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.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Still Learning to Understand Systems

Recently, I finished reading Michael Ben-Eli’s Module 1: ”Understanding Systems”, as the first part of the Sustainability Laboratory online course Systems Thinking and Systems Modeling presented in Kumu. My understanding of systems and what they are has been expanded with the newly discovered insight from Buckminster Fuller who defined a system as, “the first subdivision of universe into a conceivable entity,” as well as other concepts previously known of but now better integrated into my thinking.

This blog has in the past used Donella Meadows’ definition of “A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something…. a system must consist of three kinds of things: elements, interconnections, and a function or purpose.”  Jay Forrester’s definition of a system, “a grouping of parts that operate together for a common purpose.”  Jay Forrester and Donella Meadows are both proponents of System Dynamics as is Sustainability Laboratory, both are members of my NCP Fantasy Systems Thinking Team and both can be seen as being on the ontological side of Systems Thinking’s internal debates. 

Those debates were addressed in the UK Systems Practice series and have also just finished reading Michael Jackson’s ”Systems Thinking, Creative Holism for Managers” one realizes now a bit better choosing which side to stand with isn't an either/or proposition. So I could also now add in Ross Ashby, British Cyberneticist, taking what I see as a more epistemological perspective who said that “a system is a source of information,” which I can agree with but it is not just that.  

However, most people for whom Systems Thinking is intended to help aren't going to care or be able to afford the time to pick a side which would likely do little to address the situation, mess or challenge, wicked or not, that they are facing. At the same time, it seems difficult to move ahead as an advocate for Systems Thinking, especially when applied to democratic community governance processes without having a firmer foundation.

The ideas expressed here are sourced primarily from the ”Understanding Systems” paper, though are solely my own interpretations based upon my readings. This series of blog posts is going to detour from consideration of more pragmatic applications of Systems Thinking to address some of the concepts raised in the paper.

One such concept is that of ”constraint” as a defining aspect of systems. A particular kind of outcome or behavior exhibited by a system is the result of a given pattern of interactions or reciprocal instances of cause and effect that are limited or constrained to that particular pattern. Since outcomes with systems are continuous we can refer to them as behaviors. Any given pattern of interactions representing a limiting or constraining factor, as an instance or set of circumstance, fact, or influence that produces only a particular kind of behavior and no other. A specific pattern of relations acts then as a constraint. Some specific set of relations defines their interaction in which a specific pattern of relations is being conserved. Similar to cause and effect with interactions, it is a reciprocal relationship.

The Information System Theory Project (ISTP) defines a system as “a set of mutually constrained events.” Events then can be seen as instances of interactions between factors or Meadows’ elements that over time are constrained into patterns. It may seem to become obvious but systems change dynamically over time through weaving patterns of interactions, constrained but not constricted, iterated but not identical, separated by time and space but that is actually hard to grasp conceptually except in a very general and limited sense. 

The existence of patterns in systems has been addressed before through the Systems Thinking Iceberg and the perspective of seeing Causal Loop Diagrams as depicting patterns of persistent causality.  This concept of constraint asserts those patterns are constrained to be what they are and not something else. This sounds very much to my mind like organized complexity which as Jane Jacobs taught us has application in the ”real” world.

Forrester’s definition of a system could then be changed  to ”a grouping of parts constrained to operate for a common purpose,” adding in Fuller, as a conceivable entity in the universe or to put it on an ontological footing, a thing capable of being imagined or mentally grasped as having distinct and independent existence.  

What we can’t know are all the interactions that make up such a pattern. It is impossible then to completely determine precisely how several different variables will act together when exposed at the same time to a number of different influences but we don't need to. The patterns generated by a system can produce a myriad of different behaviors separated over time and space but which can still be discernible as patterns. 

Living systems depend on the integrity of the organism viewed as a whole to reveal essential qualities that add up to more than the sum of their parts. A living system is engaged in a constant metabolic exchange with its world importing substances and releasing by-products of its activity into an environment which is also populated by many other species of equally active self-organizing systems. This synergistic, non-linear effect of self-organization by a system is not confined to biology being also applicable to the physical sciences including those underlying biological processes.

Self-organization, or what is termed spontaneous order in the social sciences (though that spontaneous order would still need the means to continue), is a process where some form of overall order arises from local interactions between parts of an initially disordered system according to Wikipedia. The process is spontaneous, not needing control by an external agent or arguably by a central or higher-level component of the system. My concern is that there can be a tendency to conflate self with ego or our own individual identities. Self-organizing is not organization by self (I) but of self  (the thing-in-itself) with no (ego-based) self needed to be involved. Ego-based self then is another emergent level which would have a different impact on the further emergence of social systems.

This means then that a self-organizing system requires that observers, or other fellow self-organizing systems, continuously change their frame of reference and even, as can be necessary, their conclusions.

In biology, the idea of a separate “vital force” used to explain the special qualities of living systems has been replaced with a new principle of an integrated concept of organization. The notion of systemic wholeness and that would include the notion of self-organization of that systemic wholeness leads the ”Understanding Systems” article to assert to the concept of “organization” as a basic unit of study.  

Organization, however, it seems to me, is being used in a particular manner here, as a noun in and of itself rather than as a category of something other things. Businesses, governments, social clubs are examples that fit under the category organization but organization here can be defined as a noun without any reference to a specific example. It is not defining a thing but a state in which a system or complex or complicated entity exists similar to temperature or entropy. 

