Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Success, is it possible?- Chapter 11

During class on Tuesday I was thinking about how to gauge if any sustainable practices actually work. It sounds like an easy question, but how do you really know if you and your community were successful in attempting to create a sustainable community? I sought answers in chapter 11 only to discover that gauging success is incredibly difficult.

Hallsmith begins the chapter explaining that humans are great at problem solving through specially designed programs. She then says the pitfall of this is that people tend to end up caring more about if the program goes as according to plan than if the program actually achieves its purpose. The sight of the big picture is often lost. This is one of three problems that Hallsmith acknowledges in evaluating success. She describes it as the lack of a holistic approach. In an example, Hallsmith discusses this problem as a “vicious cycle” of “grow grow grow”. It is very difficult to know when to step back and analyze the progress based on the original objective.

Another difficulty in gauging success is the tendency to judge the progress of a program based on activities rather than results. Most sustainable programs do not have the resources to get the information that will tell them the impact they had on their surrounding environment. Hallsmith calls this “the activity trap” when progress is gauged based on secondary measures such as amount of people trained in sustainable living or the number of energy efficient materials that were installed in the lifetime of the program. Although this may be a decent subjective indicator of the success of a program, there is no guarantee that these activities actually had any affect on the planet’s natural systems. In an account about a California based group called Common Ground the success was measured based on the semi-celebrities that attended an event… no way to gauge actual environmental impact.

One of the most risky aspects of beginning a sustainability program is the repercussions it may have on externalities. Some programs may be deemed successful as they had “solved” the problem at hand, but in the process of solving this problem new ones were created. Can an instance such as this really be considered a “success”?

This is why “indicators” are the best gauge as to the success of a program. These indicators are based on natural phenomena; for example, how an ecosystem is doing based on the number of salmon swimming upstream. In a concluding statement, Hallsmith writes that “Ultimately, the success of efforts to improve sustainability in communities will be evaluated based on whether or not all the human needs are satisfied…” In other words, it is virtually impossible to claim a sustainability program is entirely successful.

Modest Systems Reading Assignment: Chapter 1

Chapter Summary: In Chapter 1 of The Key to Sustainable Cities, Gwendolyn Hallsmith argues that all government is local. Individual people at the local, grassroots level initiate the political and social changes that occur in national government. Thus, the larger government institutions are simply byproducts of the efforts made by involved and engaged citizens. These individual community members act out of a necessity to fulfill their basic human needs. When the local systems, fail to meet their needs they in turn seek to change the system. As a result, their needs have become the impetus for the creation of more complex and, in most cases, less sustainable systems. In this chapter, Hallsmith introduces and describes the difference between sustainable local systems and unsustainable local systems by contrasting two cities: Randolph, Vermont and Naryn, Kyrgyzstan. In her contrast, Hallsmith explains that Randolph, the sustainable city, has a bustling city center, developed western cultural identity, growing economy, local citizen participation, and a democratic political system. As a result, this local urban system is effectively meeting the needs of its citizens. On the other hand, Naryn, which lacks all of the above stated characteristics of a sustainable system, is not meeting the needs of its citizens.

New Learning: In this chapter, Hallsmith gives readers a very vague idea of what a sustainable city looks like. In her vision, which Randolph seems to exemplify, citizens’ active, informed and engaged participation in local government is essential to creating sustainable cities. This link between citizen participation and sustainable cities is quite interesting considering that at the beginning of the chapter she suggests that it is citizens’ actions in response to their growing needs that propels the development of these unsustainable systems. Nevertheless, it seems that she also suggests that cities like Randolph are using citizen participation as a strategy for establishing sustainable systems. Unlike the citizens of Naryn, the citizens of Randolph had a voice in local government that was not only listened to, but also taken very seriously. Hallsmith’s ideas about citizen participation are extremely relevant and can be incorporated into our work as students and professionals.
Quite remarkably, Hallsmith brings light to the circular nature of society, communities, and systems. It is individual need that sparks development of more complex and often unsustainable systems. Once these more complex systems begin to negatively affect individuals, they will again act out of necessity; the need to create more sustainable systems. By giving citizens the space to act out their natural roles in these systems governments can do their part in working toward sustainability.

