Strategic Capacity

Towards a New Public Infrastructure

Resource name: 
Towards a New Public Infrastructure — preprint
Resource type: 
Articles

Adapting Change

David Hubert
CIRAL/CIRAN
Problem: 

Heraclitus of Ephesus wrote that of all the things in the world, "change is the only constant." As time goes on, circumstances beyond controlling will occur and and communities will be required to adapt to new conditions, but the nature of some types of change and/or how rapidly the transition occurs isn't always our favor. There also usually exists a correlation between the speed with which change occurs and the amount of supporting systems disrupted by this change, most often to their detriment. Many factors and situations are beyond our individual control while the end-state of change is uncertain at best, so when we recognize the process of change beginning to occur we do what we can to influence the factors we actually can control. If it is decided that action is needed to mitigate change then the nature of that action must be determined first; as Kwama Nkrumah wrote "action without thought is empty, [and] thought without action is blind.” Great care must be taken to avoid unnecessary disruption, and a balance must be found between planning and execution, ensuring that appropriate steps are taken while ensuring they are taken before control of a given situation is lost. 

Context: 
This pattern applies to any community engaged in a decision-making process. Many issues and possible changes are not time sensitive per se, but situations can easily occur at many scales where foregone or even delayed action would be detrimental to the community. Recognizing this type of situation falls on the members of this community, but this comes with the caveats that not all situations are as time- sensitive as they may appear, and that predicted end-states and rates of transition may not reflect reality. 
Discussion: 
Wikipedia defines time as "the indefinite continued progression of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future." From that, the process of change begins with the past, the staging and valuing of variables, then moving through the present by interacting with one another, then unfolding into their end-state in the future. The Hopi saw time as an environment that one moved through, like riding down a river winding through a constantly changing countryside, but thus far both science and philosophy have failed to produce a working model of time.
 
Also much like being swept down an unknown river, change is as unpredictable as it is inevitable. This vagueness makes change a very two-sided coin, offering either hope, or, more often then not, dread, for, as H.P. Lovecraft wrote, "the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." Numerous studies have shown that the brain operates very differently under different circumstances. Hunger, sleep deprivation and sex all affect our decision-making processes differently, but few drives cause more irrational behavior then fear. When faced with change, especially at larger scales, it can be very easy to slip into an emergency mindset, to lose sight of the bigger picture in lieu a seemingly large detail, but it is usually impossible to  truly say what changes would be good or bad for us just as we cannot accurately say what changes would be good or bad for others. This stems from the simple facts that "good" and "bad" are relative to the observer and that we cannot truly predict the range of consequences from our actions. Returning to the "time as a river" perspective, it is also important to note that it is not really a river, especially in terms of where it might take one. It seems to operate much more like a river delta: broad, steady, and filled with possibilities. 
 
However, this fear of change is not without reason. Any type of change, any adjustment of variables within a given system, inherently causes disruption among adjacent entities. Most often the scale and/or intensity of this disruption is proportional to the rate at which this change occurs, i.e. c=vtc being the change occurring to a given system, v being the disruption of adjacent/interdependent systems, and t being the duration of time this change takes to occur. For example, if one were to dig a hole, one would have many options to achieve this end. The obvious solution would be to use a shovel, causing minimal collateral damage but taking a fair amount of time, where a diesel-powered excavator would certainly be faster but would tear up a lot of other ground. Moving further towards the extremes, an archaeologist can use brushes and trowels to carefully remove dirt over months or years, but with some artfully placed explosives you can have a hole dug in seconds. The perfectly valid concern held by those worried about change is ultimately over exactly which adjacent systems will be affected.
Solution: 

