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.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Serendipitous Events Lead to Emerging Possibilities

A little bit more than another month has past by since the last blog post. The time though was spent in an engaging manner. As the title of this post alludes, a couple of serendipitous events have allowed for the further exploration, using Kumu relational mapping, of the potential effects of incorporating systems thinking into systems of community governance that integrated democratic processes that included both participatory and deliberative aspects, opening the potential for emerging possibilities. While the phrase, “potential for emerging possibilities” may have a new age ring to it, the pathway to it endeavored to be rational and as empirical as it could be. It involved multiple, sometimes even conflicting perspectives that needed to be synthesized.

This journey of exploration started over a year ago with Better Deliberative and Participatory Democratic Community Based Governance through Systems Thinking and the InsightMaker model Participatory Democracy with Systems Thinking. The model was improved with Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking, a relational map created with Kumu, which was featured in the blog post A Map for Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking. The previous blog post had begun to study community based Virtual Systemic Inquiry, intended to provide a means of collaborative communication in developing a systemic approach to community challenges or wicked problems, and had been connected to the first two reinforcing causal loops of the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking relational map.

There were though recognized limitations, which were discussed in Direct Democracy and System Thinking Map - Some Potholes on the Journey. Among those discussed were the need for an enhancement of deeper participation by stakeholders, the further consolidation between systems thinking and direct democracy involving a dual track related to soft approaches and dynamic approaches to systems thinking, each serving different purposes and that it would need to be designed, as Vivien Twyford had discussed, as a means of Recognizing and Responding to Complexity. It could involve extensive use of the Internet, as would Virtual Systemic Inquiry, (GPS for New Community Paradigms?) in support of the previously established principle for the use of online communities to encourage direct democracy for on-the-ground communities. None of this could be tested in any sense, only theorized about.

Then the first serendipitous event occurred. Part of the improvement of the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking relational map was including the concepts of What Are Dialogue & Deliberation? from the Resource Center of the NCDD or National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. Near the end of last year, the NCDD went through a process that involved the identification of existing strategies and co-creation of new strategies to promote the NCDD’s mission of encouraging dialogue and deliberation. The process was done online using Codigital, an online program which provides, “evolutionary algorithm controls and coordinates the inputs of multiple participants in real time to generate focused, optimized collaborative output.” which by ideas were generated, developed through editing, voted on and then ranked. A simple explanation of the process can be found here, a more in-depth one here.

Participation, in addition to expressing one’s own views on matters of importance, provided the opportunity to create a simulation of an online group voting process which was done with the Kumu relational map Using Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles, which was featured in a related blog post and discussed further in the last blog post Bridging Differences in Approaches through Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking.

This allowed for further examination of the Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking relational map, in particular, the reinforcing loops of R3 Group Facilitation for Systems Thinking, as well as R4 Maintains Respect for Individuals and Time and R5 Group Development Systems Thinking. These loops focus on either the element Dialogue Facilitation or the element Perceived & Defined Meaningfulness of Deliberation. It is where these loops meet that the incorporation of dialogue and deliberation as essential elements of democracy can be realized.

It also allowed some thought experimentation on moving from the more basically abstract ideas generated by the NCDD/Codigital approach to areas of application, to connecting ideas together for strategic application to begin overcoming what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton called the Knowing Doing Gap.

However, while the individual online interactions comprising the Codigital vote ranking process were real world based, the interactions making up the simulations comprising the Using Systems Thinking as a Bridge between Democratic Issues and Democratic Principles relational map were not but rather an abstraction.

Then the second event occurred, making the combination of the two events serendipitous, at least if one is on this current path of inquiry. The opportunity arose to participate in an online discussion which arose out of some of the issues generally dealt with in the actual NCDD Codigital voting project (Download the NCDD/Codigital report here). This meant that the interactions were going to be real in real time.

The online discussion in question was "Dialogue, Deliberation, and Systemic Transformation" aka "DandDTrans," a community of inquiry and action regarding the role that dialogue and deliberation can play in addressing the mega-crises of our time. The discussions were held using the online program Hackpad, which is designed to “take collaborative notes, share data and files, and use comments to share your thoughts in real-time or asynchronously” and involved three different modes of dialogic process, World Cafe, Bohm Dialogues and Open Space Technology that took place through MaestroConference and other means.

The most direct Kumu connection to the "DandDTrans," community though was Dialogue, Deliberation, and Systemic Transformation Community. This provided a rich picture/concept map of the intentional transformational process to take a complex world through to what was seen as "the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible."

The process, including particularly relevant components, was mapped out through the Kumu project DDST Community which opens with the relational map, Bridging Creating and Transforming the Future.

The title came from laying out and comparing the pathways that could potentially be created by following two different approaches, hard or soft, to systems thinking as classified by Michael Jackson's System of Systems Methodologies and discussed in Systems Thinking - Sailing through Wicked Problems on Complex Seas.

There has been a bias towards hard or dynamic approaches to systems thinking, represented by the Creating the Future pathway, usually implemented with the intention of understanding or diagnosing problems and solving them. The Transforming the Future pathway involved the newly learned possibility for softer more participative approaches to systems thinking including Appreciative Inquiry, Ideal Design, and other soft system methodologies. Both the Creating the Future pathway and the Transforming the Future pathway were delved into more deeply revealing how they developed. Going back to the relational map, Bridging Creating and Transforming the Future showed the two paths together and reveal where they intersected and diverged which was at Complexity. Complexity appeared to be the juncture at which the two pathways can be bridged or where obstacles could arise creating tolls to further progress.

The conclusion arrived at is that efforts to create the future can be weakened if not enough is done to engage stakeholders in the process. Enough does not mean whitewashed attempts at community engagement but meaningful and at times deep engagement. At the same time, efforts to transform the future, while idealistic in their endeavor must still coalesce and be implemented in an effective and efficient manner. Together, both must work at making the complexity of wicked problems more coherent to those being tasked with the challenge of addressing them. The challenge, will invariably involve the entire community to be successful.

As written in the narrative of the map, finding pathways to create these bridges will undoubtedly mean further journeying along the lines of exploration opened by the Dialogue, Deliberation and Systemic Transformation Community and others, especially those who participated in the process and provided a number of different resources. The attempt was made to map out this dynamic process through a DDST Hackpads Map. It is another experiment and is and likely to be under construction for some time.

Participation in the DDST community was far more geared towards the soft side of systems thinking, to a far greater extent than I had experienced before. In some instances, it approached areas that I am unable to determine whether I consider them to be firmly in the boundaries of systems thinking or not. Most likely they are but I have yet to determine for myself, exactly how?

This involved my fairly recent introduction to the work of Christopher Alexander, the author of A Pattern Language. My initial impression was that he had developed another soft systems thinking approach which was rather compatible with design thinking. Further exposure made it clear that while the later could still be true, the former assumption was not, at least it is no where near that simple. Alexander’s methods or principles though do provide a means for very open, participatory processes for finding emerging possibilities. For the "DandDTrans," community this was done Group Works Card of the Evening! conversations involving selected Pattern Cards from the Group Works Pattern Language Deck.

These issues though will be left for future blog posts.

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