An organization or state of organization is created from a set of elements which form a specific pattern of relations acting as a constraint, limiting the number of conceivable configurations manifested as distinct when the field of possibilities is reduced to a unique one. 

Groups of elements or factors interact among themselves and across different levels of organization, settling into stable configurations, though strictly only temporarily, as self-preserving forms that are adapted to the constraints of their specific context. Ben-Eli asserts that this is the inevitable consequence of the idea of “interaction” itself and that the significance of this essential dynamism cannot be overemphasized.

An ”organization” becomes a particular structure embodied in sets of relations when some specific relation defines the interaction of the elements or when a specific pattern of relations is being conserved. That is then manifested as a system structure or as a distinct organization as we normally understand the word. 

Organisms, or living system entities, can be viewed as organizations and the invitation can then be made to regard organizations, seemingly referring to human-generated, socially defined examples as organisms. But this, in my view, can only be taken so far because the organizations built by humans are invariably complicated and not complex as arise in nature.

The concept of organization by general system theory was a new abstraction and paradigm shift that stressed the significance of underlying structures to the representation and understanding of a system’s behavior. A self-organizing system then is an “open” system which can continue exhibiting dynamic, self-organizing characteristics by maintaining or increasing what Ben-Eli termed its ”manifestation of organization and order”, which it can do as long as it has a sufficient level of redundancy, and the system’s internal complexity is preserved.  It is internal complexity which allows for the emergence and re-emergence of different configurations in response to changing events. Self-organizing “living,” systems such as we are, including social systems of all types, depending on their internal complexity and inherent redundancy for resilience and long-term viability. More concepts to be examined in the next post.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

ABCD Beyond The Neighbourhood for the Neighbourhood

Continuing from the last post on hydraulics and community, in which Mick Ward, Chief Officer, Transformation and Innovation, Adults and Health, Leeds City Council was introduced, in his second article on proliferating Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) throughout Leeds, England, Ward related a significant learning moment for him in a quote from the Time Banks founder Edgar Cahn:

“No society has the money to buy, at market prices, what it takes to raise children, make a neighborhood safe, care for the elderly, make democracy work or address systemic injustices….. The only way the world is going to address social problems is by enlisting the very people now classified as ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’ converting them into co-workers, partners and rebuilders of the core economy”. 

Ward could be seen as alluding to the purpose of moving towards an ABCD oriented community governance system. As Cormac Russell and John McKnight have discussed, an ABCD approach seeks to enlist so-called ‘clients’ and ‘consumer as co-workers, partners and builders of their own community. ABCD emphasizes relationships as the primary means of exchange and of change in community rather than data and money.  The ABCD learning process then is one that values what goes on between the people making up the community emerging as Jane Jacobs’ organized complexity. Government institutions and many Third Sector based institutions work to accomplish stated goals and objectives and see the community as disaggregated individuals or closer to the concept of disorganized complexity. Community governance seems the best term here as it implies direct involvement of the community (as opposed to community building or community development which could be imposed) but, at least in my view, which may or may not include the existing political authority. 

Following a Systems Thinking perspective from previous posts, ABCD is a system, community is a system, and (a form of) governance is a system. Anything comprised of elements, factors, things, people that are in relationship to each other through some type of connections for a purpose or function is a system.  My hypothesis is that a systemic pathway to ABCD oriented community governance would involve Chris ArgyrisDouble Loop Learning, looked at before but at a public institutional level (Kumu Project revised July 2019) not community or ABCD, and Small World Networking.

This community transitioning can be opposed or subverted, intentionally or unintentionally. ABCD may be seen, or actually be based on past institutional practices, as yet another way for a jurisdiction to negate its responsibilities or as a threat to existing services and roles delivering cuts. Even those politicians or existing service providers (Third Sector) doing good work in other forms of community development or a community-based service might argue, that there is no need to make changes toward an ABCD approach but despite any good intentions, it is still not at the level of true ABCD.

As Ward says, it is essential not to underestimate the degree of change that would be required for any political jurisdiction, such as a Local Authority, or any health and wellbeing system operating within that political jurisdiction, transitioning towards ABCD based community governance. This would be hard enough with an institutional leadership that was accommodating. One established by an entrenched system would be far harder to change. 

Moving a community as a whole toward ABCD with an existing political or community leadership and management is far more often than not a substantially very different place from where they start. It includes making a seismic shift away from what Ward termed ‘service land’ in how the needs of the community population are met. 

Ward contends that a combined culture of ABCD and of Strength-Based Social Care in the city of Leeds is positively influencing how other services work together and their relation to the individuals whom they support. There is evidence that ABCD/Strength-Based Social Care (both?) reduce demand on these services but other early intervention/prevention/self-management programs work as well. One question is how closely is Strength Based Social Care is to truly community-based ABCD?  How do they intermediate? They seem obviously closer in accommodation but can’t be exact, one being from outside the community.

In Leeds, ABCD worked particularly well regarding people with mental health needs and to a certain extent with long term conditions but less well with people with a Learning Disability or a significant physical or sensory impairment. This could be considered a direct first-order change. 

Those people with a long term condition or regular ill health are, research indicates according to Ward, less likely to volunteer. Less known is the extent of informal community contributions which could be said are at the heart of ABCD. 

This focus to feedback into the community is a second order change which ABCD does encourage by having commissioners, service practitioners and communities simply support, good neighborliness which seems a natural extension of an ABCD vision but there is a substantial second order change needed in the structure of community governance to bring about the full level of first-order change desired (reinforcing feedback) which would be greater participation in the community and its affairs.

