In 2016 – through My Future York – we started asking questions about how we could creatively talk about York’s future and shift the problematic dynamics of ‘consultation’. Since then we have experimented with approaches to this through two large scale public engagement processes: My Castle Gateway (2017-) and My York Central (2018-). Via these projects we identified three iterative modes that can be used to build Open Briefs for masterplanning and design and to cultivate the networks to create wider change:
1) Start where people are and with what matters;
2) Explore complex issues
3) Make change together
We have more recently been developing our work to explicitly engage with debates on democratic innovation (from political theory) and system thinking and whole system change (from organizational studies, development studies and health and social care policy and practice). We’re in conversation with other people interested in this* and looking to develop a UK-wide network of people interested in action research in this area.
In York, key to putting this into practice is the potential to work with a dynamic team of Local Area Co-ordinators who have been using asset-based community development approaches and a desire from the Council’s Communications team to develop city-wide engagement to shape policy responses on housing, transport, the Council’s 2030 carbon zero target and post-COVID economic recovery.
In a series of blogs we pull out current debates from the Deliberative Systems and Whole Systems literatures and frame questions for us to use in our new phase of work on My York Central.
Overall, we are interested in working with an approach offered by systemic thinking: that we live in a complex world, shaped through different everyday actions and relationships and where change is an emergent property of this whole. Part of this is recognising that complex issues cannot be dealt with in silos or by breaking them down in smaller chunks because their intractability comes precisely from the systemic connections between people and their environments.
Key questions that arises from this are:
- How can a consciously designed deliberative system be added into this whole system?
- How might working cross-system to co-produce both new and collective understandings of current systemic dynamics and cohering ideas and action lead both to more responsive decision-making by the council and other public agencies as well as to wider strands of self-organization and community-led change?
*See a piece by Catherine Howe who has opened up the connections between democratic theory and systems thinking issues.