Tamara SunSong and I were discussing organizational forms and decision making structures in groups promoting transition ideas. My point was that a "community" is a self-organizing form with no decision making structure. Instead, the characteristics of a community are determined by the interaction (the choices) of the community members . . . or, all the choices of each of the people, plants and creatures resident within a given locality.
That raises the issue of what any of us can do to help our community adjust to increasing energy prices and climate change? And that brings me back to this group which starts with the premise that synergy is the highest activity in all life.
I am promoting an approach, not unlike that in a permaculture design, where we observe how the members of a community interact, with an eye toward making new connections that make better use of existing resources. My fondest wish is a forum in which I can compare notes with other people attempting a similar approach in their community . . . so that we can discontinue failed approaches and multiply successful approaches.
I have a goal for this first discussion, which I hope to be the first in a series. That goal would be to draft a 1/2 page (the length of text the average reader will read to the end where there is no prior interest) that explains this difference in approach from setting up a new organization to promote an idea, to operating as a catalyst for new connections between the existing elements of the community.
If we were successful in drafting such an introduction, I would ask all the participants to post it in every forum where they have a reputation, and share the results back to a new discussion among we the new kind of leaders who are developing this application of our knowledge of interconnectedness.
I hope you will join in the work.
Thanks for setting this up, David.
I'm wondering first of all what kinds of tools others are using to form and support relationships with other groups/organizations. We held a large event in November 2009, to which we invited representatives of many different sustainability-related and community organizations in town... had people from over 50 different groups there. We tried to identify some common goals and set an agenda for future colloboration. And that was great, but... follow through has been piecemeal, because it depends on the efforts of individual volunteers who are pulled in many other directions, with our own working groups etc. I've also noticed that some groups are interested in coming to us (mostly those working on environmental sustainability issues), while other are not (for example indigenous groups, those working on poverty and homelessness issues), so perhaps we need different strategies for each.
I think individual working groups have also been forming connections (I know the food group has), but it's hard to know how much these support material actions together.
I'm also curious to what degree there are active leaders in other transition groups (versus very distributed participating), whether there are formal decision making processes or procedures for dealing with conflict (we've been told by one or two members that we "should" have formalized processes for this), how large scale decisions, for example those involving grant $, are made...
That's enough for one post!
the collection, collation and summation I mentioned before, still in progress, is getting too large for a post. I am thinking I might just post it as a blog?
There are definitely concrete actions that you can take, however, especially in light of similar experiences of nearly identical groups with the same goals.
I'll be back...
I understand all members of a community to be individuals. We form organizations to meet specific individual needs - and an organization only exists so long as it meets that need for its members.
However, whenever we form an organization, we create a new set of needs. Those are what the organization needs to survive . . . and those are different from and can conflict with the needs the organization is formed to fulfill.
Organizations may have common goals in terms of the needs of their members but they are often competitors in terms of the the resources they need to survive. It works out that a given project about fulfilling the needs of individuals can have appeal across organizations. A project about fulfilling the needs of an organization will probably be competing with projects of other organizations.
One of the difficulties is the confusion, throughout the dominant culture, of wants and needs. Another is the worship of individualism at the expense of the individual actualization required for interdependence. All talk, no action, so to speak.
For what it's worth here, Dr. Covey defines organization as a relationship with a purpose.
There are additional considerations.
Among the individual needs that organizations meet is the wish of numerous individuals for a division of labor, an alternative to self-sufficiency (or, in the less rosy depiction, every one for h__self). In any population doing without such analysis and distribution of tasks and roles, everyone must have or act as if in possession of the same passions, knowledge, understanding and skills. In that condition, resilience and inefficiency are high, leaving many synergies beyond reach, trapped in the realm of potential. Once again, humans are challenged to discover sufficiency in a balance.
Research-informed practice now is to identify and arrange individuals so that strengths of whole persons are made productive and their weaknesses are made irrelevant. When we ask or insist that folks perform any task or assume any role that is not attractive to them, we reduce them to things and configure for difficulties in days to come.
Some existing organizations came into being in circumstances that will fade away during energy descent, but it is difficult to determine how they will fade and disintegrate. Seemingly redundant links made by individuals, like what Jackson describes, may be smartest of all. Choosing and linking is leading.
[note: an earlier version preceded David Braden's post of the same morning]
I edited the introduction . . . taking out the reference to interacting organizations and rephrasing it to make clear that our concern is the needs of individuals . . .
