FROM EVOLUTION TO ECOLOGY
Creating a Resilient Infrastructure
Civil Society asks not whether its current crisis is existential but whether the way it makes a difference can meet the known need, now.
Its ability to network is more than ever evident and energized, due to relentless and inspired commitment by established leaders with and to new leaders. Its goal is of keeping each other within striking distance of having necessary and sufficient impact. It is clearly about cooperatively building relationships and know-how that can offer timely response to the enormous range of types and locations of need.
That purpose-driven version of capacity is and will remain as the essential creator of opportunity.
The threat to the value of all of that is the challenge of being sustainable. That continues calling for a strategy to assure persistent operational real-time relevance. The key required impact is, then, an outcome of resilience.
The primary threat to relevance is in adaptability versus the challenges presented to the timing and type of operations conducted:
- having the right ones, right-sized;
- keeping them up and running;
- and making them accessible under both sudden and varying demand.
Architecture is the discipline uniquely formulated to handle the combined problem of scale, complexity and sustainability. So, let’s study the strategic challenge architecturally.
We see the situation as being akin to moving from evolution to ecology. Selected from dozens of entries in papers published on the web, we chose these definitions of those terms for the simplicity of their comparison.
- “the control of development by ecology” (Leigh van Valen, 1973)
- any net directional change or any cumulative change in the characteristics of organisms or populations over many generations — in other words, descent with modification… (John Endler)
- (The scientific study of) the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter. (Cary Institute)
Here we’re seeing the universe of “organisms” as our global constellation of social impact organizations.
With reference to resilience, the general thrust of the following argument is that we need to extend — not replace — opportunity creation from environmental adaptation (reacting to changes in the environment, regardless of how urgently) to environmental architecture (systematically enabling organized change on demand).
In creating opportunity, we presume a need for additional capacity. Here, the key idea is to renovate the employment of capacity towards a more aggressive, proactive, but managed stance on change. The result is proactive resilience.
This approach is based on the following premise about a “user experience” of having resilience structurally realized:
- Development creates infrastructure.
- Infrastructure becomes a platform (a persistent practical support structure)
- Platform becomes an environment (a shared location of action and effects, i.e. events and conditions)
- Environment “hosts” efforts for effective impact (systemically available provision of support)
The terms of that premise are defined in the following way.
Resilience is accomplished by a means that provides immediate effectiveness versus a change in opportunity.
- Immediate refers strictly to current need; current must be signaled, not just noticed.
- Effective refers only to the here and now; elsewhere and/or later may need something different.
- Prior opportunity may have been better or worse than the current opportunity; the problem is that it is different and thereby misaligns the incumbent anticipation and preparation.
Means may be regeneration, reconfiguration, or replacement of prior efforts and conditions. We distinguish the operational realization of these three cases as follows:
- Regenerate: grow and/or supply
- Reconfigure: switch arrangement and/or model
- Replace: use different or use differently
As the beginning of a designed architecture for proactive resilience, what we have to identify and resolve is what inhibits those three cases, respectively, in their moment of required impact.
1. Inhibitors divert, block, or degrade means.
Here, we look at the key things that are affected in each case where certain means (as above) must be realized. That way, we can recognize and recall typical and recurring instances when inhibitors occur.
Participants in the creation of an infrastructure of resilience will recognize some of their own activities or responsibilities in the following. Parties should consider what and how they suffer and/or can prevent diversion, blocking and degradation in any activity or responsibility.
2. Infrastructure does not cause; it enables.
Enablement removes or prevents inhibitors. A state of enablement includes sufficient levels and balance of five factors:
- Participants in enablement have a willingness to provide in order to see the platform built.
But the universe of potential providers includes many sources that are also or instead preoccupied with other goals. Those parties also control the majority of resources. Because of that, there must be a reason why such a potential provider will choose to be an actual provider for proactive resilience.
A reason that is strongest and most assured for the provider draws on four essential characteristics supporting motivation and envisioned success:
At a sufficient level and balance of those factors, the potential provider is willing to take on responsibility for enablement.
2. A willing provider becomes a platform builder though a Role.
According to the above, this means that each role has its reason to provide. But within that commonality, there are multiple critically distinct roles functioning in the service of building the platform:
In the shift from environmental adaptation to platform architecture, functional co-operation of the roles is logical, not just opportune. Cooperation is a set of designed interactions that prioritize the strength of the platform as an environment that is hosting efforts for effective impact.
3. “Hosting” creates an environment that offers deliberately supportive experience created through role interactions among providers.
Here we generally think in terms of a beneficiary of providers. But providers — who do need to “select” beneficiaries — should not “define” them. What is more specifically important is a type of self-identification by potential beneficiaries and providers, which encourages their adoption of changes that make up resilience. Hosting exerts an influence on that self-identification by reinforcing it and its presumption of rights to benefits.
Hosting creates a self-interested environment within which participants explicitly obtain their own “valuable” status. The status attracts the potential participant to the environment and to each other.
In this overview, the final consideration is of how participants align with and for each other in using the platform as an environment for creating opportunity.
We are very habitual — not wrong — in thinking of that dynamic as collaboration, but one of the enduring problems in our thinking to date is the amount of energy we must spend in exercising it as a controllable connection of two big variables: a nurtured relationship, and a needed motivated action or transaction. The good news, nonetheless, will stay the same, which is that collaboration fosters capacity. But the bad news is that collaboration has remained mostly a result of energetic solicitation — whereas it needs to be mostly and energetically emergent.
Today, the typical references to that control most often point out organizations developed to perform strategic operations. But that is not the usual objective finding of our research.
The usual finding of our research is that strategic operations create organizations, not vice versa.
The question is then how readily the defacto organization is then formally structured for persistence. This has immediate implications for how we understand institutionalization of effort for change readiness and resilience.
In that regard, there are four fundamental forms of adopted and nurtured organization underpinning resilience: collective, collaborative, custodial, and agent.
Each has a domain of primary concern for which it can solve problems and complement other forms. They are not exclusive, nor mutually exclusive, concerns among the forms. But for the sake of focused response and ongoing attention, the respective strengths of the organizations are drawn from their form and more readily accountable to it.
The importance of the above overview is that any potential participant can use it to identify where and how they may have the ability to take responsibility for any of the factors we have exposed.
- It is not a blueprint. But it is a set of maps.
- The language, the concepts, and the empirically-sourced observations are all portable across locations, sizes, and competencies of users. It names places, features, and reasons to take a position and engage.
- The framed sets of elements and interconnections gives an explanation of how things have importance to other things. In that way it offers an instrument for designing participation in building and enabling resilience.
- Additionally, it is explicit in showing that a given party can act in multiple different ways, and that a given action may call on many different participants — yet with no loss of maintainable orderliness in the effort.
All that having been said:
- Having the qualifications does not automatically translate into having the opportunity.
- Having the opportunity does not automatically translate into having the priority.
- And having the priority does not automatically translate into having a strategy.
There are still numerous real-world matters that are significantly constraining at all times.
But having the architecture means having a way to design sustainable operation with predictable levels of participation in success factors for resilience.
Malcolm, who is principal strategist at Archestra Research, was a Strategic Product Manager and operations process designer at TechSoup Global during 2016, 2017 and 2018. He is a co-founder of ChangeBridge LLC and the originator of its Change Enablement framework and practice for organizational change management. ( www.changebridge.co )