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.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Testing My Systems Practice Perspective

The three prior posts have, in part, been on the Systems Practice (USA) process of building up to but holding off on creating a systems map, specifically a Causal Loop Diagram systems map to describe a system under consideration. This Systems Practice process initially involves categorization within a spreadsheet by Themes, SAT analysis (structural, attitudinal and transactional) and upstream, downstream configuration to gain deeper insights. Delaying actual creation of the map hopefully maximizes input from all involved parties.

The purpose of doing so is to discover, so as to gain greater clarity, what the course terms the Deep Structure, the central forces that drive the behavior of a system. The Deep Structure serves as an anchor for the primary causal loops within a system. A systems map, as a sketched representation, can anchor the Deep Structure to the larger system, a unification of the various causal loops to be built around the Deep Structure. The Deep Structure integrates the larger system’s most important, repeating factors, elements, causal step connections, causal loops and relationships between causal loops, simplifying without completely losing the connection to the larger and more complex total system.

The SP USA course derives the Deep Structure from the collected factors and classifications by themes, SATs, and upstream-downstream configuration, having the Deep Structure as the foundation, then building the Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) systems map around it. I did not follow this methodology and the last three posts also raised my concerns regarding the effect of having perhaps created the CLD map too soon in the process. This post will contrast what will now be called the NCP Deep Structure approach with the SP USA Deep Structure approach.

The Systems Practice (USA) approach seems to me to create the Deep Structure through a process of divination. This is not true, it is me maybe because I have no problem working on my own but I followed my natural tendency and mapped a fairly extensive and comprehensive Causal Loop Diagram map but did so before not after creating the Deep Structure map. I attempted revealing what I considered to be the system’s Deep Structure through two means. The first by condensing, which was discarded and later repurposed.

The second means was through distilling or determining those essential factors, as well as the causal loops in which they were embedded, in maintaining the system of plastic pollution, and the minimum pathway connecting them. Placing these essential factors in their interrelated causal loops created persistent paths or patterns of causality (or correlation). The Kumu presentation Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand - Essential Factors Pathway (Deep Structure) provides a detail examination of the NCP Deep Structure approach.

The NCP process of mapping the deep structure arose organically from the larger map, rather than constructing the larger map around it. The NCP approach appeals to more organic connections using a plant analogy with a potential to grow while retaining the hidden from view or deeper aspects of the Systems Thinking Iceberg model. The causal loops were to some extent rearranged around the deep structure in thematic regions, refining the thinking behind the map. The map, collectively sourced, determined the story more than having the story, more singular perspective, determining the direction of the map. New connections and new loops were discovered or created but care was taken not to arbitrarily connect factors without a reasonable causal basis or to assume that merely having a set of factors placed in a circle constituted a causal loop. However, it is also true that it would be very difficult to describe how in an algorithmic fashion I came up with the map.

Our team had not agreed upon a deep structure to coalesce around as did the first SP USA team. So despite any personal confidence in the insights deduced, the final results still need to be judged on their own. The NCP approach to the Deep Structure still needs to answer the questions asked of the official Systems Practice approach:

Is the deep structure supported by evidence from the built feedback loops based on understanding and describing the current system, not the desired system? The answer is yes, though it is possible to start moving to such a desired state.

Does it capture the essence of the system and how it behaves so that it can be articulated in a compelling way that is memorable? The answer to the first part of the question is yes, the second part articulating in a compelling manner is still being determined.

Does it serve as a useful anchor point for the other loops in the map? Is it one feedback loop, or best represented by two or three connected loops? What describes the crux of the system? Again, for the first part of the question, the answer is yes but it takes five loops to adequately represent the current state of the system not including the detrimental impact of the system or any possible means of addressing it.

An essential feature of the overall system is that the different thematic and causal loop components are interrelated in some aspects but segregated in others. None of the interests involved can solve this wicked problem on their own. There is little effort though towards first taking some responsibility and then reaching out to other sectors of the system. The seen as needed transformation of paradigms and this is a paradigm level challenge has to happen in all sectors.