Making democracy work and addressing systemic injustices are at a second order level, which I would argue is at a different level than first-order level community-based helping-others with helping-ourselves-together programs. ”Community activism” might depend on how you define it. There is a deep potential relationship between the two levels that can be developed but that is not assured.

A strength of ABCD, Wards asserts, are communities themselves identifying issues and therefore solutions, arguably most acceptable to the particular community in question. There isn't necessarily a direct relationship though between identifying an issue and devising a viable solution, both effective and adequately efficient and which seeks to avoid or agilely respond to unintended consequences. Especially if civic-level decisions involve other communities, with possibly competing interests, within the same political jurisdiction.

Ward seems to recognize that even ABCD favorable communities may not always be fully inclusive for all, particularly for Adults and Health with care and support needs. This only gets worse with clique communities,  especially those that have become entrenched systems.

Ward argues, along with Cormac Russell, that evaluating an ABCD process requires moving away from traditional top-down summative and formative evaluation processes and moving towards a developmental and emancipatory learning process. ABCD evaluation, therefore, is not about simply counting numbers of people with which a program interacts. It is about nurturing and celebrating the participation and contributions that both strengthen community life and that provide those connections known to be so valuable. Despite much talk of focusing on ABCD based outcomes, as highlighted in part 1 of Ward’s articles, reporting is still focused to a large extent on more traditional outputs and numbers, looking at only a small part of the system.  Getting past that point, however, all too often involves convincing those still using standard metrics unless other pathways are found.

Ward, seems to put the responsibility on the ABCD Pathfinders for addressing what could be considered a key element of a mid-term strategy to implement ABCD-based governance throughout all communities by asking them to ensure that they fully include and engage with people with care and support needs (especially people with a Learning Disability). At the same time asking them to continue to work with Third Sector and statutory specialist services providers which support specific and often segregated groups, be they Learning Disability, Mental Health, Physical and Sensory Impairment, Drugs & Alcohol or Homelessness to work in an Asset Based manner by helping them connect the people they work with to their local neighborhoods and connect their neighborhoods to them.

Ward acknowledges that ABCD is not an alternative to replace the direct provision of personal care, medical support and other higher need interventions. What ABCD objects to is when those services usurp community asset-based functions. Recognizing the importance of the broad range of services in the world of health and wellbeing, and the importance of continuing to fund those services, he also acknowledges the current financial climate can be challenging as competition for funds becomes stringent. Asserting that funding for ABCD is relatively small compared to the cost of these core services and therefore justifies first call on what Ward refers to as ”a small top slice” on any available additional monies may not always be persuasive despite being critical to the proliferation of ABCD. Merely recognizing that they will need to continue to be funded alongside ABCD work may not be enough. Other means of leveraging the system of which ABCD is a part would then need to be devised.

There is a debate then which Ward suggests needs to continue to maintain a high profile of good ABCD practice but it's important then to understand other models or systems and how they fit into the larger system of which ABCD is a part. 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Systems Problems vs Community Struggles - ABCD and Systems Thinking

This post will continue to attempt to understand differences between Systems Thinking and Asset Based Community Development while maintaining an appreciation that both have a desire to attain similar beneficial outcomes in mind, that both have their limitations and that perhaps each can help the other in addressing those limitations. This is still at the explore and experiment stage.

In a system, all the elements, factors, or components making up that system are related to each other and, more importantly, to the purpose or function of that system. A system of civic governance consists of conjoined systems, related by intended design, of institutional resources and of community assets. These cannot only have different purposes or functions, but they can also be constituted structurally different, complicated for a government institution and complex for a community, in their means of addressing such purposes. 

First, though, I have an issue with the way the term ”scale” in Mick Ward’s (introduced last post) and other ABCD articles is portrayed,  but with the over-popularization of the term muddying the definition. The blog post, ABCD and Scaling Carrying Capacity pt 2 proposed three types of applied or actualized scale - inherent, induced and imposed to suggest a common basis for usage.

Proliferate is to my mind actually closer to what people often mean when they refer to ”scaling up” or ”industrialized”. Scaling in a mathematical sense involves some inherent relationship between relevant factors, not merely an exponential increase in arbitrary marketing metrics. Scaling then is best represented by inherent scaling or how Professor Geoffrey West uses it in comparing the infrastructure of cities or the metabolism of animals.

Scaling can be used by entities such as nonprofits, who seek to induce scale to achieve more bang for the budgeted buck, if they recognize that an increase in one aspect, say number of malaria nets, may be able to be implemented with a relatively smaller increase or even decrease in another related aspect, say costs. However, they need to be wary, and this is especially applicable to situations of imposed scaling, where the increase or enhancement in one aspect of the system diminishes not only another aspect of that system but the entire system itself. 

When one system, a government institution, imposes for their own purposes, an external solution on another system, a community, in order to scale some aspect, the positive feedback in one area can create negative feedback in others, including components of community self-organization, self-governance and self-management. It very often detrimental impacts the entire complex community system which is made apparent in the continuing and increasing difficulties assailing the members of that community and a worsening inability to address those difficulties.

ABCD does scale, simply at an induced, linear, one to one ratio, necessary to maintain effectiveness. While any externally imposed efficiency by institutions can be seen as detrimental, my question or concern is whether ABCD can be expanded in such a manner beyond a certain limit, say set by Dunbar’s number? Does ABCD begin to naturally scale sub-linearly when extended beyond a certain limit diminishing impact? If so, are there means to extend that limit systemically? One possible means being through Elinor Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development Framework? ABCD is seen by NCP as a systemic means of support for Ostrom’s Commons.

