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 and Community, a Systemic Analysis pt 3

This post will continue with the development of concepts presented in the previous two posts of this series.I raised my own limitations regarding Systems Thinking and especially Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) in the first post. This post has an additional limitation for this series regarding the scope of this analysis. It only deals with ABCD from a limited perspective. ABCD is far richer than what is being presented here, similar to using the Logistic Equation to explain changes in population, hopefully, useful but only a sketch.

Asset Based Community Development or ABCD seeks to define an ideal relationship between institutions, including the agencies through which policies are implemented in pursuit of their mission, and communities, particularly what has been termed colony communities or marginalized or dependent or so-called hard-to-reach (HTR) communities.

As Cormac Russell has said, 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 so as to discover the community’s underpinning capacities and in a way that does not function to harm the social capital of the community. The result of such good stewardship in times of crisis should be sufficiency and the potential for greater abundance, not scarcity and abandonment. These three relationship levels, however, presume a benign power relationship or better between community and institution.

The first level is recognizing that there are things that communities do best on their own without institutional assistance. This requires asking though, what are the things that only residents/citizens can do in response to an issue? These should be determined in regard to the strengths of the community, not its deficits.

These are the things for which a community already has the adequate inherent carrying capacity to do best on their own though this may not yet be realized. The efforts are purposefully applied by the community and should not be supplemented by purposive institutional programs. Any involved agency is hopefully facilitating these efforts to help make the efforts more efficient and helping to remove barriers not creating them. This though cannot be assumed.

The second level is recognizing that there are things that communities can basically do themselves but with some help from outside agencies. This level is beyond the carrying capacity of what a community can do solely on their own but could perhaps do with some help from an outside agency.

The carrying capacity of the community is not fully adequate to the task either because the extra needed capacity to some extent remains external or is inherent but has not been fully realized. What then are the things that residents/citizens can lead on and achieve with the support of institutions and their agencies (governmental, nongovernmental, for-profit) in response to that issue? As important, can those agencies be expected to provide support to the community in doing what it can’t do for itself?

If so, those outside agencies should then ideally facilitate such activities so that the carrying capacity of the community goes as far but no further than is sustainable. Outside agencies should seek to be in right relationship with communities and provide proportionate support that does not displace or diminish community power.

The third level is recognizing that there are things that communities need to have done for them by outside agencies. The required carrying capacity is both external and unrealizable by the community. The questions for the community then are not only what are the things that only institutions can do for us (residents/citizens) but as important, what can the community do to induce the agency to do for the community what the community can’t do for itself.

The agencies should then seek to do those things in as transparent and accountable a way as possible but the scaling required to address the issue may be imposed on the community rather than induced by the agency.

The Nurture Development post, What We’ve Tried (in isolation) Hasn’t Worked: The Politics of Community, raised questions that need to be answered by or for a community so that the locus of control over a community’s carrying capacity is by the community, not an outside institution. The factors defining the three levels of relationships between communities and institutions can be expanded to enlarge the overall community based social carrying capacity.

The community needs to develop the extended carrying capacity or social capital to be able to determine:

  • What are the things that institutions can stop doing which would create space for resident action, enlarging the community social carrying capacity?
  • How agencies can create space for the community to grow in that capacity, moving from dependence to self-sufficiency and independence.
  • How the agency can determine, what the agency can do to go beyond its current level of community support?
  • What can institutions start offering beyond the services that they currently offer to support resident/citizen action?
The institution examines its mission or purposive functions or better the community purposely examines and redefines the mission of the institution to provide unrealizable and external but needed or desired carrying capacity and enhances the previous three levels of relationships.

The community often either does not have the carrying capacity or social capital on its own without help which is either never offered or if given can be threatened so that the institution and those who benefit maintain control. This means purposefully enhancing the inherent but yet still unrealized carrying capacity of the community to add to its needed social capital. It is difficult seeing this done through the purposive actions of an institution. A call for an institution to unilaterally remove barriers that it put in place would seem to argue against that community having sufficient carrying capacity on is own to scale to the next level.

