Second Order Advocacy (SOA)

We use First Order Advocacy (FOA) to destabilize and disrupt a weak process of the SOF related to disability education legal requirements with which the SOF must comply in order to legitimately use funding (and many other resources like staff, equipment, marketing, etc.). The SOF needs to effectively support these strong processes to reproduce itself successfully. Successful reproduction of the strong processes is necessary to assure the benefits of being part of the SOF, whatever they might be.

The legal requirements of special education are not the only type of weak processes the SOF must accommodate. The resources that the SOF might use to counter a legal disruption are not the same kind of resources the SOF would need to counter a disruption not based in special education law or Section 504.

Remember that the SOF countering a disruption doesn’t somehow restore the resources lost in doing so. There is no simple way to put the resources back into their “best” use in support of strong processes of reproduction. If the conflict (or conflicts) continues for a long time, there will be a more or less permanent redistribution of the available resources that were used.

For example, in the early years of special education advocacy, SOF tried first to negotiate with advocates using bureaucratic methods such as obfuscation, then hired attorneys for specific disruptions, then had a permanent legal presence through retainers, and now mostly hire counsel that have specific special education law expertise, as well as maintaining the retained resources. Each of these steps makes the resources involved unavailable for other purposes. They become the price of doing business and allowing some level of accommodation with the unavoidable presence and actions of advocates.

Once committed to the accommodation of a particular stakeholder, the resources are no longer “fungible”. The SOF will have much greater difficulty shifting significant parts of the resources to any other purpose, even if there is a real need by the strong processes of the SOF to do so.

Second Order Advocacy (SOA) takes these realities into account. Effective advocacy becomes premised on the idea that all stakeholder relationships that are part of a weak process accommodation with the SOF are potential sites of disruption.

Next Post: The Basic Practice of SOA

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

The Basic Pattern of Disability Rights Advocacy

There are as many ways to advocate for rights as there are systems, contexts that are oppressive, and creative advocates to invent disruptive engagement with those oppressors. Understanding advocacy as a tactical and operational tool of social justice transformation requires experience and practical knowledge of the concrete realities of the System Of Focus (SOF). To use advocacy to extend the impact of social justice transformation, we need to also extend our understanding of advocacy as a scaffold for making our Strategy facilitate that transformation.

Virtually all approaches to first order advocacy follow this abstract script:

  • Disrupt the ordinary way of business of the System of Focus (SOF) by challenging some part of its typical behavior or some relationship it has with the outside world.
  • 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.

Active advocacy is (thus) a negotiation process, no matter how the process proceeds. But, while advocates are focused on an individual or community outcome, the SOF is focused on the externally forced (re)distribution of resources that they believe they have the right to control as they wish.

This standard pattern of rights advocacy is reimagining the distribution of the tools of life-it is a political struggle. This is as true of a struggle over an Individual Education Program, as it is over a presidential campaign.

But, as an advocate, it is important to remember that this pattern is not just a negotiation over the distribution of resources. That might be true for the SOF, but it isn’t for the person or community whose life possibilities could be expanded by successful advocacy. Buying in to the SOF view of the purpose in the negotiation, is a slippery slope toward the financialization and politicization of advocacy as a social justice tool. It turns social justice advocacy into a  zombie.

Before going into the more sophisticated advocacy patterns available to disability advocates in our 21st century future, it is important to ground ourselves more deeply in the underlying dynamic reality of First Order Advocacy (FOA).

Next Post: What the SOF Is and How We Engage It

Expanding Disability Rights Through Advocacy

In the last half-century, the disability community has gone from a fragmented, cure-focused, disconnected aggregation of individuals isolated in their families or in institutions to an identity-aware, active, present, and organized advocacy movement.

The kind of advocacy that led to this blossoming of our community can be thought of as driven by the same model that black civil rights, feminism, and other identity-based rights movements have used:

    • The passage of legislation that mandates certain rights.
    • The development of procedures to define rights and due process when those rights are violated.
    • The use of legislative solutions to the trade-offs and detailed reification of those rights.

Essentially, rights, in this model, are only those which can be legislated and bureaucratized. This process of rights expansion is driven by presence, protest, policy proposals.

The successes of our common effort are real, but not complete. Both the larger world and the requirements of future success with advocacy have changed and will continue to change. The ongoing resistance to our advocacy over the last half-century has gradually muted our impact. We must face up to these realities if we expect to further our project of social justice and personal empowerment.

