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, July 10, 2015

Feedback Loops Keep Collective Impact Impacting

In a recent Google Plus comment on the last NCP post, online colleague Daniel Bassill asked, “Do you know of any college that is using your articles and maps in an extended learning process? There's quite a bit of information, particularly if one visits the articles linked to in each node on the map.” The quick answer is no (it was a kind but undeserved compliment). He went on to make the valid point that, “A casual visitor might be overwhelmed and not stick around long enough to begin to understand the big picture the maps represent.” , in a vein similar to Ryan Mohr’s comment on the Collective Impact and Kumu Relational Mapping - Creating New Ways of Seeing Our Community post. We can look to start following some of Ryan Mohr’s advice addressed in the last post though it will still be more exploration than presentation. What should be kept in mind is that Collective Impact, systems thinking and design thinking all involve a different way of looking at the world. Kumu maps give us a different way of looking at those different ways of looking at the world.

The first thing that should be noted about the Kumu Module 3 Feedback map is that there aren’t any persistent feedback loops in the systems thinking sense of the term. There could be a repeat reading of connected articles and if article A helped one to understand article B and then article B in turn helped to better understand article A, and repeated as needed, that could be considered a feedback loop but it would likely be completed fairly quickly.

This is mentioned early on because the end of the last post promised to look at a topic particularly relevant to systems thinking — feedback loops. The information on feedback as it relates to Collective Impact can be found within the articles and other resources contained in the elements making up the Feedback map. Hopefully, it does not need to be mentioned that one has to actually read the associated material and not depend upon the still developing summaries provided in the narrative sections of a Kumu map. An attempt will be made to establish feedback relationships as defined by systems thinking as well.

The Kumu Module 3 Feedback map is organized on a branching or tree model. Certain elements serve as nodes, connecting and branching out to other element nodes. Admittedly, when presented at a single viewing, it can be daunting as was discussed in the last post.

Going first into the main narrative section of the Feedback map and mousing over to highlight and then clicking on the "Week 3 Feedback Loops Purpose" text takes one to the Week 3 Kumu loop which is in actuality a selected portion of the larger map focused on related content. Clicking on Week 3 Selected Map in the narrative section will focus only on that specific portion of the map. Week 3: Creating Community Feedback Loops to Fast Track Change is the central element node, with associated url, of the section map.

The resulting map is now far simpler. In addition to the main article on community feedback loops there are according to the legend in the bottom left corner, two blog posts, two reports and one journal article supporting the main article.

This is the same information provided by the Living Cities course except, rather than branches to other element nodes, with Living Cities the additional information is within the primary article, one, two or more layers behind links to other articles and resources. These relationships become more apparent with the maps. The original Living Cities' Week 3 related articles are the territory. We want to study the stones making up the road but we also want to know where the road can lead us or choose different paths. We will still need to expand into more complex maps if we wish to cross more difficult territory.

Once a section map is selected the focus remains even if returning to the Module 3 map by specifically clicking a relevant link or clicking on the background of the map area. One can go to the narrative of the section map and in this case click on 'Week 3 Clear' to clear the specific focus and then 'Back to Module 3' to return to the full Module 3 map. One can also return to the Module 3 map, with the selected focus maintained and add other selected focused map sections.

The journey through the extensive material can then be made easier by jumping directly to other selected specific map sections within the Feedback map. The next section map is 3 Flavors Feedback. Clicking on 3 Flavors Feedback Selected Map again focuses on the specific portion of the map. The central element node 3 Fabulous Flavors of Feedback Culture is not directly connected to the Week 3 section of the map but does connect through elements related to other section maps. Again, this section map is fairly simple consisting of three blog posts, including the initial one, a news release on a County PFS program, a news article on How to Achieve Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, and the organization StriveTogether, introduced in Module 1 and cited in the central blog post.

The next section map to visit, Is Pay for Success CI?, which again can be focused on. It is directly connected to Week 3: Creating Community Feedback Loops to Fast Track Change. There are more element nodes within this section of the map because this section of the map extends out another degree or, if this was the Living Cities course, another layer of linked articles. The element nodes include the Week, the type of Work undertaken by Living Cities in this arena, five blog posts, a news article, two different organizations, one financial and one an outcomes-driven organization, and a report on the joint work undertaken by these organizations.

The next map section is 4 Keep It Real Community Impact Insights, repeating the step to focus then to the similarly named central element node takes us to the related Living Cities blog post. It is again separated by a degree or layer from the originating Week 3 section of the map. The element nodes associated with this section of the map include two blog posts, including the preceding post Is Pay for Success Collective Impact?, a set of resources on decision makers and do-ers, a news article, an organization and two books. If the Module 3 map were drawn vertically as with the systems thinking iceberg model then this section map would be at the lower levels providing a foundation for the rest of the map.

The final selected map section is Creating Feedback Loops. This is the busiest of the section maps with twenty directly related element nodes, seven blog posts, two from previous map sections, three related but different types of organizations, the resources from one of the organizations, a FSG resource with associated webinar and finally a connection to the previous Week 2 Amplifying the Voices of Community Members in Collective Impact.

Feedback within systems does not stop, however, once the interviews or reports are finished. There also exists feedback loops within the systems that we are attempting to impact and within the systems we devise as means of impact, necessitating again, feedback from those being served. Feedback is also an important component of the personal stories defining those making up the client audience. These feedback loops change each node making up the loop and can change further with sequential loops with multiple nodes and loops capable of raising emergent transitions throughout an entire system.

Feedback loops have to be considered in establishing optimal levels of service. Ideally, city budgets endeavor to reach optimal levels of expenditures to fund the programs which are beneficial to the community. In an example from Getting Deep into ST - Systems Thinking Certification they may fund road improvements to increase the capacity of the streets to allow an optimal number of vehicles. (The community question is what is that optimal number?) These three properties, budget, roads and cars can interact together in a variety of different ways. Built roads in a community can be increased but not easily and not indefinitely. Traffic, particularly if it originates outside of the community, could increase exponentially overtaxing the community’s circulation system. The community could try to find some means of balancing these conflicting influences but its actions might feedback in unintended ways.

As was pointed out in Direct Democracy and System Thinking Map - Some Potholes on the Journey, there are also limitations to our models or devised systems. In terms of a working reality, our maps or systems often assume only smooth sailing. In truth, any system could break down at each stage of the process and feedback to debilitate the entire system. It should also be appreciated that not only can something go wrong at each step of the actual process, necessitating a thorough review and response, but that each step can be important in its own right and is not merely a stepping stone to a final outcome. Feedback loops, especially those separated significantly by distance, time or aggregation, are a major source for unintended consequences.

Finally, as was pointed out in Exploring with the Dialogue, Deliberation and Systemic Transformation Community to Discover New Possibilities Part 3 of 3, it is the synthesis of the different ways of understanding systems that can lead us to the elements of storytelling helping to define complexity in a manner similar to what makes a great story. The elements in determining in what way a problem is complex are also the elements of an engaging story and feedback can be a meaningful part of that story.

1. Many interacting “agents”

2. Individuals and processes influence each other in feedback loops

3. Reactions may be affected by current and past circumstances

4. Influenced by the external environment

5. Events have multiple causes and multiple effects

6. Large events can have small effects and small events can have large effects

7. Events emerge in surprising ways, spontaneously in the absence of a “controller”

8. Events display a complicated mix of ordered and disordered behaviour

9. It is an emotional Issue

Stories can help make our complex world more coherent.

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