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, February 27, 2019

Revisiting Community Arts as Connector to New Community Paradigms

The last six months have been spent on Systems Practice, which was finally determined to be a potentially viable component of Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking and seen as lending credence to the Victor Havel quote:

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out,”

through additional interactions with the And? It’s All Connected and the Ecology of Systems Thinking Facebook groups.

Systems Practice was also recognized as requiring substantially involved effort yet still only being one aspect of creating new community paradigms, important even essential but not sufficient.

This post returns to the initial purpose of this effort of discovering pathways to new community paradigms by updating the New Community Paradigms Wiki which has been neglected for some time. The first revision to the wiki is the inclusion of a disclaimer concerning intention. It is a learning site that is being shared, there is no claim to authority and regarding security, there isn’t any but then it doesn’t require anyone to provide information, private or otherwise. While a disclaimer to not having any definitive answers only shared explorations may be true that is not made as explicitly.

The work on the Systems Practice series was largely interiorly focused involving introspective contemplation. The change in direction now is to a more exteriorly focused perspective, for at least a while, resulting in more ideas being gathered and added to the pathways to new community paradigms. One of the goals of this effort being to demonstrate how ideas are connected to a far greater extent and far more extensively than may be commonly realized.

A number of new resources have been made available since the last update with new connections and pathways to be explored which means potentially that new insights are possible. This means looking more outward to determine how to apply these insights.

One new area of interest that will be explored is the currently rising idea of a #GreenNewDeal. Despite being popular in circles for which I have an affinity, it is still in the exploration stages. At this point, it seems hopefully aspirational and pragmatically problematic but a good deal of time has just been spent demonstrating through Systems Practice that the pragmatically problematic can begin to be overcome. Recognizing at the same time, other pathways need to be added.

The first of these pathways to be revisited is Community Arts. A number of changes have occurred since the last update with, Art as a Path of Social Disruptive Innovation Towards New Community Paradigms. One of the organizations, Cultural Strategies Initiative, is gone but a number of new resources have been discovered.

One of the more recent is Smoke Signals Studio, the subject of a TED Talk, who believe that “a practice for truth-telling and rooted in assembly is powerful”. Some notable quotes from their talk seemed particularly relevant in perhaps providing some of the depth required to bring about something like the #GreenNewDeal.

"See, laws never change culture, but culture always changes laws." 

"They understood what many of us are just now realizing -- that to get people to build the ship, you've got to get them to long for the sea; that data rarely moves people, but great art always does." 

Among other resources that have been added but not previously acknowledged are What's Happening - A Blade of Grass which provides resources to artists who demonstrate artistic excellence and serve as innovative conduits for social change by fostering an inclusive, practical discourse about the aesthetics, function, ethics and meaning of socially engaged art that resonates within and outside the contemporary art dialogue. One of their projects was by Chinatown Art Brigade, who dealt with gentrification in New York.

The Laundromat Project believes art, culture, and engaged imaginations can change the way people see their world, open them up to new ideas, and connect them with their neighbors providing invaluable assets in furthering community wellbeing.

A number of the new resources have to do with storytelling seen from both sides, telling and listening. Storytelling and Social Change: A Strategy Guide | Working Narrative works with communities to tell great stories that inspire, activate and enliven our democracy. Their work is located at the intersection of arts, technology, and social change. Hidden Voices seeks to empower underrepresented populations to effectively tell their stories by engaging communities in dialogue and positive action to strengthen community cohesion and provides pathways for increased communication, cooperation, and respect. 

A guide to Listening Matters | Community Organiserswhile perhaps technically not arts-based organ, is by the Company of Community Organisers, the national body established to support the training and development of community organizing in England. It provides an important aspect to effectively completing a feedback loop in the creation of a community’s story about itself. 

“Listening to people is the foundation of community organising because it builds trust and relationships, uncovers issues and is an essential starting point for bringing people together to share stories, ideas and action.”


The site A S . I F | ART + SCIENCE IN THE FIELD works at rebuilding cross-disciplinary connections while keeping a balance between the two cultures of art and science, following their own creative paths while maintaining accuracy and critical thinking when conducting, and communicating about, science. has also been added, which though a creation of the EmcArts and featured in the last update, was not included in the NCP wiki through an oversight.

