Developing community requires ongoing investments in intangible assets over extensive periods of time.
Mushin has a five part series about the construction of integral collaboration ecologies.
In the first excerpt, from part 2, he makes the very important point that contemporary complexity precludes full individual understanding, so that the effort needs to shift towards the ‘collective’.
In the second excerpt, from part 4, he stresses that such is only possible by building a dedicated but also intangible infrastructure.
“A human community in its very essence is a network of conversations. Communities are held together by the stories they tell, to each other and to the outside world, and by the beliefs they share — even though opinions might greatly differ. The emergence of a global civilization or community is therefore much more a result of global conversations that the Internet has made possible (for instance, the rise of the so-called blogosphereFF and the ever increasing number of social networks) than the rising tides of globalization, which is solely thought of in economic terms.Memory and language are often regarded as distinguishing characteristics of human beings. When humanity started to use language, information and knowledge could much easier be shared, a development that led to a leap in societal diversity and complexity. The next leap was caused by the invention of writing and the one after that by the discovery of mathematics. A greater leap in societal diversity and complexity was fostered by the invention of the printing press, hugely enhancing the possibility to store information and knowledge. The telegraph, the telephone, television, multimedia, the Internet, all these developments exponentially furthered diversity and complexity of our societies and of the conversations that are now possible. Our capacity to tell stories, store, spread, create and manifest them is growing exponentially, and so is diversity and complexity, both developments go hand in hand.
Where in the past there was usually enough time for societies and communities to catch up turning knowledge into understanding and eventually wisdom, this seems to be impossible today for who could keep up with the exponential growth of information and knowledge, diversity and complexity in human societies? But this is only so if we see this development from an individual’s point of view. If on the other hand we regard humanity as a whole, being comprised of an ever expanding number of diverse communities, then the potential of this evolution is becoming apparent. We are facing an unprecedented challenge, because to turn the vastly growing knowledge into know-how, understanding and eventually wisdom we absolutely need to create forms and processes to coherently activate our collective and collaborative intelligence, and we need to do so on all levels and every scale.
Collaboration is easily confused with but greatly differs from cooperation. When people, organizations or companies cooperate they don’t need to jointly develop shared understandings and trust; it is enough that participants, for instance, simply execute instructions willingly or do what they agreed upon previously. The desired outcome is relatively clear, whereas in collaboration it is mostly unpredictable, and collaborators more often than not embark upon a path of innovation and creation which will lead them they know not where.
Clearly collaboration is a much more complex and demanding process than cooperation, and this so also because it needs to rely on trust and on a joint commitment to shared understandings or values.
As such it is a process that already embarks from within a situation that is full of diversity and complexity, and therefore it is also a process whose time has come in an age of its inevitable exponential growth as I’ve shown above.”
“As much as it is true that community development – being a dynamic, interdependent process with a diversity of participants – can be learned only through experience, it is also true that there are environments and processes that greatly enhance this learning. As a comple, and because of the required trust, potentially fragile process it needs a safe surrounding to germinate. Professional community development can really only be achieved properly by people who have matured sufficiently beyond the need for personal stardom (egotism), and who have understood that collaboration requires equal respect of all for all. Resilient, sustainable communities can best be regarded as voluntary, self-managing processes that can only be encouraged and facilitated – there will most likely never be standardized practices beyond the creation of an ecology of values, purposes and principles that foster collaboration and the personal contact with and facilitation by a Community Development Professional. The replicability of this process lies in the education of and in sufficient support structures for Community Development Professionals.
Community development starts with rediscovering or creating common ground: shared experiences and/or values, intentions, visions. The environment in which it develops easily is one of being attentively and open-mindedly present to others, giving authentic feedback and ‘being yourself’, expecting others to likewise be; a willingness to accept differences in perspective, perception and opinion. This is relatively easy once a deep mutual understanding of ‘our commonality of intention, vision and value’ has taken root.
To use economic terms, “Developing community requires ongoing investments in intangible assets over extensive periods of time.”
Building trust, which is the major ingredient of effective and successful communities, takes time as does creating an atmosphere or ecology of common values, purpose and all the other hard to measure human traits that community is made of. Engaging conversations that connect people and are the stuff relationships are mostly made of; developing community is an investment in people and their creativity and inventiveness and it involves unpredictable outcomes. Developing communities that have real value – if it is regarded as an actual financial investment done by one or more stakeholders – is a challenging ‘business’ and should be well considered beforehand. However, the economic results are definitely measurable as they demonstrate reduced risks, faster performance and greater or new sources of revenues; and solving organisational, social and environmental challenges through the application of collective wisdom, challenges that, if not handled properly, easily can cause substantial economic losses.”