Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Icebergs and Ducks

Rules Of Thumb Book - Icebergs and Ducks

I wanted to share this wonderful blog entry on the way change happens. I think that this take on the change going on in communities all around us...under the surface...far away from the "politically sanctioned initiatives" that we see in the media, describes the essence of the process that those of us who work for community change acknowledge and observe. This is also the chaos, the messiness, that Margaret Wheatley refers to when she describes community change. These little petri dishes of creativity that we discover "under the surface" are weaving themselves into (as she would say it) chaotic strange attractors that represent much of the meaningful change of these times.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ten Disciplines for Change

Over the years I have developed a list of things that I call the "Disciplines". They are simply some concepts that I've found important in the work of prevention. There are no special criteria to be on the list, and I never consider it complete. But at some point in the use of a concept it just occurs to me to put it on my list of truths that help me do my work in communities. Here they are:

   1. Value the “knowledge worker” – Peter Drucker writes eloquently about the importance of the knowledge worker in modern management. Indeed, a community-based system must rely on those who possess knowledge, and that includes those from other disciplines who are not within the inner circle of the decision-making framework. Since knowledge and expertise is not consumed when it is transferred, all of those who possess it must be embraced and respected by the system.

   2. Recognize what the non-user values – This is essential in any system that is trying to build a network of information, and is a foundational principle of new marketing and management theory. A system based on any core infrastructure that seeks to induce behavior change must constantly ask the question, “What do the non-users value in their own quest for knowledge, capacity, and excellence.

   3. Address Institutional and Policy Constraints – In his book, Getting to the 21st Century (Kumarian Press, 1990), David C. Korten describes the problems encountered when taking a community from pure programming to sustainable systems development. He writes of four sequential stages, which take a system from relief and welfare to a common mobilizing vision. The third generation of the process, which follows community development, inevitably must address institutional and policy constraints on its way to making positive change a “way of life” in a population. Getting to our final vision will likely require that we continue to devise ways to overcome these constraints.

   4. Insist on a common mobilizing vision – Beyond the sustainable system lies a fourth generation of change, a larger community of philosophy and practice, which stretches on into the indefinite future. In this stage, effective action would become a “way of life” in the community. The problem definition of this generation often becomes an inadequate mobilizing vision. Developing and sustaining the vision should be a continuous effort. [Ibid. Korten]

   5. Develop a philosophy of engagement – All of the elements of the existing infrastructure must be religiously included in the process. Doing the work has required and will continue to require increasing availability, and an ever more educated workforce. It will require more knowledge and input than are possessed by just leaders, consultants, and a select few employees. It will require human resources at all levels that are committed to the outcomes. [Terms of Engagement, Richard Axelrod, Berret-Koehler, 2000]

   6. Abide by the rules of the network economy – In taking up the challenge of community development, we propel ourselves to the brink of the new economy. It may be wise to consider its tenets. In this environment, whoever has the smartest customers wins. It is a market driven by plentitude, not scarcity, and to improve our products we must literally give them away. Our best marketing strategy may not be to “segment” the target populations, but amplify their relationships. We must also model the behavior that we want to induce in communities. This will involve the need to focus on “connecting customers to customers.” [New Rules for the New Economy, Kevin Kelly, Penguin Books, 1998]

   7. Plan for “real-time” strategic change – If the fire is lit, how does one keep it burning? I would draw from the work of Robert W. Jacobs and content that it will be done by 1) focusing people’s time and attention on achieving key results, 2) ensuring that a common database of strategic information is sustained throughout the organization over the long haul, 3) drawing circles that include rather than exclude the people who are in the process of change, and 4) cyclically realigning the strategy, culture, systems, structures, work practices, and the processes of the organization.  [Real Time Strategic Change, Robert W. Jacobs, Berret-Koehler, 1994]

   8. Strive for organizational clarity and then over-communicate that clarity – This is simple the practice of establishing very, very clearly what the organizational goals and values are and then constantly communicating them throughout the organization from top to bottom (from administrator to end-user). This involves vigorous repetition using simple messages and multiple mediums. [Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, Patrick Lencioni, Jossey-Bass, 2000]

