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 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.

Past Posts