The core of a new approach to advocacy for our community requires an understanding of the advocacy environment as a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) , and not as a machine that we change as we would a car engine.
Seeing the constraints on our community as processes in a CAS is not a new technique of advocacy, though it does offer us a new way to view how we change The System.

There is a basic pattern that we have used to pursue rights, and in my next post, I’ll go over that pattern as a prelude to a version for advocacy in a complex adaptive system.

A Strategic Approach to Advocacy Success

We tend to value our success changing The System in tactical terms:

  • Creating this specific improvement in support; this specific elimination of discrimination, bullying, limits; this change in public policy or practice.
  • Enabling a move into a better or more expansive “adjacent possibility”, unavailable before this specific advocacy success.
  • Bringing with it increased funding, skill enhancement, recognition, and an expansion of our current reach.

But, underneath our judgment of immediate value lies a deeper and far more extensive meaning, that we would call a strategy if we understood what a strategy is.

We don’t understand. We think a strategy is a clever engagement with the System of Focus (SOF) to force them to accommodate us. It isn’t.

A Strategy is a scaffold for engaging our environment with effective decisions over time, when:

  • The future is unpredictable. If the future was predictable, we wouldn’t need a strategy. We could just make an operational plan like a logic model and success would roll out like a boulder falling off a cliff to the ground.
  • We don’t have enough resources. If we had infinite resources, we could just keep plugging away, through trial-and-error, until we succeeded.

The traditional view in the military is that strategy is embraced through ends, ways, and means, the “dimensions” of strategy implementation.

So, what should the underlying strategy in our disability community advocacy that allows us to decide on our ends, ways, and means, and be effective advocates?

I propose that we should embrace a two-pronged strategy:

  • We should continue to work to make The System on which we all depend, better at supporting our needs, and providing more ways we can control the supports that the system provides.
  • We should also begin building an alternative system based on our local, collaborative ability to supplement what The System locally provides, to make a base for supports that we control democratically and through the synergy of our various skills, abilities, and experiences. In other words, we band together to make up for the shortfalls of The System, and to provide support no governmental or private system would consider worth pursuing.

This strategy recognizes our current dependence on The System, and the complexity of reducing our dependence on it. It also says that we, as mutually supported and respected friends, families, and allies, can and should create what we want right now. This is true, even though the process of creating that alternative will be long and complex. Only through our mutual determination to take each step together will it be possible for us to realize what we should have had available to us all along.

(P8): Ice-Fishing for Tools

placing tip-ups in ice fishing using a sounder to test for depth and placing the bait about 1 foot above the weeds attached to the tip-up.
Placing Tip-Ups for Maximum Serendipity

Because The System is a CAS, and the building of Our System is the building of a CAS, there is no simple procedure for finding and using tools to take from The System what we can and create what we need in Our System. While all efforts to find useful information are doomed by the sheer amount of it, You can reduce the effect of that firehose by a combination of focus and allowance for serendipity.

Ice-Fishing is a decent metaphor that combines the concepts of focused and serendipitous search. You do not cause the fish to bite, you use their natural behavior to entice a bite. The “focus” part is the area you choose in which to fish, and the serendipity is the placing of a variety of locations for tip-ups covering areas that are not part of your immediate focus. When a tip-up is triggered, you check it to see if you got a fish.

Searching for what is useful to your individual path to personal autonomy and choice is very similar to ice-fishing. Your mental framework for what that path should be will orient you to the tip-ups that might be of value to you.

I will describe how I approach this, but the path you want will reflect your own evolving growth and experiences, and you will need to evolve a scaffolding that truly reflects you and those important to you.

There are some heuristics that you can use making decisions about that to include in your search scaffolding:

  • You need a diversity of search scaffolds, so that your choices, as a group, won’t reflect a bias that systematically prevents you from accessing useful information
  • You should actively add small numbers of new search algorithms as you run across them and eliminate ones that don’t show use to you in a reasonable time. I use a few months as a rough metric for assessing usefulness
  • Accept that a large percentage of what you review will not be of use.
  • Calibrate your judgement of what is useful to some self-chosen framework, like the headline, and have another layer of review that lets you quickly review the possible usefulness.
  • Trust your intuition about what might be useful.

The value of your scaffold depends on the linkages in the information universe you search. You will always miss items of great importance and must depend on the larger network you are sampling to find that which is of use to you.

