Capacity, Capacity, there’s nothing like Capacity! — An infrastructure of the social commons (Part 3)

As always, reading Part 1 and Part 2 of this series may be helpful in understanding my thoughts here.

It is my view that there is immense potential within society and industry to do things differently. To modify it’s operation and to share it’s resources in a way which is outside our current thinking.

What seems to be coming more clear for me writing these posts is that there is a developmental model that underlies a lot of my thoughts.

This is developmental not just as in — “Doing Development Differently” developmental i.e. national, regional, district, economic and social development. But also personal, organisational, business, and workforce.

It’s possible to connect all of these things together through the Socially Enterprising platform and ecosystem.

Remember we are talking about ecosystems here, and not just systems. The difference is important.

In a garden (ecosystem) everything has it’s own life but also contributes to the development and life of everything around it.

This is the reason why I’ve been writing about the Red Queen. It helps to see and understand platforms, ecosystems and networks in this way. There is an entirely developmental aspect to them if you choose to see them in this light.

Socially Enterprising does this by moving place-based social action to centre stage and allowing these other developmental ends to become a natural by-product of participation.

As participants work together through forms of social action they in turn are provided with a reciprocal opportunity to develop themselves and/or their organisations.

Instead of working towards their own ends in isolation they begin to engage with each other and with the social, cultural and environmental reality that exists around them.

As they work to transform the outside world they in turn are transformed.

It makes a lot of sense once it all clicks into place…

It solves a lot of problems.

A Description of Social Action — The UK Government

Delivering capacity to where it is needed

This developmental understanding of ecosystems gives rise to a new set of important considerations.

I’ll try to be brief.

Today if you wanted to deliver a children's playground it would be commissioned and delivered through a series of actors and processes.

Local Authority > Play Equipment Provider > Civil Contractor

If we instead look at this need from a developmental perspective we would seek to identify and engage with the wider ecosystem whilst also asking the question — “How could participants benefit developmentally from being involved with this project?”

It isn’t a straight line or a simple answer anymore.

But the potential to generate forms of social and developmental value have gone now through the roof from zero!

This applies just as equally to a community park project or to a litter pick.

It is within this change of thinking and approach that we need to reconsider the question of capacity and how we deliver it to where it is needed when it is needed.

Bringing in the experts

Community projects are not simple things. They can be, for sure. But once you dig a little deeper into things it becomes apparent that there is much to be considered.

A project may be given funds for a community garden but that doesn’t mean that it will deliver the project that is most needed for that place.

The project will most likely be developed in an inward fashion, by this I mean that a small team will make decisions based upon the information, knowledge and expertise that they have at hand.

That knowledge has a limit which ‘may’ not reach out to encompass the wider needs of everyone in their local area. The understanding of society, social and local need is not necessarily preexisting within the team.

This is where bringing in expertise is of benefit.

Not so that the experts can do things for us or tell us what to do! But so that they can contribute their knowledge and learning to the benefit of a wider whole. So that they can help us to deepen our understanding and knowledge and in doing so develop our own capacity and awareness. This is capacity and development acting intelligently.

These types of expertise come in many different shapes and forms. Disability groups, rights, and organisations are an example.

Knowledge of community projects, public engagement and community organising could be others.

It can exist locally or within national organisations or networks (Power to Change, Locality etc).

The point to me is that all of these organisations contain forms of capacity which we can bring in to ensure that we deliver the best possible result for society.

It is public money that is being spent after all.

Even if we’re operating outside of traditional democratic structures, there are duties and responsibilities which should be present in our actions and behaviours.

It is because of these social considerations that it becomes important that we are able to access these outside capacities whenever we need them.

Being available and network ready

The capacity which exists in all of these networks and organisations above needs to be made available so that it can be delivered to where it is needed when it is needed.

There is a mindset change that is required here and a reanalysis of how our organisations interoperate with the outside world and their role within a networked society.

You need to understand where the obstacles and blockages are in this collaborative way of working and for organisations which are accustomed to making the decisions and doing the work it is likely that these will be very close to home.

It matters how you interface with the outside world. It matters how quickly you respond. It matters what tone you take and what attitude you have.

It matters because the people and organisations attempting to engage with you are doing so because they wish to effect a positive social change of some kind and every negative experience, every poorly worded email, every slow response is a barrier to achieving this.

There may be dedicated responsibilities or shared (between organisations) roles here and community connectors may be a good model to learn from.

Being there, being available, providing a good interface and connecting people to support and advice quickly matters.

The capacity must be suitable for the context

Many of the larger organisations involved in community participating practices (and this would also include social innovation organisations) need to have an understanding of where and how their capacity (power, knowledge, information, resources etc) can be picked up and utilised by all types of network participators.

There may be a place for wordy reports and complex jargon within an industry but this ultimately presents as just another barrier when merging with a wider network.

It can be off-putting, alienating and not as useful as it could be. I really don’t think we want for this to be the case.

How this expertise and knowledge is delivered, transmitted, stored and generated matters.

Is it enough to publish a report and trust that it will be read and acted upon?

Or is there a need to ensure that the knowledge becomes of use in every hand and at every point throughout the network? It is this which necessitates a change in thinking about how we generate knowledge and distribute it.

Let’s face it a report is not a living document. It is knowledge frozen at a certain point in time. It suits how we worked before.

How does it become living knowledge? Do we need new institutions? Could it be of use outside of it’s silo and contribute to the wider ecosystem? Can we make use of every opportunity for it to be used to develop capacity elsewhere?

How we make use of networks. How we arrange and understand our existing institutions, structures and organisations. How we generate knowledge collaboratively, continuously and with citizens as equals. How we understand the role of education in this way of working. How we include everyone. How we make use of technology (immersive is one example) to help us develop and distribute learning and develop capacity within the network and the participants.

These are questions which must be asked and can only be responded to experimentally and with uncertainty.

A report placed upon a website may no longer be suitable for the task at hand.

We need to start learning all of this.

A cultural platform

Cultures have historically transmitted their knowledge through every platform at their avail and the role of arts and culture in responding to these questions and propositions should not be overlooked or undervalued.

Culture can help us to explore, navigate and work humanistic-ally and naturally in alignment with; positive, negative, obscure, esoteric, involved, complex, relational (or just so plain bloody obvious that you would never see it in a million years) aspects of the social, cultural and environmental world that we co-exist with and within.

Collective intelligence. Cultural understanding. Social awareness. These are capacities too.

These are within our society’s gift to give. All it takes is for us to contribute a little bit of effort and add a bit of our own nous for all these things to be brought together and set moving in the right direction.

We might wonder why we never did it before?

Founder of Socially Enterprising / Commoner / Mostly Unemployed.