What the SOF Is, and How We Engage It

The System of Focus (SOF) might seem to be an easy concept to use, but it isn’t. Because “Everything is connected”, we choose the system we focus on, and that focus doesn’t eliminate all those connections.

The System of Focus is a real system in our current understanding of Systems. That is, the SOF is a Complex Adaptive System (CAS). It behaves as it does because the relationships between its parts drive the state of the system as a whole. It is not a machine, and it can’t be changed the way we change a machine (changing parts one at a time). The apparent stability of a SOF is an illusion, and the stability is only maintained by active reproduction by the SOF.

A Simple Model

We can conveniently view the SOF as two circles, an inner one that contains all the strong processes that reproduce the system, and an outer one, consisting of the relationships the SOF has with its stakeholders in the real world. Strong processes reproduce the SOF, weak processes make small demands on the SOF.

The ordinary way the SOF deals with the stakeholders who are making weak demands on it is by negotiating an efficient predictable relationship with each stakeholder. The weak processes that are important here are the ones the SOF can’t just ignore, the ones the SOF must accommodate. These can be funders, political actors, and, of course, laws, regulations, policies imposed from the outside, and direct constituencies that it does not employ (like parents and students in an education system).

These Weak Processes, once accommodated, can be ignored, even though there is a small continuing resource cost to the SOF to accomplish this.

Enter the Advocate. Using the laws that allow access by our advocacy community to the resources available to the SOF, we disrupt the low cost, easily ignored relationship that the SOF has under ordinary circumstances with its stakeholders. Suddenly, our demand is requiring attention, time, and resources from the SOF that won’t be available to be used for some unpredictable period to reproduce the strong processes of the SOF. The way this is done by the advocate is to use the simple abstract script described in the last post:

  • Disrupt the ordinary process of the System of Focus (SOF) by challenging some part of its typical behavior.
  • Threaten to cause a bigger and less controlled change in the SOF if the advocacy demands aren’t met.
  • The SOF chooses to make a smaller adaptation to avoid a bigger, uncontrolled one.

This script operates in all First Order Advocacy, using anything from a simple verbal complaint to a federal class action lawsuit. Regardless of the scope of the disruption, the leverage for change is the same.

I will expand this model to show how we might also expand the impact of our advocacy with an SOF. I call this expanded model Second Order Advocacy.

Next Post: Second Order Advocacy