The mission of Imagining America | Artists & Scholars in Public Life is to publicly engage artists, designers, scholars, and community activists working toward the democratic transformation of higher education and civic life by creating democratic spaces to foster and advance publicly engaged scholarship that draws on arts, humanities, and design.

Animating Democracy places a high value on learning from and building capacity and visibility for practitioners’ work on the ground by bringing to bear Americans for the Arts’ strengths in research, policy, professional development, visibility, and advocacy specifically to advance and elevate arts for change work on field, cross-sector, and national levels. The group was also featured in the post The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 2 of 3 as advancing the role of the arts in fostering citizen participation and social change, along with Art VULUPS doing the same with geography, environmental science, land use planning, sustainability, art and creativity concepts.

Other added resources deal directly with finding and establishing artists for the community. Easle is supposed to make it easy to find and commission independent creators for a project. Street I Am - highlights street culture, street fest, busker street art, and graffiti street entertainment. Art Prof provides a unique opportunity for a global community to have equal access to a free visual arts education by removing barriers to art education that exist due to the high cost of higher education & private classes while providing easy-to-follow content for people of all ages and means. The site Dance/USA — The national service organization for professional dance looks to establishing legacy by the preservation of art form for future generations. Their Artist's Legacy Toolkit helps organize and preserve materials in ways that are practical but neither time-intensive nor expensive.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive or comprehensive list of resources, merely suggestions for possible ways to incorporate artistic thinking, along with design and systems thinking into the civic dialogue.

Community Arts is seen as a means of expressing what has been termed the Soul of a Community. The most significant change to the Community Arts wiki page is seeing it as being not only a component of Community Design but also more as a means of Advocacy By and For Community.

In regard to its place in the still being developed NCP Wiki Map on Kumu, Community Arts is a component of Places and a part of Art and Health Communities, which has been recently updated (read corrected) which in turn is related to Pathways to Healthy Communities.

Perhaps additional new pathways can be found incorporating Community Arts more deeply into Advocacy By and For Community and then extending into Community Ecology based on the concept that the community basis to address the health of the populace and community basis to address the health of the environment as in the #GreenNewDeal being the same.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Systems Practice Perspective of Radicalism and a Jerusalem Vision

In the last post, the idea of more directly addressing the challenges of living with the complex, wicked challenge of Palestinian/Jewish relationships in the City of Jerusalem using a Systems Practice approach was put forward. The last post focused more on the Systems Practice methodology itself rather than any particular complex issue it was meant to address. This post will focus that methodology back on the topic of Palestinian/Jewish relations in Jerusalem with the perhaps arguably idealistic goal of finding a new Jerusalem Vision. That lens though will still be abstract and conceptual in nature looking to the underlying forces that contribute to the detrimental impacts on those living within that shared system.

The focus is also still going to be limited. Beyond the Acumen/Omidyar Group Systems Practice projects being academic exercises, they are also in their short time span inadequate in reflecting the full complexity of the system or situations arising within that system. While this can be actually true of all systems and the system models which we create to help understand them, repeating yet again, "All models are wrong, some models are useful", it is especially true in this instance as we did not include a Palestinian perspective. This has been recognized as a missing piece of the story.

Furthermore, while complications and the often stochastic nature of the real world have hampered efforts to implement any of the different Systems Practice projects in that real world, it was also true that complications and the often stochastic nature of the real world prevented the unhampered implementation of the Systems Practice methodology itself.

Even if Systems Practice is seen, at least by me, as a playbook more than a philosophy, I would assert that it is a playbook navigating non-linear processes. In the first project, I threw a wrench into the process by mapping too early though it should be noted that the process dictated by the methodology did recover. The Systems Practice process, however, has never unfolded precisely as described by the manual. Not that Systems Practice doesn't recognize this, it is not a strictly paint-by-numbers process and such detours may provide helpful insights.

The third assignment in the Acumen Systems Practice course is on Upstream Downstream SAT Analysis on different Themes. As mentioned in the last post, our individual internal maps were disaggregated and the factors making them up were collected without any of the connecting relationships unique to each then categorized as enabling or inhibiting and upstream or downstream. For the most part, our individual mental models were largely abandoned in terms of the process.

