(P6): Symbiogenesis

The origin of Eukaryotic Cells, showing a diagram of the ancestral host cell with aerobic bacterium and cyanobacterium separate but moving into the ancestral cell, and, after many generations, with mitochondrion and chloroplast full integrated into the modern cell
Our Real Ancestry

The term, “Symbiogenesis” was originally developed to frame how modern cells came to contain components that originated from other independently living organisms. An abstract description of this evolutionary process is in the slide image and in some of the resource links.  More recently, there has been an effort to understand how any living entities can change their relationship from entirely separate and intensely adversarial to integrated and symbiotic. The most obvious thing from this theoretical and research-based exploration is that there are a lot of intermediate forms populating the evolutionary flow of these changing relationships.

There is nothing about this framework of “stable forms” that make movement along this “path” in one direction guaranteed. Instead Symbiogenesis is a process that depends only on the current evolutionary context and the specific path-dependent history of the relationship. The fact that the merged form of modern living cells is what allowed complex life to evolve is a happy result for us, but in no way guaranteed by evolution.

I believe it is useful to ask about the implications of this conceptual framework for the evolution in the dynamic between advocates and support systems as a heuristic for understanding a specific current relationship between some advocates and some target systems, and its implications for advocacy planning. Categories like parasite, adversary, negotiator, partner, collaborator, and symbiont can facilitate our understanding of how our relationship with a target impacts the effectiveness of our advocacy tactics and plans, and it can point us toward underlying problems in our strategy.

There is no preordained path for our relationship with a target. We operate our advocacy in an evolutionary context, and it is the nature of these CAS that any part of one at any layer of that multiply granular CAS can trigger a change in the evolutionary context of our work. The biggest mistake we can make in such a world of radical uncertainty is to not notice that the context has materially changed. Our efforts, recently fruitful, suddenly undermine our purpose. The longer it takes to realize this, the more destructive to our advocacy effort. The most common reason for failing to notice is our focus on the advocacy plan we have articulated for our initiative. Our focus constrains our ability to notice something new.

This means that “noticing” the environment is not something we should drop when we have completed our plans and begun our change effort. Instead, we must continue to pay attention to changes in the context even if they don’t seem to be relevant to our work. There is no other way to remain sufficiently engaged with the target to be aware of important contextual shifts.

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(P6): Scaling Advocacy Initiatives

Scaled terrace agriculture in green and various shades of yellow

Scaling Impact
Demystifying Scaling: Part 1 (Other parts linked)
Scaling Social Justice
Building Advocacy at Scale
Scaling external advocacy without losing your soul

Over time, any successful run of advocacy initiatives brings speculation on how these successes might be scaled.

Scaling Advocacy success can be done by expanding the scope or the time frame of advocacy. But scaling isn’t about making something you have successfully achieved bigger. No success survives deeply unchanged by being made bigger.  CAS don’t scale like jigsaw puzzles (100 pieces to a 1,000), and the outcomes of intervening in them don’t either.

We usually take our success (say, in individual representational advocacy) and turn it into something very different (say policy advocacy with a goal of making the need for representational advocacy less acute). Sometimes we look to multiply the use of a successful advocacy tactic across the target ecosystem with which we interact. In both these cases, we are building a new advocacy initiative only tentatively connected to the success we are using as a model for our scaling.

We layer these separate initiatives rather than integrating them. In an advocacy organization, we make them, in one way or another, separate boxes in our organizational chart. Usually, they are subjected to entirely different planning processes. And, over time, they become more and more distant from one another. They are monitored in different ways, and the meaning of success in the separate boxes becomes progressively distinct, as the context of the target CAS continues on its own large-scale evolutionary journey. This loss of coherence of different initiatives in the advocacy strategy seems to those involved in planning and implementing the scaling of success as an unavoidable necessity.

But how does scaling work in ecosystems, in real world change, in our brains? Not like our standard scaling of advocacy success.

