Jim Kent:

"Human change initiatives must work at social, economic, and ecological levels if they are to succeed."

Archive for October, 2011

The Difference between Citizen Issue Groups and Citizen Committees

Posted by Jim on October 28, 2011

Date: July 14, 2008
To: Interested Parties
From: Jim Kent
RE: Email Communication
This is a response to a citizen caretaker who had a question about the difference
between Citizen Groups, that are so useful and successful in generating social capital
in a community, and what was going on in his town with his Towns formal control of
citizen participation through having to serve on formal Committees. The caretaker’s
comment: “ it looks like citizen involvement but the structure being used is not
empowering citizens in their governing process. So what is going on?”
Here was my response:
The best distinction is in the language in your email inquiry. Your reference to“a Citizen
Group”. A Citizen “Group” is formed for a short term task, highly focused,
accomplishment oriented, is solutions based and made up of citizens who have the skills
and talent for resolving a specific issue. It is a Group not a Committee. What your
Manager and Town Board are using are Committees. Committees are generally used to
support the formal policies of the Town Board and are not designed to empower or solve
specific issues of citizens, and are very long term. Most citizens do not want to serve on
such committees but are anxious in participating in action issue groups.
A Committee structure is like what happened at Charley’s first meeting with the new
Open Space and Trails “Committee”. The staff led by your Manager came in with the
program to hire a $50,000 consultant to work on designing an Open Space and Trails
program. Charley raised objection, stating that the Citizens are totally capable of
designing their own process and program. “After all the consultant will talk to the
citizens anyways and we are the citizens, so we do not need to hire a consultant.”
Charley’s model is Citizen Issue Group or Citizen Action Group where citizens are
empowered to address an issue in a “beginning and ending” time frame. So through
Charley’s effort they ended up with a Citizen Issue Group without the consultant and not
a long standing committee that often burns citizens out.
What was happening is that the Manager was trying to use his Town’s Committee
structure which in this case was a disenfranchisement of the citizens by essentially
announcing that “we” the staff are going to control this. “We just need this new
committee to rubber stamp our (the staff and council) decisions”. What generally
happens in a case like this is that the consultant meets with the Committee, does his
deliverables, reports to the Manager and the Manager to the Board. The rubber stamping
process was picked off by Charley because, as I mentioned earlier, he is from the Citizen
“Group” School of participation. The Citizen Group School is where the citizens are in
charge, they do the research and make the decisions with support (not management) from
the staff and the council facilitates the process (not regulates).
Committees are generally burn out for the participants because they work off of a generic
topic (not a specific accomplishable end product), staff controls and there is no letting the
citizens handle the problem in a holistic manner. Committees often function as an
extension of formal power.
Citizen Groups have tremendous energy throughout their issue resolution process. And at
the end are still energized. The Levinson Group for instance had complete responsibility
to negotiate the issues on the Levinson parcel now owned by the Town. The 3 person
group finished in 3 months and turned the results over to the Town Manager who had the
authority to write an ordinance for the Town Board that structured and funded the
solution. We now have a great town park and the Roaring Fork Nature Conservancy on
the site and the old mobile homes were bought out.
In a Committee structure you could not get such a focus because it is not constructed
around accomplishment and responsibility. It is generally structured around an
assumption of passivity and control by the powers that be, even though their intent seems
The Town Manager formed the Comcast Citizen Group the same way as the Levinson
Citizens Group. Citizens who knew technology and the Comcast politics were appointed
to take on the Comcast issue. As citizens who knew land use and finances were on the
Levinson Group, financial and Internet Technology talent were on the Comcast Group.
This group took 6 months to do its work. One result of the negotiation is Basalt’s
Community Access station funded by Comcast. We are the only community in the valley
to have such a facility. This facility is a direct negation between citizens and Comcast.
The Town Council or staff would never have been able to accomplish this outcome as has
been shown in Aspen and Carbondale where the policy bodies did the negotiation.
Both were short term and needed specific, non-political, talent to resolve the complicated
issues. That is why Citizen Groups are so affective in building social capital and
Committees are generally not. Usually in appointing a Committee you are trying to
balance the politics, ethnicity, diverse interests and people with formal pro and con
This is not so with Citizen Issue Groups—this structure goes for talent and solutions
oriented process people on a specific actionable issue.
The River Master Plan (RMP) was a classic example of a Citizen Issues Group approach
even though it was longer termed. There were many well coordinated smaller citizen
groups and each worked on a real issue that aggregated to the whole body. These Groups
had specific names, like Kayak Location Group. The RMP Citizen Group was facilitated
by the staff and supported by the Council, and Council members participated as citizens
when in the Groups. JKA handled the community participation and policy develop part
of the process. It gave them tremendous insight from a citizen, social capital perspective
when it came time to implement the RMP.
To this day no citizen that worked on this (3 years) has talked of burn out.
This is very similar to the very successful Kona Community Development Plan process
just completed on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Steering Committee which was a
facilitative body for citizen participation, not a decision making body, is now out of
business. Their recommendations for an ordinance were approved by County Council on
a 9-0 vote in a very short time frame. Everyone knew what was in the findings and had
ownership of them. There were no surprises.
Having clear beginnings and endings is essential for citizens being able to maintain their
interest in further issue management work. The citizens even worked out an
implementation process that fit the culture and based their solutions on an incremental
time and sequence approach to very complex issues. The talent developed among the
Steering Committee (Group) is very valuable for future action. In addition the citizens
will be ready and have energy for their next challenges when they come. But clearly in
both examples above having a clear ending preserves the citizen energy and enthusiasm
to have new beginnings when the time arrives.
This short term, end state focus of the action enhances citizen spirit and the social capital
that that spirit generates.
Jim kent

