Systems Thinking: Driving Postive Change via TRUE Collaboratives for Comprehensive Stakeholder Benefit

Submitted by Sudhir Kade on Tue, 12/16/2008 - 20:19.

It's been quite interesting attending events like the recent Local Foods conversation held at AJ Roccos and coordinated by Josh Klein of CityFresh, among others. Reading through the main tenets of the recent co-proposal of the Land Lab of Kent State's CUDC and Neighborhood Progress, Inc provided a good overall game plan with a systems-oriented lens - certainly an understanding of all of these various systems as part of a greater system comprising our region was heartening to see. As referenced earlier, the five core 'pillars' or points anchoring the vision for a reimagined, sustainable city were:

1) Urban agriculture

2) Ecosystem restoration/stormwater retention

3) Energy generation

4) Phyto-remediation of contaminated sites

5) Green space/recreation

In regards to this particular proposal to the Cleveland Planning Commission main components and innovations therein have been discussed quite extensively for years here on RealNEO and certainly by so many others contributing innovative ideas and solutions.  It does pull everything together nicely and with core urban planning technique and expertise that is just not my forte.  I choose to innovate and design unique models and strategies.  Creating is what makes me tick.  Still other networks and collaboratives are growing across industry sectors throughout our region.  Multiple Food Congresses for our states key urban centers, Local Food Cleveland, and Ohio Local Food Systems Collaborative  are just a few that are  just now developing and interconnecting a much larger systemic infrastructure.   As for workforce development in specific , the Ohio Skills Bank vision and associated data tool is emerging as a hub and strategic centerpoint for all our state's economic development regions.  This has led to recent new collaboratives like the Regional Talent Network on the workforce front.   The decision by the Fund for our Economic Future (yet another suppposed collaborative - potentially suspect in its robustness or vibrancy ) to spend 300K to hire Chicago consultancy and designate a position out of Akron to direct this connection with the Skills bank for regional economic development is still up to debate and merits discussion as well.   What were the key lessons learned by similar outsourced approaches with Voices and Choices?  Good question to consider when attempting to drive truly systemic and collaborative economic development of our region.  Also important on an individual and mass level are key behaviors, fundamental lessons we need to try to inculcate into our lives and live by.

 This particular plan identified a specific list of sustainability-and-planning related organizations which served as a core working group toward its manifestation - and I first modeled and proposed at 2005's Research ShowCASE, intelligent collaborative models (such as those defining ring-cone theory) are likely the best bet for effective self-management and TRUE sustainability of such collaboratives with particular sensitivity to accountability, transparency, authenticity, and enlightened persepective. Perhaps what Norm and others have repeatedly identified are repeated cases of bad civic behavior. Its difficult to engage in a process that meaningfully identifies and calls out in a prolific way the largest audience possible such transgressions and missteps. However, perhaps the best way is to publicize them and challenge these failures to respond and perhaps, repent. One thing I do find alarming at times, however are accusations and determinations that lead to possibly inaccurate character assasinations. Furthermore, we need to consider what rash actions can do to the system as a whole.

We are all part of one connected system - and much of what has been wrong with antiquated, command-and-control models of consulting - deficit-based, problem oriented focus that only cultivates incremental improvements rather than transformative ones continues still. I suggest that those leaders of any sector - For Profit, Non Profit, Educational, or Government that represent a core segmentation of the larger system which has long functioned in siloed fashion be challenged intelligently, with valid reasons and proof positive that transgressions, or perhaps even unacceptable complacency or inactivity have occurred. Few can deny the system as a whole and any pertinent subsystem therein suffers from these inappropriate or ineffective behaviors. And as citizens, it is our patent responsibility to keep leaders accountable for their actions and decisions. All this being said, I am a fan of forgiveness and second chances on both individual and organizational levels but whether effecting the removal of elected leaders - and more challenging - appointed ones - best benefits the system as a whole - in this case our entire region and all its stakeholders is complicated. I'd be hypocritical, as a systems thinker, if I didn't validate such thinking on an organizational level and remain such a passionate advocate of social justice and second chance opportunities for our nation's incarcerated individuals, stigmatized by past transgressions and mistakes, and so forth. And it is very difficult to justify dismissing an entire organization if decisions made by specific leaders of those organizations should err or fail.  Showing others the ways that work, leading by example, modeling smart strategic choices are viable alternatives to elimination.  To a point.

These issues merit meaningful conversation and debate. Just as violence on the battlefield only begets more violence and forms of retaliation, we need to take a step back and consider an enlightened approach to the whole matter. I meet so many influential people with so many conflicting opinions and approaches in mind. Some advocate 'elimination' of foundations or nonprofits deemed damaging or irrelevant. Others might consider meaningful organizational interventions at appropriate levels of system that enlighten participants and shift behaviors in ways amenable to a shift in perspective and worldview, growth of tolerance, appreciation of diversity, and ultimately, an understanding that embracing a servant leadership philosophy embracing colloborative behavior is the ultimate risk managment mechanism for any leader or organization. I begin this discussion in the most general and open fashion possible - there is much, much more to delineate and explore as we progress through the discovery process and assess multiple systems on multiple levels. Most recently we've talked about specific approaches to manifest a successful and vibrant local economy - particularly one anchored by green job development and supportive of a sustainable city infrastructure open to innovation and demonstrative of collaboration. Collaborations designed quite similarly to those defined here are, in my opinion, those that will bear the greatest level of success and contribution to all system stakeholders. Too often assymetry of information, power, and wealth disrupts the very optimization of outcome and efficiency organizations and collaborations thereto strive for.   Hence Ring Cone theory serves to mitigate this significantly.

Lets consider this as we peruse a variety of key collaborations, task forces, cooperatives , chambers, and so forth. Consider the advantages offered by enlightened leadership and successful chaordic model function offered here. And for those who find this first treatise verbose or obtuse, please just spend a little time reading the paper - (focus on the diagrams) and look for follow ups that sharpen focus and specificity with each follow-up posting. A good start, I've decided, is my current focus of study - meaningful Asset Based Community Development grounded in effective network mapping. It serves as the best possible foundation and process for system outcomes enriching all stakeholders and their quality of life as a whole. Truly sustainable development for our region must be holistic and collaborative in nature - selfless service of others ultimately serves and the self. Ultimately we are all connected and all is one. We need to maximize a genuine understanding of this and live accordingly. Systems Thinking, Asset Based Community Development, Enlightened Perspective, and ultimately equitable empowerment and energy balance throughout seem like a fundamental start.  As to specifics of what these mean and a standing and open invitation to challenges and counterpoints to these words that enrich the development of what ultimately needs to be, look for the next installment very soon.