Guiding Principle 3) Creating Systems that Serve People: The Infrastructure Serving People Community Model and Success Across Scales

From over fifteen years work with rural communities we have discovered two critical concepts which must be understood to make “systems” contribute to the success of the community: 1) the Infrastructure Serving People Community Model, and 2) Success Across Scales.

The Infrastructure Serving People Model of Community Development is depicted in Diagram 4, and shows, in a very rudimentary way, the flow of life in a community from an infrastructural and services perspective that lead to the fulfillment of community’s goals and visions. Currently, in nearly all societies, we develop community supported infrastructure (Box 1) that serve the people who live in the community (Box 2), that leads the community to a collective or shared vision (Box 3), – while (by assumption) supporting individual community member’s “pursuit of happiness”.  The basic, default, assumption is that the individuals in a community all share some basic values that are depicted as Box 3 on the far right “Vision/Dreams – Better life”.

Diagram 4: The “Infrastructure Serving People” Model of Community Development: Where is the Gap? – Converting the “potential” of Infrastructure and Services to Realize a Community’s Vision

The common practice is for government(s) to supply capital (derived from taxes) into a community to support infrastructure development (Box 1) (roads, sewer, water, electricity, etc.). The second box depicts the social/cultural context. This includes all of the 

human systems (organizational) and supporting governmental functions within the community. These two (boxes 1 & 2) components, in a “hoped for reality”, would work in dynamic interaction leading to the advancement of the human system (socio-cultural community)—that is to say, to evolve the community towards some advanced state, supposedly leading the community toward a shared vision, and a better quality of life. Theoretically and ethically this should be for all of the members of the community.

The ability for a community to realize a shared vision is highly dependent upon leadership. Over the years, working with a variety of communities and examining research that has been conducted, the process of creating this “vision/dream” in communities is becoming a stronger and more deliberate process. In fact, as one looks across the rural landscape, tools and businesses that are espousing advanced processes to support the development of community “vision” are expanding. But, in our experience, communities achieving goals and visions were most often stymied by community conflict or problems with leadership, agencies or political processes which often reflected a sort of “drama” usually associated with individual personality conflicts or power struggles.

Various techniques for resolving community conflict have been developed, but many expand on the concepts derived from a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Our team’s extensive work on a community development project inspired us to create this simplified version of the reality of places—communities and their citizens. A fairly simplistic model, however, it allows us to not get lost in the details of the community, using the old adage to avoid the trap of “not seeing the forest for the trees”.

It has been our observation that public dollars are spent primarily on infrastructure (roads, sewer, etc.). This is where the state and national governments focus the funding that is available for rural communities. The remaining public monies (usually insignificant compared to engineered capital expenditures) are allocated to social programs. Our observations have been that these do not adequately empower individuals or the groups that they are designed to serve. Usually they come in the form of “hand-outs”, or charity based programs. Most social programs of government agencies (or contracting companies) do not ultimately perform satisfactorily. When resources are limited, the demand for effectiveness should be extremely high. In almost all government programs monies that are available for building roads or physical infrastructure are many times greater than monies available for empowering the people.

We believe that ultimately institutions should be expected to utilize the resources allocated more effectively and efficiently. However, as stated above, changing these institutions is like trying to change the course of an oil tanker by pushing the front with a kayak. This may seem to be a pessimistic view, and we do not want to get sidetracked in our discussion. You, the reader, can come to your own conclusions. Our experience in attempting to innovate in various agencies and institutions in the United States (especially Texas) for more than fifteen years has resulted in unsatisfactory success. We believe that during these dramatically changing times we will see one of two things happen with these agencies that have been assigned to “serve the people”, they will either adapt and start serving more effectively, or they will ultimately go away. We predict no timeframe for this to happen. But the necessity for solutions is far too urgent than to be able to wait to see what happens.