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Wes and Jim dialogue on Steinbeck and the Occupy Wall Street phenomena

Posted by Jim on October 26, 2011

The following is an exchange between Wes Stillwagon and Jim Kent which is a continuation of my post yesterday under Deep Democracy.


Here’s a virtual toast to Garry Trudeau!

Relative to Tortilla Flat, I believe the first actual forming of a phalanx among the paisanos was inspired, clarified, and verbalized by Pilon. The group’s feeling that Danny, the apparent caretaker (my opinion) was spending too much energy and time at “Sweets” (with the Sweeping Machine) and did not have time or energy to be with them. “At first his friends ignored his absence, for it is the right of every man to have these little affairs. But as the weeks went on, and as a rather violent domestic life began to make Danny listless and pale, his friends became convinced that Sweets’ gratitude for the sweeping-machine was not to Danny’s best physical interests” From Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat. Their verbalized concern for Danny’s physical health was their logical rationalization for their call to action. Their actual value driven inspiration was that they were jealous of a situation that was holding Danny’s attention so long.* In judging group or team behavior, the logical rationalization and the value judgment are significant in analyzing group or team actions as they would require different responses.

The phalanx appeared at the group perception (value driven) of a problem that needed eliminating, “Wherefore the friends, in despair, organized a group, formed for and dedicated to her destruction.” (The objective).

Specifically, I believe the group was reacting to a vacuum created by the missing and beloved Caretaker Danny and the leader in this action was Pilon. I believe a similar reaction would have been witnessed on Cannery Row if Doc’s time and presence were dominated by Suzy. I suspect the leading role on Cannery Row in such a situation would have been filled by Fauna or Mac.

The phalanx (with the objective) was a complex of unique and to them, tacitly understood, individuals drawn together by forces in the collective unconscious (like opposite poles of magnets). It would be a big mistake to attempt to influence the illusionary mass or community. “Their campaign had called into play and taxed to the limit the pitiless logic of Pilon, the artistic ingenuousness of Pablo, and the gentleness and humanity of Jesus Maria Corcoran. Big Joe (the Portagee) had contributed nothing.” (Steinbeck) Does this not remind one of Jung’s functional types?

The OSW apparently has yet to realize this necessary quality of a successful phalanx or team effort and as a result we’ve see no tangible accomplishment beyond a show or theatrics.

The phalanx, if made up of individuals of higher adult maturity, has strength far beyond that of its apparent resources. Our society suffers tremendously by failing to realize the structure and dynamics of Steinbeck’s phalanx and Jung’s collective unconscious.