Processes in a CAS are integrated across all levels in the CAS. They are “fractal” at least in analogy if not mathematically. In practical terms, this means that whatever actually happens in a CAS requires all levels of the CAS to occur. Some levels may have little going on, though, and this activity at different levels shifts constantly. When we scale fractally, we are expanding our use of the possibility space we created with our advocacy initiative without giving up the work we do on the lower levels of the CAS.

There is not a  “privileged” level in a CAS that we can use as a proxy for the entire event we are interested in if we want to scale an advocacy success, and there never is such a privileged level. Our sense that one level is privileged is no more than a result of the way abstraction works in our brains. We abstract a level and because we are focusing attention on it, we think it is privileged.  This is very much like those videos where we focus on counting the number of passes by basketball players and miss the person in the bear costume running around without a ball.

When you simply ignore a level in the reality of a CAS, you trigger unintended consequences that you will only perceive once they have already occurred. In a CAS, levels are linked to one another, and can only be ignored to the detriment of our advocacy outcomes.

At the same time, we simply can’t fathom the entirety of a CAS as it evolves, not even for a moment. Again, we can’t use machine/computer models or logic model planning frameworks to scale an advocacy success, however necessary operational planning might be for our implementation. We must use a real strategy to guide our scaling of success. One thing that means is that the programs that represent our effort to scale must be integrated to produce coherence, not boxed off from one another, so they can be selectively ignored.

The point of the strategy we develop for building coherence across our various advocacy initiatives must be its use as a framework for making decisions when the future is uncertain and our resources are scarce.

In a CAS levels are not structures. They are defined by the enabling and disruptive links in their possibility space. Things that “happen” at one level cause emergent ripples throughout the CAS both up and down the levels.

There will be more about integrating advocacy scaling efforts in the next section on the Advocacy and Target ecosystem.

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(P6): Obfuscation

Four stages of assuming background camouflage by a living creature.
Getting Hidden

Obfuscation is a general term for making it harder to understand what is going on. The resources above show the extremely common nature of obfuscation and its role in much of our social and intellectual life. It is also important in advocacy.

As I discussed earlier, outright lying has many downsides:It destroys the possibility of using authentic honesty in the negotiation of a valued outcome

It increases conflict, creating barriers to creating valued outcomes

It tells your target that it is acceptable to use deceit in countering your advocacy. It also allows the target to justify an escalation of deceit from the standard level that the target normally uses.

Obfuscation is a better heuristic than deceit for muddling your target’s understanding of your tactics as you design, create, and implement them.

Examples include:

  • Chaff: Using distractions to partially hide your real purpose. Chaff has been used to make it harder for missiles to find targets by flooding the space of the hunt with false positives.
  • Noise: triggering additional messages in your target’s information space to confuse, like twitter bots.
  • Using patterns of behavior that subtly communicate intent like a tell in poker.
  • Using proxies to cloud decisions
  • Big noise, no substance: Pretending to begin an initiative with fanfare, but no real intent.

There are many more patterns of Obfuscation in the linked resources.

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All Important Problems Are Wicked

Easy Essays About Changing Systems

An interesting but impossible to describe artistic piece of many colors and too many strings to count

Where Do I Start?

Almost a half-century ago, a couple of researchers gave a name to something we all know is real, but have a hard time articulating. They said that science was good at solving what they called “tame” problems, but was inadequate to deal with what they called “wicked problems”.

The name, “Wicked Problems” stuck, because it was a fundamental insight into the difficulties of dealing with the appalling reach of real-world complex adaptive systems (CAS).

Right now, we are dealing with a pandemic, a surge in the explicit oppression of all marginal communities and resistance to that surge, ongoing and apparently unstoppable economic degradation, the potential for the worst hurricane season ever, a healthcare system that has shown its extraordinary brittleness at exactly the time we need it most, and looming long-term failures in the larger economy over the next decade. These are all individually wicked problems, and they are all interconnected.

A gumbo of wicked problems.

