda which, although a top-down government intervention, is based on a grassroots community legacy.

The term stakeholder was decided upon with the definition being an entity that can affect or is affected by the wicked problem contingent with being as inclusive as possible.

Steve came up with the final version of the Framing Question.

Framing Question (focus on understanding a system to be analyzed)

What forces account for the current levels of plastic pollution in Bangkok?

When coming up with ideas there is an attempt to prototype ideas that could be considered by the entities working on the ground in Thailand.

Having no current first-hand knowledge of the situation, one tries to be as open as possible. There will no doubt be a great deal of groundwork required before attempting to actualize the insights of the systems map, bringing to mind the work of Ernesto Sirolli. So everything written here needs to be taken with more than a grain of salt, making endeavoring to remain open to new and alternative pathways important.

My approach was with very broad brush strokes having limited familiarity with the topic. Each of us had a different perspective even if limited by differences in knowledge. With this particular assignment, we didn’t want to be using one common set of answers for everybody. This meant some ideas were similar and arguably could have been combined stripping away supposedly minor differences. However, according to Professor Scott E. Pagediverse groups outperformed groups of the best individuals at solving problems because “smart individuals” tended to think similarly, "diversity trumps ability". Retaining the diversity allowed for multiple causal pathways to be developed.

We then began the process of individually coming up with inhibitors and enablers and then grouping them to create themes and pick our top ones for SAT analysis. Next, we focused on the factors and worked both backward and forwards— asking both what that factor causes and what causes that factor— so as to later in the process to assemble them into feedback loops. In terms of mechanics, we used a Google spreadsheet to gather the data with which we each came up.

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