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, 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