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.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Searching for a Systems Map to a New Jerusalem Vision

In the previous post, the systems maps included in the article A Systemic View of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by David Peter Stroh in the Systems Thinker were introduced for the purpose of comparison and contrast with the newly developed Systems Practice Jerusalem Vision systems map, based in part on the article Eastern Jerusalem: End of an Intermediate Era by Dr. David Koren, Advisor to the Mayor of Jerusalem for Arab and eastern Jerusalem affairs.

This post will be focusing especially on systems maps and in particular, the Conflict systems maps by Stroh. Both the Conflict maps and Systems Practice map use Causal Loop Diagrams.

For better explanatory purposes of a complex issue, a Kumu presentation based on the Stroh maps replicated using Kumu is provided below.

Keeping in mind, it is through an explanatory method, graphically organized with certain rules, that cannot be said to be widely familiar outside certain circles and serves as a medium for a formal means of thinking, systems, often even more unfamiliar.

The Kumu version of the A Systemic View of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict maps combines the two maps in Stroh’s article into one map. Other than that, the Kumu map should accurately reflect his map but this claim should also be verified. There are some resulting differences that arise which need to be made apparent since they will be the basis for any critiques.

The +Acumen Systems Practice course uses plus (+) and minus (-) signs in combination to connect two of what Systems Practice calls factors or what Kumu calls elements to reflect the type of change taking place in the causal relationship. Stroh uses a means of connecting factors together that was developed by Peter Senge. Two factors are linked together in a cause-effect relationship with a connection that is designated with either S as in the two factors move in the same direction or O as in the factors move in the opposite direction. What is not made immediately apparent is whether those factors are both increasing or both decreasing for the S connection or which factor is increasing and which is decreasing for the O connection.

This means Stroh’s approach reflects two different possible relationships while the systems Practice approach has four different relationships. The underlying complexity is the same with both just more apparent with Systems Practice.

The differences between the two systems maps range not only from different mapping techniques but also their different approaches to the issues in general, which when combined together tell different stories. The two systems though are still interrelated and their respective maps can provide insights into each other. There are some important differences between the overall scopes of the two maps that need to be noted.

First, the Conflict maps were developed from a single perspective while the Systems Practice map was drawn from multiple perspectives. More perspectives mean more complexity.

Second, the time periods being taken under consideration are different. The actual system being described went through a number of changes between the two periods which is to be expected with a wicked problem.

Third, the boundary of the two systems maps is different both systemically and geographically. The Conflict maps attempted to address a larger more global political issues across a multi-jurisdictional geographic space, while the Systems Practice map addressed factors contained within the neighborhoods, especially the Arab neighborhoods, of East Jerusalem.

The Stroh maps are more institutionally focused and although suggesting to be speaking of people in a general sense, the only agents capable of instituting the recommended changes are institutions or their leaders. Within the Systems Practice map, Dr. Koren’s writing can be seen as distinguishing the differences in the approach for the Jerusalem Vision of the two systems as “Jerusalem of Above” for the Conflict map and “Jerusalem of Below” for the Vision map respectively.

There wasn't any attempt to list Israeli factors on one side of a ledger and Palestinian factors on the other side. The Conflict maps combine both Israeli and Palestinian aspects of the system into single factors. Every factor in the Conflict map is mutually based on both the Israeli and Palestinian aspects of that situation. This means that factors lack situational context or specificity in how they are interrelated with each other creating, in my view, a sense of false equivalency, limiting potential causal pathways and causing confusion when traveling a loop’s path.

Both of Stroh’s maps put the factor or element ”Threats to right of Israelis/Palestinians to exist” as the focus of the maps. The Systems Practice map does not have such a focus on a specific factor. The Systems Practice map does though, in addition to configuring the factors into causal loops as does the Conflict map, also organize factors into what Systems Practice terms as Themes. Themes are basically related factors but not necessarily sharing any causal pathway or set within a causal loop. These themes, with one debatable exception, were not focused on or ranked.