These are some of the characteristics of Wicked Problems (WPs):

  • There is no single way to describe the problem. Creating a description of the problem always leaves out very important parts of the WP. You can’t get outside a WP to see it in its entirety, so you can’t ever describe it in its entirety.
  • “Solutions” to WPs never solve them, though they can make them better or worse. To add insult to injury, if your solution is effective, your solution changes the nature of the Wicked Problem without necessarily making it any easier to solve.
  • No matter how we try to categorize a wicked problem, every WP is unique, and our characterization of the WP is inadequate.
  • Every solution to a WP is one-shot; there can be no trial and error approach to WPs. This doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from interacting with the WP. It just means that what we learn will have very little transferability to other apparently similar WPs.
  • We only gain any real understanding of a WP by trying out a solution. Before we come up with a solution, the WP is just a Big Mess. The solution will be inadequate for the problem. So, our understanding will also be  inadequate for the problem, even if this is the best we can do.

People with significant disabilities have a deep understanding of WPs that has developed from our lived experience of dealing with the real world. We have learned some lessons the hard way that can be of use to everyone as we try to improve the current litany of WPs we all face now:

  • Institutions, regardless of their purpose or intentions, are always dangerous places to live.
  • Commitment by medical professionals to customized care of people with disabilities is too often limited by how inconvenient our needs are to the medical practice or the professional staff’s daily routines.
  • For our community, supports that are common in the treatment of the nondisabled are treated as “special” for us and are the first kinds of supports dropped when a crisis like the current pandemic occurs.
  • Finally, the US healthcare system is approaching 20% of the economy.  But, the primary health system take-away from this pandemic is that the search for financial efficiencies and the economic protections that credentialing/licensing and scope of practice laws provide simply made a sizeable proportion of the health care labor force unavailable for responding to the pandemic.

We can certainly get better at managing WPs, but we will have to give up our simple notions of silver bullet solutions and get good at embracing these increasingly Wicked Problems on their own terms.

(P6): Deceit

An artistic rendition of the Tower of Babel

All conflict involves deceit. In fact, all communication involves some level of deceit, whether purposeful or not. This is because all communication is necessarily limited. Truthful mutual understanding is only achieved through long-term authentic relationships.

Deceit is in no way an unalloyed good or evil since it can be both manipulation and self-defense at the same time. Deceit always makes management of an advocacy strategy more complex and less controllable. Deceit can be an impulsive act to help control some unexpected disturbance in the advocacy possibility space. Deceit seems safe, a way of increasing the security of the advocacy strategy. It isn’t. It can and does reduce your choices in the advocacy possibility space.

Deceit in advocacy initiatives is of three kinds and all three are always present (if not necessarily competently implemented) in every conflict:

  • Strategic deceit
  • Tactical/Operational deceit
  • Self-deceit

Strategic Deceit

Because a true strategy is a framework for managing future uncertainty and scarce resources, any statement of the strategy is automatically deceitful because the statement can’t frame the actual use to which the framework will be put. Of course, this applies to those who are part of the advocacy initiative as well, although communication and relationships are stronger within the initiative as opposed to the interaction between the advocacy effort and the target. This isn’t strategic deceit.

Strategic Deceit is a performance that provokes uncertainty in the target’s choices about the advocacy initiative. It is analogous to the operational notion of the Indirect Approach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indirect_approach) that your actions should be ambiguous as far as their outcome is concerned.

A successful Strategic Deceit requires a deep understanding of how the target thinks, and how it values. This knowledge is not something especially prized by advocacy organizations that view advocacy as supporting only the appropriate implementation of rules and regulations, which, by their nature, aren’t about what the target’s actors think and value.

Tactical/Operational Deceit

There is a wide base of public information about this kind of deceit. There have been many books about military based operational and tactical deceit, and there is a kind of cottage industry in articles about the cleverness of such deceit. Because of the actual military actions that are subjected to deceitful preparation, the deceit comes as a surprise to the opponent. This surprise is a lot more difficult to pull off as part of an advocacy initiative, where the initiative may go on for months or years.

There is always a downside to discovered deceit. Once the deceit is discovered, the target will devote more energy to paying attention to you and they will feel more justified in extravagant deceit and trolling than they did before the discovery of your misinformation.

