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. 

Past Posts