The NCP Deep Structure map captures the major forces driving plastic pollution by persistent causality through major thematic areas: Consumer Expectations, Vested Interests, Lack of Commercially Viable Alternatives, Waste Management Policy and Infrastructure and Political Status Quo as well as involving those factors currently too weak to induce the needed change, awareness campaigns on plastic waste, social norms toward sustainability and establishing Social Entrepreneurial Potential through social entrepreneurs tackling plastic recycling.

Not adequately established was articulating a description of the crux of the system in a more compelling manner which for most people means in the form of a concise narrative rather than listing directions on a map.

Thai consumer perspective is both influenced by and influences Consumer Expectations regarding the use of plastic in retail consumption. The Thai industrial/business perspective is tied into Thai Waste Management Policy and Infrastructure and protects its Vested Interests through its ability to maintain the Political Status Quo and its influence over the Thai consumer (food) culture and overall Consumer Expectations.
Plastic as a core material is maintained by the system, supported in no small part by the widespread availability of cheap plastic and the Lack of Commercially Viable Alternatives. The difficulties in the collection of post-consumption plastic lead to Deleterious Impacts. There are countervailing forces growing from awareness campaigns on plastic waste but this requires development and strategic intervention. This portrays the current state of the system of plastic pollution.
The proposed means of addressing this Wicked Problem is through developing Social Entrepreneurial Potential with a focus on social entrepreneurs tackling plastic recycling. This effort, however, is currently not sufficiently tied-in to transform the existing system, with existing levels of awareness campaigns on plastic waste, so as to change social norms towards sustainability, plastic waste included. 
Without any obvious dynamic impacts or ripple effects available within the system, it can’t be expected that key actors will begin to transform their practices, seek adaptive approaches or promote a  needed culture of learning and reform. There can’t be a climate of fear of failure for the system to be transformed and there needs to be a willingness to innovate and iterate approaches.
The Kumu presentation, Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand - The Core Story, endeavors to do both more concisely in three slides than what the Essential Pathways - Deep Structure presentation did in thirty-two slides. However, sometimes we need to know how the watch works.

Returning now to the initial effort to derive the Deep Structure of the system by condensing the thematically delineated factors within the system. As mentioned previously, this was abandoned and then repurposed as Potential Interventions. 

This is a more of an experimental endeavor still being developed in hope of moving beyond Systems Practice as a project for a time-limited course to Systems Practice as a process that can be used, revised, and added to by others, unrelated to the initial effort. The presentations connected with the project are, as has been said before, guided tours. At some point, it is necessary to leave the tour and begin to explore on one’s own. Not only to make new discoveries but also to correct the understanding of the system being explored where necessary. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Discovering the Essential Pathway within the Systems Practice

The last blog post, ” Systems Practice Crossroads, Is It Worth the Effort?”, was published less than a week ago. It is not the usual practice to follow up so quickly but there are issues that need to be addressed so as to understand how to fit Systems Practice (USA) within New Community Paradigms.

The first is to acknowledge that this is not a mainstream, popular blog. There isn’t a concerted effort to get readers. It encompasses a wide-ranging perspective, global it would seem, but one that is not all that common. All readers and fellow inquirers are welcome and I do hope it provides some benefit but its main purpose is to help work out ideas of interest.

This blog received twice as many page views, over the last week, from France as it did from the United States which is where I am based and nearly twice as many over the last month from France and twice as many from Italy. I mention this because I found the stats on Italy and France surprising (Maybe somebody could give me an idea as to why?) but these are not persuasive essays. The blog, admittedly, also has a fairly large bounce rate, so viewing doesn’t mean reading and reading doesn’t mean making an impression. 

It is okay though not making an impression, people can accept these ideas when and if they are ready, presuming that they are worthwhile accepting. People can take from here what is beneficial to them as they see it. 

