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.

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