Enabling bottom-up communal self-determination is a centuries old goal, yet we still lack a satisfactory approach. This is a wicked problem with no obvious right or wrong solution. We focus here on five key challenges: creating unity across human division, breaking the communal silo, problem complexity, communal complexity, and well defined purpose. Each challenge is complex and all challenges interconnect to form a highly complex system.
Our core challenge is purpose: can it become a key enabling mechanism that bridges across all?
Challenge 1: Creating Unity Across Human Division
A Community is the most fundamental form of social organization and our mind is designed for social interaction. Communities naturally form around family, location, activity, work, belief, ethnicity, propose, etc. As soon as we are born the mind naturally starts learning from its parents and surrounding environment. This cements the cultural values and beliefs that define us as humans and stay with us for life. These values also trigger our behavior through subconscious emotions we are mostly unaware of. And it is these shared values that create a sense of unity and togetherness between community members, a unity that is so necessary for human evolution, survival and prosperity.
Problems arise when communal boundaries intersect, creating In-group favoritism that leads to division and polarization, often referred to as tribal bias. It is hard for the mind to reconcile, or even accept, other social values, and we are mostly unaware of our tribal behavior (see Kahneman, vid1, vid2, Goleman). This creates a tribal WE vs THEM, where WE are always good and right and THEM are often bad or wrong. Tribal bias is a root case of things like racism, social inequality, and even wars.
Challenge: to successfully interconnect people and communities worldwide we must find a way to bridge across tribal bias. To our knowledge there is no successful approach or technology that enables this, and more importantly, in scale.
Challenge 2: Breaking the Communal Silo
Most communities and organizations operate in silo rather than collaboratively. My village, for example, shares many similar issues with neighboring villages, yet our board and committees rarely reach out to learn, help, or collaborate. There are many NGOs and non profits with similar, if not identical, civic goals, but rarely do they connect and increase their collective ability to drive change. Similarly, divisions within the same enterprise rarely join forces, and much less so across geographical boundaries. This causes significant redundancy and inefficiency that yield an alarmingly low ratio of effort-to-impact.
Challenge: identify (1) the mechanisms that will enable communities and organizations with similar goals to easily find and be found by each other so they can learn, help and collaborate; and (2) the incentives that will scale the number of ongoing interconnections and collaborations.
Challenge 3: Problem Complexity
Social problems are wickedly complex: not only is each problem multi-faceted, but it also interconnects with many others. Global warming, for example, also relates to immigration, workforce, infrastructure, healthcare, and many more. The United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals are also mostly interconnected. Even local problems that seem simple are actually complex. For example, I asked local high school students that were assigned to determine what food should their new cafeteria offer -- how would they decide? Their approach was to ask their friends. After pointing out that their friends amount to less than 3% of the student population I asked if they considered additional aspects such as tasty vs. healthy, or price vs. sustainability? They had not...
Problems are resolved by taking action. Deciding what action is best best requires communal informed-decision making, which is not simple. First, one must understand holistically not only the different facets of the problem, but also how each facet relates to other problems that may be seemingly unrelated (current narratives often select a single facet that benefits the agenda of the narrator). Second, by the very nature of such problems, it may be hard, if not impossible, to asses and compare ahead of time the effectiveness of different proposals. Third, the choice of one approach over the other is often affected by personal point-of-view and bias, and as discussed above, may cause division.
Challenge: how to make informed communal decisions that (1) consider all aspects related to the problem (2) in a way that bridges across personal bias and yields unity, rather than division (3) in a way that can scale over many communities as they interconnect and join forces.
Challenge 4: Communal Complexity
We tend to think of a community or organization as a single entity. But in reality things are far more complex. Ongoing operations in our local village, for example, must interconnect with many dozens of other communities or organizations: its own departments and committees, various county, state, and even federal organizations, additional community organizations such as school, sports, arts, sustainability, and recreation, not to mention having to deal with private and public organizations around waste, energy, transportation, environment, maintenance, and much more. Our school communal structure is not less complex: educational entities on the state and federal level, entities around insurance, development, utilities, safety, etc., and within the school dealing teachers, committees, students, parents, clubs (student communities devoted to their own goals), teacher-student senate -- and this is just scratching the surface.
Alignment and coordination between this existing network of interconnected organization is done through purpose. Local educational goals have to comply with state and federal regulations. The goals of school committees and sub communities must all align with the overall purpose and goals of the school. We take all this for granted, yet this vast network of interconnected communities remains opaque, as are their goals and overall alignment.
Assumption: The approach to manage existing networks of interconnected organizations, in principal, should not be different than creating new networks across current silos. By improving support for current networks, we may be laying an enabling foundation for future, much larger networks.
Challenge: how to make visible, manage, and align the goals and purpose of existing networks of interconnected communities? Can this be done in a way that will scale and enable new interconnections across communal and geographical boundaries?
Challenge 5: Clarity of Purpose
Common purpose bridges division and brings people together. Purpose is the underpinning of social mechanisms for self-determination. In a democracy, for example, the purpose of government is the realize the purpose of the people. Yet, worldwide there is a growing disconnect between people and government: there is an alarming number of countries that are trying to replace their regime; and in the US, citizen trust in government has dropped alarmingly from 73% in 1970 to 13% today (2019 Pew report). Whereas we all seem to take purpose for granted, our conclusion is that in reality purpose is vague and unclear.
Assumption: Purpose today is vague and unclear. Especially the "purpose of the people" and the "purpose of government," be it a village, town, county, state, federal or global.
Hypothesis 1: If purpose was clearly defined and easy to understand then the disconnect between people and government would decrease.
Hypothesis 2: If purpose was clearly defined it could reduce communal silo by enabling communities and organizations to easily find-and-be-found so they can connect and collaborate around common goals (note: a purpose definition may include several goals, and collaboration could take place around one more goals).
Hypothesis 3: If purpose was clearly defined it would increase communal engagement to define their community's purpose and decide what actions they should take.
Hypothesis 4: Each community is unique and therefore may define a different purpose, even among nearby communities that seem similar.
Challenge: a definition of purpose that:
Can be easily understood by all people.
Can be used by communities to define their own purpose while bridging across diversity of personal values and points-of-view.
Can truly reflect the community's "voice of the people."
Can be aggregated across many communities to reflect the collective "want of the people."
Can be published in a way that other communities can easily find and use to connect with each other.
Can be used by government to define its purpose in a way that also demonstrate how it relates to the purpose of its constituents.
Can measure change-over-time, and especially cause-and-effect of ongoing actions and events.
Can be used as a mechanism between people and their elected officials in a way that promotes trust, transparency, and accountability.