I find it difficult to draw a line between needs and wants . . . individuals "need" things to motivate them at different stages of development, we "need" a sense of satisfaction from doing good work, we "need" a sense of belonging . . . in fact, the need for a sense of belonging may be one of our most powerful drives.
That being said, the question for this group of leaders is, 'How do we fulfill the "needs" of our community in the face of unstable planetary systems?' . . .
My list of needs, for that purpose, is food, clothing, shelter, education and health care . . .
With access to those things, an individual has the opportunity for actualization (some community direction probably required). I also agree about the division of labor. Self-sufficiency is a lonely and inefficient way to go. A single planetary supply line is a dangerously fragile way to go.
I think that is a good frame for our discussion. Somewhere in between is a stable place to produce what individuals need to thrive. There is also the flip side:
Complex planetary supply lines (the Global Economy) do not make productive use of all available resources. That system only recognizes "value" where something can be incorporated into a product and sold at a profit. It does not value anything that is abundant . . . perhaps there is a different way to produce those things that we want to be abundant . . . like food, clothing, shelter, education and health care.
I do not challenge the wisdom of the "invisible hand" when it comes to the allocation of scarce resources. But, it is clear that there is value in things that are not "marketable". It is those things . . . the unrealized biological and human potential already resident in our neighborhoods . . . that I hope we can find a way to connect with the unmet needs of individuals in our community.
The awful question is:
What is the difference between identifying as a new kind of leaders who are developing this application of our knowledge of interconnectedness and setting up a new organization to promote an idea?
Is it that we are determined to apply our knowledge? Is it that we are only a digitally connected network? Is it that this network is self-organizing and renewing as each leader chooses for h__self? What is it?
What's been wanting to emerge is an idea that's compatible today with each necessary answer to...
What's in it for me? , for that is today's question, the one we're given as a point of departure.
Interconnectedness is a fact that can be discounted and ignored by billions like any other fact, possibly until GAME OVER. Only when each can make and keep promises will it be the fact that matters. Then the question will be What shall WE do today?
Hard to imagine, because of where we stand, it will be a fresh and honest person-to-person(s) inquiry.
All good questions David. I think most people identify first with their job (economic status) and secondly, with their nationality or ethnicity. In both cases, we think of ourselves as a part of a hierarchy, where decisions are made at the top. We are essentially powerless as individuals in those heirarchies because any change has to overcome the interests of all those who rely on the status quo.
This next part is difficult to understand, because we are so used to letting these hierarchies make decisions for us. We can have a decision making process to make decisions for a group of people but those decisions only affect the organization when they are acted on by individuals. So, our community, all the people, plants and creatures interacting within a locality, can be affected by a decision at the top, but only to the extent that individuals act upon that decision.
We try to visualize this process with the concept of bridges. The process of living sytems is described by the flows through the system. Like the flow of nutrients through an ecosystem, but, including all the things that flow, including the flow of information represented by this post. Those flows are directed through the system by the choice of individuals to engage in the flow . . . creating a bridge.
The characteristics or our communities are determined by the cumulative affect of these individual choices. They are what system scientists call complex adaptive systems and change in the system occurs at the level of the individual transaction. Change from the top down is difficult because people rely on their bridges to obtain what they need and desire from the system. The system is also highly adaptive, because any stimuli, such as an increase in oil prices, generates a separate response from each individual.
What I am saying is that, knowing that we participate in a complex adaptive system, and that change occurs at the level of individual transactions, we can build sustainability by demonstrating sustainable sets of bridges and how those choices create a more satisfying lifestyle than living as a cog in the global economy.
2/2: "I have a goal for this first discussion, which I hope to be the first in a series. That goal would be to draft a 1/2 page that explains this difference in approach from setting up a new organization to promote an idea, to operating as a catalyst for new connections between the existing elements of the community."
2/3: "I edited the introduction . . . taking out the reference to interacting organizations and rephrasing it to make clear that our concern is the needs of individuals . . ."
Has the goal changed? If so, to what?
No, the goal has not changed. It is just that the goal involves the contribution of others to a collaborative description of our "collective understanding".
I have been working with different ways of describing this shift in point of view . . . and I think I am getting better at it . . . but, so long as it is just my understanding, it carries no more weight than any other individual understanding. If we can come together to describe our common understanding of our individual role in creating the world (much like you do in the "To lead, be whole in Your space" discussion), that collective understanding can serve as an "authority" that leads to more and more people taking responsibility for what happens in their locality and away from theories about how something or someone else is responsible for the condition of the world.