Changing times will require communities to change with them, but top-tier objectives, e.g. ensuring basic survival, rarely change, if ever, and what constitutes top-tier objective(s) must be identified by the community in question. That said, communities must remain flexible in their goals and be willing to adjust for new information and situations, e.g. recognizing when a lower tier objective is no longer feasible or when one method can achieve an objective better than another. Additionally, communities may often identify critical points of failure or obvious challenges within their own system(s) and develop contingencies accordingly. Intentional avoidance of "load-bearing" positions, e.g. having one person without whom the system cannot function, goes a long way towards ensuring stability, as do maintaining standardized communications, including documentation, language and data formatting, to ensure that the correct information can be found by those seeking it. Perhaps most importantly, communities must adopt the mindset of survival, of finding a balance between flexibility to go with some change and the rigidity to resist other, the willingness to "make it happen" in spite of external influence.Solution: Changing times will require communities to change with them, but top-tier objectives, e.g. ensuring basic survival, rarely change, if ever, and what constitutes top-tier objective(s) must be identified by the community in question. That said, communities must remain flexible in their goals and be willing to adjust for new information and situations, e.g. recognizing when a lower tier objective is no longer feasible or when one method can achieve an objective better than another. Additionally, communities may often identify critical points of failure or obvious challenges within their own system(s) and develop contingencies accordingly. Intentional avoidance of "load-bearing" positions, e.g. having one person without whom the system cannot function, goes a long way towards ensuring stability, as do maintaining standardized communications, including documentation, language and data formatting, to ensure that the correct information can be found by those seeking it. Perhaps most importantly, communities must adopt the mindset of survival, of finding a balance between flexibility to go with some change and the rigidity to resist other, the willingness to "make it happen" in spite of external influence.

Categories: 
orientation
Categories: 
organization
Themes: 
Education
Themes: 
Globalism and Localism
Themes: 
Community Action
Themes: 
Case Studies
Verbiage for pattern card: 
 Determining which steps to take is just as important as actually taking them, but in a time-sensitive environment, action and thought must be carefully balanced. Communities must be able to recognize where change is occuring/will occur as well as which rates of change are favorable, which are not, and which ones can be regulated or negated.
Pattern status: 
Released

Journal of Community Informatics

Organization's slogan: 
The Journal of Community Informatics provides an opportunity for Community Informatics researchers and others to share their work with the larger community. Through the Journal's application of a rigorous peer review process, knowledge and awareness concerning the community use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is being brought to a wider professional audience.
Civic Organization Disclaimer: 
Possible disclaimer: This information has been entered by a person who isn't associated with the organization. It may be incomplete or contain mistakes. If you are associated with this organization and would like to maintain this information, please get a Public Sphere Project account and ask us to transfer ownership of this information to you.
Organizational engagement: 
Active
Organization's headquarters: 
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Organization's geographic focus: 
worldwide

http://

Contact person: 
Michael Gurstein

HERMES Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights

Organization's slogan: 
Whistleblowing Technologies: Empowering Truth as a Human Right
Civic Organization Disclaimer: 
Possible disclaimer: This information has been entered by a person who isn't associated with the organization. It may be incomplete or contain mistakes. If you are associated with this organization and would like to maintain this information, please get a Public Sphere Project account and ask us to transfer ownership of this information to you.

Our mission is to promote and develop in the society the awareness of and the attention to transparency and accountability, be they related to the society-at-large or not. Our goal is to increase the citizens’ involvement in the management of matters of public interest and to boost the active participation of workers and employees to correct the management of corporations and companies they work for.

Organizational engagement: 
Active
Organization's headquarters: 
Milan, Italy
Organization's geographic focus: 
Worldwide

Aspiration

Organization's slogan: 
Better Tools for a Better World
Aspiration helps nonprofits, activists and foundations use software tools more effectively and sustainably. We serve as ally, coach, strategist, mentor and facilitator to those trying to make more impactful use of information technology in their social change efforts.

We work to catalyze and strengthen physical communities of nonprofit users and software developers by convening and facilitating innovative technology events. We empower virtual communities of nonprofit users and developers through the Social Source Commons, which maps out available software tools and related information resources. And we provide strategic capacity building services, working with software developers to produce better tools for nonprofits, and with nonprofits to better leverage these tools.

Year the organization was founded: 
2001
Organizational engagement: 
Active
Organization's headquarters: 
San Francisco, California, US
Organization's geographic focus: 
Global and national, with deeper capacity building work in western US
Contact person: 
Allen Gunn
Contact information: 
info@aspirationtech.org

Small World News

Civic Organization Disclaimer: 
Possible disclaimer: This information has been entered by a person who isn't associated with the organization. It may be incomplete or contain mistakes. If you are associated with this organization and would like to maintain this information, please get a Public Sphere Project account and ask us to transfer ownership of this information to you.

From the mission statement: 

 

Small World News focuses on developing the capacity of citizens to engage with the international community in crisis areas and conflict zones.

Our most recent project, Alive in Libya, showcased the potential of citizen media when combined with affordable digital technologies and professional training. As an organization our primary focus has been to guide local citizens through the entire process, from learning to produce professional media to distributing via social media and leveraging relevant technologies to broaden the impact.

