(P7): Enabling and Managing the Ecosystem of Advocacy/Targets

 An abstract view of how Community-Based Organizations participate and drive delivery system reform, as an example of an advocacy ecosystem. See link below image for text
Text Description of Image

Although we tend to focus on the advocacy task at hand, our work to support the personal agency and full life of individuals with disabilities does not occur in isolation. As advocates, we are a part of a larger complex adaptive system (CAS) that includes support and funding systems, policy and legislative systems, and communities of people with Lived Experience from the many communities of people with disabilities. Our focus on the current task assumes the ongoing operation of the larger ecosystem as a context for all our advocacy work. We make use of affordances (agencies, laws, rules, funding, expertise, etc.) that act within the larger advocacy context as ongoing processes which we can influence to achieve valued outcomes.

In the larger processes of this ecosystem, all subsystems change and adjust over time through advocacy activities (and many other activities as well). Our goals as advocates are to:

•Build our relationships with other parts of the ecosystem in order to carry on advocacy and the other kinds of communication necessary to maintain these relationships.

•Evaluate and adapt our advocacy planning and actions based on a constant debriefing of the impact of our actions and an equally constant monitoring of the ongoing changes in the rest of the ecosystem, that both enable and disrupt our advocacy strategy.

•Facilitating a more effective advocacy/target ecosystem, in the sense that it becomes easier over time to advance valued outcomes.

•Introduce New Values and Novel Expectations into the interacting parts of the ecosystem. Successful introduction triggers a cycle called Autocatalytic Mutualism which drives changes in the ecosystem. Effective advocacy is always creative in this sense.

This part of the project will explore why we need to keep the entire advocacy ecosystem in mind while we work toward our valued outcomes. We are a part of this ecosystem and never stand outside of it, though our focus shifts as our work and the context of our work evolve.

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(P6): Organizing for Emergent Strategy

A simple food web with the Sun and mineral nutrients feeding autotrophs (i.e., plants) and heterotrophs including interacting Carnivores, Herbivores, and decomposers leading to the regeneration of the Mineral Nutrient pool.
A Simple, but Surprisingly Rich Diagram of a Food Web

Food web
Emergence
Emergence 3 Minute Video
The remarkable simplicity of complexity
UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Once we develop our tactical advocacy skills through individual representation and traditional systems advocacy, we need to expand our vision and our skills to encompass a form of systems advocacy that supports the organizing of emergence as a way we implement our social justice agenda.

Emergence means (among other things) the creation of a network with a core of strong process links and a periphery of weak process links. This mutually reinforcing network of strong and weak ongoing process links is the way that emergence occurs. This network is the governing constraint that creates a possibility space in which emergence can grow.

Remember that strong linked processes drive the local system, and weak linked processes buffer the local system and prevent it from “burning out”.

World Building is another way to talk about such networks and organizing for emergence.  World building can be a very human tool for building a change ecosystem.  While the detail of building a change ecosystem is the subject of the next Part (7) of this work, I hope this slide will introduce you to the idea of world building, something which we all embrace as a standard part of our social and personal lives., mostly in media, the arts, and social culture. For example, many entertainment vehicles (like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, the Matrix trilogy) have been extended as highly detailed, multi-media, social community driven worlds far beyond what we used to accept as the boundaries of entertainment and fan culture.

World building can create possibility spaces that allow the enabling and disruption of affordances. Such worlds can be used to engage in the task of creating a new future for PWD. Building a World for social justice is an expansion of the possibility space that PWD created when we embraced the civil rights advocacy paradigm. It represents the possibilities we have learned from the strengths and weaknesses of civil rights advocacy.

Today, we tend to use change narratives only linearly to illustrate a value or a policy failure of the system, not to formulate an entirely new way to go forward.

But, if we are to remake this world in a way that supports personal autonomy, social inclusion, and freedom of choice, we will have to simultaneously make our own lives much larger than they’ve been before.

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(P6): Creating From the Bottom Up

Ground View of Summer Forest with many plants and trees.

The Medium is the Message –Marshall McLuhan
What Are the Benefits of the Bottom Up Approach?
Bottom up Thinking
Emergence: Complexity from the Bottom Up

One of the enduring problems in behavioral health systems reform and advocacy is to realize the vision of person-centered, and person-driven, living, within the machine/computer models of modern bureaucratic systems of service and supports delivery. The approaches to resolving the tension between these paths to realizing person centered and driven planning and living has drawn on two repeatedly used tactics:

•Iterative and incremental improvement in the macro-system while maintaining that current system’s underlying CAS logic
•Creation of novel frameworks in a micro-system from the bottom up with a view to advocating for them to be embraced by the macro-system.

