To Embrace Community We Must Embrace Complexity

Recently we were lucky enough to have David Hanna, Director of Wesley Community Action and Practice Leader at Inspiring Communities, join us for lunch to discuss the complexity of systems and the resilience and potential of communities. During this thought provoking discussion David challenged our mind-sets around how we take part in making positive change.

Introducing himself with the statement that “vocation is what we give to the world, career is what we get out of it”, David proceeded to distil the insights from his vocation in community-led change.

David’s opening question to us was to reflect on the past week and answer, “what are your touch points with community?” We floundered initially on the concepts of community service, and then we quickly moved to the reality that community is all around us; that it is the people we are with. Aleisha from the team captured it as “community is the relationships, the connections we have with people, with place and with organisations”.

The following key points really resonated with the team:
  • Community can be a verb rather than a noun. Like fish and the sea, we can never not be in a community. We are a social species and we don’t exist if we don’t have community. Much like water in the sea, we don’t see community, we struggle to understand it and we don’t know how to measure it.
  • There is a relationship between community and the economy. We struggle to measure a community – it just is. We can measure the unease that occurs when we don’t have community.
  • A community perspective holds many different truths. Collaboration is when you are working with people who have a truly different perspective.
  • To embrace community, we must embrace complexity. We should not oversimplify too early and must hold the creative tension.
  • A stable community can handle a lot of complexity (the definition of a resilient community). When we have communities in chaos, the continuity of knowledge and understanding within the system, and between community members, is missing and therefore the complexity becomes overwhelming.
  • Poverty accelerates the rate of change in a community and therefore has a destabilising and potentially debilitating impact. On the other hand, communities have an amazing and surprising capacity to self-support when given the right conditions.
  • We default to thinking that money is needed in communities, but community based action has been the most effective.
  • We think we can direct through programmes and interventions but we may only disturb the system and set off a range of consequences we may not have planned or foreseen.

Our favourite insight was broader than community, and took a national or even global view. We tend to bring a binary lens to complex systems, even though complexity inherently resists binary classification. Science and research has moved beyond binary classification, but we persist in doing this. Interestingly, our fundamental systems set up a binary construct, between political parties, in our justice system, within our social welfare systems. Our democratic systems need to evolve to embrace a complexity mind-set.

“Living systems can only be disturbed, never directed” – Maturana and Varela

Thank you again David for inspiring and sharing such valuable insights with the team.

Ngā mihi

Adithi Pandit
Partner – Strategy and Operations Consulting

Republished with permission from Deloitte on 15th July 2018. The original post can be found here.

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