The Systems Practice approach avoids lumping factors by label or blending them together based on different aspects or perspectives to make them more homogeneous. Factors under Systems Practice then retain a certain independence or isolation from specifically serving solely one side of the system conflict or the other until their influences within the larger system are determined. They are often shown to have counterparts that they were either influenced by or that they influenced or both. The Systems Practice approach, as it will be shown in more detail in future posts, disaggregates factors and then seeks to develop fresh connections between them to provide new insights. This also enhances complexity.

The R1 loop, which Stroh presents separately in the article from the other loops, is set as reinforcing, whether or not depends on how it is structured. At least it doesn't have a stated goal as might a balancing loop but its means of continuous increase, of what is unclear, is constantly thwarted in a Sisyphean manner over two opposing hills.

The first hill, Stroh’s Balancing Causal Loop B2 contains two factors or elements, the “Retaliation, containment policies, armed resistance, and incitement” and then the aforementioned ”Threats to rights of Palestinians/Israelis to exist” on one side of the loop which he asserts are causally related or at least highly correlated together and move in the same direction.

The B2 ”Goal of reclaiming all land” moves presumably in the same direction so that an increase in the factor ”Retaliation” (against the other side) means that ”Threats to rights of Palestinians/Israelis to exist” or (the other side) similarly increases until that side’s goal is met. Independently, however, the B2 loop does not achieve that goal.

The next connection, instead, is defined with an opposite O connection, if ”Threats” go up then ”Retaliation” goes down. It counteracts the overall accumulation of the loop, so balancing, not reinforcing so that neither side can reach its stated goal. This means that ”Retaliation” decreases for no apparent reason based on the B2 loop itself. This doesn’t make practical sense to me.

It is the R1 loop that arguably makes the next loop B2 a balancing loop and causes the second half to be set as an O connection. If ”Threats to rights of Palestinians/Israelis to exist” were instead to increase “Retaliation” then the loop would become reinforcing.

It is the ”Loss of life” in R1 that assumedly can be seen as being too excessive by both sides inducing a return to the ”Negotiation” tables, temporarily decreasing ”Retaliation” until the point in the R1 loop that again results in ”Promises are broken” diminishing the ”Effectiveness of the peace process”.

The second hill, balancing loop B3 also has a goal, the ”Goal of Peaceful Coexistence”. It has an O or opposite relationship with ”Threats to rights of Palestinians/Israelis to exist” diminishing it has the result of ”Mutually acceptable agreement for peaceful coexistence” increasing.

The lessening of threats moves in the same direction as ”Negotiations” increasing the chances of the creation of a mutually acceptable (written ) agreement for peaceful coexistence so that the ”Goal of Peaceful Coexistence” is actually met. Again, the loop is influenced by the R1 loop which disrupts the ”Peace-seeking process” with ”Broken promises”, stochastically it would seem, diminishing the ”Effectiveness of the peace process” and returning the system to B2.

The next loop in the Conflict map R4 enhances “Violent response from the other side, hatred, mistrust” raised through “Retaliation” within B2 thereby again increasing the “Threats to rights of Palestinians/Israelis to exist”. It is also the last loop to directly impact “Threats to rights of Palestinians/Israelis to exist”. The remaining two reinforcing loops R5 and R6 are more like negative catalysts, both being initiated by “Violent response from the other side, hatred, mistrust” but moving in different directions against ”Negotiations” and the "Mutually acceptable agreement for peaceful coexistence” respectively.

Stroh passes over examining a number of factors and determining how they might influence the system. Stroh systems strategy to addresses all of this is to have a tipping point of everyone involved unilaterally and completely drop any ”Goal of reclaiming all land” and ceasing all "Threats against Palestinians/Israelis” by eliminating the connections between certain factors but he doesn't provide the factors that would be able to accomplish this.

Stroh’s systems maps work to support what appears to be a predetermined goal making a seemingly intractable problem intuitively accessible and relatively simple to understand. He is correct, the current strategies are dead ends. However, his strategy of systems change has little likelihood to work for those who need them. The Jerusalem Vision systems map will concern itself with a smaller scope of focus and will be far more complex within that focus but will still need to be judged on the same standards of being understandable, comprehensiveness and efficacy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reaching for a New Jerusalem Vision using Systems Practice

Recently, the first blog post in a long while was posted on the third effort to use Systems Practice to address a complex issue, this time Israeli/Palestinian relationships in the City of Jerusalem. This post continues in that vein. In truth though, little will be said about the issue itself, despite recognizing that its greater awareness generates greater attraction. Instead, the focus will be on the Systems Practice approach and how it could possibly be related to direct democratic governance.