Second, is to acknowledge again that a number of hoped for insights did not come about. These could be put in the framework of failures. The project failed as a means of exploring systems thinking and democratic community governance and as a means of community based virtual systemic inquiry, both discussed in the last and previous posts. There is nothing wrong with this, losing one pathway can lead to discovering another. Expectedly, most such attempts will either fail or be supplanted by better ones. One point stressed by this effort is that transformational systems change is hard, really hard to do. Each Systems Practice project will also be very different with different people and different situations. Another failed or did not meet a hoped-for level of accomplishment was its value to the entrepreneurial enterprise started by those who initiated the project. As a former economic development project manager, I know that this also happens.

That leaves the construction of the system mapping tools. A systems map for the project was developed based on the input of the team members. It can be evaluated in its own right. That evaluation can still be tied in with other concepts explored by this effort.

There have been a number of Systems Practice components introduced but only some might be thought of as Systems Thinking oriented from the perspective of unraveling complexity hands-on with systems maps, (depending upon where one draws the line).

The last Systems Thinking oriented medium provided was the Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand - Essential Factors Pathways Kumu presentation at the end of the previous blog post. It provides limited accessibility but still asks a great deal of the uninitiated. Even the partially initiated would need guidance. By partially initiated, I mean someone reasonably familiar with one aspect but perhaps not others. There is a learning curve that needs to be addressed. It is not expected to be completely addressed by the end of the presentation but well enough so that further inquiries will be made. There is also a presumption that one is willing to surrender one’s own assumptions, particularly those that take one side of an issue or the other. Everyone has their own biases and limitations.

It should be noted here that nobody who is actually having to live with the situation being addressed, nobody from Bangkok, Thailand facing a situation of dealing with plastic pollution was part of the team. I don’t have a problem with this at one level as the perspective the systems analysis takes is a system-wide from a satellite high vantage point. It would be necessary though, in my view, to follow the same Systems Practice process done with this broad-based approach with different stakeholders involved in the issue to both inform their process but also to adjust with perhaps more precision the outlook of the initial systemic assessment.

The decision had been purposely made to accept whichever project to which I, at least from my perspective, would essentially be randomly assigned. In a general sense, one could imagine one’s self, having a basic concern about pollution and specifically about plastic pollution without having an especially deep knowledge about the topic either generally or how it might specifically impact one’s own community. There is undoubtedly certain content regarding any issue applicable to a specific situation based on locality, history, demographics and other factors. There are articles on various aspects of the issues under consideration spread across the full Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand Kumu project. There is also the expertise, including knowledge and insights, that others brought to the Systems Practice effort. The remaining aspect then is a Systems Thinking approach, made all the more pragmatic with the Systems Practice methodology.

I am going to then assert here that if the Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand - Essential Factors Pathway is found to be a valid systemic assessment then my own personal contribution, outside of the utilization of Systems Thinking and Kumu systems mapping which is available to anyone, was minimal. I can take no credit for the expertise of others. I can take little credit for the content of articles that were embedded within the Kumu project, even their acquirement was often the work of others. This leaves the Systems Thinking and Kumu mapping processes as the means of generating fresh, valid and applicable insights and these are again acquired skills that can be attained by nearly anyone and would likely work all the better if used by everyone collaboratively.

This is not feigning false modesty. Fifth-graders can get Systems Thinking, even first-graders, according to the Waters Foundation. Actually, they may get it more easily than many adults who have to unlearn some of their assumptions and adjust their thinking processes. I would push against the position that an in-depth expertise in advanced systems thinking methodologies is required before contributing one’s perspective. These may come to be applicable but there are numerous versions from hard to soft in competition with each other even then. Getting the basics down with a large group or community through early educational exposure would be far more beneficial than attaining advanced degrees by a few individuals. It takes an investment though of effort.

Returning to Systems Practice USA course in general and Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand - Essential Factors Pathways (Deep Structure) specifically, the presentation is not a map of the system. It is a guided tour, passing quickly over important points which may require more elucidation to be understood fully.