We propose pragmatic, cost-effective strategies to be implemented at whatever level progress can be realized. The “success-across-scales” concept discussed next introduces some basic ideas for empowerment. Ultimately these strategies boil down to two basic ideas “education” and “empowerment”, usually initiated by inspiration. The education principle is addressed as a theme in the JRLU and is really the “hub on the wheel” and something that we can, from a practical and organizational level, address and implement. The most effective means will be through identifying a strategy and inviting other institutional (government, private, non-profit) partners, but ultimately moving forward with the strategy without waiting for buy-in. We will move forward with those partners that see the vision, believing ultimately most organizations will participate. The best strategy will be to have partners that have a mission to serve at each of the scales identified in the following discussion, but if a proper strategy is implemented from the “bottom-up” the appropriate partners will come on board because individuals of influence who participate in the JLRU/RRES (power-actors or “local stars”) will bring them in as necessary.

Success Across Scales

The “Success Across Scales” principle emphasizes that to achieve organizational (or community) success, individuals and the different scales of organizations need to be supported. (e.g. family, business, organization, city, region, state, etc.)

One simple fact that can be learned from working with individuals and organizations in essentially any context is this: the success of collective groups, on the whole, is highly dependent on the success, or health and happiness, of its individual members. This truth applies at all scales and for all organizations or communities whether it is a family, a business, an organization, a village, a city, a region, or a nation.

Collective (or community) health can be measured by the community’s ability to provide services to ensure that the whole “body” be healthy and prosperous. In other words success can be measured by how the members of the community are being served and thus prospering in health and happiness (spiritually physically, mentally and economically). This, to some extent, would be a result of services being provided through the group’s efforts (education, infrastructure, social services). However, an individual’s success is not dependent on a group’s success, or are all groups dependent on other groups. For larger communities the typical “terms” or areas of concern that are important to a systems analysis would be social, economic, political, environmental and historical/cultural (as depicted in Figure 3). The success of all community services, and subsequently the overall health of the community, could be determined by creating measures and evaluation techniques that would examine the overall performance of the government or services sectors to fulfill and sustain the community in the most healthful, prosperous and meaningful way.

Much evidence supports the fact that most agencies and bureaucratic efforts have failed to accomplish the social programs that they have been assigned to fulfill. One need only spend some time thinking of personal experiences, or observations of the performance of the organizations they have come in contact with. We could cite numerous examples, but will not for the purpose of brevity.

Taking Care of the Whole (person, community)

As Wallace D. Wattles so clearly stated,

“Those who do not quite fill their present places are dead weight upon society, government, commerce, and industry; they must be carried along by others at a great expense.” (Wattles 1910).

This quote contradicts much of our view of “helping people”, but in reality there is great truth in this statement. In fact, empowered in a “certain way” we see that every person can make a contribution, although the problem really comes down to them realizing that. We would argue that the “charity” model for service has been institutionalized, but ultimately is doomed to failure. What should replace it is the model of “inspiration” or “empowerment”.

We propose an analogy of an individual that elaborates this idea. The same analogy can then be extended to communities, nations and the world. Imagine if a person was to only take care of half of his body (if it could be done): to literally not feed it, bath it or take any efforts to assist it to be a healthy partner to the other half of his body. One can easily imagine how healthy or happy that person might be, dragging around a half-dead body.

This may seem to be a ridiculous analogy because there is no way that a person could only sustain half his body. However, is the analogy so ridiculous? If we extend the analogy to the world, at this time only about ½ of the world’s population has access to clean water. That would seem to be the most basic human right, but one half of our “body” or “collective being” is not getting the most basic needs fulfilled. Now, if we take this hypothetical situation and extend it to any other “body” that exists in the human condition – a community, a nation, the world, wouldn’t the actions of leaving behind and not caring for a significant portion of the those “communities”, denigrate the whole?

Throughout human history we can see that this has been the case. Take the civil war in the United States. What was the result of the two halves of the nation fighting? – tremendous strife and suffering (although elements of transformation resulted, including the Land Grant Education system). An endless number of examples could be cited. And currently, if one looks from this perspective across the globe, one can easily observe this “ailing body” syndrome. Dis-ease (allegorically used) is rife, poverty and human blight are ubiquitous, and extremely denigrated environmental conditions exist in every corner of the globe.