When endeavoring to bridge Systems Thinking with Asset Based Community Development language, terms and words can become a hindrance. Specific terms may have operational definitions within a particular discipline that can be different from vernacular usage or at least more restricted, not to mention across disciplines. Precision in application or at least agreed upon usage is important when it is necessary to differentiate so as to understand the unique aspects of each area or domain. One set of such words that will be used here for both domains includes - problems, difficulties, struggles, situations, and messes.

A problem is a matter or situation that is seen as unwelcome or harmful that needs to be dealt with and overcome. This determination is meant to be objective. A difficulty is a trouble for someone or a strain on them, subjectively requiring a struggle, which in some instances may be a better word choice than difficulty. A doctor has a medical problem when trying to determine what is wrong with a patient but the patient has difficulty with their health with which they are struggling. Systems thinking deals with problems and messes. ABCD deals with difficulties and struggles.

Managers often deal with other people’s problems either as groups and classes of people or with some professions as individuals.  A doctor might have to deal with numerous medical problems in a community setting, or what Russell Ackoff called “Messes” when applied to management, making the situation increasingly complex and addressing the struggles of others all the harder. Change can occur over time in the combination of the mix of problems that a manager needs to deal with but for a particular person directly impacted the difficulty remains. Managers may take on a ”problem with problems” strategy thrown at them in bunches or as messes using metrics in achieving objectives rather than focusing on people’s specific difficulties.

This managerial approach can work to an extent with business or government institutions because the solutions devised are ”good enough” for a wide swath of customers or clients. Enough to hold on to market share or to be reelected. It is not however at the level of specific solutions or what in Disruptive Innovation is referred to as Job-To-Be-Done needed by a specific person or group. A specified creative solution though can often be fully utilized by many people because the commonality is based on common needs and not market determined products or services.

People may find themselves to be dealing with their own “personal problems” as self-diminishing difficulties, not only is the difficulty persistent but its lack of resolution diminishes over time one’s ability to address it. Furthermore, difficulties like problems come in intertwined bunches but their cumulative effect is detrimental to the person (subject), not merely the situation. 

ABCD focuses on people inspiring them to focus on their strengths collectively.  This “what’s strong, not wrong” approach works both collectively and individually. For both those for whom it works individually and for communities it can be seen as an enhancement of Carrying Capacity. Both Cormac Russell and I have written about Carrying Capacity extending it to human communities. Carrying Capacity normally refers to populations, usually animal populations but each individual in that population contributes. Upon further reflection though, I believe Carrying Capacity needs to be better related and differentiated from Social Capital than I have done in the past. 

Carrying capacity is systemically, the aggregated ability to gather food, build shelter or protect family by members of a population within an environment. The Carrying Capacity for a population is the summation of individual members but unlike many animal populations, humans in a community can contribute to Carrying Capacity to a far greater extent individually to other members of the community.

The community as a whole has another means of extending overall Carrying Capacity or what could be considered a derivative and that is leveraging the collective Social Capital of its members. Humans can get other humans (and domesticated animals) to do things for them. Social Capital can leverage Carrying Capacity but to my mind is also likely based on Carrying Capacity in some manner so is there an overall limit?

This becomes more relevant if two or more communities are competing in the same civic realm for resources, especially if one is what has been termed a Clique Community and the other is a Colony Community but it is often not limited to only these two. Usually, within a particular civic space in this instance of the jurisdiction of a Local Government Authority in Leeds, there is a community laying, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally, between the two.

Is it possible to become completely dependent upon systems of Social Capital and lose connection with any sense of Community-based Carrying Capacity, as might happen with a clique community? Is it possible for a colony community to transition from a restricted Carrying Capacity, due to imposed marginalization, to generate sufficient Social Capital leveraging to make changes to an institutional system outside of the community? As a colony community might perhaps be persuaded to attempt.

Systems thinking should still though be able to help the manager or doctor or caseworker deal with problems and messes so that they are better suited to help people deal with their own difficulties and struggles. Systems Thinking only approaches but does not, however, achieve the direct implementation of a solution or mitigation of a specific difficulty faced by a specific person or group of persons. It is the Knowing-Doing Gap that has been discussed before. Difficulties do get addressed all the time but it’s usually not Systems Thinking taking the final step. That invariably requires a different skill set be it a medical professional or somebody delivering hot meals to the housebound. How the community self-organizes around that and moves to self-determination is where ABCD comes in recognizing that self here is not personal but the community as a whole. 

One strategy with the appearance of great potential is “Strategic Doing” but that will have to wait for further examination. For now, it is still necessary to find a means of creating a deeper link between Systems Thinking and ABCD. One might be suggested from the thoughts of two persons, Cormac Russell of Nurture Development and John Atkinson of Heart of the Art. Together, they challenge us to lead community as a living system in a manner that attains empathy, not merely sympathy. Cormac provides a model, an inspirational model that practically may never be achieved but nevertheless should still be continuously strived towards.

“Imagine a world where institutions did more to support interdependence at the centre of community life, especially with citizens most vulnerable to not having their gifts seen or received…"

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Hydraulics and Community - A Systems Thinking Perspective

In the last post, Cormac Russell and John McKnight used a hydraulic mechanism as a simple form of a closed system to serve as a simile explaining in a clear, understandable manner the asymmetry of the power dynamic between communities and institutions conjoined in a system of civic governance from an ABCD perspective. This post will look at that same system based on the Kumu Presentation Community Assets versus Institutional Resources using Causal Loop Diagrams which takes more of a Systems Thinking perspective and considers differences between the two.

