Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thinking out loud - notes on Civic Intelligence

Well the semester is over and I'm moving forward with putting together my qualifying exams, and finalizing my research proposal. I'm moving forward with the civic intelligence model, but in the context of development practice. I spoke with my chair today and gave him my little rap, and for the first time since I have been working with him I got a thumbs up.

Using Schuler's civic intelligence model, my work is going to look at how civic intelligence functions along with the factors that limit its successful utilization in development practice. I'm going to be doing four case studies focused on urban and peri-urban agriculture as a politically and environmentally sensitive food security strategy and the ways in which community groups and civil society perceive, interpret, deliberate and act to develop and protect these efforts.

The case studies will be using Johnathan Barker's political settings method, with a slight modification that emphasizes the networked nature of these settings as spaces in which participants actively perceive, deliberate and act. It is my thinking that through a focus on these settings and the activities that occur in specific spaces and time, it will give us an insight into the ways in which civic intelligence emerges, is used and how it is ultimately successful or not in the context of urban development activities.

In many ways this work represents a full-circle from where I started my program with patterns. To me civic intelligence and patterns are in many ways related and the Liberating Voices patterns themselves are an example of civic intelligence.

The overarching argument here is that development, if it is to be sustainable must consider the political dimensions of decision making. All too often development schemes are left up to the experts whos knowledge excludes those people in which development is focused on helping. Although great work has been done in the area of participation, practices that promote participation do so only in the context of specific programs and the capacity for self-defined development is often not included, and the ability of peoples to adapt and protect their interests in the face of more powerful actors is left lacking. This is believed to be a central problem in the durability of development interventions where marginalized peoples are supported as long as funds are available, but once an NGO actor withdraws, people become vulnerable once again.

It is my assumption that at its core development theory and praxis at the community level is fundamentally about self-reliance and building autonomy that promotes social equity, environmental sustainability, and economic freedom. Yet, as Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze note, the capability for adversarial politics is often central to all of these. I would go further and suggest that merely possessing the capability is not enough (India - Economic Development and Social Opportunity, 1999). This is where civic intelligence comes into play... Civic intelligence is about both the capability to act, as well as the action itself that seeks to promote emancipatory transformation.

Civic intelligence is iterative and additive in that as it is employed, people become more effective at its utilization for solving problems of common concern. Yet, the outcomes of civic intelligence that promotes autonomy as well as interdependence among actors seeking a just and sustainable society, suggests that it should represent a central focus in all development schemes.

The problem here is, "how does it emerge?" How does it function and what limits its utilization? By understanding these dimensions we become better able at pursuing civic intelligence as both a means to development, and as an outcome itself.

It is also my feeling that as the work is pursued, the Liberating Voices pattern language will be further validated. Patterns such as Social Dominance Attenuation, Citizen Science, Grassroots Public Policy Development, Shared Vision and Opportunity Spaces will come to represent both the pathways and outcomes of effective development practice and ultimately an increased civic intelligence among a community and its supporters.

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