Challenges of change

Key Points:
- Change is not static, it is an ongoing metamorphoses.
- In order for change to be effective those effected by the change must be involved in developing it.
- There are different players in change: Innovators, change agents/ opinion leaders, trendsetters, conservatives/mainstreamers, reactionaries, and curmudgeons. Each plays a different role in the change process, whether it be by enabling or inhibiting it.
- Conflict is an inevitable part of the process to create change, a facilitator needs to anticipate this instead of fear and deny conflict.

The idea that was most important to me during this chapter was the idea of involving community members in the process of change. This fits in to the question of how do we get people to grasp an idea or complete change in thinking. Hallsmith settles this problem by explaining that change is gradual. Ideally one should not have to get people to except an idea but come up with it themselves. In this way people will no longer see it as an outsider coming in to create change but as actions coming from within the community. This can be done through a group process, although this can decrease our ultimate vision more will be accomplished.

Despite Hallsmith’s urges to include the community some of her methods seem to include the community members in a false manner. She describes reactionaries and curmudgeons as those against change, portraying them in a negative light. Viewing them as such would seem to lead to more conflict as these members of the community will feel they are not listened to. Additionally Hallsmith portrays conflict as a completely negative experience, ignoring the fact that often creativity and understanding can come out of the “storming” phase.

Hallsmith - "short" blog: Ch. 5 Celebrating Assets and Creating a Vision

In Chapter 5: Celebrating Assets and Creating a Vision, Hallsmith outlines the initial steps in the process of creating sustainable systems in a community. The three main strategies she suggests are (1) community participatory planning, (2) taking a community asset inventory, and (3) determining a shared vision.

A community participatory approach often involves including stakeholder groups in planning meetings. The idea is that people are more likely to embrace change when they take place in choosing the changes that need to happen.

The community asset inventory approach is expressed as an alternative to a problem-centered approach. Hallsmith encourages an identification and celebration of the best experiences that already exist. She recommends mapping the assets in reference to the corresponding needs that are being met. A mapping should then reveal the areas that need improvement and gaps that exist.

Creating a shared vision is the final step in this preliminary planning process. Collective goals are expressed and combined to create a consensus on where the community wants to go. Hallsmith mentions The Earth Charter – a Vision statement for the world.

Application – Case example:
Over the summer I worked on a project proposal to create an inventory of obesity prevention programs across the nation. This was an asset-based approach; to see what services were provided by each program and examine what impact the programs could have if they formed partnerships in their communities.

Hallsmith talks about mapping the system of assets to provide a visual representation of what needs aren’t being met adequately or at all. This sounds like it could be very effective, but I have a hard time picturing what it would look like, especially with more than one factor (i.e.; water AND transportation on the same map?) An illustration would have been extremely helpful here.

Hallsmith recommends that each part of the community be represented. She asks “Why do citizens get involved with local decision making? Why do they not?” but she doesn’t really answer this – There is an underlying assumption that there will be volunteers from each part of the community to participate in the planning process. The people who are less inclined to participate may be hesitant based on something related to a lacking asset – and so are ironically the very people who should be there – and the question should be “is it possible to involve the quieter, less assertive voices of the community?”.

Sustainible Cities -Assignment 1

Hi everyone! I just recently joined the class, so here is my first assignment.


(a) It seems that Hallsmith has the concept of community as one overlying theme which is comprised of social, economic and political factors. Each plays a role as a key concept in the reading. These factors interact in a web-like fashion all affecting one another in a particular hierarchy: the social goals drive economic goals which in turn drive political goals. The sustainable community is discussed in terms of how each facet of communal living is connected with each other in convoluted ways. It is the relationships between these concepts that drive the possibility of sustainable living. In certain ways, the very definition of a community makes one sustainable. Communities are systems or organizations that are built in order to nurture success and positive growth. Examples Hallsmith gives of community social needs include “peace, health care, lifelong learning, meaningful relationships, a sense of belonging, self-expression, self-esteem, beauty and spiritual life”. To achieve many of these goals there requires an economic need – money. Hallsmith says economic security can be achieved when people pursue their “creativity and natural productivity” which can be sustained by the natural world. It is the political responsibility to foster this sustainable atmosphere. Together these all make up the community.

