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, 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