The institutions are expected be to either move the community to a greater sense of inherent and realizable carrying capacity or to accept responsibility for external and unrealizable but still desired carrying capacity as part of its mission.

This requires a purposeful systemic change for which whether at first internally realized or unrealized is likely initiated through external carrying capacity if only as a catalyst. A required a change in the power relationship between the community and institution, an enhancement in social capital or the type of carrying capacity utilized by the community from direct and independent with the community directly doing things on its own to more indirect but controlled, things are done through an agency but the community holds greater control.

Cormac has pointed out that the power relationships of communities with outside institutional agencies have changed over time with institutions claiming that service delivery is neither sustainable nor ironically empowering. Austerity, defined by these institutions and implemented by agencies, means the communities now have fewer outside resources available so have more of the responsibility for maintaining carrying capacity, including taking over care of those who are highly service dependent, which is again a form of harvesting of that community's carrying capacity.

A question then is who specifically is the "We" whom Cormac speaks of that needs to learn from communities what they can do and care enough about to do with or without outside help. Who is the “We” that not only helps communities determine what they can do with some support, and only then helps in determining what external resources are needed but also helps in negotiating with the government institutions or enhancing the carrying capacity of the community to do such on their own?

Now I know that the answer is us, being both the enemy we have met as well as being the ones that we have been waiting for. The devil though is in the details. Direct democracy, in some form, combining both participatory democracy, emphasizing ABCD and deliberative democracy, emphasizing Systems Thinking is one potential path to needed new community paradigms.


part 1
part 2

ABCD and Scaling Carrying Capacity pt 2

This post will continue with the development of concepts presented in the previous post of this series which included the reintroduction of carrying capacity. Any change in the level of community social carrying capacity involves scaling in some form. However, ABCD tends to prefer terms such as ”proliferate” being very wary of ‘industrializing’ or ‘going at scale’ by institutions.

Scaling can generally be defined, using Wikipedia, as changes to a system such as a community in terms of some capacity by one of two ways. One is uniform or isotropic scaling in a linear transformation. If a fishing community doubles in population then it needs to catch double the amount of fish or find substitutes.

Scaling can also be defined as a power law, as a functional relationship between two quantities, where a relative change in one quantity results in a proportional relative change in the other quantity, independent of the initial size of those quantities: one quantity varies as a power of another. If that same fishing community builds better boats going out further at sea catching bigger fish, the carrying capacity increases superlinearly allowing for increased population or greater creation and consumption of resources per capita (ignoring the overall capacity of the resource).

Natural carrying capacity is always inherent, realized and purposive which through extraneous and environmental changes can alter and even lead to the collapse of a population.

Community social carrying capacity and its extension community social capital can be either inherent or external, realized or unrealized and either purposeful or purposive. The scaling of social carrying capacity can be categorized in three ways - imposed, induced or inherent.

A Nurture Development post asking, “Scale is Important but Who’s Scale Are We Talking About?” is more of a warning than a question. It advises against attempts to scale or grow beyond a community's own carrying capacity, usually for the benefit of outside agencies.

Imposed scaling would be what Nurture Development warned against but could be seen, at least in my view, not as scaling but a form of colonial harvesting or appropriation of the resources of a community by an institution. Communities are asked to scale their efforts to extend them beyond the community's geographical boundaries or spheres of influence. As a result, a community's own carrying capacity and its established known and predictable processes (the way it works) are likely to be diminished and won't work the same way elsewhere.

Induced scaling, or more bang for the buck, is what agencies such as Acumen endeavor to achieve with their programs such as providing malaria nets at a lower cost per net so as to provide even more nets. With induced scaling, the burden is not placed on the community being assisted until it develops the capacity to carry it themselves.

Inherent scaling refers to the natural scaling of complex systems whether biological, as in animal populations or sociological such as cities. Professor Geoffrey West has demonstrated that cities naturally scale at a rate of about 15% in savings in terms of economies at a sub-linear rate for infrastructure, having an analog to biology, but scaling at a superlinear fashion at 15% growth with socio-economic network factors.