(b) This reading was very relevant to our course in an interesting way. Our course is essentially the political aspect of a community that was such a key concept to Hallsmith. The political part was what essentially helps drive the community. The class was built to embrace the social needs of the students by encouraging self-expression and meaningful relationships. “Economic security” is achievable as we have the ability to be creative and naturally productive in class and the class itself is the organizational factor that helps to solidify the community. Our course is essentially defined by the key concepts of Hallsmark’s writing.

Typically, I personally do not think of communities in such a logical perspective. The depiction of the sustainable community in this step by step, logical way allows me to think more strategically of the community of which I am a part. Each of us contribute to our communities in one way or another and this scientific approach to dissecting it helps me to begin seeing my own role.

(c) What I would really like to know is where the environmental aspect fits into the big picture from my perspective. What is the environment? Is it a social, economic or political factor? I think that it may deserve to be a subsection of the community as a whole, not a subsection of its individual parts. I understood what was mentioned regarding the environment, but I felt that it did not fit in properly. As a critique, I found the reading to be repetitive. I think the concepts were explained fairly well in general, but the reading seemed rather unorganized as it jumped from one key concept to the other only later to refer back to the first one. The charts were not of great help to me and if Hallsmark was a little more succinct there would have been no great need for them.


After Tuesday’s discussion, the biggest questions in my mind were: how do community leaders get citizens involved in sustainable development? What are some basic strategies that community leaders can use to facilitate change? I chose to read Chapter 5 “Celebrating Assets and Creating a Vision,” (p 86-98) because I felt this chapter reveals a couple of basic approaches toward creating a sustainable community.
Chapter 5 Main Points
• The first step toward gaining support for a sustainable community movement is to start celebrating the community’s assets. This action creates more awareness to all that is special and positive in a community and begins to create a positive environment for change. People want to be proud of their community and as more attention is focused on the positive things in a community, more value is placed on these assets and more desire to save and preserve them. Hallsmith calls for leaders to administer a survey to determine the community’s assets. The survey will show the community what they value and how they are effectively meeting their needs. When there are common values and goals in the community it becomes easier to preserve the assets and sustain them for the future
.• After the surveys are compiled, it is important to make an assessment of how all the assets are meeting the community needs. An inventory should be conducted to note how sustainable or unsustainable the current practices are. This community “sustainable health report” will give the community a whole view of where the community needs to fill in the gaps to become more sustainable and is the basis for a comprehensive plan.
• Finally the community should adopt a community vision based on the surveys and sustainable practices assessment. The community vision should entail all the goals for the city including social, economic, sustainable, ect. The vision should articulate how the community would like to be in the future. The vision should be relatable to all the citizens and invoke excitement and passion.
Hallsmith states that these steps aren’t easy and most attempts will fail. However, this chapter provides basic action steps for a community to start the progression towards a sustainable community. Absolutely there will be citizens that are unable or unwilling to be a part of a sustainable movement. However, Hallsmith’s tries to provide steps to apply to begin to gain support.

Chapter 4: Systems Thinking for Communities

Chapter 4: Systems Thinking for Communities

There are many points raised in the chapter that describe a variety of problems and solutions that different types of communities and different aspects of a single community face often. When Jay Forrester began his study of social systems in 1956 out of MIT, he broke ground on a frontier that has blown up into such a complex methodology that is used to create situation analysis for present day problems that communities face. One of his most imperative points that he brings to light in this chapter was the fact that in a system, the connections and relationships are more important that the elements themselves. I partially agree with this statement, but feel that the elements are the foreground and basis of these systems. So while the connections are important, without and elements or particular kinds of elements the system can easily be flawed. A system needs the right elements to be successful; it cannot just rely on the various loops that interconnect.
Hallsmith goes into detail and explains a numerous amount of feedback loops and how each one differs from another. One basic example, how a positive feedback loop would for instance make two dominoes fall the same way and a negative feedback loop be compared to a see-saw where when one side goes up the other goes down. To take feedback loops to the next dynamic level, system archetypes include different types of feedback loops working simultaneously. Hallsmith gives the example of traffic congestion in this chapter (figure 4.13), which exemplifies a positive feedback loop, a negative feedback loop and delay. While these scenarios are more or less hypothetical, they are based on social science and human trends. As the single problem of road congestion arises, there are many elements involved that seem to be logically deduced, but in the end, more congestion is produced and the problem has not been solved. These systems definitely have a lot of feasibility and can anticipate an outcome before money has been spent, roads built, time wasted and resources used up. I feel that while these systems do that, and do that well. It is our job or someone’s responsibility to than go from there and come up with a system or a solution so that these problems are no longer feedback loops but linear and corrective. We need to learn how to manage congestion in a way to not create more on a larger scale. Hallsmith does a great job of pointing out the how’s and why’s things are the way they are, but lacks in presenting reasonable solutions.