Seeking to find solutions through collaborative dialogue and deliberations, which are aspects of Systems Practice, can also be seen as components of direct democracy as opposed to more competitive forms of interaction, such as debates within more representative forms of democracy through institutions. This is not to establish that one form of democratic governance is preferable to the other. The Systems Practice approach seeks to examine the system at a level foundational to such a determination. It is not the system though that calls for the resolution of differing perspectives. It is for people themselves to make such a determination.

Before proceeding further, certain points will need to be repeated or clarified. As has been said in other efforts of this type this is not intended to be a substitute for the course. If you become interested in the process then sign up to take the course. An added piece of advice for Systems Practice, plan to take it again a second time, one time will likely not be enough. This is suspected to be true whether you sign up as an individual or start off as part of a group. 

Blogging about this third project was held off until completion of the course. This creates new challenges in presenting the approach to addressing this or any complex issue. With previous projects,  the proverbial elephant could be served in small portions focusing on a specific component of the process. Taken as a whole, it becomes all the more complex. It will still be served in limited portions but there is a greater awareness that there are no aspects of the system that can't be considered from multiple perspectives.

A Systems Thinking/Systems Practice approach can assist in addressing what can arguably be designated as a Wicked Problem.  As has been noted before, if messes, as defined by Russell Ackoff are problems that can be thought of like Frankenstein’s monster then wicked problems are Godzilla. Wherein the potential sources of solutions can seem as complex as the wicked problem itself. 

The full systems map for this project will not be presented at this point.  First, this blog post or even series is not intended to provide a final answer or solution. The focus will be on the process of attempting to arrive at an answer. Primarily though because it is too complex, in at least three ways. 

We are requiring people to address the complexity of the issue itself, the complexity of a Systems Thinking approach to the issue as opposed to the more generally overly used and generally taken for granted reductionist approach and the use of general unfamiliar graphically oriented means of communicating these ideas through systems mapping. If these concepts are to be widely disseminated then all three must be considered together.

I had limited knowledge of the factors involved in the issues making up the system being considered. This was made all the more apparent by working with somebody embedded, as a stakeholder, in that system. It’s important to note that additional diverse stakeholder perspectives are still needed. When dealing with systems, especially detrimental systems, recognizing the particular realities and physical manifestations are as important as the underlying conceptual system of relationships. Without this, it’s impossible to understand the story behind people’s motivations.

The tendency to default to reductionist thinking rose even with the writing of this blog post which was rewritten a number of times to continually expand the scope to a more holistic perspective. The systems map for this Systems Practice project was created largely from other text which is more linearly oriented. Reinterpreting the map back to text doesn’t merely involve retracing steps. Hopefully, there is a solid, functional relationship between the two, though not necessarily direct, allowing for a global understanding encompassing both what has been considered longitudinal and latitudinal perspectives.

Systems maps on their own can serve different purposes, to either develop understanding or to communicate understanding but, at least in my experience, not both. There is, in my view, a sizable gap between the two that must be overcome before accomplishing that. Communicating full understanding is difficult and often the solution is to simplify and omit something. My past tendency has been to concentrate more on gaining understanding, admittedly mostly my own, and less on communicating that understanding to others. Systems Practice extends this potential for understanding to a group. 

There is also a danger with people, even if part of the Systems Practice process, getting the mistaken impression that maps, as presented, are complete discouraging additional input.  A systems map can be seen as being more extensive and coherent in describing a system than it is actually. How extensive a map appears can be an issue in making the challenge seem overwhelming without boundaries or with endless divisions. How coherent a map appears can help give the impression that the factors are related but not necessarily how. Together they seemingly suggest containing and controlling a challenge giving a false impression of finality. The maps, as a result, aren't examined closely enough to be properly tested and require having a guide to assist with navigation to do so. This arose during the process of developing a Systems Practice project dealing with Plastic Pollution in Thailand.