Inherent scaling in the larger social environment is likely to put pressure for the need for increasing carrying capacity by communities. Inherent scaling though does not naturally result in the equitable distribution either of benefits or of detriments created by the system in the form of socio-economic entropy. A larger issue is that the entire system or collection of systems is likely destined to collapse from the stress being generated without major interventions or transformation of some type. These concepts are expanded upon here. In actuality, all three of the forms of scaling are likely to be ongoing at the same time.

An ABCD definition of community incorporates inclusion. Communities can be categorized whether they define themselves by inclusion or exclusion and by whether they are dependent upon institutions or instead they are either independent or have control over those institutions.

Inclusion could be seen as part of the community’s receptivity influencing the level of its carry capacity and social capital and significantly changing without it the nature of the community.

M. Scott Peck’s definition of an inclusive community is complex, open and organic. Communities are living organisms.

“Community is and must be inclusive. The great enemy of community is exclusivity. Groups that exclude others because they are poor or doubters or divorced or sinners or of some different race or nationality are not communities; they are cliques – actually defensive bastions against community.” 


Matthew Petrusek’s definition of inclusion and its supposed logical incompatibility within a community is complicated and restrictive. Communities are things.

But we have every reason to advocate for coherence, as well. Many characteristics of a community certainly are negotiable and can be flexible, even to the point of breaking, in the name of inclusion. But some things, or at least something, must be non-negotiable.” He arguably could still have a point though in a community being allowed to maintain its identity at some level. Too often though this is used as a means of exclusion.

Communities with the power to define themselves by exclusion and still be economically self-sufficient both individually and collectively can be considered cliques. There are then those things that clique communities, through sufficient social capital, can have done for them by outside agencies either because of need and an inability to do so individually but also because of convenience, they want it and it is more efficient for the institution to do it for them and they can effectively negotiate the means of delivery.

Communities without the power to define themselves and that are dependent on agencies can be considered colonies and subject to harvesting by being restricted in the development of their own capacity, by the diversion of resources or by direct appropriation. Colonial communities are also defined by exclusion by the in-use purposive policies of institutions regardless of any espoused claims. Abundant communities, as the ideal alternative, are both self-sufficient and inclusive.

Colony communities do not have the extended social capital to both address directly those issues it can through community carrying capacity and using social capital to successfully influence outside agencies to do for it what it can't on its own or to transition from one to the other.

The means of moving past being a colony community or being designated an HTR community (hard to reach community) starts with greater inclusion by both dependent and more self-sufficient communities. Part of the carrying capacity then has arguably to come from outside the community but agencies, working sometimes on behalf of those responsible government institutions, may be competing for resources which are instead being distributed to competing communities.

It becomes then a question of both motivations and of capacity for both the community, or more likely communities, and their associated institutions. Particularly if multiple communities are competing for institutional influence on a political basis and the relationship between a particular community and the controlling institutions may be a confrontational one.

There can be continued maintenance and even manipulation of institutional systems for the benefit of some at the cost of others. People can be redefined or commodified as service users or patients and thereby be defined out of community resulting in the consequent depletion of carrying capacity of that community that was supposedly being helped.

Outside agencies also have different pressures from budgetary committees requiring the imposition of scaling on their assigned efforts that achieve cost savings for the institution. These pressures not only can’t be discounted by agencies, but they also need to be optimized, under the best circumstances, to provide the best possible service with limited resources to the greatest number.

There is then an even greater need for increased social capital through social networking by bonding and bridging tied together in a manner that is both collective and inclusive but which ABCD would insist should be more people based than technology based.

This raises the question though whether ABCD simply focuses through relational consensus on the maximum carrying capacity of each community with special attention towards challenged ones or actually addresses issues between different competing communities through democratic principles?

The role of ABCD in working with communities is separate from the provision of institutional services through agencies and is not meant to save institutional systems money. It is to build community (verb) for the community (noun) to decide its own purpose. There seem to have been some successes in community and agency partnerships fostered by ABCD, particularly with healthcare but while empirically verifiable as to what works, establishing theoretically as to how they work remains less clear to me. The final post of this series will look at this more closely.


part 1
part 3

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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