ABCD and New Community Paradigms (NCP) are in agreement with most of the premises of the hydraulics and community assets system. Both see city leaders claiming to want their residents to see local government as trustworthy and reliable but relegating the role of a citizen to what happens after the city’s professionals’ work is completed.  A perfect example of the hydraulic relationship, an inversion of democracy, the role of professionals goes up, the role of citizens goes down.

Both agree components of community function have been expropriated by institutions or appropriated by the acquiescence of communities so that now people think that more police equals more safety and that more hospitals equal more health. This is illogical from a Systems Thinking perspective as well. Institutional entities define themselves and justify ever increasing budgets by consistently saying they need more funds to deal with all the different problems that the very systems that they propagated helped to create. Their structural role and legacy in the system allow them to sustain that system and the system in turn to sustain them. 

Cormac and John provided three successful examples of taking back collective responsibility for community functions though all were more project based than systems based and all depended upon viable systems being in place to make them possible.

The manager of a Swedish housing development depended upon a system of  support from community builders, connectors at the lunch, as well as welcomers and askers in the neighborhood. Cincinnati Starfire, created enterprise space which could feedback to participants own neighborhoods with resources and money effectively becoming community builders but it was filled with an existing economic and social system. Henry Moore believed that the community had all kinds of functions that could be performed without the city having to do the work. The community took up the challenge and they did the work themselves based on their own existing social system.

There is, however, an example of ABCD being applied on a more systemic basis that is told by Mick Ward, Chief Officer, Transformation and Innovation, Adults and Health, Leeds City Council.  He sets out a history of community development and organizing that gave rise to ABCD in the City of Leeds, England but they started with a strong systemic foundation.

Leeds had been prioritizing tackling loneliness, for older people especially, for many years before adopting ABCD. They had already established Neighbourhood Networks before hearing about ABCD. They then came across Cormac Russell speaking and saw a means to support older people to be even more connected to where they lived.

According to Cormac, the growth of loneliness in modern societies has been increasing since leaving more rural areas for cities leading to the rise of programmatic (and yes, systematic) interventions as loneliness becomes the new pathology being targeted by institutions. More pertinent, can this be reversed by simply changing the direction of the closed system and how does one go about doing that?

This erosion follows the evolution of consumerism shifting to the idea of a consumer society in which one could simply buy what one wants to be produced even that which was formerly the responsibility of the community and put it into the marketplace. We handed over community functions at which we are best competent and capable to perform by employing face-to-face relationship with each other by outsourcing to the institutional realm.

Institutions are closer to being closed systems, similar to a hydraulic system, created as means of control or applied top down constraint. Communities, however, are open systems. Their processes are not only unseen and not understood, they are nonlinear.

Leeds began using a ‘classic’ ABCD framework of establishing a Community Builder in the neighborhood, who identified, enthused and supported community connectors. Additionally, some “small sparks” funding was provided and community-led asset maps were developed. Early successes demonstrated the approach was worth pursuing in three Neighborhood Networks in Leeds which were part of their previously established ‘Senior Network Support (SeNS) Project’. 

This could have only been possible with  strong community and political support from the leadership of the Leeds City Council and the Health and Wellbeing Board approving funding increase the pathfinder sites, a dedicated post in LCC to commission and support the work, ABCD training both for the pathfinders and those wanting to develop ABCD approaches, supporting ABCD catalysts further supporting emerging ABCD sites so as to promote ABCD across the city. Still, 12 sites are a long way from covering all of Leeds with over 140 neighborhoods. While this can only be considered a success but can it, using Ward’s term, be successfully proliferated across the entirety of the City of Leeds on this same basis?

Ward wants to expand ABCD as an ‘approach, or ‘way of working’ across Third Sector organizations and services, seeing an opportunity to work with a large range of organizations in the city to move towards a more asset-based approach in their day to day work. This would put ABCD within the civic realm between community and institutions. 

It is not expected though that these organizations, not being ‘pure ABCD’, would be able to use the full ABCD framework as they tend to be city wide-based, rather than neighborhood-based and therefore not as likely to really dive deep and nurture all the potential assets and functions in a community. This suggests then that there is still a need for a more pure ABCD to be established in civil society, perhaps becoming a means of defining civil society, but outside the civic realm, maintaining its independence.  Can ABCD then become a significant part of the civil society’s foundation for the city’s civic realm and how does it do this across all sectors, economic, political and demographic making up the City of Leeds or anywhere else? 

I have to admit to being skeptical of Cormac and John’s answer as to how this could be addressed by the institutional realm lead by stepping back.  It seems to assume that institutions, those in power within those institutions and most importantly, the systems establishing and sustaining those institutions will locate some of that appropriated authority back into community life again voluntarily. Perhaps if you are lucky enough to live in Leeds but I have less hope for most places entrenched institutional power.

I have little faith in depending on the accountability and trustworthiness of institutional leaders. Getting even regular folk in our communities to see that people in our institutions, our schools, our police departments, our hospitals, are at their limits, in truth over their limits, and are becoming counterproductive because of all the functions we have given can be arduous. How a community could be resurrected by taking on functions that are the strength of the social contract of neighborhoods in our towns seems a better question but the answer will at least in part be systemic.

