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.

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. 


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