Review: Planning with Complexity – An Introduction to Collaborative Rationality for Public Policy

4 Star, Complexity & Resilience, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Democracy
Amazon Page

Judith Innes, David Booher

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent but Not Perfect, June 25, 2011

The authors claim to be addressing a new theory of collaborative rationality. The Native Americans called this “seventh generation thinking.” It is neither new nor rational alone, but rather holistic. I bought and read this book along with Democracy as Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities Across the Globe, and the two go very well together. Both are directly founded on John Dewey’s 1927 work, Public & Its Problems, and both fail to mention Will Durant’s 1916 thesis, Philosophy and the Social Problem: The Annotated Edition.

Key ingredients are thinking differently, dialog as information discovery and exchange, and knowledge operations via dialog–Juanita Brown and David Isaacs call this The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter.


This is an academic/policy wonk work, and as much as I like it, it simply does not acknowledge the pioneering by such people as Tom Atlee The Tao of Democracy: Using co-intelligence to create a world that works for all and Reflections on Evolutionary Activism: Essays, poems and prayers from an emerging field of sacred social change; Jim Rough, pioneer of Citizen Wisdom Councils, Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People, and so on. There is no Emergence, Integral Consciousness, or Conscious Evolution (all titles of books) in this work. It is a policy process from an academic view book.

I certainly find it interesting, and agree with the early observations, that traditional quantitative planning falls short; that cronies are the default for all decision-makers, irrespective of the quality and quantity of facts available; and that the adversarial approach is a lose-lose proposition most of the time.

The book lays down the redirection away from top-down “fixes” and instead toward creating and implementing new forms of deliberation among a broader diversity of stakeholders.

I like very much the core finding that continuing uncertainly *can* be dealt with by continuing dialog. Two other books where this point is made in different ways are The Philanthropy of George Soros: Building Open Societies and Kent Myers’ Reflexive Practice: Professional Thinking for a Turbulent World. As a professional intelligence officer I have been dealing with the challenges of ambiguity and complexity all my life, and did not realize until 1988 that a major part of the problem was the 1950’s mind-sets with 1970’s stove-pipes lacking access to virtually everyone with information to offer.

The early part of the book offers a devastating (and articulate) summary of all the reasons why government today is neither effective nor trusted. I like to say government lacks intelligence and integrity in the Buckminster Fuller and Russell Ackoff sense of the words, see:

Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure
Redesigning Society (Stanford Business Books)

Three trends the authors identify:

01. Linear formal process being replaced by nonlinear socially-constructed processes (no mention of corruption)

02. Scientific knowledge is no longer the only knowledge at the table, other knowledges are now entertained, with lay local knowledge being among the most prized (never mind that 1% at the top could care less and make the decisions absent any concern for the public interest).

03. New forms of reasoning include story telling and role playing. For the best book on story telling see Steve Denning’s The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations (KMCI Press).

Although I am myself a pioneer of open source intelligence and multinational information-sharing, I learn from and like the emphasis by the authors on how a collaborative process is a continuous learning process.

The authors are polite but certain in condemning the fields of public policy, public administration, and political science for failing and being out of touch with reality, and with two graduate degrees and other diplomas in those three areas I have to agree.

The authors take a stab at connecting complexity science and its emphasis on complex adaptive systems, and that is good, but as one who has published on the various information pathologies from forbidden and forgotten knowledge, lost history, fog facts, missing information, manufactured consent, propaganda, and rule by secrecy (all titles of books) I am disappointed. This is a book about the emergent process, but it does not address information challenges or ethical challenges at all.

On page 85 there are eight findings that bear notation:

01 Face to face dialog is essential to discovery of mutual benefits
02 Missing parties can mean the process might be unsustainable
03 Small group tasks can contribute to larger consensus
04 Ability to challenge assumptions and conduct free-wheeling dialog is essential
05 Power differentials can interfere with wise decisions (e.g. rankism)
06 Dialog developing shared knowledge and shared meaning is vital to sustainable decisions
07 Staffing (including facilitation?) is essential to complex processes
08 Relationships, not facts, are the key ingredient for lasting outcomes

Key ingredients for nurturing a creative multi-stakeholder process:

01 Incentive structure
02 Leaders and sponsors
03 Inclusionary decision-making
04 Dedicated staffing
05 Negotiating text and evolving agreement
06 Adaptiveness as a culture

Chapter 6 on Knowledge Into Action is my favorite.

QUOTE (144): “In this chapter we will make the case that for knowledge to motivate action, it not only has to be tailor-made to particular times, places, and conditions, but also that dialogue has to be a crucial part of both developing and using it.”

BOOM. There goes the US Intelligence Community, $80 billion a year in waste–they don’t do any of this. Seek out information on the new craft of intelligence and see also my CounterPunch article, “Intelligence for the President–AND Everyone Else.”

QUOTE (144): “Evidence abounds that decision makers do not make substantive use of the findings of the research social scientists and analysts provide to them.”

Chapter 7 focused on the importance of local knowledge and observes that without local knowledge, it is not possible to achieve justice or resilience. Missing too often are the actual voices of the disadvantaged.

There is an excellent graphic on page 202.

The conclusion suggests that network governance is here to stay, but there really is nothing in this book about digital natives, generation 2.0, web 4.0, or the four quadrants that I have been speaking to over close to fifteen years (knowledge management, social networking, external research, and organizational intelligence).

Three features of adaptave governance:

01 Diversity in its agents and components
02 Ample opportunity for interaction among all the agents
03 Effective methods for selection of appropriate actions.

A final quote:

QUOTE (209): Networks may primarily improve information-sharing or they may serve as forums for public policy deliberation, decision making, and implementation. By connecting diverse actors around specific problems or geographic areas, networks build sensitivity to local realities that centralized government often cannot achieve. They also increase coordiantion across many boundaries such as those between government agencies, levels of government, experts from different fields, and opposing ideological camps.

Missing from this book is a recognition that in whole systems governance, you not only have to engage all of the stakeholderes, but you also have to connect the dots across all threats, all policy domains, all demographics. It is not possible to make responsible agricultural policy without also making responsible policy for diplomacy, economy, education, energy, family, health, immigration, justice, security, and society. Everything is connected.

With my last link, the single best book on both hybrid governance and the 20 problems we face:

High Noon 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them

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