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.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

ABCD, Carrying Capacity and Communities pt 1

The last post dealing with Elinor Ostrom and the Commons cited previous inquiries into complexity, carrying capacity and Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) with an intention to return for further inquiries.

It was Cormac Russell’s post on Nurturing the Carrying Capacity of Communities that was the inspiration and a primary source for bridging ABCD with dynamic complexity on a premise that communities of all types are dynamic complex adaptive systems. Carrying capacity defined as the number of members of a population or in this case a community that can be supported based on resources and environment before it begins to degrade its equilibrium population or the system's receptivity and resilience. This post will add in System Thinking into the mix helping to serve as a connector from complexity and carrying capacity to ABCD.

Some of the concepts discussed back then are going to be amended or expanded in light of new information or insights. The term carrying capacity when applied to community should be expanded beyond simple numbers to include the attributes of that community and extended relationships that defines its existence. People don’t necessarily die, they can leave or have diminished lives but the community may cease to exist.

The first step, because some may consider the terms nearly synonymous, will be to first operationally define “institutionalization” seen negatively by ABCD, and by extension define “institutions” for which Nurture Development’s take will be used. Then define “systems” which will come from what has been learned through this NCP effort. Upfront there is agreement with Nurture Development’s take on institutions.

Institutionalization is logically brought about through institutions but while most definitions of institution are seemingly benignly ideal, “institutionalization” less so according to Nature Development articles like, Beyond Good Intentions; Towards A Good Life which raises real fears that include, “If I make people dependent on a system that cannot provide ongoing love and mutuality without the hidden cost of unintended institutionalization and loss of autonomy”. In Why Place Such A Strong And Focused Emphasis On Place-Based Community Building?, institutionalization is seen as a bad thing bringing forth a call for a “radical form of inclusion that seeks to grow interdependence in community life and reduce institutionalization among those who have become most marginalized”. The Nurture Development article Organizing Institutions To Support Family And Community Care further explains, “Recent responses to institutionalization around the world, especially in Europe, Oceania and North America have involved asking staff who work in human services institutions to alter their caring approaches to become more person-centred and less prescriptive.” Then adds, “But there’s the rub with person-centred care, it can’t simply be achieved by staff changing practice (though that will help), because the issue is largely the context. Therefore, change in human service institutions must also involve decommissioning services that have become too big; impersonal and congregated, and shifting the orientation back towards family and community.

So what is meant by something being a system? One operational definition used by systems thinking is "A system is an entity that maintains its existence through the mutual interaction of its parts.", Ludwig Von Bertalanffy. I lean toward, Donella Meadows, featured in the last blog post and one of the authors of Limits to Growth, who has a similar definition, “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.

Institutions, governments, communities, families and even ABCD are all systems, and although far from being identical in nature, all incorporate feedback.

Systems may be thought of as something that processes things systematically, without feeling, in a mechanical manner. The most salient point about systems I would argue though is that systems operate systemically and it is from that which systematic processes and outcomes arise of multiple and sometime complex varieties. For others, the term systems is colored by constant battle against “The System” which is but one instance of a system, undoubtedly egregiously entrenched but subject to all the principles of every other system.

The most crucial determinant of a system’s behavior is purpose or function despite often being the least obvious part of a system. A change in function or purpose can be drastic, changing a system profoundly, even if every element and interconnection in the system remains the same. For myself, this means that if two systems have the exact same elements but a different set of interconnections between those elements and different purposes then they can be considered two distinct systems.

I see a difference between purpose and function, though the terms are often used interchangeably. There are, in my interpretation, two different types of purpose, “intentional” and “inherent” or what has been referred to as “purposeful” and “purposive” respectively. Peter Checkland, said that purposeful behavior is that which is willed, involving voluntary action particularly applicable to human activity systems. This is what I would label intentional purpose. Purposive, according to Checkland, is addressed through "What would I learn from attributing (externally) purpose to this situation?" An engineered or even a natural system can exhibit behavior to which purpose can be attributed. This is what I am referring to as inherent purpose or what Donella Meadows seems to have termed as function.

Both Meadows and, especially Stafford Beer advise us that the Purpose Of A System Is What It Does, not what we want (this is an arguable point, I have had the arguments).

As to my own thinking, ”The goal or better function (the purpose then is the goal) of a river is to flow into a lake or ocean. The river does not do this intentionally on purpose. Rather it is a step or function in a feedback loop of the world’s hydrology system and subsequently an element in many other systems, including ecological, fishing and shipping”.

I don’t consider myself an expert on Systems Thinking and have even less insight or knowledge about Asset Based Community Development but will still explicitly state some premises concerning ABCD. ABCD is based on the simple logic that communities can’t know what external supports they need (from institutions, agencies and other organizations) until they first know what are their internal capacities or extending to a perhaps more speculative proposition what is their carrying capacity and their social capital, or the “social networks, bonding similar people and bridging between diverse people, with norms of reciprocity”, seen as an extension of carrying capacity? This will involve relationships of communities with outside institutions and agencies whether governmental or private.

An NCP principle that should be raised is recognizing that there is a difference between government and governance, the former being the realm of institutions and the later the provenance of community. It is their disconnection that becomes detrimental to community welfare.

With this series institutions and agencies will be differentiated. Institutions use different agencies to implement policies. State and church are different types of institutions but each can have agencies working to alleviate poverty. Institutions and agencies or organizations, and the agents working within them can, even when connected, have differences in motivation and interactions with the community. Communities are purposeful though often at cross purposes. Institutions are purposive. Agents with agencies often strive to work purposefully but are constrained by efficiently functional or purposive institutions.

Institutions don’t have carrying capacity they have missions, goals and objectives. Communities invest their social capital into institutions delegating control and responsibility. As systems, institutions are invariably complicated in structure, sometimes exhibiting a level of extreme ”complicatedness” though inevitably complex in their interactions with communities. This resulting complexity though all to often restricts the adaptive complexity of communities.

Institutions have a function, to fulfill a purpose but that purpose although it may have been initially been determined by a community or components of that community as a system, a living, complex adaptive system that initial purpose can be lost.

Community, institutions and agencies are meant to be one system. These factors need to be maintained in alignment for the desired ideal outcomes to occur but this too often fails to happen. Instead, corrupting patterns of interaction lead the system, that defines the institution, to be calcified into entrenched patterns propagating the system into self-serving structures and producing mental models professing that things cannot be changed perpetrating its existence. A question that can be asked then is to what extent did the institution corrupt itself and to what extent was it the result of neglect on our part? What we seek is not institutions entrenched in the daily lives of our communities but agencies embedded through trust that, as Cormac Russell has said, are embedded properly by local residents who say this is a way we can live together and prevail here.

part 2
part 3

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