*This is, in my opinion, not unlike the feelings of the apostles, especially Peter, toward Mary Magdalene’s domination of the attention of Jesus”


Good insights and theory application Wes. So using the Danny analysis in the OWS movement to a Phalanx here is where I think we (they) are:

“But as the weeks went on, and as a rather violent domestic life began (the 99% of neglected citizens by the system) to make Danny listless and pale (our society before OWS–remember “where’s the anger”) , his friends (the occupiers with social networking at their finger tips) became convinced that Sweets’ gratitude for the sweeping-machine (Wall Street) was not to Danny’s best physical interests (our society and the 99%ers)” From Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat.

“……at the group perception (value driven) of a problem (OWS) that needed eliminating (the inequities of our system) , “Wherefore the friends, in despair, (occupiers of Wall Street and international movement) organized a group (not done yet–still in the self organizing stage–but coming), formed for and dedicated to her destruction (not decided yet-still time for reasonable equitable outcomes) (The objective).

Danny, Pilon and the boys would have never agreed to allow a “Super Committee of 12 to decide the fate of our society” not now, not ever. They were participating in, predicting and controlling their environment and would not tollerate giving their power away as this congress has done.

So among the phalanx of Steinbeck, Jungs functional types, Kent’s informal network archetypes, and Wes’s concept of the individual–we are in pretty good shape to understand this OWS phenomena in a manner that pundits cannot comprehend because they are trapped in the tapestry of the formal system of leaders, control, imposed goals, self-serving actions, and no sense of humor.

Of course from Steinbeck’s writings is where I first extracted the basic concepts of the Discovery Process—from the Moon is Down, Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday and Grapes of Wrath.

Well said Wes, how was my interpretation?? And a hardy toast to Jon Stewart who has the only real news on TV!!



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The Occupy Wall Street and Social Ecology

Posted by Jim on October 25, 2011

To all Steinbeck and Social Ecology scholars and practitioners.

The attached article, miss labeled by the headline writer, is a must read for all of us. Putting politics and pundits aside this is an important happening for our social ecology and public policy program. The story it turns out is a description of “self organizing principles” being created for governance of a newly emerging phenomena of diverse community (not the threatening headline that was chosen). The description in the story shows how the “occupiers” in NYC are creating their own governance system. What is fascinating is that this is coming from many who have, I am almost certain, not participated in community creation, but have been pretty isolated in their computer worlds (taken from some of the interviews). You remember Ex President Havel”s famous speech on the Velvet Revolution: “how did our young people, raised totally all of their lives under the oppression of the Soviet Union, know about the democratic principles they so wonderfully represented to bring down 40 some years of oppression.” (see Kent’s blog for complete story under Obama and Havel).

This story is an almost pure description of how the self organizing unfolds, step by step (discovery, reflection, form creation, correction, discovery, reflection). You will note the different informal network archetypes. Also some of the guidance rules they have developed that I have never heard of before: a Paramount Objection is a show stopper and is only to be used when the community harmony is threatened. There is a Stack Keeper, a new word or function to me, that insures that the different points of view are equally heard and that one segment does not dominate. (the formal hearings on development projects from government agencies could use a Stack Keeper, to prevent one segment from un reasonably dominating a meeting).

Talk about collaboration in its pure sense, and facilitation as an emergent governance process. In our social capital writings and practices we see government as being a facilitative and reflective body for forming the policies that enhance citizen empowerment. Aristotle and Socrates would be proud of this self organizing phenomena and the Forest Service and Interior Department as well as Defense, who mouth collaboration should be encouraged to study this pure form of collaboration.

Steinbeck, the inspiration of much of our social ecology work, along with Ed Ricketts would also be proud of what is happening here. Because of the self organizing principles that have emerged, the individuals have transcended the mob phenomena and have introduced a form of governance that we call heart and soul or governance by social capital. Watch out for what Steinbeck wrote about in the Grapes of Wrath. Remember the law enforcement that sent in disruptor’s to cause a commotion at the dance so that they could rush in and destroy the government run facility that treated the migrants as human. This could happen here by threatened groups, not necessarily the police, who have already tried thier harrassment tactics and furthered the occupiers mission and numbers. Her discussion, the interviewee, of how they, the individuals in the group, know who the undercover agents are is priceless. They know by the “language” they use. An undercover agents, for instance,first question is “who are your leaders”. (real meaning so we can pick them off) her answer is really a Steinbeck type of response.