The exception was our team leader, Yoel Ben-Avraham. After going through the process of categorizing factors and applying a S.A.T. analysis to them, Yoel felt that something fundamental to our understanding was still missing, something that the Systems Practice methodology had not brought forward. A theme of Radicalism as perceived from a Jewish perspective was seen as missing. As far as I understood, Yoel created his theme first and then populate it with factors which were then categorized instead of starting with factors.

It has been recognized from the start that I and everybody else except for Yoel were outside of the story and that while Yoel and I had discussed or debated different issues having different mindsets I determined to assist him in fleshing out this perspective by mapping out his text-based analysis shown below which was more in line with assignment four. Finally, I got to map.

The Kumu systems map  revealed by this link focuses on the Radicalism theme fully populated when opened. The map is formatted in such a manner that one can mouse over the listed loops, R1 through R11, making up the map to reveal their location. This approach of mapping out somebody else's differing perspective of an issue has been undertaken before. The intention is to have the process of mapping reveal how the factors could be related to each other resulting in unforeseen emergent outcomes. This depends though on honestly and correctly mapping them without bias. In this case, as with others done before, the attempt was seen as successful by the other involved party.

What might be first noticed about the mapped out version of the Assignment 3 above is that the terms Upstream Causes and Downstream Effects become somewhat moot. All of the factors have been integrated into causal loops which are linked together so every factor serves as both upstream cause and downstream effect.

The Radicalism theme, as presented, is also self-contained. As it consists of factors related, interdependently with each other for a purpose or function, Radicalism can be seen as a system in its own right. There is required neither a significant source of input from outside of the system or significant output from the system allowing for meaningful feedback permitting change. The system by the interaction of its parts is self-sustaining and resilient. It is what has been referred to as an entrenched system except that it is in conflict with its larger environment rather than being an entrenched institutionalized you-can’t-fight-city-hall type system usually considered.

With the Radicalism theme systems map, one can also start with the loop R1 Alienation, click on the "Focus on" link at the top of the narrative section and "walk around" the loop through the narrative. The loop is seen as reinforcing in a "vicious" manner or functioning to make matters worse in terms of reaching the project's Guiding Star. The factors are all seen as inhibiting and from the S.A.T. perspective as attitudinal except for Arab Educational Indoctrination which is seen as transactional. The narrative for the individual factors comes primarily from Yoel's S.A.T. analysis but interpretations were made. Indoctrination was seen as referring to the transactions between teachers and students rather than the structural aspects of an Arab educational system.

Both the factors Alienation of Palestinians and Alienation of Jews are seen as being attitudinal and as being stocks despite them being of a non-physical nature as defined by Donella Meadows. The level of alienation in either populace can increase or decrease and cannot change instantaneously.

The connections can then be considered as flows. The flow out of the stock Alienation of Palestinians into the stock Alienation of Jews raises that stock though it does not decrease the Palestinian stock, as it is raised by the outflow from Alienation of Jews stock. External factors also influence the flow into and out of the two stocks acting as catalysts to enhance the maintaining of higher stock levels. There is not a systemic means of diminishing either of the stocks or relieving pressure from the flows, which if were made to exist could be seen as being contrary to the perceived function of the theme.

Going back to the R1 Alienation narrative, if necessary by clicking on the text in the middle of the loop within the map section, one can go to the bottom of the narrative and click on "Go to: R2" and add on the second loop, R2 Economic Slowdown. While Alienation of Palestinians is not seen as the sole causal factor of an Economic Slowdown and Economic Slowdown is not seen as the sole causal factor of Palestinian Alienation, their mutual relationship is seen as being highly correlated enough to be considered causal in nature for the purposes of the map.

Repeating the process to reveal the R3 loop Destruction of Palestinian Homes. This ties directly into the R1 Alienation loop. The factor in question is seen as transactional. There is a structural factor on the Israeli side involved but it is arguably outside of the theme based Radicalism system being considered.

More loops can be added using the same process. The loop R5 (Palestinian) Religious and Secular Leadership asserts that after three causal steps, (factor - connection - factor or what Kumu terms degrees) the loop R3 Destruction of Palestinian Homes is shown actually increasing overall alienation and entrenching what could be considered detrimental policies from the Jewish perspective. Continuation of loops into pattern of persistent causality further asserts the means by which the institutionalized system of Religious and Secular Leadership maintains control without the potential for adequate input to bring about change or to provide a platform for a different perspective.