   9. Don’t mistake a clear view for a short distance –
The risk of devolution is very real in any complex community endeavor. Despite having many of the pieces in place, a system can become fragmented if we become discouraged and abandon existing elements of the infrastructure. Often the traverse of a valley will precede the ascent to a distant peak. Kevin Kelly writes, “to scale a higher peak – a potentially greater gain – often means crossing a valley of less fitness first.” The daunting tasks of community development are rife with such valleys. [Ibid. Kelly]

  10. Tolerate messiness at the edges – I frequently quote the following excerpt from a Margaret Wheatley essay as an apt description of the process of community development;

“If we as leaders can ensure that our organization knows itself, that it’s clear at its core, we must also tolerate unprecedented levels of “messiness” at the edges. This constant tinkering, this localized hunt for solutions does not look neat. There is no conformity possible unless we want to kill local initiative. Freedom and creativity create diverse responses. We have to be prepared to support such diversity, to welcome the surprises that people invent, and to stop wasting time trying to impose solutions developed elsewhere.”  [Goodbye to Command and Control, Margaret Wheatley, Leader to Leader, Enduring Insights on Leadership, The Drucker Foundation, Jossey-Bass, 1999]

The acceleration of change resembles “messiness” to many who work within it and/or observe it. We notice that all manner of leaders, communities, and agencies are attempting to divine its meaning and its usefulness. I think we should try to remember that:

We are often in chaos because of our successes, and not because of our failures.

We could relegate ourselves to the insular world of programming and education, and we would likely have a more predictable system. But that would be a system of infinitely less potential. We must try to trust that, over time, an inherent orderliness (known as a chaotic strange attractor to scientists) will emerge.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Prevention: "The Status Quo"

A valued colleague and I were reflecting on Seth Godin's blog entry for today February 2, 2010 entitled "Who Will Save Us?. She asked me the question, "How would you describe the status quo of prevention?"

When I think of that question I think of the chart from David Korten's Book, Getting to the 21st Century, which was shown to me many years ago by Alvera Stern. It made sense to me 15 years ago that this was more or less the path we were trying to travel. However, I think I should revisit this chart, which speaks of the various stages of evolution of development-oriented organizations.

Looking at the chart, I think the status quo is that community-based prevention has been thought to be the most promising approach of the last 60 years. Most states and other entities are doing it in some form (with variable success and often without an adequate workforce, but nevertheless doing it). The age of pure programming is long gone and most entities are bound up in the struggle to get from the Second Generation to the Third Generation depicted on this chart. They are bound up in the fight against institutional and policy constraints, resistance to change, and bureaucratic systems. All of the relevant public and private institutions are also bound up, often in their own silos and are all trying to do this alone and separate from each other. I think we understand that the diffusion innovation takes time and to really get to sustainable systems takes perhaps 10-20 years. But for COMMUNITIES and their own efforts to make a difference in themselves, this means there are all manner of constraining policies and institutions (see the third generation) that they must deal with.

(Actually, though I am postulating a path way beyond the age of programming depicted in Korten’s chart, the era of programming may again return and be successful; we may have overcorrected a bit. But it will be programming that is much more refined than what we had years ago. It will have been subjected to some of the framework of community  in a way that the early efforts lacked. “Programs” will be more sensitive to community and individual and family models and less tuned to the older academic models. That will be the improvement.

But meanwhile (what I’m more and more sensing is that lately):


What do I mean by this? Keep looking at the chart. The world has rapidly globalized, communication and social media have exploded, access to knowledge and solutions is almost universal if one looks hard enough, and the internet age with its social media opportunities has allowed people to jump all the way to loosely defined networks of people and organizations (see chart). They have already begun to form coalescing and energizing self-managing networks (isn’t that exactly what Facebook is?). These are Fourth Generation features! The world didn’t wait for us to slug our way into the next generation!

If you still don’t believe this, here’s an exercise for you… just do a little looking at what our youth do when they are faced with the challenge of, for example, a video game. Go to the World of Warcraft website. There are about 6 million international subscribers to that game, many (but not exclusively) youth, and they have generated pretty much on their own (with no grants, no funding, little guidance) a community online which delves every aspect of that game right down to the programming code and provides solutions to any problem a participant might have. I mean anything! In detail! How to acquire assets! How to gain competence and skill! The website is literally rife with opportunities, skills, recognition, bonding and attachment, and mentoring. And more than that they are also using Skype, Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, IM, ICQ, Photobucket, Youtube, and many other media techniques to communicate with each other. There are illustrated manuals, walkthroughs, FAQs, guilds, and message boards … all player (not provider) generated.

