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.

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