I received an email from a student today asking me to comment on the power of transparency and citizen engagement in the revisioning of Detroit. Many people today believe that this bottom up and fully open way is the only way to start a project now.
My response to her was that this is not how big change really starts. The masses are vital but they enter the game late in the war between the 2 systems. This is the time for transparency. It is their support that drives the Tipping Point. Here is the classic diagram used by Rogers in his book on Diffusion - the science behind The Tipping Point.
The bottom chart - the distribution chart - shows when the masses join. It is around the Tipping Point and not before.
This is how major change starts. Not with the mass but with the Innovators and the Early adopters. It's all trial and error: for real change is a complex process where the final end state cannot be known. Only people who are comfortable with complexity can do this early work.
The barrier to the new is that the masses need the known. So it is no good asking for their opnion at the outset. They can only see what they know. All they can know is what is now
It's a Cynefin situation.
The Innovators are comfy with Chaos. This usually means a failure of the old system and a crisis. A crisis such as Detroit no longer works as a city. They act, sense and respond. They use an evolutionary process to discover the new from a hypothesis. This might be that we can grow food in the middle of the city. But the unknown is how to do this in practice. There are no mass of urban farmers yet who have all the rules.
The Early Adopters are comfy with Complexity. They probe sense and respond. Patterns appear and rules start to appear in retrospect. They see what works as an result.
Then come the Early Majority are comfy with the Complicated. They dig deep and settle the rules when they are hard to understand. They start to make the complicated more simple. With a clear set of rules for what works, it is possible for the next layer to join in. This is when the Tipping Point takes place.
Then the Majority or the mass can play.
This is when you need transparency and mass engagement and not before. If you go too early all you will do is annoy the people who cannot deal with Chaos and Complexity - which is most people!
Isn't this just like evolution?
Here is the detail of what I see as a universal process.
- You need a crisis - I have found that real change rarely happens until a person or a place gets to the bottom - vis addiction etc - Detroit is the leading urban contender for that in the US. The old system has to have a failure point. You don't get off the Titanic unless it is sinking!
- You need to stop looking out there for a saviour - The next part of this is that people have to give up hoping for "Them" to fix it or them - they have to see it as their own role or no one
- Most people cannot act - they are trapped by inertia and by their mindset or they are attached to the old system and cannot let go.
- Many people have their status and living embedded in the old and will attack the new - even it this means their own "death". We see this so clearly in media where the old guard will fight against the new. We see this in cities that will close down home gardens.
- There is a crisis - It has to be clear that the old does not work anymore. This offers the space for the new to emerge. Think of a forest that had had a fire. If the old system is still vibrant, the best that can happen are a few experiments. If Detroit had been vibrant, there would be no space for gardens or tiny businesses. The costs would be too high. The old system would be too vigilant.
- Start small - A small group of people who are not trapped by inertia who can see ahead for a period of years and who can imagine what they have never seen - Think Columbus - Think Pasteur - try some small experiments. When and if they fail, they modify them - they keep on.
- Experiment - Several of these start to work - we see for instance in Detroit that urban food systems are working - micro farms - using land and buildings that are derelict - micro businesses in derelict or abandoned buildings or in space that is next to being free
- These successes attract attention. In some cases bad attention where the authorities use old bye laws to stop this. In many cases good attention - here is the evolutionary part - others tell the story and others copy them. The meme starts to spread.
- NOW the next layer of people start to see what they could not see before and they might get involved. Not as founders but as members and users
- Now the official part of the city has to get aligned. This is where Detroit is now. All the old laws that govern the city often work against the new. They impose too high a cost on the tender new. The question now is will the new admin kill the baby?
- There will be a fight - Often the old forces still have more money and resources than the new. The desire to raise tax revenues might kill the new off.
- This is where the larger group of people need I think to be engaged - now it is possible to show them the choice of the old or the new
- The masses did not get on the boat until 1880 when the place they went too had been built and the way there - though hard - had also been built
- The early explorers were nothing like the people who came in 1880 - they also came to a place that had yet to be built - many experiments were tried - most failed - Innovators and Early Adopters - America was still Chaotic and Complex
- The early towns and states were the expressions of the success of the early adopters - the probing and senseing
- They then had to break with the old to expand properly - the War of Independence - a democratic act - but recall that 1/3 of the people did not want this and there was in effect ethnic cleansing - the Empire Loyalists went to Canada - the old had to be beaten back
- Now the big expansion west began - they had been locked in the East before - the same process all over again - Explorers, pioneers and then wagons and then trains
- Then Civil war between the culture of the old and the culture of the new - The new never seems to win without a bloody fight. This happens late when the leaders of both sides have access to their own mass movement. 200 years of religious wars in Europe are an example.
- With the war done - the new was on the front burner and the west was opened up and the state ethnically cleaned the native population in the way. In that case the old had no power. Now it was simple for the masses to come to America and the masses came - all 50 million of them between 1880 and 1914.
- Until 1860 the big idea in medicine was that disease was spread by smells - the Miasma theory - made a kind of sense but was wrong and meant that as millions came off the land and moved to the city, as a result of the agricultural revolution in the early 1800's, they were mainly condemned to die of cholera and typhoid. Life expectancy in London was less than 25. But no one questioned this: even though the situation got worse - Just like today, when no one questions our own approach and the epidemic of chromic illness grows exponentially
- In the 1860's ONE doctor, John Snow proved that cholera was spread by something in water. Even though his proof was conclusive, and he was the Queen's doctor, the official theory held
- The London sewers were built to stop the smell after a crisis that affected the elite - the Thames stank so much that the MP's could not use the House of Commons
- But while the sewers were being built people like Pasteur were discovering germs
- In the meantime, the system persecuted doctors who suggested that infection was not caused by anything other than by smells - Dr Semmelweis etc - Ideas have immune systems - it takes great bravery to step outside the norm - the people who hold onto the old are not stupid they are trapped in a system and they will fight to the death to defend it
- Whet changed the system was that MOST people could now see for themselves that the new was better - THIS again is the time when the mass of the people count
- The sewers + Pasteur + Lister = success that all can see so all can now change the system - the old guard have to go along