The first slide (after start) endeavors to set a tone for not only the presentation but all systems thinking endeavors quoting the wisdom of George Box. There is also a link to the current course. The fourth slide provides the Guiding Star, Near Star and Framing Question formulated by the team but not a detailed account of how the course put forward the concepts. Once again, the reminder that these blog posts are never intended to be substitutes for taking the course. They are inadequate in that aspect. Hopefully, this effort encourages others to take the course.

The fifth slide brings up Stafford Beer’s concept of POSIWID. This can be a controversial position to take in Systems Thinking in that not everyone accepts it as a valid perspective. The position taken by Addressing Plastic Pollution is that it makes more sense to study the system of plastic pollution as a viable parasitic system with the purpose of generating plastic pollution rather than to study a supposedly healthy but composite system infected by that system of plastic pollution.

The sixth slide describes the full Pollution Production Systems map rather than displaying it, then doing the same in the next slide with the simpler Essential Factors Pathways map but then actually displaying it with the slide following. Mousing over the (on map) text will highlight positions within the map to the right of the narrative section.

Slide nine distinguishes between causation and correlation but maintains the common systems thinking practice of applying to either when speaking of Causal Loop Diagrams. Seen as being more important, in slide ten, is the perpetual habit of not considering the impact of numerous factors more distant in terms of distance, time or causal steps from the effect being addressed. A more expansive explanation of what a Causal Loop Diagram is available beyond the presentation's portrayal of persistent path or pattern of causality.

Slides eleven and twelve deal with Themes, another course concept, graphically but still superficially. Slide fourteen deals with leveraging, again graphically using linked text but not in depth. Slides fifteen to eighteen then follow the 7 Essential Factors around the pathway showing their relationships in terms of downstream and upstream, another course concept. 

With slide nineteen to twenty-nine, the focus is on six Causal Loop Diagrams or Causal Pathways (these don’t close) associated with the Essential Factors Pathway. These add to the complexity of the map. Further complexity is realizable with slide 30 within what is termed Causal Loop Clusters available within outside presentations (Still Under Development).

The final slide displays the entire Enabling and Inhibiting Pathway Map of the Addressing Plastic Pollution Kumu project with all of the complexity avoided in slide six. The problem, in addition to the complexity, is that it provides neither guidance nor the required access needed to discover new pathways. This will be addressed in the next post.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Systems Practice Crossroads, Is It Worth the Effort?

The current effort has come to a crossroads, so some territory will be gone over again. The purpose of this blog series on Systems Practice was not to persuade anyone unfamiliar to use either Systems Practice or Systems Thinking. The systems map displayed in the last blog post would have discouraged that, a collection of colored dots connected with swirling yellow lines. One might have discerned that the color of the dots corresponded with different categorizations, the Systems Practice themes and that the connection between different dots formed some type of relationship. At this point, it was merely that one dot (factor) was roughly upstream (cause) or downstream (effect) of another. The why, not only of individual connections but of the larger complex structure rising out of those connections is far less apparent. At this point, it would be impossible to unravel the myriad of decisions that went into that particular final configuration.

The effort was instead to test certain ideas that have been featured on this blog as well as to evaluate the Acumen Systems Practice course for a second round. The first round considered not to be a proper assessment since the program wasn't followed, jumping too soon ahead with systems mapping. The approach was undertaken again in an attempt to assess how Systems Thinking and especially Systems Practice could be utilized in a system of community governance based on direct, or both participatory and deliberative, democracy. Such an approach has been examined more theoretically with the blog post, A Map for Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking, related Kumu map, Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking and the Kumu presentation, Using System Thinking for Better Deliberative and Participatory Democracy.

Special attention was paid to how community groups might use Systems Thinking to develop projects and programs that could potentially be of benefit to the entire community. As an extension (or as an appendage of), a system of Community Based Virtual Collaboration was also explored in the blog post NCP + VSI = A Potential Path for Meaningful Community Change.

