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, November 21, 2018

"Dana" Meadows Helps Set Course for Systems Practice Guiding Star

The last three blog posts were a detour from the current look at the Systems Practice Jerusalem Vision project to review underlying Systems Thinking principles through Donella Meadows’ book “Thinking in Systems, A Primer”.  Addressing the two new levels of inquiry that we are asking others to adopt to address wicked problems, the first being the controversial events that describe but don't really define such problems.

Arguably, for many for whom the course is a one-off to address some specific issue, this may not be important but if Systems Practice were to be adopted as a standard means of addressing a host of issues over the long term then a better understanding of Systems Thinking becomes basically essential in my view.

Meadow tells us that all systems are composed of elements, connections and, most importantly, a purpose or function. The fulfillment of that purpose or function is a goal of that system, perhaps subsidiary, perhaps primary. Both she and, especially Stafford Beer advise us that the Purpose Of A System Is What It Does.

With each System Practice course project, we decide that a system, with which we are involved, should have different goals and therefore different purposes and functions. We don't actually know fully the goals, purposes or functions of the system in its current configuration, except perhaps for some that may be espoused, but we are first going to decide what is it, what new state, that we are trying to attain. The Systems Practice course does this by establishing a Guiding Star

In each of the Systems Practice projects we did not have a common vision when first thrown together. It slowly came together beginning with either the creation of a Complexity Spectrum or online brainstorming or both to determine whether we were dealing with a complicated (clock) problem or a complex (cloud) one. 

At first, our ideas were often directed at finding silver bullet solutions to the problem rather than developing a better understanding of the system under question. Reacting to the current situation rather than proactively planning to navigate to a desired future states by a Guiding Star. 

The concept of developing a Guiding Star was previously considered in New Community Paradigms with setting superordinate goals as part of the series Exploring with the Dialogue, Deliberation and Systemic Transformation Community to Discover New Possibilities

The formal description for that effort was, "What superordinate goal could replicate across the collective set of value systems, and act as a 'guiding star' for systemic transformation?”, which our facilitator paraphrased as, "What everyone wants, but no one entity can do themselves." 

The Guiding Star, according to the Acumen Systems Practice course, is an aspirational state or desired future.

A mistake in the first Systems Practice course, by me, was skimping over the Guiding Star, as well as the Near Star and Framing Question, which were created in large part by the group I was leading. I had a working systems map by that time and thought that I already had the needed insights. My approach saw our role as providing answers for consumption by a community, dismissing any concern for democratic deliberation or diversity.

Our collective vision of what that purpose or goal should be still needed to be developed. It was, and I had some input, but it was the conglomeration of about nine different perspectives. For the group dealing with food trucks for homeless campsites the Guiding Star was:

"A societal structure in which, when a person’s community support system fails, he receives appropriate, sufficient and timely support to prevent him from falling into homelessness through a community system that produces minimally decent shelter, sustenance and healthcare for those who become homeless working to integrate them fully back into the community."

During the Thailand Plastic Pollution project it was as decided by those defining the project:

"We are trying to move the City of Bangkok and the entire country of Thailand from both being blighted by and blighting oceans with plastic pollution to being plastic pollution-free." 

Our course catalyst for the project, Yeu advised us that:

"Guiding stars are best described as a vivid future state that provides a direction rather than measured goals. In that respect, do every member of your team share a common understanding of the difference between a system state that is healthier than a previous state? In your case, a less plastic-polluted state than another? Counting plastic items is not a good idea. So what is?”

The point is that there is more to being healthy than merely not being sick. He recommended, which I have also, the use of the "Systems Thinking Iceberg" Another potentially useful resource "Donella Meadows 12 places to leverage systems", emphasizes paradigm shifts in the beliefs and perceptions of stakeholders. It became the basis for the blog post "Dana" Meadows Helps Find Purpose and the Plastic in a System of Plastic Pollution.”

Based on these insights, I advised the Jerusalem Vision team that the Guiding Star should not be a blueprint of an ideal system. It is more giving reason for you wanting to create the ideal system or what it will be to drive you to want to create it, what you hope to achieve to drive you forward through times of hardship and struggle. Being an ideal, it isn't merely delivering the basics but it also won’t attain a level of finality either.

Our Guiding Star for Jerusalem Vision became: 

  • "We are trying to move towards a social system that always strives to achieve win-win solutions for all involved."
  • "We aspire to a Jerusalem where every resident has equal access to health services, education, employment opportunities, cultural services and regardless of race, culture, gender, socioeconomic background, or other human difference by fostering mutual trust and respect between all of Jerusalem’s inhabitants." 
  • "We aspire to a Jerusalem where all communities have a basic trust in the system and bear a mutual respect for the rights of all other communities in Jerusalem and uphold the value of mutual collaboration." 
  • "We aspire to achieve a social reality in Jerusalem where all communities feel secure in their identity while respecting the identities of other communities." 

The Near Star is a more near-term goal of a 5-10 year timeframe, a desired but provisional outcome towards the Guiding Star.

The Near Star, I suggested to the team, is not the most basic or least viable result or one that meets minimum requirements of the system that we have in mind. The Near Star, at least in my view, should be the system that we need to put in place to begin to move towards the Guiding Star, not a lesser version of the Guiding Star. While still being expansive enough that it isn't a clockwork objective.

Our first Near Star for Thailand Plastic Pollution was: 

“Bangkok City actors are able to work effectively toward reducing plastic pollution.”

The term “city actors" sounded too institutional or government oriented. It could include community actors but too often from the perspective of those in power. The more community-based term “stakeholders” with the definition being an entity that can affect or is affected by the wicked problem was used contingent with it being as inclusive as possible which would mean expanding outreach and increasing the complexity of overall interactions.

"Stakeholders, who can affect and are affected by plastic pollution in Thailand are able to work effectively toward the elimination of plastic waste." 

Our officially submitted Near Star for Jerusalem Vision is:

"Creating contexts and environments where members of different communities learn and work together encouraging the growth of mutual respect between them as individuals."

Unofficially, for the Jerusalem Vision project we decided that instead of looking at the Near Star as a stepping stone (milestone) toward the larger target (Guiding Star) we would embrace it as a "sandbox" where we could test our understanding of the system to see if we understood it enough to take even more daring steps to influence it.

Past Posts