Here is a sample of the tools I use for my scaffolding. There is nothing special about these tools. I evolved my current scaffold step by step over a period of years, and the evolution continues:

  • Feedly: This is an RSS reader. Though deprecated by many, RSS remains the simplest way I can sample many item summaries with little effort. At one point, I had 300 sources. Now, I have about 120.
  • Medium: I use the tools of following and item recommendations, and I mute or delete sources every day, so that there is an evolving focus. The Medium universe is constantly evolving, and the same must be true of your scaffold for scanning the possibilities.
  • Paper.li: This app allows for the creation of papers with themes that are published periodically. I have chosen a variety of papers with themes that I find useful. My regular scan includes the headline and a short description.
  • Social Media: I review Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, etc. and the scaffolding for this review includes both my personal and policy models. Since these two models have significant overlap, I get a lot of surprises, and the surprises often show me a profitable path or paths for expanding my search resources.
  • WordPress: I follow WordPress blogs that produce useful items for review.

Because, in systems theory terms, we are all “path-dependent”, every building of a personal scaffold will be unique. Strong efforts to reduce this uniqueness may have the unintended consequence of creating a systematic barrier to that which would be of use to you.

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(P8): Using The System

A buffet of many food choices in a restaurant.
A Buffet of Many Choices

If we must continue to use The System while we try to build supports that we can effectively control and scale, we will need to understand how The System operates, and what we might do to make the best use of it.

The first reality that we must accept is, “The purpose of a System is what it does”.

It isn’t:

  • The stated Mission of the System
  • The Strategic Plan of the System
  • The stated Policies of the System.

Does this characterization seem harsh to you?

For example, I have watched the changes in the Social Security system around SSI disability supports since the early days of the system. Starting in 1981, there has been an incremental alteration of the original purpose of the program (to provide basic income and health care access), to one that reduces real-time eligibility and bureaucratizes due process to the point that it has become a system for denying eligibility to the greatest extent possible without triggering too much bad publicity and political backlash.

My experience is not unique. Everyone who became an advocate in the early days has recognized the same overall deterioration in the purpose of SSI.

Because the purpose of a System is what it does, not what it says.

And our use of The System to support our community must reflect that reality.

The System is always corrupt (maybe disrupting is a better word). Not because the people in it are necessarily committing financial crime. The System is corrupt because, over time, its original purpose degrades, and the uses to which The System is put gradually become as diverse as the local needs of all its stakeholders, including us as members of the disability community. Such complexification of the original mission is a normal response of aging in any CAS, including each of us. If no one tries to alter this trend, you get a trajectory that tracks the following phases:

  1. Narrowing and self-centering of mission (Bureaucratic Narcissism)
  2. Mission and Self-Interest become Indistinguishable (Functional Psychopathy)
  3. Use of System assets for personal gratification (Frank Exploitation)
  4. Networked misappropriation (Gang Exploitation)
  5. RICO activities ( Corrupt Insurgency)

AND, at the same time:

The system is always different from what it was just before now. Novelty, broadly understood, is constantly changing The System. Novelty includes all our efforts to make The System work more effectively for us. All CAS create micro-diversity as part of their evolution. The people in the system are only dimly aware of this, which means the behavior of the system is often surprising. It is the micro diversity which give The System its resilience, but this micro diversity triggers in any bureaucracy a futile effort to eliminate that diversity. It is the inability of the system to eliminate this diversity or its production that provides us with a landscape in which we can become better at using The System.

We have two main methods for getting better at Using The System. One is scanning and learning (Fishing for Tools), and the other is Crowd-Sourcing our search for solutions.

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(P8): The System as Tool

An absurdly complex swiss army knife with scores of tools.
Swiss Army Godzilla

We mostly view government (The System) as a repository of solutions to problems we can’t solve ourselves. I don’t know if this was ever true, but it certainly isn’t true now, especially in the lives of our community of people with disabilities. The capacity of government to take responsibility for solving any problem is undermined by pressure to reduce expenditures, frank corruption, incompetence, and a virtually universal refusal to ever take responsibility for anything that goes wrong. This “Not Me” attitude occurs both in disaster, and more recently, as a general marketing framework. “Don’t expect much from us”. Government’s response is randomly useful and randomly destructive,.

So, when we act as though the government has as its purpose the solving of our life problems, and we suffer disappointment when it doesn’t, we are perpetuating a species of victimhood for ourselves from which we can’t exit. We can only feel more deeply victimized and helpless.