Once the theme Radicalism is fully populated by the causal loops making it up, one can return to Start Page and add either one of two additional themes or both. The two themes are Extremist Violence and Transition and Accommodation of Values. While neither of the themes contains feedback loops, not all systems have feedback loops according to Donella Meadows’ book Thinking in Systems, A Primer (page 27), both integrate seamlessly into the Radicalism theme extending it.

The Extremist Violence theme exacerbates the vicious aspects of the Radicalism theme, while the theme of Transition and Accommodation of Values is shown to be inadequate to positively change the direction of the Radicalism theme.

This will be the last post for a while on Systems Practice in general and specifically on the Jerusalem Vision project. The Systems Practice methodology has been demonstrated to be a useful contribution to Systems Thinking and Direct Democracy. However, a review of Haaretz articles revealed the deep, inherent political complications assailing any efforts toward change. The Systems Practice process on its own would not be enough. Other steps would be required by the people who live within that system to implement new community paradigms.

Friday, February 8, 2019

NCP Inquiries into Systems Practice - 10th post of 3rd Project

This is the tenth blog post in a series on the Jerusalem Vision Project, which is the third Systems Practice project undertaken through the Acumen course using the Omidyar Group’s approach to pragmatically applying Systems Thinking

The project took my rudimentary knowledge of Systems Thinking as a basis for obtaining a better understanding of Systems Practice and applied it to a complex challenge - Israeli/Palestinian relationships in the City of Jerusalem of which I admittedly knew relatively nothing.

This specific blog post is going to again review this endeavor, not of achieving better relations between Palestinians and Jews in the City of Jerusalem but in the utilization of Systems Practice to address such complex challenges. These points have been made before but across disparate posts making their assertion somewhat disjointed.

These continuing endeavors seem to have worked well in attaining a better understanding of the Systems Practice methodology having initially made a late start in properly applying the methodology the first time with an inquiry into food trucks for homeless camps but still having concerns about the process afterward nonetheless. The second time, looking at plastic pollution of the ocean in Bangkok, Thailand, gaining a better understanding and a somewhat more successful application but still having questions that remained or continued to be needed to be tested to confirm certain aspects in terms of how Systems Practice could be utilized in developing new community paradigms.

The difference then between this Systems Practice project and the previous two projects is first, a better understanding of how a Systems Practice approach works and second, instead of focusing on each project step by step this project waited until completion to get a better overall view of the process. Both to determine how the Systems Practice process unfolded and to assess how Systems Practice might be integrated with Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking.

However, endeavoring to absorb the entire process after its completion raised a number of complications particularly when attempting to communicate the worthwhileness of the effort with anyone who has had little to no experience with Systems Thinking or Systems Practice. It is not a difficult challenge to get those interested in Systems Thinking or Systems Practice to take a look at another example of the methodology to either agree with or disagree and critique. You can simply ask them, the community is especially helpful.

It is more of a challenge to get those neck deep in dealing with real-world messes to consider Systems Thinking and Systems Practice as viable approaches to finding solutions. This takes us back to the first paragraph. Any contribution I made to specific projects was not based on my first-hand knowledge of the particular challenge under consideration but my relatively better understanding of applying Systems Thinking and increasingly, a Systems Practice approach to these challenges, in cooperation with others who had committed to trying to apply the approach with their enrollment in the course.

The Jerusalem Vision Project had its own particular challenges being based on both more complicated and conflictual issues, in addition to its complex nature. Complicated and conflictual because of political and historical reasons but also somewhat internally conflictual, though collegiately so, because of distinctions between different mental models used by the project participants. The complex nature of the challenge though may not be as readily apparent because of the confusion arising from the complications and inherent conflict.

While I feel confident that those with whom I went through the three Systems Practice projects found it beneficial, this is harder to convey to those who weren't brought to such efforts for their own reasons. All the harder as both Systems Thinking and Systems Practice can be conceptually abstract when people are often anxious for so-called concrete solutions.