These two approaches to change each have their own problems in their ability to move us effectively toward a scaled person centered and person driven planning and living reality. They also actively interfere with each other when advocates attempt to use the innovative micro-system to alter the logic of the macro-system. This can be seen in the endless arguments over the best method to advocate for change toward our valued outcomes.

The most obvious problem with building a model of supports consistent with social justice and trying to use it to leverage change in the macro-system is that the logic of the macro-system will largely, if not entirely, try to absorb the meaning of the social justice innovation and minimize its need to change. Yet, it always seems impractical to somehow replace the macro-system wholesale with a CAS that truly reflects valued social justice outcomes.

I would suggest that we look to the building of supports from the bottom up without any plan to integrate them into the macro-system of supports, specifically to avoid having the macro-system’s logic applied to these supports. In fact, I suggest that we build supports in a hundred different ways from the bottom up without integration of our innovations in the macro-system as the outcome. Further, I would suggest that our outcome be the creation of an advocacy and supports ecosystem that can compete in some arena with the current macro-system. The next Part of this series of posts will explore how we might approach such an outcome. But first we need to understand more concretely how emergence occurs in our potential advocacy ecosystem.

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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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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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(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): Figure-Ground and Change

A figure-ground image from the Pittsburgh zoo and the PPG Aquarium. It shows a tree as the figure and a gorilla and big cat as the ground.

The framework of Figure-Ground that arose out of Gestalt Theory is a useful metaphor for grasping the dual strategy of “System as Tool” and “Mutual Aid”.

The basic idea is that we focus on the figure rather than the ground because it is evolutionarily useful. But the figure doesn’t exist independently of the Ground. In fact, the Figure emerges from the ground and depends on the ground for its continuation.

If the context (The Ground) disappears, so does the focus (The Figure). What we think of as a thing (The Figure) emerges from the Ground and is maintained in existence by the Ground.

The “thing” that we focus on is a process and emerges.

So, the context must always be a part of our change strategy if we expect to change the system. If you abstract your change strategy so it only focuses on the target system, you will have less impact and unintended consequences that may eliminate or distort the change you wish to create.

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(P6): Basic Organizing Framework

A large number of wooden branches mutually supporting one another in a stack like that supporting a native american tipi.

The community of people with disabilities has used a strategy of iterative change to build rights and services entitlement for many decades. It is becoming less productive to focus solely on this strategy over time. There are many reasons for this:

  • For the last half-century, cultural and political change has pushed an agenda of ignoring the needs of others to gratify personal needs. This effort has degraded the economy and almost eliminated the resilience of individuals and their families. Most of us have little to fall back on financially or socially. Our entitlements have become what we depend on, and when those are threatened politically or financially, we don’t have any place to turn.
  • COVID-19 has exposed the brittleness of our community’s support in the larger society. Many of us will be scrambling for the near term just to stay alive. Regardless of how successful we are in adapting to the current social, political, and economic losses we will all experience, we will be eventually faced with creating some new support system largely without the help of those social, political, and economic institutions upon which we have depended in the past.
  • At the same time, many members of our community depend on technologically sophisticated and very expensive supports to maintain life. This is a chronic issue which COVID-19 is demonstrating in large during the current crisis.  We don’t have the option of ignoring or distancing ourselves from that reality. We will have to struggle with only partial success to maintain that lifeline to which we have become accustomed. In the long term, we will have to produce other ways of support that are not as fragile. We will have to do that ourselves because the larger society will fail in a variety of unpredictable ways over the next decade.
  • We can no longer depend on the System to support us. At the same time, we can’t avoid the System. Our strategy must be a bifurcated one:
    • Resistance to the loss of our rights and the destruction of our ability to live through the preservation and improvement of the System to the extent that is possible.
    • Building a much more sophisticated mutual aid network for our community that does not depend on the System for its funding or development.

We must also give up on the long-term notion of creating supports which are then absorbed by the System. Anything absorbed by the System will be subjected to the logic of the System and will have the same brittleness that the current System has. We must find a way to maintain what we need without allowing the System to reduce its effectiveness and make us dependent on the System’s current political whims.

If this goal seems impossible to you, you can begin to see the extent to which we have become dependent on systems that we do not control, and which are not accountable to us. The logic of these systems of support will never be accountable to us no matter how much we tweak them. We must view them as tools, not as solutions, tools which we use as we see fit. We must reach a point where we are not forced to submit to them.

This dual strategy can be viewed as the integration of:

  • The System as a Tool not a Solution.
  • The development of scalable Mutual Aid networks completely independent of the System.

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