The crossroads is the transition from an upstream-downstream systems map to a more comprehensive Causal Loop Diagram map that more explicitly expresses the different multiple relationships making up what has been deemed a Plastic Pollution Production system, specifically in Bangkok, Thailand.

It would seem that while not quite as early as with the first attempt at the course, I still started systems mapping too early, at least there is an argument for such. I touched on this argument in the last post.

There may be two reasons for this splintering between what the course calls for and my own natural inclinations. First is my natural inclination to map a system in question to better understand it. Trying to conceptualize the upstream and downstream relationships of the collection of different factors we had collected together as a team would have been frustrating for me if I couldn’t map. Second, the Systems Practice approach seems to be more suited to teams that are physically in the same location.

Our current efforts were not a good example of Virtual Systemic Collaboration. With the Homeless Food Truck Systems Practice Project, the team members were primarily in the United States so time differences were less of a factor. Communication being not only asynchronous but also far more distant geographically made communication too difficult this time. The Homeless Project also had a larger team to start with, offering a greater diversity of ideas, and more people not only came up with ideas but also contributed their own systems maps. I worked both the group and, as mentioned before, had started with my own systems maps on the topic.

Arguably, I still started too early with systems mapping this time. My interpretation of the Acumen Systems Practice group approach is that far more time is spent on working with the factors as components prior to solidifying them into a system that can be mapped out. My contributions to the collection of initial factors regarding plastic pollution in Bangkok, Thailand were overly generic in my view. The others made far more precise and applicable contributions. I then took those and came up with the systems map cited above.

Analogies help understand the difference in approaches. I created a root system for the Causal Loop Diagram maps that I would go on to make. The more official Systems Practice approach seems more akin to building an automobile. Everybody in the group brings in what could be used as parts and discussed together how they could best be fitted together.

With the Systems Practice Homeless Project, I could argue that my individual approach was better suited for deeper analysis. Too often, from my personal perspective, online collaboration efforts try too hard to come up with solutions that satisfy everyone regardless of how inviable a solution it may actually be in the long term. Unintended consequences are deferred in favor of current compromise. Systems Thinking that stays true to its principles has a way of telling people what they often don’t want to hear. One, in particular, is how very, very hard it is to permanently change entrenched systems, especially entrenched, legacy derived, institutional systems or the systems arising because of them.

The creation of a root system for the Plastic Pollution Production system would likely define to a great extent the specifics of the type of system that would grow from it. Doesn’t mean what grows from it is wrong but it does limit possible and potentially better solutions. More maps using both the organic method and the construction method to be evaluated together would seem to be a better approach.

Unfortunately, the MOSS team was not able to hold together. Dohn at this juncture had decided to pursue his real world academic pursuits. Shawn joined too late after the Causal Loop Diagram maps had been largely developed, and as discussed in the last post felt unable to make any meaningful contributions. A result perhaps of having created a far too solid appearing system structure. Steve (and Sander) had been communicating that the projects which with they had been working were demanding more of their time. This Systems Practice project was only to be a possible part of that larger project for which they were responsible. My understanding was that the Systems Practice project was not the primary purpose. Both Steve and Sander presumedly then pursued their primary purpose and stopped participating in the Systems Practice project.

So I began creating the causal loop diagrams from the root of the aforementioned upstream-downstream systems map and continued on until it reached what I felt was a state (actually states) of completion. I continued to proceed in the effort despite not being able to obtain any feedback. Systems mapping becomes more of an internal process based on logically building upon previously established factors, connections, links, and loops.

Basically, what I was doing was creating a story or play based on the factors, let's think of them as analogous to characters, props, scenes in a play, given to me by the others. There seems to be a positive albeit passive acknowledgment of the story that was created. I received a few likes and positive comments but not really any critique.

Even with the best of intentions, there are a number of errors that can arise in developing a Causal Loop Diagram map intended to explain or elucidate some particular system or component of a system. I could have misunderstood the factors or could have placed them into an incorrect configuration. I could have gotten both correct but made wrong inferences when developing the relationships further.