The means, Cormac and John say, is stepping forward into our own power, our collective cultural power with the agreement that through social contract there are certain things teachers, police officers and healthcare professionals are not going to do. Responsibilities that we decide to take back as community. Those social contracts however needs to be reestablished under the current systems which are firmly entrenched and will likely need some form of systemic disruption that must be innovative in nature rather than incremental but not lose sight of the purer ABCD vision.

What the Causal Loop Diagrams of the systems presentation reveals are four possible pathways. 

First path, system maintains its current configuration placing institutional power in a dominant position. Under the current configuration, institutional power has a decided, structural advantage which is made even more resilient through a variety of what Systems Thinking refers to a systems archetypes. Persistent patterns of causality arising from the interaction of causal loops that entrench the system in a manner which is exceedingly constrained but still resilient despite being seen as being detrimental.

Second, both community assets and institutional resources could be reconfigured so that each has a negative influence over the other. 

Third, a more positive configuration initiated as suggested by Cormac and John and made real to a large extent by the City of Leeds. The reverse pushing the other way to increase community assets by outside forces against institutions also requires energy but the system isn't configured to work either in effectively or efficiently in this manner. 

Finally, a fourth path based on changes to be initiated by the community itself with or without institutional cooperation. The energy though required to push up or down in either direction does not come from either of the pistons or external sources but must be found in the configuration or structure of the entire system. It is doubtful though, in my view, that either an ABCD approach alone or a systems approach alone could be successful. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Hydraulics and Community from an ABCD Perspective

The latest NCP effort wasn't a blog post, it was a Kumu presentation of a systems map based on this infographic.

There have been different versions.

The basic idea though is that if Community Assets are lowered then dependency on Institutions or Institutional Resources are elevated. The infographic was the creation of Cormac Russell, who has been featured in this blog and NCP Asset Based Community Development wiki-page a number of times. 

Cormac discussed the infographic with John McKnight, who I feel safe in calling one of Cormac's mentors, in the video below, which is part of this Nurture Development Post, The Hydraulics of Community Power

Their conversation is a little over half an hour long but the amount of information and insights contained would take far longer to fully unpack. This writing, to which I am not laying any claim, is what I found to be the important points. Hopefully this synopsis correctly conveys the pertinent facts and authentically retains their expressed perspectives.

The basic idea as presented by Cormac and John is that a hydraulic mechanism in its simplest form is a closed system, pushing down on one part of the mechanism another part has to go up by necessity. Similarly, as a community is performing its functions and institutions are performing their functions, if you push down on one then the other will go up and if you push on the other the reverse happens through processes largely unseen and often not understood. The hydraulic relationship provides an important insight in terms of the power, asymmetry of power dynamic between communities and institutions.

The image is further meant to convey a concept to which should be easily attested, that people know that in most neighborhoods people are not as connected as they would have been 50 years ago and raises the question, why and what are the ramifications?

Cormac and John provide examples of components of community life, education, public safety and health that have been expropriated by institutions or appropriated by them through the acquiescence of communities, invariably implicit as nobody votes for it. Bringing people to think that more police equals more safety or that more hospitals equals more health.

The state of the educational systems in the US can be explained to a great extent by the multiple community functions taken over by schools. Eighty-five functions since 1900 according to the book, ”Schools Can't Do it Alone.” The educational institutions have been expropriating community functions that have fallen mainly on the shoulders of teachers, a clearly crushing responsibility at which they are doomed to fail.

Police Departments are struggling with the problem of not having the members of the community involved, as though they had nothing to do with the issue of security and safety. More enlightened Police Departments have come to understand that the connection isn't simply about getting the community to call the police and report on their neighbors. There is a very clear community function around the production of safety. It is an association or function of community life itself. Neighborhood policing has become much more about community building and less about enforcement and informing.

At the same time, Police Departments and other institutional entities are still defining themselves and justifying ever increasing budgets by consistently saying we need more money in order to deal with all these different problems.

Medical practitioners cite similar relationships in health to those around education and safety with eighty-five percent or even higher of what determines well-being having nothing at all to do with clinical or pharmacological intervention or anything that a medical professional can do to us. Most of what counts for the healing of suffering happens outside the medical institutional realm. One primary care doctor, a public health practitioner who runs a primary care facility said that forty-five percent of the people who come into his surgery are not biomedically ill. They're lonely, disconnected in some way. A word for their condition is isolated, they are in a sense alone. Perhaps they have some moderate challenges in socializing but technically they're not sick. They need commune they don't need a doctor.

The growth of loneliness in modern societies has been increasing even though we see ourselves in cities as all collective. Our loneliness, according to Cormac has been growing as we left the more rural areas. In Vancouver, Canada a foundation gave a list of about 40 issues and asked residents to rate them and the number one issue was not crime or education but loneliness. What we're seeing now is the rise of programmatic interventions around loneliness. Loneliness has now become the new pathology that is being targeted with programs by institutions.

This erosion has come through the evolution of consumerism. It is a shift to an idea of a consumer society in which one could buy what one wants produced, being individuals who took that responsibility out of our community and put it into the marketplace. It's the consumer economy built on the assumption that we can outsource these at one time community functions to the institutional realm so that we can get on with being consumers.

Marketing and media, over and over again, are trying to persuade us that it is better to buy a life than it is to live one. Advertising things that will be done for money that we would never have seen in the past done for money.

We now turn to institutions to buy through taxes and charitable donations solutions for the issues we face collectively but that shift in culture is problematic because so many of those functions are ones that only people in face-to-face relationship to each other can really perform effectively.