Ch.5 celebrating assets and creating a vision

Hallsmith believes that to create a community vision you must first start with an empty agenda, and open mind. The most desirable next step would be to educate the community on systems thinking. Since this is not usually very doable the next best thing is to figure out what assets already exist in the community and recognize them. Assets are determined by HOW they help fulfill community needs. The next step is to determine how all the needs of the community (which are social (well-being), governance (empowerment), economic, as well as infrastructure and the environment (material)) are met, not just celebrating those that are most effective. During this period criticism and negativity must be addressed to further the pursuit of trust building. Diversity of people and their opinions is also highly recommended. Next, the sustainability of the community system must be evaluated through either assessing the capacity available within the needs satisfaction system, or by ranking assets by the level of impact they have. By making this picture clear (through a diagram or some other sort of visual) you will finally be able to identify the places where needs are not being adequately met, if at all. Now comes the hard part, trying to get a community to articulate a shared vision (direction and goal). This vision must in addition be simple and most importantly change the BEHAVIOR of the way the community (individuals) think and act. An interesting example presented was that of Burlington, Virginia where a survey of three questions were sent out (What do you value about Burlington? What do you want to stay the same for your grandchildren? / What do you think needs to change? / What ideas do you have for improving things in Burlington?), ideas compiled, and then a simple vision for the city written (addressing the economy, neighborhoods, governance, youth and life skills, and the environment).

I think that this is a very clear procedure. I almost wonder why it hasn't been done more often. Of course it seems almost too simple, but Hallsmith does discuss a couple of difficulties that may be encountered. This seems like a plan that would always have to be modified to fit each city with their own problems and solutions. It probably is being done...maybe not with great success most of the time, or unnotable success.

This applies to what we've read before about systems. It applies most to why we need to think ‘systems’, in order to see the greater problem, and then prioritize what is most grave. The only thing is, what is the point of determining systematically what is wrong/missing by way of community needs, if in the end we will let the community individuals (who may not know all the facts...most likely don't) make the decisions?

Chapter 7 Challenge of Change

A )
Tuesday’s discussion sparked a few very important questions for me:
“Is it possible for a country like the US possibly become sustainable in the face of wonton capitalism?”
“if change toward sustainability is possible in the U.S. how will it be achieved?”
“Are we currently on the right track?”

The 7th chapter in the key to sustainable cities book, “Challenge of Change”, offered some insight into these questions. First, the nature of change and how humans generally react to change was addressed. People generally do not like change, especially when they feel that the changes are brought onto them, that they have no control. Several types of change were discussed. Cyclical change describes small changes that occur so a period of time only to return to the original state—putting storm windows in during the winter is an example of this type of change. Incremental change describes a process in which small changes occur over time and generally go uncontested and unnoticed. The type of change needed for people to move toward creating sustainable cities is structural change. This type of change is radical.