Even if I am right in all of these aspects, my approach could still be suspected by many. My satellite-oriented vantage point of the larger system took, I believe, a Systems Practice perspective of looking at the system’s health rather than devising some path to mission accomplished, understanding the patterns comprising that system and endeavoring to find the means of change internal to the system rather than imposing from the outside. As I said elsewhere, “However, none of the causal loops directly cause plastic pollution as their intended purpose”. Three different systems, capable of existing independently on their own came to be seen as being subsystems of the larger Plastic Pollution Production system - Retail Market, Business Perspective and Governance Environment. (This effort has long held that there is a difference between government and governance.) Any perspective taken solely from any one subsystem vantage point might very likely miss insights required to understand the entire system.

This then brings us to the real question behind this effort. Is it worth it? Does systems thinking and its practical application Systems Practice make a difference that is worth the effort that a group needs to put into it? That question has still not been answered.

I create systems maps of any kind first as an explanatory vehicle for myself then as an explanatory vehicle for others. It is the later, explaining to others, that is obviously the greater challenge, especially for complex systems. Using Systems Thinking means that others must not only become familiar with changing from solely longitudinal thinking to also incorporating latitudinal thinking but also delving deeper into both the content and context of the system in question. People, however, often desire to be persuaded rather than to convince themselves by taking the time to develop a deeper understanding. A simplified and persuasive explanation often does not have the necessary explanatory power needed to understand how to make changes to a complex system that don't have detrimental unintended consequences. Understanding is easier if they have participated directly in building the relevant systems map. It can still be possible by taking them through a guided tour using Kumu presentations. The following presentation is the first attempt to find that balance, Addressing Plastic Pollution in Bangkok, Thailand - Essential Factors Pathway (Deep Structure).

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

To Systems Map or Not to Systems Map is the Question

The previous post in this series on a Systems Practice approach to addressing plastic pollution in Bangkok, Thailand dealt with the transition from a collection of relevant factors in a spreadsheet to the creation of a type of systems map.

It is not expected to make any particular sense at this point. The spreadsheet which contains the same information is likely more sensible. Even with some exposure to systems thinking, perhaps through this blog, this particular form of systems mapping doesn’t communicate information as well as say a Causal Loop Diagrams map might. It is a necessary step, though, in the Systems Practice process.

This version of Systems Practice (SP USA) has been compared to the Systems Practice UK version. SP UK was, in my view, more philosophical in setting different schools of thought in contrast to each other. In that division between hard systems/ontological thinking and soft systems/epistemological thinking, one of the sides was chosen (the NCP Fantasy Systems Thinking Team).

Systems Practice (SP USA) is not a philosophy. It is a playbook. They actually have a playbook, Systems Practice Workbook Omidyar Group, which describes the process undertaken in implementing a Systems Practice approach to dealing with wicked problems (the impossible of the course’s title). It has no issues with taking from either of the different approaches that suits its purposes. Once again, let's repeat this blog is not intended as a substitute for the course.

Systems Practice is basically applied systems thinking. Systems thinking for me is thought experiments with pictures using alternative forms of cognitive navigation to steer through challenges, especially wicked challenges. The new thinking in navigation during the Age of Discovery, as told in How We Got To Now with Steven Johnson / Time (Emmy Winner) can serve for as a metaphor for Systems Thinking. This time in history was arguably a paradigm shift and as notable as modern man’s mission to the moon.

Returning to the map above, it was the means used to help determine whether particular factors were, using the SP USA analogy of upstream, which meant they were the causal or correlated influences on factors or effects downstream or whether they were instead downstream and the effect of those causal factors or correlated influences upstream. In truth, most were both, only a few were expressly one or the other. Team member Steve Kennedy had more luck with putting together the list on the spreadsheet, which was also a help.