We have been handing over functions at which we are most competent and most capable to perform. The institutions are appropriating all of these new functions, yet they are overburdened and are less able to do their actual legitimate functions becoming a collective equivalence, as Cormac noted, of the Peter Principle where institutions are elevated to their own level of incompetence.

City leaders, responsible for dealing with these issues want their residents to see local government as trustworthy and know that it can be relied on but all too often in their minds the role of the citizen is defined as that which happens after the important work of the professionals is completed. This is a perfect example of the hydraulic relationship. The role of the professionals goes up, the role of the citizens goes down. This is an inversion of democracy for it needs to be the case that the role of the professional is what happens after the important work of the citizen is complete.

Cormac and John then asked how does the institutional realm lead by stepping back? How do we locate some of that appropriated authority back into community life again? How can we resurrect the community in taking on the functions that are the strength of the social contract of neighborhoods in our towns?

John thought of it as being almost forceful in nature on many institutional leaders because of their accountability and defining trustworthiness. That what they could do is get folks, people in our communities, to see that our institutional people, in our schools, at our police departments or hospitals, are at their limits, in truth over their limits, and are becoming counterproductive because of all the functions we have given them.

The alternative is stepping forward into our own power, our collective cultural power with the agreement that through social contract there are certain things teachers, police officers and healthcare professionals are not going to do. Responsibilities that we decide to take back as community.

Cormac and John also provide three successful examples of taking back responsibility for collective functions of, by and for the community.

The manager of a large housing development in Sweden sent out an invitation saying if are you lonely come next Tuesday to the dining room and we'll have lunch together had eighty some people show up. The manager was able to succeed because he had support from community builders in the neighborhood in addition to connectors who were also at that lunch, as well as welcomers and askers in the neighborhood.

Another example Cincinnati Starfire, a workshop placement for people with intellectual disabilities that reimagined its role through its participants and became an enterprise space where local small businesses pay rent and establish small pop-up offices which they operate. More importantly, participants are also out in their own neighborhoods with resources and money that they can spend effectively becoming community builders who are contributing in their neighborhoods. The professional staff are also out in the neighborhoods with them, supporting them, supporting relationship building so they too are core community builders.

Then there was Henry Moore, the assistant city manager of Savannah Georgia who sent a letter to the people in the lowest income neighborhood asking them to write a letter no more than one page saying what they would like to do to improve their block and have two other people sign it who will also do it with a maximum grant of $100. The first year he got eighty requests with very little money spent. From an institutional point of view, it was one of the most incredible ways of beginning the change of the hydraulics system. He was saying to the community, you have all kinds of functions that you can perform. How do we support you? He also said, We (the City) are not going to do work, the communit y took up the challenge and they did they work. In the past, investment had been put in from the top through Community Block Grants. ”When I had the block grants that made almost no change but when I led by stepping back and provided the incentive for citizens to be producer things changed”.

Below is the Kumu presentation looking at the same subject from a Systems Thinking perspective.
The next post will examine some of the differences.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

ABCD as a Systemic Means and Support to Ostrom’s Commons

The previous series of three posts attempted to bridge Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) with Systems Thinking, the two sections of the New Community Paradigms (NCP) wiki seen as being among the furthermost separated. Bridging NCP wiki-sections is a basic feature of the wiki, especially with the NCP wiki-map but the differences in conceptual approaches between the two are especially distant. Both were discovered in this search for new community paradigms. There is a bias towards Systems Thinking, not due to longer exposure, 2015, 2016 in earnest for ABCD and 2013 for Systems Thinking but to a natural affinity. Still learning both. The bridging of the two was done across a presumption of complexity incorporating both. Complexity, to be clear from the start, is seen as actually a good thing and necessary though all too often incoherent if not problematic.

The recent blog post Ostrom, the Commons and the Green New Deal continued to explore the development of concepts involving dynamic complex systems previously raised in this blog. In addition to bridging concepts, there is a desire to establish a deeper and firmer foundation through biological constructs such as Carrying Capacity and an interest shown in Ostrom's work by anthropologists.

This post questions how far ABCD relational practices and Ostrom’s polycentric governance can be extended limited by the increasing complexity inherent in larger groups or wider circles of Dunbar's Number. The reach of ABCD, and more indirectly Ostrom's polycentric governance, is arguably restricted by Dunbar's Number.

There are four layers, or "Circles of Acquaintanceship," or implicit social contracts making up Dunbar’s number scaling relatively consistently to each other. The first circle is three to five of our very closest friends. Next layer or circle is twelve (the size of a jury) to fifteen persons whose death would devastate us. Next circle is made up of fifty persons, or “the typical overnight camp size among traditional hunter-gatherers like the Australian Aboriginals or the San Bushmen of southern Africa.”

Beyond the fourth level of one hundred and fifty persons, there are still further circles with an ideal democracy set at five thousand, three hundred. Larger circles though involve even greater degrees of complexity and far less emotional attachment, especially between non-familial relationships.

Though usually in agreement or sympathy, there are a few points with which I don't see the same as Cormac Russell, Managing Director of Nurture Development and faculty member of the ABCD Institute, leaning towards Dunbar’s empiricism but then I am a keeps-himself-to-himself in-his-own-head type introvert so biased in my perspective.