Now that the foundation is set and a goal has been established, it is time to find the means to do it. Servant leadership is described as the type of leader who seeks to serve others first, before establishing any power/leadership role. Leading in the opposite direction is generally done by egotists, acting out of fear and a lack of trust. That kind of leader is not what is needed for effective structural change. Servant leadership is all good, but we need more than one person to start this revolution. The innovator is the person who comes up with an alternative way to do something, this individual is the starting point for change. Next are the opinion leaders/change agents who convince others that the innovation will be successful and will help consumers. Trendsetters are next in the process, fearlessly investing in the new innovation. Conservatives/mainstreamers are the people generally resistant to change, however, the extended time they take to accept the innovation provides stability to the system. Iconolasts are the social critics who challenge old ideas but do not come up with new ideas. These types can be very helpful to what is now becoming the innovative movement. Reactionaries and curmudgeons are the people who generally resist any change at all, however there is a slight difference between the two. Reactionaries protest any change to the status quo, whereas curmudgeons challenge everything. Spiritual leaders are the people who inspire the masses to think and believe in the new concept on a higher level. Examples of these types include: Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and the like.

Moving to more practical application of this knowledge, the author outlines 9 guidelines for conducting successful and insightful group processes. 1. Speaking, 2. listening, 3. Using time, 4. open to outcome, 5. focus on system as the problem, not the people, 6. Keep arguments, 7. be present-oriented, 8. avoid hypothetical situations, 9. always do your best. These seem to follow closely with participatory practices and I will discuss them more when I connect them to my experiences.

Community patterns of group behavior are next laid out in a helpful manner: forming, storming, norming and performing. These words represent the stages of group behavior that service leaders looking to create structural changes should identify. Also, someone in this position must identify elements of a system likely to resist change and provide openings to external influences that might facilitate change.

The chapter is ended with examples of stakeholder participation on a governmental level. Proxies are defined as people who are chosen to represent particular interests on a board that helps government make decisions. Also, direct democracy through Town Meetings is also defined and discussed.

B) So, how does all of this connect to our discussion?
I’d say that our discussion on Tuesday hovered around the issue of how structural change should occur in order to be successful, and this chapter provides a general description of practices that will lead to success. Generally, it seems like the advice is to be open to new ideas and to extend leadership opportunities to stakeholders so they take ownership of the process.

In what part of the process of group behavior are we in now? It feels as though we have come upon the “forming” stage and are beginning “storming” and “Norming.” I would say that we will fluctuate back and forth between these stages as class progresses and the goals become more clear.

C) It is hard to make a critique of the this chapter because I am familiar with the practices and principles which the author proposes. If I had never heard of participatory planning practices I would be learning the principles through this reading without really having a name for it. It seems clear to me that approaching structural change with an open and inclusive attitude is the best practice. Though the author does credit others for their work in this field, reading this chapter should not serve as a general introduction to participatory planning practices.

Hallsmith's "Success" from Key to Sust. Cities

I decided to read the chapter called "Success" in Hallsmith's Key to Sustainable Cities because of the discussion in class on Tuesday. It seemed important for the group to understand what exactly Hallsmith means by terms like, "whole human life," "basic needs," and even sustainability itself. What, for her, is a successful sustainable community? Is such a thing possible?

Unfortunately, I was not able to discover her exact definition (not a surprise). It was more the case that by not telling us what she thinks, she was hoping for us to examine what we think is successful.

Most usefully, she cautioned that rather than following procedural guidelines to the tee, one should carefully delineate the goals or aims of a certain project before beginning. This way, it will be more clear at the end whether the project was a success or not. Instead of spending time fulfilling the requirements of the funders, one should spend time evaluating whether the initial (ideals?) goals are being met.

This is almost common sense, it seems. So I wonder a couple of things. The system that is in place currently, where a foundation or organization calls for grant proposals include certain requirements for an appropriate project, is the way things are right now. How can we change that? Can we? (Who is we?) Also, I begin to wonder how it came to be this way. I ask this in a larger context as well. It seems to me we cannot fix something we don't understand. So how has society come to be the way it is?

In the end, she writes that, "Ultimately the success of efforts to improve the sustainability in communities will be evaluated based on whether or not all the human needs are being satisfied in the community." (P215) Still, one might wonder what are needs and who can/should define them. Is it like Thoreau said, and all a person needs is food and shelter? Or are needs defined by the television? Or as we are wont to do in the United States, entirely on an individual basis?

Lots of questions!