The map was only a working model and the connections created might have easily gone in other directions but it gave a sense of how things flowed. Upstream and downstream are defined by connections with downstream at the end with the arrowhead. At this point, I did not have a truly systemic perspective. It would be extremely difficult to try and reverse engineer the process of putting the map together from the spreadsheet. There would be revisions to some of the assumptions made later in the process. It was the sketch before the painting. It is seen as having been correct because it and later maps were judged as being correct by others.

Each factor, in addition to being put into an upstream-downstream framework, was categorized by what the SP USA course called a Theme, groupings of factors that are meaningfully related (the list below the legend on the map). The consumer theme was the only one developed with a focus that stepped out by what Kumu categorizes as three degrees and what I am referring to as three causal steps. An upstream factor is one causal step or one degree away from the factor which is the effect downstream from it. Systems thinking pays attention to factors two, three, even more, steps separated.

The consumer theme was determined to be a primary focus of the map based on the factors that were developed. The consumer theme was able to feedback or close upon itself thus having the potential of becoming a loop of persistent causality or a causal loop diagram.

The team did not have the problem with understanding the systems map to which I am alluding to here as they helped build it or were at least familiar enough to follow along. It is communicating to others that is the challenge. There were discussions. It can be noted that so far this blog post has only mentioned either plastic pollution or Bangkok, Thailand. Thai Buddhist Festivals as a factor was seen as being an enabler (adding to plastic pollution), at least under the present circumstances. Steve had submitted the former Thai King and his love of nature as a possible factor, what about the current Thai King? The focus was on building the relationships making up the system.

This is my second experience with the SP USA course. The previous Systems Practice project on homelessness had more diversity in the initial outlooks, some of which I had not considered until later in the process but we found and agreed upon common ground. There was, as mentioned before, the issue that I had started systems mapping even before the course had begun.  The previous project also had a greater diversity of input in terms of mapping with at least three of us still working on our own individual mapping ideas at the finish of the course. In this current course, I was basically the only one doing the actual systems mapping portion of creating the overall project.

The map above was then developed into a Causal Loop Diagram map, a more advanced map that will be introduced in a future post.

Our newest team member Shawn would later write about it, " The mapping itself seems extensive and coherent, and it would be hard press for me to add much of significance."

I came to see a problem with having a map being seen as extensive and coherent, at least too early in the process. I began to see why the course leaves Kumu mapping until the middle of the course. Whether at this point in the process it was too early is debatable. 

The problem is that people can get the impression that maps, as presented, are complete and finalized. If extensive and coherent then the extensive aspect can be an issue in making the challenge seem overwhelming without boundaries or with endless divisions. As for the coherent aspect, if successful, can help give the impression that they are related but not necessarily how. Together though they can discourage additional input by giving a false impression of completeness.

If this is true of people taking the course, what of community members one might work with who are unfamiliar with systems practice and systems thinking? There is also the additional consideration that those others would have been more meaningfully connected if they had helped to build the map(s) themselves.

In my idealistic imagination, I would like to see the development of Systems Practice Maps that could serve as a template that could be used for further development in Thailand or anywhere with on-the-ground stakeholders.

It should be possible for anyone to contribute, but it would seem only with having to revise the entire map, at least with narrative links within related loops. With only a map wise, the insertion of an idea could be done simply by adding to the Factor and Theme spreadsheet. It is possible to create forms for people to respond to and tie those sheets directly into the Kumu maps. A group process then could be used to determine if and how the factor or element fits into the larger map.

Yeu Wen, the course catalyst, suggested thinking of themes and factors as nouns and verbs in a sentence (well maybe adjectives, adverbs and nouns with connections as verbs). Rob Ricigliano, the course instructor, in one of the course’s videos, said that we can think of the process in some ways as building a story. We cannot fully tell the significance of a specific factor or idea until we see how it plays in the entire system map (story). I doubt that we can fully do it as individuals. I would never have been able to create what I did without the knowledgeable input from everyone else. After that, it was like putting together a story but stories can take multiple pathways though seemingly becoming more restrictive further along in the process. The story has to do more than merely sound true to others, it has to be demonstrated to be true. 

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