Cormac does not include family members (or professionals), only true associates, in his associational connections and Dunbar does with kin prioritized. He sees Dunbar’s fourth level at 150 persons as a minimum meaning most of us have a deficit of 99 persons, not including familial relationships, to make up for from our average base of 51 persons in our associational lives. He knows that Dunbar saw the fourth level of 150 as a maximum limit which I suspect few people truly reach. It is not just walking distance then separating people but emotional distance as well. As the number of people in a circle increases the emotional connection between them decreases with each successive circle and there are physiologically set cognitive limits.

However, it is Cormac’s vision of community associational relationships that must be strived towards to create the needed systemic changes in the direct democracy governance of our communities which requires not only connections but diversity as well to deal with complex even wicked problems. ABCD then becomes a necessary and even a primary component of New Community Paradigms but not necessarily a sufficient one.

The question to be considered then is how Ostrom’s polycentric governance of community and the commons could help ABCD extend the network of implicit contracts and, as importantly, how ABCD could support Ostrom’s polycentric governance to develop the required trust essential to achieve the advantage of those implicit social contracts.

As has been asserted before, Asset Based Community Development seeks to help communities find solutions to community challenges upon the basis of a system of community-based associational relationships to develop community wealth or resources as opposed to economic wealth or money by a few.

Most larger geographically placed, politically defined by institutional government type communities such as cities or towns are usually composed of a number of diverse socially and often demographically defined place-based communities or neighborhoods of differing levels of influence.

There are other types of distinct community in addition to these that can extend beyond geographic boundaries but still not be necessarily separate. Communities, in the context of this post and ABCD, will refer to neighborhoods and smaller social based communities. Larger entities such as cities are dealt with through their institutions.

The previous series went over questions that ABCD believes each community or anyone sincerely wishing to build better communities needs to ask. An issue for many communities then is whether they or anybody are even asking these essential questions? ABCD seeks to change this by committing to re-seeding associational life at a hyper-local level (i.e. street level). ABCD is about the strengthening of social capital or what could also be considered the Carrying Capacity within a community so as to save people from a life of institutionalization by creating community alternative to the institutional (systems) world.

ABCD and Community, a Systemic Analysis pt 3 reminded us that the carrying capacity of a local community depends upon good stewardship of that community’s welfare ideally requiring the correct sequencing of nurturing at three levels. The first level is recognizing that there are things that communities do best on their own without institutional assistance. The second level is recognizing that there are things that communities can basically do themselves but with some help from outside agencies. The third level is recognizing that there are things that communities need to have done for them by outside agencies. Something institutions readily and often exclusively do.

At the third level, the system being generated likely becomes entrenched, leading to a form of top-down service delivery by command, being persistent and resilient even while failing to address the needs of its supposed beneficiaries while eroding social capital and creating high levels of dependence on external resources which are now disappearing.

Neighborhoods have experienced years of interacting with the different public and private institutional agencies which have provided services of one kind or another, under the auspices of governmentally defined agencies, but not at equal levels. Outside agencies, institutional or otherwise, ideally should seek to be in a right relationship with smaller social, demographic, cultural communities. However, it has been many of these very same agencies who have failed, are still failing and are now looking for means to systematize their failure as a new normal.

Cormac sees this institutionalization causing further atomization or breaking up of relationships or people’s sense of community into individual elements in what I believe can be interpreted as being a system of disorganized complexity. This is not considered an oxymoron, even disorganized gas molecules can be made to react (behave) in certain ways through proper manipulation. ABCD though could also involves atomization of a community but to the level of independent agents connecting potentially in a self-organizing fashion through a system of organized complexity as defined by Jane Jacobs, structured by Ostrom and systematized by Meadows.

Without proper investment in community building through the correct Agency interactions or better community conversations, institutional stewardship remains stuck at the third level while second level interactions can be commodified drifting towards to the third level in the name of efficiencies and there is little incentive to make any extended investment. The first level carrying capacity then is relegated to fighting to retain whatever influence on to which the community may be holding on let alone endeavoring to increase its social capital.

What leverage then is afforded to local communities or even those working sincerely and earnestly in support of local communities to ensure that this is done properly? Even if attempted, providing the proportionate support that does not displace or diminish local community power is a difficult balancing act with the best of intentions. It isn't by the communities themselves, at least not initially, and it is doubtful that it is the institutional agencies so is there presumably a third sector or movement outside of these communities that is being appealed to beyond the already converted to the ABCD approach?

This post will also reveal the connection of ABCD back to the concept of the Commons and Ostrom’s work, a path already established in the blog post ABCD, Social Networks and the Commons connecting Associational Life:

“A viable way to be collective and inclusive from the bottom up, according to Cormac and those with a similar mindset, is to work through the concept of the communal Commons to enable some type of Coalition of the Doing in determining the relationship between Capitalism and the Commons".

David Bollier, Director of the Reinventing the Commons Program at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, starts off the article speaking of enclosures as the historical anthesis to the Commons.

“Enclosures eclipse the history and memory of the commons, rendering them invisible. The impersonal, individualistic, transaction-based ethic of the market economy becomes the new normal.”
An enclosure, as defined by Bollier, then can be seen as a form of imposed exclusion, a means of differentiating between clique or exclusive communities and colony or excluded communities.

A Commons, within an ABCD framework, can then be seen as both place-based with the resources of that place and people-based as an associational network overseeing those resource-based commons. The Social Network is both a people-based defined social system overseeing the Commons as a place-based resource so that the smallest associational successes of ABCD can not only reverberate through the entire community (system) but also give it history or legacy. It becomes a matter then, as Cormac has said, of not reforming (institutional) systems but reclaiming the Commons.

Past Posts