Tactical deceit can be useful for, say, a specific IEPC. There are also ways to cloud your purposes by careful orchestration of your messaging without lying about those purposes. For example, a method I have mentioned in other posts and slides is to initiate an advocacy action in several local areas without showing that you are creating several nuclei for the initiative. Local targets will respond to the local initiative without seeing the larger pattern, and their responses will be less effective as a result. This kind of short-term deceit is only constrained by your understanding of the target’s motivations and values, and your initiative’s creativity.

Self-Deceit

The most problematic form of deceit in advocacy initiatives is Self-Deceit. There are two reasons for this.

One is that humans have evolved to be more optimistic than pessimistic; see (https://grist.org/article/80-percent-of-humans-are-delusionally-optimistic-says-science/). Optimism produces hope and hope can generate action even when situations seem very dire. This is especially a useful bias when there is no obviously effective way to deal with some threat. But optimism is a bias. We use optimism to maintain advocacy energy, but the bias affects how we frame our actions, and how we execute them. So, we make mistakes because of our optimism.

Depressive Realism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depressive_realism) is the other side of the coin in self-deceit. Mild and moderately depressed individuals are better at predicting outcomes under uncertainty than people who are optimistic. It is difficult, though to see how running an advocacy initiative using depressive realism would work out well in an activist community.

The best way to manage this in my book is to allow optimism to generate energy while making use of the insights of depressive realism to manage tactical/operational decisions.

In general, I think that deceit makes effective advocacy more complex and difficult. But, if you must, use the framework of obfuscation rather than outright deceit.

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A Birthday Bounty of Beautiful Brain Bonbons

head full of ideas

My idea of the perfect birthday present is an gift card for books. My wife thinks that is boring, and I guess I understand that. But she is willing to indulge my tedious nature out of love, and my 73rd birthday this last month has already brought a bunch of new ideas which I am just beginning to explore.

Radical Uncertainty:

Two economists wrote this book to try to explain the very large number of unanticipated globally important awful events that have occurred in the last few decades. Their point is that we use risk assessment for decisions where risk can’t actually be assessed, because real uncertainty is not the same as risk.

Early in the work, they describe an anecdote from Pesident Obama’s term of office in which he and his advisors were trying to decide whether to go ahead with the SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. The discussion was around the probability that Osama was actually in the compound. The advisor assessments ranged from roughly 40 to 80%.

Now, Osama was either in the compound or he wasn’t. And there was no way for any of them to know which was true.

President Obama recognized that the discussion of probabilities couldn’t provide an answer to this basic question. He also recognized that the probabilities he was hearing actually represented the fear that his advisors had over the political consequences of a wrong decision, not whether Bin Laden was in the compound. He understood that the real question that needed answering is, “What is going on here?”.

This is the right question because it is a always a strategic error to use a risk assessment as a cover to hide the realities of a truly uncertain situation.

This confusion of risk and uncertainty happens all the time and in every part of human life. We all try to use a meaningless assessment to reduce our fear about the consequences of our decisions. And we all suffer as a result.

Obfuscation:

I had read this book when it was only available in paperback. Now I can use the highlighting and note capabilities of Kindle to reinforce and deepen my understanding of the idea of Obfuscation.

Obfuscation is like the techniques that magicians use to get one over on us. Our brain is distracted by something “so important” that we must pay attention to it, and the performer slips something through of which we are simply unaware.

Obfuscation is a very useful advocacy technique, much more useful than deceit. Ambiguity and misdirection can dramatically increase the seriousness with which the advocacy target takes your actions. It does so by forcing them to pay attention to what you are doing.

But what they see when they do pay attention is the ambiguity and misdirection of your obfuscation.

The book focuses on digital obfuscation, but the parallels with advocacy are obvious and immediately useful.

Design Justice:

This book is an unexpected orchid for my mental greenhouse. It is a real gem, and has the added value of discussing organizations and social justice initiatives in Southeast Michigan, especially in Detroit. It focuses on the actual way that technology produces structural oppression of devalued communities, including the disability community.

