ECOSYS on Social Reform: the Road Ahead

As you’ll see in this thread, a group of self-organizing innovators has put quality thought on how public collaboration can help get at the core of complex social issues.

So far, we’ve been  focused on framing challenges in Public Education.

The hurdles are formidable, so we’re focusing on a few specific areas, to build awareness and momentum (note: in the chat format, we number discussion topics sequentially):

  • T1 Participation. We need diverse stakeholder input (teachers, parents, administrators, businesses, legislators, students, suppliers); all have a role in the future state; are they engaged? how can we engage them?
  • T2 Ecosystem Dynamics. We must understand how the current system works and where it breaks down, using the basics of systems thinking and mental models framed as operating paradigms;
  • T3 Priorities. We must factor in the national agenda with Race to the Top (competitive stimulus model) and how it effects state and local initiatives; what are the gaps that will remain? are the stakeholders aligned?
  • T4 Culture Change. We need to explore a critical but overlooked topic: does our culture place necessary emphasis on learning?

Clayton Christensen reminds us that the ‘factory model’ of public education is over 100 years old, making it deeply entrenched. Regarding the public, Tim O’Reilly uses the interesting metaphor of a vending machine, where taxpayers (especially, in the case of education, parents)  insert money and expect services to come out the other end.

Top CEO’s talk about 21st century workforce demands in an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal. Read this. It will help get you thinking on what we’re up against.

We have seen significant power in discussion among concerned stakeholders. Be a part of the solution. Join the LIVE conversation, Mondays at 9pET. To participate we recommend tweetchat (click here at the appointed hour).

The next meeting is Jan 4. We hope you can join us.

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Framework for Ecosystem Change (1): Current State

In my last post, I began to outline a new approach for innovation in complex ecosystems. Efforts to drive reform in Healthcare, Education, and Energy have routinely struggled, and progress has been elusive. My thought process was sparked, in part, by an analysis of complexity science written by Beth Noveck & David Johnson. But much of my energy was fueled by numerous examples where barriers to collaboration and silo-thinking have long served to stifle innovation in large-scale institutions and the ecosystems they serve.

The Challenge of Social Ecosystems

Though a great many provider professionals have, in practice, devoted entire careers to excellence, overall system outcomes can appear inconsistent and, in many cases, undesirable.

Why? As noted by Noveck and Johnson, system complexity itself introduces many dynamics that need to be investigated, among them, conflicting objectives of stakeholder “agents”. Another area for focus is money. While always a powerful motivator, in social ecosystems it serves as a double-edge sword. The same financial capital that’s driven breakthrough innovations can also motivate counter-productive results. To stakeholders in the pipeline, long-term outcomes are not always visible, actionable or prioritized effectively.

A Path Forward

To achieve an efficient system-level problem-solving process, I’ve developed a simple framework for Ecosystem Evolution.

First, let’s introduce Part 1 of this framework for the Current State, to ground our discussion and better define some key concepts like “ecosystems”, their “agents”, and their operating “paradigms”. The status quo is characterized by the following forces:

  • Closed-loop, mature transactions and processes
  • Heavy control exercised by producer and government stakeholders (“agents”)
  • Much investment (financial, emotional) associated with the status quo
  • Insufficient rigor in the definition of problems and possible solutions
  • Insufficient data to effectively prove viability of alternatives
  • Largely untapped sources of insight on complex (adaptive) system behavior

Ecosystem Framework Pt1 (Current State)

How would we move forward with this model?

For each ecosystem targeted, we’d document the current state paradigms (literally, “how things work”, represented above by the black box), creating light-weight process models that demonstrate a solid understanding of core challenges. We’d also break down the paradigms themselves into easily understandable components.

Rigor in developing models is critical. Stating problems fully and accurately is on the critical path to any meaningful change.

Then would come the work of articulating alternative paradigms using the above as a baseline, using a collaborative approach that leverages social media. Resulting ecosystem designs could give us (perhaps, for the first time) a detailed understanding of our fundamental, root cause problems, summarizing the changes that may be necessary to address them.

Next Steps

I’ll introduce Part 2, a collaborative solution framework for Ecosystem Evolution in my next post, building on the Current State model above. It will incorporate new, collaborative open-loop processes and the social media aspect. Comments and inputs are not only welcome, they are critical. We can only be successful if we tackle these problems with a mutual understanding and a resolve to work the issues to completion.

Our first test: looking at the model above, can we start to see the challenges more clearly?

Unraveling Complexity (the Missing Link): A new approach for solving problems in Social Ecosystems

For months I’ve been reaching out to colleagues to explore barriers to collaboration, a key tool in the social innovator’s toolbox. Among those queried (and in spite of diverse backgrounds), virtually all had experienced significant barriers to collaboration over the years including silo-thinking, dated and inefficient problem solving models, cultures of control, and a strong, prevailing lack of trust.

Consensus? The barriers to innovation seem to be as universal as they are frustrating.