We believe our unique body of expertise with media development in conflict areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya makes us uniquely positioned to provide training to existing media professionals, human rights and civil society organizations, as well as independent citizens. In the past year, in addition to our own projects, Small World News has conducted training in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Rwanda, Bahrain, Libya, and Uganda. Training subjects included: new media tools for civil society, SMS and mobile technology, training for journalists in new media and multimedia, training and advising in online security, training and deployment of Ushahidi.

Organizational engagement: 
Active

http://

Community Animators

Pattern ID: 
752
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
102
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces, as well as grasp and utilize the various assets the community has to work with. The lack of grassroots knowledge has proven problematic in that development schemes are often mismatched in scale and relevance to the community’s needs, abilities and liabilities. Thus the conceived solutions for encouraging community capacities and livelihoods fall short of their objectives.

Context: 

Through their lived experience, community members trained in assessment techniques and information gathering can provide contextual understandings of the assets and liabilities a community possesses that would otherwise go unnoticed to the outside professional. Similarly they can act as agent for the process of conscientization and subsequent mobilization for peoples to pursue change and empowerment.

Discussion: 

In response to the failures of 'top-down' approaches to development, a shift towards emphasizing participation and empowerment have begun to make their way into the mainstream of development practice. This move toward "bottom-up," "farmer-to-farmer," and "grassroots" communication has been a fundamental reorientation. Following, the 70s and 80s, years often associated with the dark ages of development a new light has come about through alternative practices that seek to employ the community’s themselves in defining their needs, mapping out there assets and coming to terms with their own liabilities.

Through a variety of participatory processes both community members and development professionals have had the opportunity to jointly design community improvement schemes that are both appropriate to the community's needs and wants, as well sustainable and empowering.

As a result of relative success, the role of the community animator has become an increasingly important component for enabling this process of cooperation and participation between the development practitioner and the community members themselves. In some ways the animator acts as both initiator and on-going advocate for his or her community's development through regular open communication with both community members and the representative staff working in the area.

In the past highly educated teams of researchers and development field workers would enter a community and employ any number of assessment tools to identify community needs. Some of which were participatory in nature (see Power Research pattern). Upon return to their offices these assessments would be used to design various projects ranging from indoor lavatories, to treadle pumps, to community telecenters. In many cases it was shown that these projects failed to support the kind of long-term growth in people’s livelihoods they were thought to bring. Rather than looking at what the community wanted or needed from their cultural and social point of reference; these professionals designed projects relative to their point of reference.

Instead of persisting with this paradigm, NGOs such as the Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) have pursued vigorous development campaigns in Bangladesh. In this example the community animator has become a central agent for helping to identifiy and express the needs and desires of a community, as well as initiating and supporting change to include, informal education, ideas for micro-enterprise, and even supporting the creation of women’s self-help groups that have enable a number of women in rural areas to gain access to credit and thus empower them to pursue economic generating activities.

Here organizations such as IIRD would send exploratory panels out to the communities, as a "get to know you" campaign. Over a period of time they would identify predominately young men and women that they would sponsor for further education. The pool of students would often serve as the primary group that would go on to perhaps become powerful community animators.

Not only were they given a valuable education they still retain those familial bonds to their community that often gives them an immediate advantage in having the lived experience of their particular area, as well the rapport of being a community member.

However, problems of jealousy and apprehension can be potentially problematic and it is important that groups and agencies that do seek to draw advocates from the field they seek to assist find ways to mitigate the potential social conflict that might arise. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to completely eliminate it. But it is perhaps a far better approach than previous alternatives

Solution: 

The community animator can act as a critical link between the community and any NGO Collaborator. It should be noted that by those in the field for social change that local citizens and activists can often better activate a community’s sentiments and bring about awareness for the possibility to realize change than an outsider who may be perceived to have little understanding of the real issues at stake.

Beyond the processes of concientization that a community animator can bring to the process; NGOs can also assist these community members in training for information gathering and needs assessments to help refine the basic kinds of projects and programs that might be of benefit to a community.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces — or the various assets the community has to work with. This often means that development schemes are mismatched with the community's needs, abilities and liabilities. Community Animators can act as critical links and local citizens can often better activate a community to realize change than an outsider.

Pattern status: 
Released
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