Oppression at root is the denial of agency to people because of their personal characteristics, their gender identification, their membership in a culture, community, or other social group, or their systematic devaluing by the oppressive construction of “universal” social institutions that are supposed to support all of us.

Early in the book, there is a masterful description of the way that the ordinary operation of scanning by TSA agents results in the public shaming of a person because of life choices. I won’t ruin the depth of the example by trying to describe it here.

I know that over the last half-century, the examples of such devaluing that have taught me the deepest lessons about the oppression of my community have been those where the ableist denial of agency to a person with a disability was entirely personal in its impact, entirely thoughtless in the mind of the perpetrator. Deliberate ableism is a true horror, but it is also more obvious, and the day-to-day chipping away at a person’s life possibilities is the much harder and darker oppression to eliminate.

Design Justice makes a real effort to reflect what we have learned from the embracing of intersectionality, not at the abstract or academic level, but in the way it suffuses every level and every part of our lives and the lives of all of us together. The personal is never separate from the universal and everything in between inside the Complex Adaptive System in which we all swim.

So-there are my first forays into the marvelous worlds that my wife’s present has given me. I look forward to many more insights on this conceptual adventure. I may even share them!

(P6): The Art of Conflict

Danger: Authorized Personnel Only; This area may have unexploded ordnance (UXO); Do not leave the road or disturbe the soil without 30 SW safety approval; If you detect unexploded ordnance, record the location, retreat from the area, and report to law enforcement at 606-3911

At its best, advocacy is a strategic art for managing the movement toward deeply valued human outcomes. This art always involves some level of conflict. After all, real change inevitably produces conflict. Conflict gives the energy to change efforts, not only for those who want change but also to those who resist change. It is this energy that helps define the possibility space for change and managing the possibility space for change makes your advocacy strategy real and productive.

Any call for eliminating conflict is simultaneously a call for reduced energy in the advocacy possibility space. Judgement of the value of reducing conflict can be part of managing an advocacy strategy and involves assessing the impact of this on the valued outcomes that are the purpose of the advocacy. Eliminating conflict eliminates vast possibilities of change.

Advocacy conflict is never relentless or total. Part of managing an advocacy strategy is understanding the limits of conflict as an effective source of energy for change.

For example, it is common for advocates that meet substantial resistance to become angry and escalate the conflict, adding energy to the advocacy possibility space to overcome resistance. But adding energy by way of anger-driven action also increases the energy of the resistance to change and undermines the ability to strategically manage the outcomes sought.

Adding energy to a possibility space through anger doesn’t magically increase the likelihood of valued outcomes. However necessary some anger is to motivating an advocacy initiative, anger should never dictate the advocacy strategy.

Anger that motivates the initiation of advocacy is generally caused by the elimination of life possibilities for real human beings. Anger that arises from the ongoing dnamic of implementing advocacy is about frustrated advocates being blocked and has nothing to do with the valued outcomes that were the driving force for the initiation of advocacy.

Any meaningful advocacy strategy always presumes some boundary on the level and type of conflict. I have always thought of this boundary as a kind of, “Below this threshold, we negotiate collaboratively, beyond this threshold, we escalate the conflict.”, a kind of bounded agreement between parties as to how the possibility space of this advocacy engagement will be managed.

Negotiating collaboratively doesn’t mean that you agree with the target system. It means that you negotiate for your valued outcomes using an advocacy framework that both parties agree is valid (like some system of statutes and rules that already exists). You can be tricky and devious in the negotiation if you don’t move outside the framework.

As a general principle, the most “strategic” way to initiate an advocacy initiative is to introduce a novel insurgency into the target. Once introduced, the target must either ignore the intrusion or respond to it. If it is ignored, advocates can always escalate the insurgency. When the target responds, a possibility space will be created for advocacy actions that enable and destabilize relationships.

The only advocacy activities that can undermine this dynamic are those that trigger a failure of commitment or creativity, our two general advantages over target systems. Being stalled or having a specific advocacy initiative defeated is simply the reality of trying to change a target CAS. We can only defeat ourselves. No target can do that. 