Wouldn’t you love to have a community like that centered around prevention..around community health ...or just about the things that matter to communities and their citizens!

We keep looking to our beleaguered schools to give us access to youth for programs and practices. They don’t have time. Most faculty contracts are negotiated these days. The economy is down. Teachers are focused on minimum standards testing from No Child Left Behind. They really don’t have the luxury of letting us come in and take their teaching time to do prevention programs (except for the few like the Good Behavior Game (Paxis Institute) that can be fully integrated into the culture of their classroom management). And the school districts most certainly can’t afford the designer programs, many of which are out to make academic research pay off for somebody. Neither can community coalitions, often operated by volunteers using their discretionary time, readily muster the infrastructure and the resources necessary to effect the most popular and best-researched evidence-based practices.

We keep looking for youth at schools and the YMCA and Main Street and all the places we used to be. AND THEY ARE NOT THERE! They are using social media. They are connecting to each other in all manner of 4th Generation ways (all too often, and sadly so, because those who profess to be the champions of their health and well being have lost sight of where they are and fail to make those vital connections with them).

Prevention needs ultimately to shed this waiting around trying to do “strategic management” for community change and become an army of true activist/educators. We need to join the rest of the world in the fourth generation and use its assets to promote prevention. One thing I've learned in 30 years of prevention is that communities and coalitions (or individuals for that matter) can not be "managed". They can be influenced and enhanced and partnered with; but they can not be strategically managed. We should be trying to "amplify" and "enrich" those things that prevention communities and coalitions already have the will and the passion to do.

Now there are still people out there with knowledge, skills, and expertise in prevention. They have much to offer the whole process. But they need to start thinking outside the box a bit and begin to give communities practical answers that work and then network with them around those processes. They can even be certified if we want. It’s not an altogether bad thing. But it’s not the most important thing. Do you know what Seth Godin’s credentials are? I don’t. I read him because what he says in his blog often makes sense and helps me improve my knowledge and understanding. And I messaged my friend this morning because of THAT, not because of his credentials.

Just as there will likely come a time (perhaps sooner than one thinks) when no one uses telephones per se, there will come a time when these ponderous government grants and their impossible to fulfill requirements for communities will go the way of the dinosaur. We’ve already seen this. Many communities decline to even apply for complex Federal grants and cooperative agreements once they read the RFP and sense the level of Federal and State oversight to which they would have to submit. The communities that do apply and receive funds often find their project coordinators so hopelessly overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, and burned out that they can barely continue. Eventually these communities, through well connected leaders, will just go out into social media to find the answers and bypass the “hoops” imposed by state and federal authorities. We need to be there for them with effective solutions. One can hope also that someday the powers that be will successfully use funding to help make these solutions even more robust, accessible, affordable, and community-specific.

I'm an experienced and passionate worker for prevention. I love this work. Yet I think that people like me will have to be very different in the future. We won't be the classic community mobilizers, grant writers, planning coordinators, information disseminators, and technical assistance people of today. We will be “chaos managers” or something like that; people with rich knowledge and experience who are there to encourage, guide, support, and CONNECT people to these “coalescing and energizing self-managing networks” that spring up for prevention. And hopefully we'll be around to take a hand in creating a few that really make a difference.

There you go! Now, please correct and improve what I just said!!! It’s the way of the future!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Digging With a Spoon in a Diamond Vault

That is what the field of prevention is often like. One can work hard and long at developing relationships, bringing people together, building trust, and facilitating collaboration, and never really feel like you are getting anywhere, at least not in the short run. One gets no immediate feedback, no immediate gratification in this discipline; and often that can make the work seem futile and thankless.

Oh, don't get me wrong, there are successes; and it feels really, really great when they happen... like finding a diamond. But it's a slow process, and after all, it IS prevention. It's a lot like what God said to Bender in Futurama, "If you do your job, nobody knows you were there."

Well I don't accept the fact that prevention is futile, and I'm here to thank anyone who is trying to do it. Neither do I think it's impossible to do. So here we go! I'd love to have a magic wand or complete enlightenment on the subject, but I'll settle for a bigger spoon. Help me find one.