This week, invitations went out for the 3rd Annual Communiplexity Summit, which SCOPE is once again co-hosting. What is "communiplexity," you ask? It's an orientation that combines the theories and approaches of complexity and community change, in order to discover and invent new ways to understand and participate in our own communities. Complexity is a relatively new, inter-disciplinary paradigm that has been developing since the 1980's. Some people describe it as an updated version of systems thinking. From a complexity perspective, a community is recognized as a dynamic network of diverse change agents interacting with one another and the environment to co-evolve over time. Complexity emphasizes processes of self-organization among change agents as the central means of fostering the ongoing health, resilience and hardiness of a system, whether that system is an individual, a family, an organization, or a whole community.
Although the complexity approach may seem intuitive to people who focus on community organizing and sustainability efforts, it typically requires an overriding of deeply held assumptions about community development and systems change that have been imported from traditional social science and the business world. Traditional, "Newtonian" science emphasizes linearity and assumes that a whole system can be understood through a detailed analysis of all its parts. Traditional business models reflect this orientation by emphasizing the development of highly detailed master plans created by experts, followed by the disciplined implementation of these plans to achieve pre-specified outcomes, in order to confirm the "achievement" of sustainability. Emphasis traditionally is placed on directing processes, preventing deviations from plans, eliminating environmental threats and maintaining stability.
In contrast, a complexity approach assumes that cause-effect pathways are highly numerous and multi-directional and a whole system is more than a sum of its parts. Because agents have free will and the environment is continually changing, individual and system behaviors are often unpredictable and uncontrollable. Facilitating the ongoing health and sustainability of a system therefore involves facilitating its ability to self-organize in continually adaptive, flexible and responsive ways. Sustainability is about cultivating relationships, assets, strengths, and capital to enable perpetual "goodness of fit."
Through the lens of communiplexity, we pay attention to different aspects of community than are traditionally emphasized, and we continually ask questions about:
Agency -- Are the people and other change agents in the system exhibiting too much or too little initiative and / or responsivity to prompt changes in support of increased community well-being?
Energy - Is there too much or too little energy (e.g. information, knowledge, emotion, money) to support decisions and actions affecting community well-being?
Connection - Are there too many or too few connections between people and other change agents to enable energy to flow among and between agents to support increased community well-being?
Diversity-Are there too many or too few differences among people and other change agents to generate creative approaches and workable solutions in support of community well-being?
Reflective Function- Is there too much or too little self / other understanding among people and other change agents to discern similarities and differences in perspectives regarding community well-being?
Containment - Is there too much or too little containment of energy within the system to address problems and support innovations regarding community well-being?
Scalability - Are the interconnections within and between systems at multiple scales too frequently maintained, such that they enable small problems to spread and amplify into major catastrophes? Or are the interconnections too frequently disrupted, such that they do not enable small discoveries to spread and amplify into major innovations?
When these are the things we want to be able to track on a continual basis in order to optimize community well-being, there are implications for the kinds of data we gather, exchange, and make visible as a community - as citizens, as organizations, as sectors, as governments, and as funders.
Einstein said, "Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts." From a communiplexity perspective, how are we doing as a community here in Sarasota County?