So something is broken. What is the root cause?

Beth Noveck and David Johnson have published important research on how new Social Media collaboration technologies can change the game. Their perspective on a New Science of Complexity is summarized in this People & Place blog post and explained further in an excerpt from their research. Their focus was the U.S. EPA (including the Federal process for environmental research and legislation) but their conclusion, which I agree with strongly, is that the principles are applicable in business (#e20) and broader social venues (#gov20) as well.

My primary takeaway?  I now believe that INNOVATION IN COMPLEX ECOSYSTEMS will depend on an improved collaboration process – a new middle ground for problem solving – that balances large-scale central organizational approach with grass-roots contributions by individuals. It is about finding the “sweet spot” between rigid structure and adaptive, organic sourcing of ideas. In a new and somewhat uncharted public collaboration space, it means that the forces of organizational scale and leverage can be networked – connected – with discrete centers (or hubs) for contribution to produce more rigorous solutions.

At the core of this thinking? A realization that traditional large-scale organizations (with their central thinking, hierarchical layers, and silos of functional experts) are generally ineffective when dealing with complex situations. Quite literally, they are too rigid. Without the ability to adapt to new variables or to coordinate across silos, grid-lock ensues. And complex social ecosystems are impacted, since “sending in experts” is how we tend to attack these issues. On the list? The well known structural challenges in energy, sustainable food and water sources, public education and healthcare.

What’s needed is an outright paradigm shift in problem solving models that are fundamentally more interactive and cross-functional. And focusing on complexity theory is key, because it begins to unlock some new doors. For one, there must be an organic aspect that allows solution teams to learn, self-correct and grow. And to meet the requirement of connecting people more dynamically, Social Media is the ideal technology. Some examples? Think about experts engaged in live chat. Acceleration of thought synergies. Tools to merge and re-mix knowledge. Ability to leverage and extend dynamic repositories.

With focus and coordination, we can work to find the elusive “sweet spot”.

In terms of naming and framing the problem, the above research makes significant strides. The next step is critical as well, and is just as exciting: in pockets across the internet, the new collaboration is already starting to appear.

Are you seeing it too? Let’s talk, I’ll show you where and how.

DoD Query: Web2.0 Integration aka the Portability Gap

Wouldn’t it be great if Social Media tools could talk to each other, and share basic profile information about you, your interests and your network?

The Federal Goverment (DoD) is working on that very question, and has requested public input (DoD Guidance Forum).

In spite of XML, which was invented to facilitate software talking to software, it remains a complex problem.  Many vendors are in the mix (eg., Twitter, Google, Facebook, Linked-In) and social media culture tends to say ‘no’ to standards and control.  Where can we draw useful boundaries on Web 2.0 integration issues, and how do we make our profile and social network information “portable”?

Here’s what I’m thinking.  These comments and a few more are now cross posted as DoD’s blog comments:

WEB 2.0 DEFINITION. Connecting people and content in more intuitive ways through adoption of social technologies; this drives enhanced user experience and interaction capabilities, with benefits that include: (a.) expanded user personalization, choice, and content filtering, (b.) propagation of rich, more intuitive multi-media, (c.) facilitation of all aspects of community building and interaction, and (d.) empowerment of local contribution on a global scale.

PORTABILITY is a significant gap in today’s Web2.0/SM space. The need is for a common, single-source entry with multi-vendor re-use for personalization data (profile data about the user and their preferences) as well as social network data (who the users is connected to, and importantly, why, defined by tags).  The gap is the ability and willingness of stakeholders — including vendors, users, developers, large stakeholder coalitions (eg., government) — to organize around a minimal, practical set of common guidelines. I believe an open source consortium for Web2.0/SM Data (Personal & Social Network) Portability Guidelines is needed. A ‘meeting in the middle’ to achieve a shared approach for ‘top down’ and ‘bottom-up’ data exchange would be ideal. The faster this gets done, the more quickly portability gets solved, which will lead to accelerated adoption of Web 2.0/SM.

WEB 2.0 IMPACT ON BUSINESS PROCESS (“Enterprise 2.0”). Social media and Web 2.0 are ultimately about connecting people and content in more intuitive ways, so the business processes impacted are those involving human interaction and content messaging. Examples:

  1. Collaborative Research.
  2. Customer Service (1:1 PR).
  3. Software Development.
  4. Marketing & Media Communication (1:n PR).
  5. Collaborative Solutions (Knowledge Management). [enhances capability/value of 1-4 above]
  6. HR Talent Acquisition & Supplier Sourcing.

AUTHORITATIVE REFERENCE. “Wikinomics” by Don Tapscott (2006).

What needs to happen to make this work?

“For adoption in business, government or academic organizations, Web2.0/SM requires cultures of trust & empowerment, with team environments that encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration.”

Feel free to comment, here or on the DoD site, as the spirit moves you.  These are key issues.  I’d like to know what you’re thinking.

Chris (@SourcePOV)