Category Archives: Complexity

About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Collective Impact is multi-sector approach to large-scale collaboration that is authentically inclusive of citizens in its development and implementation – in particular citizens who have life-experience with the big problems or issues being addressed, such as poverty, climate change, family violence, and so many more.

Collective Impact is not an approach aimed at creating program changes among a few agencies or undertaking collaboration in order to compete with other community initiatives. Rather, it tends to be focused on efforts to leverage talents, existing services, innovations, and resources in order to effect significant changes to policies and systems and where needed, significant programmatic changes. Such changes might occur within governments or government-run institutions, within education and health institutions, within business, or within service providers.

At recent sessions and workshops I held in Vancouver (Community Change Institute) and in Edmonton (Upside Down Thinking) , I shared a perspective on three types of problems identified by Brenda Zimmerman and how they connect to three types of change, three types of learning, and various types of thinking required in addressing each type of problem. My intent is to help our collective thinking about significant problems/issues facing our communities.

Simple problems are those we can fix easily and are sometimes called kaizen (the Japanese word for “continuous improvement”). Solutions to these kinds of problems are akin to tweaking a recipe or adjusting a process to improve quality or reliability of performance. Typically such changes are incremental.

When confronting these types of problems, we tend to focus on learning how to do things better (to do things right). A primary way to think about these problems is via event-oriented thinking, which is about focusing on events in sequence. This type of thinking is generally about undertaking changes to an “event” that impact the behaviour of employees in their delivery of a service to others. While important to achieving kaizen, this type of thinking limits its scope to causes of the event and does not involve looking at the overall system. Continue reading About Collective Impact: Types of Problems, Degrees of Change, Learning Loops, and Methods of Thinking

Democracy is dying. Time to get to work.

I came across an article by George Monbiot (www.monbiot.com) that appeared in the Guardian this July. In this article, Monbiot writes about James McGill Buchanan, an economist influenced by neoliberalism and deeply funded by billionaire Charles Koch, the 7th wealthiest person in the world.

According to Monbiot, Buchanan was an advocate for what he called the public choice theory. The general gist is that “society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes are forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

“Any clash between what he called ‘freedom’ (allowing the rich to do as they wished) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defense of freedom. Continue reading Democracy is dying. Time to get to work.

LIVING POOR: KAREN’S STORY

Note:  In addition to writing about community change and penning commentary, I am a story teller. I write fiction and spoken word. This piece is a mix of fact and fiction, often called “faction.”

One of my small luxuries in life is having someone come to my house weekly and clean it. I tell myself I need this service because I am so busy, but truth is it’s a luxury for me. I can afford it and to be honest I have the time to take care of my own mess; I just hate doing it.

Karen is the one who takes care of this for me. She is 24 and nearly always cheerful. She does an excellent job and in good time as well.  She is a friend of a friend and when I heard she was interested in providing this service, I decided to give her a go. Continue reading LIVING POOR: KAREN’S STORY

Simplicity and Complexity

The top drawing suggests there is complexity to the journey from A to B. That journey requires numerous loop backs before moving forward and takes the traveler up and down and back and forth along the way until the destination is reached. Who knows the reasons why the journey was somewhat unpredictable or if there were side trips that were either necessary or just taken out of curiosity.

I have taken journeys like that one and some were enjoyable. (I was once drove half way from Edmonton to Vancouver taking dirt roads through farmland and forests and loved it.) But sometimes the complexity represented in a diagram like the one above is caused by necessary diversions, distractions, or even arguments about which way is the best way to go. In other words, sometimes complexity is a good thing. It factors in different view points and it allows us to see more scenery along the way, perhaps learn more as well.

But sometimes getting from A to B can be quite simple and straightforward. Could be we need to get there as soon as possible. Could be the straight path is the safest path to take or more economical. Maybe there is some correlation between having a sense of urgency and getting to where we want to be as completely and as quickly as possible.

The reasons abound if we really think about it – for both scenarios.

Complexity and simplicity are not at odds are they? They just offer us a different perspective, offer options that perhaps the other doesn’t.

 

Maybe there are simple solutions to complex problems.

There appears to be a common perception among some thought leaders that complex problems require complex solutions. I am not arguing against that perspective except to ask, if it is always true? In my early life as a consultant to non-profit organizations I was involved in developing software, databases primarily, that were purposed to help organizations collect, analyze, and report on their work. Without exception the work these organizations were doing was addressing complex problems like exclusion, poverty, mental illness, and so on.

I remember one time when we were coding the database, we discovered that the entire database did not work. Not just parts of it but all of it. I tried every which way to identify why this was happening. An earlier version worked fine, but now after adding copious amounts of code, nada.

Code is complex in and of itself but even more so when code must work with other code. In other words, a good coder has to understand how to use the development language but also needs to understand how that language interacts with itself across patterns or clusters of code.

After literally days of trying to figure out what was wrong, I finally identified the problem. I had forgotten a period in one line of code and that small mistake stopped everything. The solution was laborious to locate but it was a simple one. Add the period and voila, all was as we intended.

Maybe there is a lesson here for us in terms of our design of programs and services or collaborative ventures. Maybe our policies or systems that exist to solve complex challenges do not always need to be scrapped or undergo a major rethink. Maybe sometimes, within what we currently have before us, there is a small, simple change that will in turn change everything.

What do you think?