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(P6): The Viable System Model

Decorative Image. Look to resources for explanation of VSM

The viable system model (VSM) has been around for a long time. It was one of the first successful attempts to build an organizational model using the human body as a functional template. Interestingly, When the revolution in Chile occurred in the early ’70s, it was a VSM model that was successfully used to run the country until the right-wing coup. Its biggest advantages are:

  • It is effective at supporting individual and work unit autonomy
  • It supports communication between individuals and between subsystems that promote the good of the whole
  • It can be used effectively for organizations of any size, though it is easier to implement in small organizations
  • It can resolve a lot of the concerns that advocacy networks have when deciding to form a more structured advocacy organization
  • It is independent of funding or other sources of organizational resources

A VSM has 5 interacting subsystems:

  • System 1: The entire collection of interacting Operational units.
  • System 2: The system responsible for stability/resolving conflict between Operational units.
  • System 3: The systems responsible for optimization/generating synergy between Operational units.
  • System 4: Plans for the Future and strategies. Adaptation to a changing environment.
  • System 5: Policy.

VSM requires some real effort to grasp because it is entirely different from the way that organizations (including advocacy ones) are run. The underlying drive that makes VSM a “viable” alternative to what you are doing now is the co-equal participation of everyone and each of the Systems with one another.

It always seems easier to just dictate an outcome (or at least faster).  But autocratic decision-making always results in strategic errors and unintended consequences. Even if you can’t entirely redesign your organization, you can use VSM to redesign your workgroup or team. Your work will improve if you do.

VSM can be applied at any level of organization.

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Meanwhile, There Are Other Turkeys Dropping from the Sky

Poster saying As God is My Witness,I thought Turkeys Could Fly-Arthur Carlson

Making Choices in An Ocean of Uncertainty (Part 2)

Any genuine surprise triggers the same response from us:

  • Deny that it is a surprise by continuing to do what you normally do.
  • Tweak what you normally do to see if that helps.
  • If you become desperate enough, do something new.
  • When something new actually helps (what helps, incidentally, will be as novel as the surprise), it will outcompete what you normally do.

You would think that we would learn to skip the early responses and get to creating and using a novel approach, but we don’t. For humans, that seems to be because we have a lot invested in what we normally do (a lot invested in our past), and actually trying to do something as novel as the unexpected surprise warrants, seems to mean we’ll somehow lose our investment.

We are only gradually absorbing the basic and long term impact of the contagion right now; and, we are significantly behind in absorbing that. Our pandemic-specific numbers are always out of date when we see them, and we are still making choices based on obsolete and inaccurate data.

This problem of always being too slow to respond in regard to the impact of the pandemic applies to everything else that has changed in the last five months, and all that hasn’t. Other turkeys are falling from the skies and, as demanding as the virus is in terms of our immediate choices, we need to find a space for those others that are on their way down or being pushed to the edge of the helicopter door almost ready to drop into the complex adaptive system that is our common wicked problem:

  • The Confluence of Disasters: Just because we have a pandemic doesn’t mean that we somehow get relief from other disasters. Even if our altered behavior and self-isolation reduce some of the impact in those other dangerous events, we still can expect tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, fires, and a host of more local and personal disasters. But, because of the pandemic, our ability to respond to these will be reduced and disorganized, much like our early responses to the pandemic.
  • Medical Ableism: Triage systems that explicitly see people with disabilities as disposable and less than human have publically surfaced recently and are being effectively countered through advocacy. But, all of us in the disability community know that this more obvious strain of ableist eugenics bubbles below the surface in many parts of our lives, nowhere more clearly than in medicine. There will be a great deal of implicit and occasionally explicit euthanasia of members of our community in the course of this pandemic because it seems obvious to the healthcare system and insurers that younger, or healthier, or less obviously disabled people deserve life more than we do.
  • The Financial Psychopathy of Our Social Lives: For the last half-century, there has been a deliberate global effort to convince us that the only important lever for every decision we make, from the most to the least important, is to ask how it affects our wealth, reputation, and power. After all, our worth as a human being is clearly no more than these social and financial indices of our status, right? So embedded is this framework in our ongoing social and cultural communication, that even when our decisions will result in the emotional destruction and death of those we claim to hold dear, we can’t stop ourselves from sacrificing them to gain some meaningless additional increment.
  • Political Incompetence: The reduction of everything human to wealth, power, and reputation, has the unavoidable consequence of making our political elites and our political system generally incapable of anything more than a short-term pursuit of “victory” in some current short-lived meme war, whatever might be surfacing at this particular moment. This deep lack of governing competence leads to a surprising common assumption under the surface differences in political ideologies.  We actually have a political culture that believes that any reality can be entirely changed by merely making an effective political argument, stated over and over again. This is the modern form of the belief in magic; the political meme as a superstitious chant to appease or defeat some always temporary ideological god or demon. Nowhere has this been more obvious than in the governance approach of our political elites to the Covid-19 virus.
  • Social Reconfiguration: Don’t kid yourself. Our political, social, and financial elites will continue to organize and appropriate more wealth, power, and reputation for themselves. They are simply incapable of thinking about the world in any other way. Opportunities for the rest of us lie outside our explicit and implicit support for that compulsive and unending search of theirs.

We need to look to ourselves, not our elites, for our future.

In the next, and last, part of this series, I’ll try to see some current possibilities for our community that will help start the long and difficult process of “distancing” us from those who see us as worthless and treat us as disposable.

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(P6): Advocacy Organization Heuristics

Using spatial heuristics to map hunter-gather search areas in the northern Mediterranean.

There are heuristics for advocacy organizations as well as all other processes in an advocacy/target ecosystem. Remember that a heuristic isn’t a rule. It is a framework for thinking about choice when you are in uncertainty.

The core heuristic for an advocacy organization is an authentic mission. Your authentic mission isn’t the one you use in your marketing or PR. Or even necessarily your official mission. It is the one that motivates the members of your organization to work for change.

This authentic mission is a governing constraint that can be used as a possibility space for exploring change potential. Your real mission is a true strategy, in that it allows you to reduce uncertainty through an exploration of possibilities and it frames your decisions about how to make use of scarce resources.

Enabling and destabilizing relationships are the abstract ways you explore your mission’s possibility space and learn about those possibilities. Mistakes in exploration are less actual mistakes and more ways to build a longer-term model of the possibility space that can help you manage uncertainty and resource scarcity. The model is strategic in comparison with the operational enabling and destabilizing actions that are the actions you use to explore.

Ritual is also a useful heuristic in organizations that seek change, as preparation for change action. Ritual allows us to shift from our day-to-day to the way of thinking and feeling we will need to be successful in pursuing our authentic mission. Rituals are techniques (NOT rules) that can build a mission-oriented organization. There is also a large class of such rituals that can be altered to make them mission-supportive, called Liberating Structures.

Creativity in engaging the context of your organization change work is also a heuristic. Organizations can support or undermine creativity in mission work. To support creativity:

  • Don’t punish mistakes that are consistent with your mission. Mitigate the effects of the mistakes, but don’t undermine the impulse that leads to them.
  • Encourage adventure in change efforts and don’t require that all such efforts conform to a restrictive operational planning model. Finding new ways to advocate in a larger environment prevents advocacy methods from becoming mere habits. As the larger environment becomes used to your advocacy operations, the operations will become less effective at producing change compared to the resources used. Searching for new arenas of change effort in your possibility space necessitates risk and potential failure. The alternative is a change effort gradually impoverished in meaning and impact.
  • Novelty always looks like chaos at first to those for whom it is novel. It isn’t chaos; It’s better conceived as an insurgency. If your organization can use creativity to generate novelty in your advocacy context, your targets will respond, at first, with management tools that are inadequate to resolve the impact of the novelty.

There are many more heuristics you will discover as you explore the possibility space generated by your authentic mission.

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