Designing 'Attractors' for Action in Complex Multi-Stakeholder Situations

Design, as a culture of inquiry and action, is increasingly being adopted for making purposeful change in highly complex social systems. There is growing appreciation that all people are designers and that design per se is not the privilege of a small group of exceptionally creative individuals called designers.  

The challenge in community planning is in formulating a process that determines optimal strategic direction and getting stakeholders to put this strategy into successful operation. The participation of multiple stakeholders in the process is encouraged through democratization of design activities. This fosters a desired future for the social system which acts as an 'Attractor' for action based on broad stakeholder consensus and their enthusiastic buy-in.  Such an Attractor offers a practical but idealized organizational vision that sets out organizational meaning in a way that encourage alll stakeholders to continually shape it through communal sense-making and to co-evolve with it through their actions. 

Interactive Planning (IP) is a powerful systemic design approach that uniquely achieves the design objectives highlighted above. IP is a methodology derived from a holistic viewpoint where it is assumed that the community is a multi-purpose system and that the planning process should take into account the objectives of all stakeholders. The IP process accommodates these diverse objectives whilst providing an approach to resolving the differences that are inevitable in a multi-purpose system.

IP begins by gaining an understanding of the community as a whole and how it, as a system, interacts with the relevant social environment.  This then leads to describing the interaction of the parts of the system, and finally, to understanding the parts themselves. The positive community impact provided by IP depends on the purposeful interaction of people, place(s) and service(s). Without a systems approach, the synergistic potential of these individual parts cannot be achieved.

In regard to creating a desired future for a social system based on consensus and buy-in of the stakeholders, Syntegration (S) is an ideal font-end companion for IP. In complex multi-faceted situations, Syntegration addresses the need for improved integration of information, opportunities for tapping and building upon distributed knowledge, and the nurturing of collective vision and commitment.  The combined IP/S methodology provides the stakeholder design-team with a solid base for moving ahead with their IP effort. 

Unlike the typical consulting model based on “expert” assumptions and arbitrary goals, IP/S is a bottom-up approach that is as efficient as it is effective in accommodating diverse objectives, and offers an approach to resolving the differences that are inevitable in a complex multi-purpose system.

For all communities, the current environment is becoming increasingly complex and uncertain.  Community needs and stakeholder profiles are rapidly changing, creating a need for social systems to adapt to this increasing rate of change.  Predicting the future is difficult if not impossible in this environment, leading to serious failures and trust “black holes”. IP/S is a methodology that eliminates the need for forecasting. It seeks to identify assumptions in the strategy and to frame them as possibilities and areas for contingency planning. Identification of assumptions allows for experimentation and monitoring of their validity as the complex environment changes.

The results of the IP/S approach are transferrable and adaptable, not only leading to a written strategic or policy plan, but also to new ways of thinking about the nature of the community which will be disseminated throughout the community by stakeholders.  This shared vision is not only the direction forward, but also the road map and driver’s education needed to reach the desired destination.

Interactive Planning and Syntegration have been successfully implemented in very many communities, including Not for Profit, and are particularly well suited to the development of policy and strategic planning initiatives addressing tbl sustainability and other complex social, environmental and economic challenges.

For further information please contact: The Leadership Alliance Inc.

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