strategic doing through agile sensemaking

Cormac Russell has developed Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) which I see as a complementary model for Strategic Doing, especially Skill #3 — Identify the assets at your disposal, including the hidden ones. Cormac recently shared a thread on Twitter.

Here are a few paradoxes I’ve noticed at play in the dynamics between institutions & communities:

  1. The institutional paradox: Institutions are hardest to reach when you need or want them most. And most difficult to shake off when you need or want them least.
  2. Where there’s a danger that achieving the institutional mission will jeopardise the organisation’s future: Antibodies will be produced to kill off all such progressive efforts. Their prime directive: the institution’s survival matters more than fulfilling its mission.
  3. Past a particular scale or intensity, institutions will become counterproductive: producing the opposite of their stated intention, e.g. stupefying schools; crime producing prisons. (Illich)
  4. Bureaucracies following an iron rule: those who wish to elevate, support, & practically resource community alternatives will always be junior/subordinate to those who want to feature their professional & institutional capacities above citizens and the communities they serve.
  5. The more professionals talk about “community power”, the less power communities actually have and the more disabling institutions are. While where citizens and professionals openly talk about institutional limits and the dangers of disabling professions, the more powerful communities are and the more enabling professionals can be.

@CormacRussell 2022-03-04

Institutions [organizations as well] are not communities, and communities are not networks. Each performs a different function. According to Verna Allee, organizations are based on work to be done, communities are defined by the knowledge needs of the members, and knowledge networks are defined by general interests. In institutions, loyalty is to the structure in place, such as police often have a greater loyalty to their force than to the communities they serve.  As Cormac notes, antibodies are often developed in organizations to stave off any progressive ideas from outside.

Our challenge today is find ways to connect institutions with their communities and to learn with and from global knowledge networks. The latter were critical in identifying the makeup of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Strategic Doing is an approach that can connect all three organizing forms — Organizations, Communities, Networks. It is based on learning by doing.

“In Strategic Doing, metrics play a different role. We use metrics to facilitate learning. Whereas strategic planning is a deductive process of thought and action, Strategic Doing uses inductive reasoning. We learn as we do. Metrics provide a convenient tool to accelerate our learning. With them, we figure out what works. Without them, we would be lost. Accountability in Strategic Doing comes through transparency and the mutual interdependence embedded in the relationships of the network. Forget command and control. It does not work in open networks. Mutual trust becomes the fuel for economic transformation.” —Ed Morrison (2012)

An approach of strategic doing through agile sensemaking maintains awareness of the larger context, connects and promotes communities where alternatives can be tested, and takes informed action from a servant leadership perspective of honesty & humility. Processes such as asset mapping and value network analysis provide snapshots of the current situation

New initiatives are developed in an ‘agile’ fashion, using Strategic Doing skills  — 8) Creating a short-term action plan in which everyone takes a small step. 9) Meeting every 30 days to review progress, adjust, and plan for the next 30 days. But to begin, we have to build and protect safe spaces between organizations and communities — Strategic Doing Skill #1.

connecting networks communities and institutions through agile sensemaking and value networks

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