(P7): Basic Idea of a Target Ecosystem

A simple model of a biological ecosystem, with the sun providing the basic source of energy, energizing producers to feed consumers, and letting consumers feed decomposers. All this action creates and maintains an Inorganic nutrient pool available to producers. Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers shed heat. And so the cycle goes.
How It All Works…

Educational Ecosystems
What Kind of Ecosystem Is Your School?
Net EDU Project: Educational Ecosystems
The Struggle of Two Missions

I’ll use education as the basic model for the discussion of the ecosystem idea since everyone has lived experience with it and advocating in education has been advocacy in which I have been deeply involved.

Ecosystems are self-evolving frameworks of many interactive parts and are a type of Complex Adaptive System (CAS).  The parts act for their own benefit, so the stability of the CAS requires interactions in which the parts need each other to survive. This idea is equally true of Advocacy Target Ecosystems.

Model of an Advocacy Target Ecosystem:

Imagine two circles.

The inner circle is the education system that is your advocacy target. Within this circle, the strong relationships/processes that make up the target  drive its ongoing behavior and purpose.

The outer circle includes all the peripheral organizations and communities that relate to the education system. They constitute weak relationships/processes that buffer the target system and effectively prevent the strong processes of the target from running away and undermining the ability of the target to fulfill its purposes.

These two subsystems make up the actual target ecosystem.  Together, these two subsystems act as a roughly stable ongoing process. If we wish to change the target, we must engage these subsystems.

The standard way of engagement is to disrupt or destabilize processes in the subsystems, to force the target to respond to a change in its control. However, it is very difficult to destabilize or disrupt the strong processes without undermining the ability of a target to pursue its purpose.  In fact, it is the gradual corruption of these strong processes that divorces the target from its reason for existing over time. (See The Struggle of Two Missions).

It is easier to disrupt or destabilize the weak processes.

Because they are weak processes, why would the target change its behavior to respond to a disruption or destabilization of its periphery?

The relationship between a target and its peripheral buffering weak processes (from the perspective of the target)  is ideally one where the weak processes cycle through a repeatable set of predictable actions.  If the predictable cycle breaks down, the target must invest energy in restoring the predictable cycle, even if it means changing in some small ways inside the subsystem of strong processes. It will expend this extra energy (from a capped total amount of energy that also supports its strong processes) in order to restore rough stability and continue as much as it can to behave as it did before.

So, advocates disrupt the weak processes by filing a complaint or calling for an IEPC or reaching out to stakeholders to which the strong subsystem can’t avoid responding. They try to leverage the target systems to make changes that expand the personal autonomy and possibility space of choice available to students and their families.  This engagement is the standard way that advocates change target ecosystems.

There are many variations on this standard way of engaging a target ecosystem. And, the weak processes that stabilize and support the target consist of much more than rules and due process. There are many weak processes that support any target, and all of them are potentially subject to destabilization/disruption, forcing a response from the target. For an education target, these might include the school board,  the various funding mechanisms necessary for the strong process subsystem, the political interface of the target in the larger community, target policy or action failures in any part of the strong process subsystem, and so on.

Our advocacy must become part of the weak process subsystem before it can be effective over the long term, and before we can be in a position to approach changing the strong well-protected processes of the target. This means that, in addition to our work to disrupt or destabilize weak processes, like the target, we must engage the weak processes and build ongoing relationships with them. We must become part of the target ecosystem to be able to effectively advocate.

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Person-Centered Planning and Social Justice

By Norm DeLisle: For Entire Post, Go Here…

A few years ago, I created a short presentation as part of a grant to train LTSS Supports Coordinators in the Why and How of PCP. My presentation was part of the Why. I did the presentation is a Microsoft Tool called Sway, so I could see how the tool worked. Sway is a way of rapidly creating online presentations that is easier than PowerPoint.

I decided recently to redo the presentation using a Social Justice Framework instead of the more step-by-step version I did back then. Here it is, and I’d be interested in your view of the results…

We are here, Get used to it.

A Social Justice Response to Disability-Based Oppression

I estimate that more human beings are enduring agony today than ever before; the number could be greater than the sum of sufferers throughout history. I speak of starvation and epidemic; war and terrorism; deprivation, exploitation, and physical torture. I repeat the word agony; I am not talking about “hard times”. 
-Stafford Beer

All forms of oppression deny, distort, degrade or disrupt the exercise of agency by individuals, families, human communities (however they are defined by gender, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic of identity), race, ethnicity,or nationality. Because all these examples of targets for oppression have members who have disabilities, the oppression of the disabled embodies the deep richness of the meaning of intersectionality and its possibilities for real empowerment.

For most dimensions of identity, social justice progresses through large-scale activism, focused on community-level protest and policy advocacy. Successful activism creates “affordances”, tools in the environment that can be used by members of the community to resolve or correct some form of oppression. For People With Disabilities (PWD), while such activism is a core part of our progress in Social Justice, the level of oppression embedded in the infrastructure of every society in our world is so ubiquitous, that community level social justice progress is not enough. Each PWD needs a very local and granular set of affordances to experience and pursue the same freedom that other communities can explore through the modern advocacy of valued social justice outcomes.

(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): Models as Practical Tools

A diverse set of plumbing tools in a kit.

Radical Uncertainty
Small-world network
AnyLogic simulation software
Practical Planning Models
Small World: Crafting an Inclusive Classroom (No Matter What You Teach)

Because it isn’t practical to fully model a CAS, we need to ask ourselves how we will make practical use of our understandings of the target systems and policies when we create and implement an advocacy initiative.

One common approach is to try to make our existing model of the system or policy more complete by iteratively making it more complex. Our assumption is that a model that is “more like” the target will provide us with a more usable base for an advocacy plan. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, and we need to understand why if we are to realistically use models as tools for change.

As the saying goes, “All models are wrong, some models are useful”. Even a very simple model can give us useful insights into the system or policy we are  targeting, but we always need to remember that the model is not the target and that no amount of sophisticated design can ever make it the target.  The model is an abstraction and can point us toward insights that will make our advocacy more effective, but it is never a true substitute for the target. And unfortunately, as we make the model more complex, it becomes increasingly useless as a guide to action.

We are so used to processing abstractions as a part of our thinking, planning, and change work, that it is easy to confuse those abstractions with the CAS.

A better approach is to use the frameworks of the practical sciences, like engineering, medicine, carpentry, plumbing, vehicle repair, and so on, as a guide to using our knowledge and experience in an organized way to increase the impact of our work.

These practical sciences are a mesh of theory, experience, training, and intuition that can be used to understand and change an issue in a CAS, even if that CAS is, say, your water, heating, and plumbing system. If water is accumulating in your house, it can be difficult to figure out why when the puddle might be a long distance from the source, and the source might be a long distance from the “cause”. We must diagnose, hypothesize, try small safe changes to see what happens, and apply different tools for different ways of changing the system.

All of this practical engineering becomes part of our long term learning about our target.

If we wish to approach the problem with a better tool, we improve an existing one. You want a better wrench, not a tool that eliminates the need for wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, and so on. Such an omni-tool tool will only make diagnosis, testing hypotheses, and experimentation in general to solve the problem at hand more difficult, not easier.

Put another way, think Waze when you are trying to formulate a response to a travel problem, not the creation of the entire theory of human travel for the foreseeable future. A good model of traffic flow wouldn’t be based on a representative vehicle. Instead, it would be based on a small world model of typical travel outcomes in the larger travel space. Such a model allows for an interactive dynamic between different purposes to be formulated that reflects why people travel and not simply how they travel.

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(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.