I think this whole phenomena of the Occupy Wall Street needs our analytical and writing attention. No matter what happens this is a profound moment in our emerging democracy and game changer of power shifting from formal to informal systems, while the society is redefined that will create a more human, just and eqitable alignment. It had to happen as did the Arab Spring and the Velvet Revolution. When formal systems no longer connect to the people, the masses so to speak, the people eventually figure out that this is not what a democracy (or a dictatorship, or olegarchy) is about and self organize to correct on a massive scale. The non-violent commitment is key and reminds me of the six years of work that we did with President Corizon Aquino when she was elected president of the Philippines. As Havel said: “How did they know”.

P.S. Erik,Kevin, Trish let’s consider posting this to the web site on social ecology ths Erik put up if it is appropriate

Here is an excerp form my op.ed. piece written in 2009 using V’aclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution as he makes a profound point in how communism was driven out of Czechloslavakia. Note the informal word of mouth communication recognition imbedded in his speech.


KENT: In 1989, Presidential candidate V’aclav Havel spoke to the people of Czechoslovakia about principles and core values. Havel started talking about these principles and that precedent spread across Czechoslovakia and became known as the “Velvet Revolution.” This revolution saw the relinquishment of political power by the communists and it set the stage for the first free elections since 1946.

As a social ecologist concerned with how public policy is formed, I followed the Velvet Revolution very closely. Literally overnight Czechoslovakia moved from a oppressive centralized society to a vibrant, free, enterprise-centered culture seemingly overnight. By l992 the individual vendors in Prague lined the Charles Bridge, and churches were well on their way to complete historic restoration. Private business ventures flourished throughout the city and countryside. By all indications from an outside observer, one would have expected the conversion from totalitarianism to freedom to take many years. It did not. This shift to democracy that energized the civic order occurred in three short years. I believe there are two main causal factors for this rapid return to democracy.

The first factor is the observation that whatever culture is in place when oppression sets in is by-in-large the culture that will emerge when the oppression is overcome. Czechoslovakia before oppression had a high degree of civic culture and order.

The second factor recognizes the cultural mechanisms that function when oppression is in place. These are the informal communication and caretaker networks that become invisible to the oppressors, but also become stronger in order for the people to survive. These networks operate within natural gathering places and are concerned with preserving the heart and soul of their civic order. Gathering places—coffee shops, barbershops, beauty parlors, bars, restaurants, public areas, and the like—provide the opportunity to see the everyday real faces of society. Personal relationships are the key outcome made possible through gathering places. Informal caretaker and communication networks are tied to gathering places and provide the element of trust in communities. It is in these informal networks that the beliefs, traditions, stories, values are preserved out of sight of formal systems. The power of these societal elements occurring within the gathering places and informal networks held together the Czech culture pre-1989 and thus offered a foundation for survival during those many years of occupation.

To give context and insight to what happened in Czechoslovakia during this period the following is quoted directly from President V’aclav Havel’s speech made on January 1, 1990, as a New Years Address to the Nation in Prague. HAVEL said:

“Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all. If we realize this, then all the horrors that the new Czechoslovak democracy inherited will cease to appear so terrible. If we realize this, hope will return to our hearts..

“In an effort to rectify matters of common concern, we have something to lean on. The recent period—and in particular the last six weeks of our peaceful revolution—has shown the enormous human, moral and spiritual potential, and the civic culture that slumbered in our society under the enforced mask of apathy. Whenever someone categorically claimed that we were this or that, I always objected that society is a very mysterious creature and that it is unwise to trust only the face it presents to you…………………Everywhere in the world people wonder where those meek, humiliated, skeptical and seemingly cynical citizens of Czechoslovakia found the marvelous strength to shake the totalitarian yoke from their shoulders in several weeks, and in a decent and peaceful way. And let us ask:

· Where did the young people who never knew another system get their desire for truth, their love of free
thought, their political ideas, their civic courage and civic prudence?
· How did it happen that their parents—the very generation that had been lost—joined them?

· How is it that so many people immediately knew what to do and none needed any advice or instruction?

“I think there are two main reasons……….

· First of all, people are never just a product of the external world; they are also able to relate themselves to something superior, however systematically the external world tries to kill that ability in them.

· Secondly, the humanistic and democratic traditions, about which there had been so much idle talk, did after all slumber in the unconsciousness of our nations and ethnic minorities, and were inconspicuously passed from one generation to another, so that each of us could discover them at the right time and transform them into deeds.”


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