The often cited Systems Thinking principle established by George Box that all models (or maps) are wrong but some are useful needs to be retained. The question of where wrong and where useful must be continually asked. Explicitly contrasting those differences helps test the system to maintain authenticity but not to become over-elaborate.

As was said in the previous post, the particular issue being considered is both complex and controversial so one’s approach could potentially leave one susceptible to a charge of white-knight-savior hubris. So let me be clear, as said previously I did not start with any expertise in the issue. Our efforts did not result in a solution to the Israeli-Jewish/Palestinian-Arab conflict. We did not come up with any solutions. That was never an expectation. What we developed was a deeper understanding of what would become to be termed factors, forces and persistent patterns of causality of the system we were addressing. There are still though potential points of controversy remaining that will arise because of positions that are taken. 

This is not to suggest any intention to choose one side of an issue over another. Recognizing contrasts in perspectives can be seen as an essential component of establishing cognitive diversity. Cognitive diversity refers to the concept put forward by thinkers such as Scott Page. It's not meant as a panacea for a lack of other forms of diversity or to address any differences in the distribution of power. Cognitive diversity, particularly beyond my own, was considered to be an essential component in developing the project. The problem is when contrasts rise to the level of conflicts or coercion. Taking a more reductionist oriented approach, the opposing perspectives could be seen as different and separate competing systems. 

Systems Practice approaches these contrasting perspectives, even if to the point of being confrontational, as being a single system in a state of oscillation between those contrasting perspectives. Even so, positions by necessity must be established which will by their nature not be settled and will invariably be objected to by someone. 

It is not enough though to merely recognize arguments of opposing perspectives in an attempt to provide a so-called balanced view. What needs to be realized is how the different factors making up those perspectives interrelate with each other, creating causal influences beyond the point of direct cause-effect confrontation to attaining feedback so as to understand why the entrenched system despite being deleterious is maintained. 

As a means of transition, another systems map, on the same issue in general, will be considered first. The map being used for the purpose of comparison and contrast is A Systemic View of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by David Peter Stroh in the Systems Thinker. It is arguably far more accessible and comprehensible than our Systems Practice map and purportedly comes up with a solution. 

A large portion of the Systems Practice project to Create a New Vision for Jerusalem, especially for my contribution, was based on an article by Dr. David Koren, Advisor to the Mayor of Jerusalem for Arab and eastern Jerusalem affairs,  "Eastern Jerusalem: End of an Intermediate Era". The next blog post will go into more detail. 


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Using Systems Practice to Help Create a New Vision for the City of Jerusalem

It has been nearly three months since my last blog post. A surprisingly lengthy hiatus but the time was spent participating in yet a third +Acumen Systems Practice course. This time the decision was made not to blog about the process of the course until it was completed. The same course has been completed two times before and although I did obtain a certificate each time I felt that I had not fully embraced the Omidyar Group approach utilized by the course.  I needed to more fully test the approach and myself. This blog was created to support such efforts, not such efforts to support the blog. 

The decision had been made prior to the course to become part of a team and lend support or act to provide scaffolding for the efforts of others using what prior knowledge that had been obtained of both Systems Thinking and Systems Practice.

So I took what rudimentary knowledge I have about Systems Thinking, using it as a basis for obtaining a better understanding of a particularly practical approach to applying Systems Thinking, the Omidyar Group Systems Practice, and applied it to a complex challenge of which I knew relatively nothing - Israeli/Palestinian relationships in the City of Jerusalem. 

This Systems Practice project also provided the opportunity to again test ideas concerning Systems Thinking and direct democratic governance, both participatory and deliberative, and again the constraints of such an approach were demonstrated. The notion that everyone in a large group or community could be induced to participate fully in a systems thinking approach to solving a problem is one of them. Our team started off with about ten people and finished off essentially with four actively participating. Some fell off because of competing interests, others simply faded away. 

It also tested the ability of a group, despite individual limitations in terms of knowledge and understanding, being able to address a complex, even wicked challenge in a meaningful manner. In this sense, the project was judged as being a success. Not in having provided a final solution but as in creating a platform that has the potential to be built upon if only as a prototype.