When we assign responsibility to someone else . . . the government, the corporations, the money system . . . we give them our power to create the world.
You know I really do enjoy reading these esoteric discussions. I consider myself a synergist, as I think many of us on this network do, trying to understand and leverage the interactions in relationships and systems and how they effect each other, good or bad. Reading the posts so far takes me back to college philosophy with meta-ethics and motivation.
What is motivation as it ties with morality? What is responsibility next to free will? Do moral properties become judgments, left up to the individual (its a good/bad thing) and do those judgments motivate or discourage and dissuade? As leaders, with the mission of moving an abstract agenda, it seems crucial that we first try to understand and then reach hearts (morals) as well as minds.
For instance, as Tamara notes, this community is made up of very disparate groups and philosophies whose only commonality may lie in this movement. Speaking to the indigenous groups, I am Native myself, I can understand how they would be reticent to trust outside organizations given our national history.
So, how shared knowledge turns into motivation that turns into community action seems to be the question, not an easy subject, but so crucial to contemplate. Obviously the answer to these questions are subjective and as straightforward as cat herding (a recreational hobby of mine).
My ideas for concrete answers are more pragmatic. Technically speaking this network set up is cumbersome in that each Ttown is a separate entity that requires a separate application to join discussions or just to network and collaborate with the like-minded. I am working on some analysis for an essay on food sovereignty and, using the all-transition search, have located such a group in Washington State, but to comment on their discussion I must re-enter my profile; to send an individual a message I must first become "friends".
My "friends" carried over from Colorado when I signed up here, but not my groups. Why not have membership in one transition community be an acceptance, at least as a guest, to all the others? This is a hurdle that can only stifle the free sharing of ideas and visions.
I must admit that neither am I a fan of this virtual gifting (ala facespace)- it smacks of exploitation. I don't know who is profiting by commercializing our workspace because I guarantee I am not the only one who feels this will turn people away as well.
But specifically on your vision to "discontinue failed approaches and multiply successful approaches", I am a fan of working documents. This is more of a wiki approach as we identify key subjects that require translation into motivation and creating meaningful action.
And speaking of leadership, it seems that the collection and collation of these ongoing documents must be done by a dedicated individual, or NGO/non-profit, so that there is a central specific location (virtual or real) that all groups can reference and access.
On a more personal note, as a person of color I would like to point out, without judgment, that these forums generally lack ethnic diversity. I do speak Spanish and have some experience working with Mexicans and Latin Americans who share these same goals but are disenfranchised in our political climate. General mistrust of the "system", I believe, is as ingrained for them as it is in African-American communities. I mean aren't most food deserts inhabited mainly by minorities?
If we hope to truly be inclusive, I suggest we find ways to reach out to existing minority groups with compatible visions. Respectfully, David, your observation on self-perception (ie. 1st identify w occupation; 2nd identify w heritage) may apply to many but identity, especially as it relates to self-efficacy, changes dramatically across cultural lines.
My main point here is that there may be no real concrete answer to these questions. In the history of the grassroots movement it seems that a critical mass is finally reached, with a frenzy of activity, that then explodes into uncontainable irresistible action. This is the opposite of oppressive hierarchy and control; change coming from the bottom up. I personally believe that this is where we are now in Transitions. Facilitation, without specific direction, is leadership too.
So, to me the most important action that all of us must take, as leaders, is to grow membership and visibility.
After all, leadership in these fluid communities is more moral authority than mandate. It seems that most newcomers to this network and movement are looking to be inspired and engaged. Les is doing a fantastic job in the latter (my technical peeves notwithstanding) but perhaps the national/local group we need is "Engaging, Inspiring and Empowering new members".
Finally I want to say that hierarchy and inclusiveness are not mutually exclusive. The situation in Victoria (with dozens of other examples) shows us that an organizational structure is a necessary tool for making decisions and moving ideas to action. I believe many, if not most individuals, need a structure, need strong leadership, even if that leadership only has a mandate by way of the accepted authority of an organizer. You are experienced, you know what you are doing, I will follow you.
Our collective disdain for hierarchy comes from the way governments use to fill their pockets, maintaining status quo, by colluding with greed interests. I submit that hierarchical decision making systems are a necessary means for progress that only becomes evil when used for nefarious ends.
Thats my take: keep up the good work David. :-)
Nutrition and Wellness in Preventive Health Group