Systems Thinking provides a logical construction in finding solutions but is not always explicitly empirically evident. Further complicating the matter is that Systems Thinking, though it has certain foundational aspects, can be categorized by different approaches and underlying philosophies that seemingly conflict. Conceptual conflicts by Systems Thinkers, seeking a solution to be imposed, that may sometimes be made too readily the crux of the matter rather than the detrimental impacts of the challenges themselves.

This can obscure the viability of System Thinking’s fundamental principles but it isn't the primary hurdle to convincing the uninitiated to make the commitment to a Systems Thinking or more specifically a Systems Practice approach which can be substantial.

The primary hurdle is an essential change to a mental model that is linear, analytical, reductionistic to one that incorporates a perspective that is also non-linear, holistic, synthetic. The basis and need for the change and resulting implications can be easily underappreciated while the siren call to grasp at an immediate concrete solution can be addictive. The basis for this distinction and requirement for convergence is explained, more succinctly than I can, by this video from Complexity Labs.

The Acumen/Omidyar Systems Practice approach overcomes this hurdle by having its implementation be dependent upon the convergence but not explicitly so. It follows the logic of some Systems Thinkers that like Fight Club, Systems Thinking shouldn't be talked about. It does lead those who habitually follow a path by reductionistic, analytical, linear thinking so often used by command and control top-down management to the alternative of thinking defined by synthesis, holism and non-linearity without making the transition too obvious.

The Omidyar Group’s approach to Systems Practice though does not only steer most participants, whose primary experience has been following that habitual path to an alternative one but also navigating those supposedly versed in Systems Thinking away from too quickly determining a final path to a solution to whatever complex challenge is being faced. This was my error with the first Systems Practice project, to immediately begin mapping towards a solution.

While the course does present the case for synthesis and Systems Thinking in a general sense early on by examples, it instead takes participants through a number of steps that unless used and tested can seem contrary to how we usually approach such challenges even when using Systems Thinking as individuals. While their purpose may be explained with each step taken, their cumulative effect cannot be fully appreciated until more fully implemented. Until that occurs participants are encouraged by the course to have trust in the process.

What the Omidyar approach does is take the internal, and usually implicit mental maps of each of the individual participants regarding the system in which the mess or complex situation occurs and asks them to hold it in abeyance then work to first create a common goal through the Guiding Star, Near Star and Framing Question. More importantly, though, is a process of disaggregating those individual maps by collecting the factors making them up without any of the connecting relationships unique to each.

This collective set of factors is then jointly categorized as being either enabling or inhibiting and then rearranged into new collections defined by common traits or themes. This process helps not only to open up pathways to the internal mental maps of individual’s that may have been previously closed but also sets the basis for finding a set of new and collectively determined relationships. This arguably has a far stronger basis for democratic deliberations. At no point in the process so far has a systems map or map of any type been started. This took some personal adjustment.

The next steps in the Systems Practice process, upstream and downstream relationship configuration and S.A.T. (structural, attitudinal, transactional) Analysis were touched upon for the third time in recent posts. Despite having my own ideas on S.A.T analysis and its implications, I have come to appreciate its viability in contributing to the process, having been able to anchor it to basic Systems Thinking concepts such as the Systems Thinking Iceberg model and integrating it into basic Causal Loop Diagrams.

However, it needs to be admitted openly that Systems Practice does not provide a panacea. Surely no surprise on its own but it is important to be clear on why. The first goes back to the beginning of this post. I may have made an abstract, conceptual argument for the viability of Systems Practice but in the meantime, I completely abandoned the challenge it was supposed to address - Palestinian/Jewish relations in the City of Jerusalem.

The individual embedded in the system of concern, be they Palestinian or Jew, needs to be convinced of the viability of the process. That has not been accomplished except perhaps for a few individuals. To be even more honest, none of the projects undertaken so far came up with a final answer to their challenge. These were, to be fair time restricted, limited, basically academic projects taken on by groups of strangers globally separated by different time zones. In those cases were doing more was sought out, the complications and often stochastic nature of the real world hampered such efforts. On a broader and long term basis the challenge though is one of implementation and the problem is a Knowing-Doing Gap discussed in previous posts.

Despite these limitations, I have become convinced that Systems Practice can make a valuable contribution to creating new community paradigms. I recognize though that my rationale as presented will have little potential to influence those living with complex, wicked challenges without at least addressing those challenges more directly. I will attempt that in the next post.

Past Posts