The Challenge of Change (Ch 7)

I found this chapter particularly relevant after Tuesday's discussion. Let me begin by quoting Hallsmith's final sentence: "whole systems change comes about through co-creating a shared vision, generating a contancy of purpose, and germinating new emergent possibilities." After identifying the dynamic systems relationships and how these systems work in order to implement a new vision it is important to review different transformation strategies to determine how to successfully implement the vision. Hallsmith begins by recognizing that due to a city's complexity, metamorphasis is a better term to speak about the changes that occur when implementing a vision. Hallsmith writes of the success of servant leadership, essentially the concept that strong leaders have been servants first, additionally, that this is a leadership of service, not ego. When I was given a promotion at the small, four-person, non-profit I worked at before coming to Cornell, I felt my abilities as a leader were enhanced by the fact that I had worked for a year "in their shoes." I could use my own experience as a "servant" to be a better leader. Another principle identified by Hallsmith is innovation diffusion, a concept developed by Everett Rogers. Innovation diffusion looks at ways in which people respond to a proposed change and attempts to identify personal response patterns that can be applied more generally to the population. I felt that this principle was most applicable as both a way of anticipating how people will behave, but also as a strategy that can be used to implement change or metamorphasis. The main players in this strategy are the Innovator, Opinion Leaders or Change Agents, Trendsetters, and Conservatives or Mainstreamers. Innovators are individuals who may come up with a change but are too isolated to implement or communicate it. Change Agents have the social skills and connections to communicate the innovation to others. Trendsetters are the people that are the first to embrace the innovation. The Mainstreamers are the group who are resistant to the innovation. They need to see clear demonstration of the benefits before they embrace the innovation. An example of this would be an Innovator who sees that recycling can reduce the amount of waste they output. A Change Agent sees the social and economic benefit of recycling and uses their influence to implement a recycling program, possibly through their influence in city government in this case. Trendsetters are the first people to fully use the program, and give it enough popularity to continue. Mainstreamers may be resistant to recycling, feeling like it is too much effort but hopefully would see the results, or the economic benefit of the recycling program, such as the one in Ithaca where recycling saves on the cost of trash tags.

The other players in innovation diffusion are Iconoclasts, Reactionaries, and Curmudgeons. These outsiders are more difficult to engage and their identification in innovation diffusion demonstrates Hallsmith's other most relevant point to our recent discussion: one person really can't change anyone else and that innovations are more successful when "the people on whom the change is imposed agree to it." Hallsmith outlines several other strategies for participatory processes which engage all the affected parties. These strategies include tips on successful meetings, retreats, and conflict resolution. The greater inclusivity of the process, the greater potential for success.

"Leverage Points" - Hallsmith Chapter

I chose to read Hallsmith’s chapter on Leverage Points (pp. 169-185). I wanted to learn more about some of the strategies to effect change, since overcoming inertia and engaging nonparticipants seemed to be threads running through Tuesday’s class discussion. Leverage points, as defined by Hallsmith, are institutions or actions that can help to spur or solidify a community’s commitment to change. To that, I would add that people can sometimes be leverage points: witness Bogota’s mayor, Nelson Mandela, MLK Jr., etc. Although their strategies and actions certainly made use of leverage points, I would argue that the people themselves became emblematic of the possibilities for reform.

The main idea of a leverage point is to identify some way to make a relatively small change that will in turn have systemwide impacts. Two examples:

  • Building community spirit around a natural resource (i.e., a watershed or river) by initiating a festival or outdoor classroom that will raise community involvement and awareness around the issue.
  • Identifying nexus points that already involve the entire community in some way or another, to bring a particular issue to light and show how every person is in some way effected. (E.g., Using the public school system and students to bring attention to neighborhood crime.)

As any student of business knows, there is such a thing as negative leverage. Hallsmith stresses that finding leverage points may be relatively intuitive, especially for those who are intimately familiar with the system(s) they are trying to change. However, she cautions that precisely because these points often represent the confluence of many groups or perspectives, and because the issues tend the be somewhat sensitive, applying pressure to the points to effect change should be done intelligently and sensitively.

I would agree with this assessment; it’s clear that issues such as land development, school budgets, and other community matters can just as easily (and probably more often than not) divide as they can unite. But, because they tend to be subjects that elicit strong feelings among stakeholders, a positive outcome can have truly transcendent results.