The solution to this dilemma seems to evade us. Yet as one looks in another place, in the lives of some awakened, or empowered, people, there seems to be great harmony, peace, prosperity and abundance. Is the solution so elusive and difficult that only a few can utilize and implement it? No! And this truth is well established in literature and spiritual traditions that has come to us throughout the ages. The solution is clearly stated in Wattles’s book, to “move from the competitive to the creative”, or to awaken.

The Solution: Inspiration instead of Charity

As Wattles points out, the basis of revitalizing individual lives, and naturally communities, is not through charity but through inspiration.

The poor do not need charity; they need inspiration. Charity only sends them a loaf of bread to keep them alive in their wretchedness, or gives them an entertainment to make them forget for an hour or two; but inspiration will cause them to rise out of their misery.
(Wattles, 1910)

Our challenge, and opportunity, is to assist each individual to realize this. No one is his brother’s keeper. Les Brown states it clearly "Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else." And the inability to empower the individual naturally extends to larger communities because the primary basis of social programs is based on a charity model, programs that give “hand-outs”.

Diagram 5: Success Across Scales: The success of each level of organization moving up with the arrow is dependent on the success of the lower levels.

The “Success Across Scales” Principle

Diagram 5 depicts our “Success Across Scales” principle. In very simple terms, this diagram shows that the success of the larger scale organizations (geographic, or structural) are dependent, first on the success of individuals, and then on the subsequent organizational success moving up the pyramid. This diagram contradicts the traditional top-down, hierarchical model that has over-taken most governments, institutions of higher learning, and corporations.

There appears to be an interesting paradigm shift occurring where these “top-down” systems are failing and are being replaced by systems that are based on the foundation of empowerment of individuals, and cooperative models (grass-roots). It is beyond the scope of this proposal to cite numerous examples, but one significant case is in banking, the success of micro-loan programs that are making tremendous impacts in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Colombia (as well as in other countries) (Banker to the Poor).  The success-across-scales principle illustrates a natural, logical building of the “capitalization” of social systems, or in other words – empowering people.

It is our contention, as we propose a new development paradigm, one based on each individual awakening, that the next critical organization to re-align is the family. Practically universally, the family will be a pivotal “community” for the realization of a successful societal empowerment strategy.

Realizing this awakening, or transformation, is not about forcing the family to change, but to empower individual family members to free themselves from limiting perceptions and mentality. Providing “a way out” of the cycle of suffering to a family member, to awaken and empower them to “demon-strate” personal transformation is possibly the most effective strategy. Ultimately, for the family, all of the members need to thrive, if they do not this decline is reflected as a diminishment of the overall health, happiness and prosperity of the family. And typically this diminishment is played out generation after generation. However, in some places this tide is being reversed.

We expect that the rate of societal change will advance rapidly as families are transformed and that transformation then “adopts and diffuses” into the larger community groups. So our efforts need not so much be focused on changing the family, as on reaching the “change agent” (or receptive individuals) in the family. Change agents are ripe and receptive and can be found throughout organizations, communities and societies. These individuals then become the carriers of the message, not through preaching, but through demonstration, through living a more empowered and awakened life.

Then, as the rest of the family watches their brother, sister, daughter or husband make their dreams come true and become free, the rest of the family will much more likely follow suit. We can see this phenomenon demonstrated in phenomena like Alcoholics Anonymous, A Course in Miracles, Over-eaters Anonymous and other “self-help” organizations.

The family, given its importance in nearly all cultures, can be a pivotal influence to catalyze societal (global) transformations. This process is known in scholarly circles as “adoption-diffusion” and the process can be stimulated at all levels and across broad geographies. The key to success is to find “stars”, “change agents”, or “power actors” who will embrace “change and transformation” and then will show others how to transform their lives, to realize their dreams and aspirations. In other words, leaders from the people, so to speak, can be inspired to show others in the community how together they can change things. Often times these people are hidden, waiting for the right opportunity to, selflessly, show others the way.

In order for a region to successfully create collaborative initiatives, it will be dependent on the success of the communities within the region, and also the businesses, but ultimately the individuals who operate those businesses. 

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