Enough was known to realize that this would be a very complex problem. The issue of Israeli/Palestinian relationships in the City of Jerusalem is not only complex it is also controversial. Positions will be taken that are bound to upset somebody.

What we came up with together, in the end, was the basis of a story of how many of the issues facing both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs living in the City of Jerusalem arise, are perpetuated and are made resistant to change. Defining it as a story is not a limitation. Stories are more open to connection with others. It seeks not to take one side or the other, instead, it seeks to reveal the factors, forces and persistent causal pathways that create the existing entrenched system giving a fuller sense of the obstacles and difficulties faced by those living within that system.

I did not write the story. None of us did, individually. It arose using the Omidyar Group Systems Practice methodology, which I will be going over in greater detail in future blog posts. Not only will the Omidyar Systems Practice methodology of applying Systems Thinking to an issue be looked at more closely, so will Kumu and the manner in which it worked with assisting in that process.

It recognizes that what we came up with as a team is being proposed as a model of an existing system taken from a set of particular perspectives. While those perspectives are each limited, there is an authentic voice behind this story. It is not mine. 

That voice is Yoel Ben-Avraham, a semi-retired IT professional, now a Consultant & Workshop Facilitator living in Jerusalem, Israel who led the Social Impact Consulting team. The rest of the final team, a married couple,  Anna B. Sabhaney and Ruda Sabhaney, was spread across the globe, sometimes in Greece or India, sometimes in London. To my mind, while the rest of us brought in unique perspectives with beneficial intentions, we were still outsiders, geographically, historically, and culturally.

One of the limitations of our systems practice mapping model, at least in my view, is that while it has an authentic voice which is necessary it is not sufficient. Other, alternative but still authentic voices need to be brought in. This, however, will likely become a difficult challenge. Not only because of the political controversy associated with the issues but the systemic issues related to the type of systems approach taken to address those issues. 

Cognitive diversity was encouraged to the point that it could be with a limited number in the group. Everyone made a contribution based on their own unique experiences. Combined with the process of systemic synthesis of both the Systems Practice methodology and Kumu systems mapping program, this small number likely made reaching a consensus easier. What is far more likely is that issues raised in Michael Jackson’s System of Systems matrix will arise with larger numbers, especially those that applied to coercive or conflictual systems. Jackson used both terms in his writing. A likely controversial position taken in the project is that agents can exhibit both coercive and conflictual influences through the application of both in-use and espoused policies as suggested by Chris Argyris.

Yoel and I often served as counterpoints to each other but in a deliberative sense, not through argumentative debate. Despite my limitations regarding the relevant issues, there were no constraints felt on my part in putting forth positions on the matters under consideration. There was also little hesitation after a period of consideration in adjusting to and accepting alternative perspectives. What became the final Systems Practice map for the course was the synthesized consensus of the group. 

The ability to take a different or contrarian position regardless of any personal limitations is a natural tendency on my part. There is also little hesitation in either arguing for my current chosen concepts with even my Systems Thinking mentors or in seeking clarification or correction from them.

What Systems Thinking provides is a means of navigation in attaining a truer course by helping to check or correct those tendencies when warranted. What Systems Practice did was to apply this to a group process and thereby provide a further check on them. Further checks yet are still warranted.

The contrasting, alternative hypotheses that Yoel and I brought were not only based on an insider perspective versus an outsider perspective or his more conservative perspective versus my more liberal perspective. What may have actually have informed the process to an even greater extent is our different systems perspectives. 

Yoel based his approach to systems to a large extent on his experience as a systems analyst. This meant that we both had some familiarity with thinking about systems. A difference, besides his greater years of experience, was that my approach was more a matter of systems synthesis and greater familiarity with the Kumu systems mapping program which greatly assisted with this. Both are part of a full understanding of Systems Thinking and both were incorporated as aspects of the Systems Practice methodology. 

In the next post, another article and systems map on a Systemic View of the Israeli -Palestinian Conflict will be used to compare and contrast with so as to discern other important aspects of the system defining Israeli/Palestinian relationships in the City of Jerusalem and to test assumptions that systems thinkers, including this one, can make applying more abstract conceptualizations to real-world events.

Past Posts