We need to stop looking at The System as a Solution to our problems in living as people with disabilities. It will never be that. At the same time, there is an enormous amount of resources tied up (embedded) in The System, even if an ever-increasing amount of those resources are used in monitoring, administration, and political purposes that have nothing to do with support. The mission of support, the supposed purpose, gradually becomes more and more to deny support, investing in administrative complexity to make support increasingly difficult to access. Everything about The System is double-edged, and we can’t ever be sure what edge we will get when we try to use it the way it is supposed to work.

While we can’t depend on The System, we can’t simply ignore it either. We must make use of The System or forgo the resources. Frankly, we currently have no way of taking the resources in The System and making them directly available, nor are we likely to anytime soon.

As we think they were intended.

To deal with this reality, we must adopt a dual approach that will seem unnatural:

  • We must get better at extracting support from The System as it is, not as we wish it would be. This will require us to be far more strategic in our interactions with the System, and we will have to understand that The System will continue to deteriorate even as our advocacy creates some local real improvements in how it works. Local improvement, but System-wide slow breakdown is the trend for the foreseeable future.
  • In addition to extracting support from The System, we will need to disassociate resources from The System that we can use for building an alternative that I have called Our System. For example, we might advocate to move resources from parts of The System that are moribund or useless to ones where there is a better chance of being able to use them to create Our System.

This is an abstract overview of how the three motifs must be woven to expand our control over our lives and our freedom of choice.

Next Time: Using the System as a Tool

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(P8): The Three Motifs

A stable three cord knot made of fiber light colored rope.
Weaving Motifs

FutureStrategy has three motifs, like the three cords in the image, but functioning as flows rather than things. The three flows arise out of the model from the last slide.

Using The System as a Tool

Our Community will continue to depend on The System for a long time, even as we build an alternative. The sheer amount of social resources embedded in The System makes it impossible to seriously consider going “off the grid”. But we can begin to reduce our dependence on The System by viewing it as a Tool that we use to support our personal and social lives rather than as The Solution, a perspective that makes us instant victims when The System fails to support us.

Advocating with The System for Valued Change

We can advocate with The System to trigger valued change, as I described earlier in this series. Advocacy requires us to perturb The System (whatever it is), making it choose between embracing the valued change that drives our advocacy or be forced to uncontrollably change by the pressure from The System’s environment. Our goal in expanding our advocacy is to perturb more deeply and comprehensively.

Building Our Systems of Support

We can build Our System to make up for the failure of The System, as we do now when we have no choice. We can build Our System as a local, stable, small-scale alternative to The System, so that between The System and Our System, we have better dynamic supports that allow us to explore life’s possibility and expand the scope of our free choice.

Although I outlined the three motifs as separate, it doesn’t take much effort to realize that they are intertwined as we play them out in our lives and communities. At the same time, each of the motifs requires its own ways and means to become effective. For example, if we were to take our success in building Our System and turn it over to The System, our work would soon be transformed into just another version of The System.

This reality doesn’t mean that we don’t look to improve our success by observing how each of the motifs is evolving, asking ourselves how success in one can support success in the others.

I’ve included the opensource narrative creation tool Twine because weaving multiple strategies is more like creating a complex story than it is like building a ”Strategic Plan”.

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(P8): Making FutureStrategy Real-Two

A diagram with two triangles pointing from the left and right sides at a circle. The circle is red and contains text, Expand Our Freedom, the left and right triangles are yellow-orange, and contain text, respectively, Change the System on the left, and Bild our Systems on the right. There is a photo behind each triangle. Behind the left an image of a cross community protest related to disability rights. Behind the right a poster of mutual aid around the pandemic.
Our Complementary Strategies

Even though our strategy of iteratively improving the legal framework of disability rights has certainly expanded our life choices, over time it has become less and less effective in making new improvements. The System has gotten better at undermining our advocacy and using its System Logic to marginalize our gains.

We need a way to move forward that doesn’t require us to allow our gains to be degraded by the logic of the System.

At the same time we will continue to need the System as a source of funding and expertise, because of the complexity of our needs. Few of us can simply drop our relationship with the System entirely.

But we do not need to view the System as The (only) Solution. Instead, we must learn to view the System as a tool, and begin to make our own systems to augment, replace, and finesse what we need from the System. We must build what we need together and use it to orchestrate a more effective strategy for achieving our freedom. The systems that we build will be:

  • Local
  • Intersectional
  • Collaborative
  • Community-focused
  • Self-funding

They will be based on social justice models, rather than civil rights entitlements. That doesn’t mean that we don’t use civil rights laws to advocate. Again, we view civil rights laws as tools, not solutions.

Our systems will build from the bottom up, not from the top down.

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