Monday, August 20, 2007

Community Creativity and Development - Introduction

Community development has been a long standing interest of a number of Ndarala professionals both as community activists and in terms of the processes involved. Why do some communities develop, others stagnate? Are there specific things that can be done to enhance community creativity.

This series of posts consolidates an earlier discussion thread on these questions. Again, we are presenting them as an integrated series with this as the first post.

The thread was triggered in part by a discussion on the role that history plays in both impeding and assisting organisational change. In summary, organisational history is often ignored or seen as an impediment, especially by new broom CEO's. Change is required, we must get rid of the past. Yet the reality, at least as we see it, is that cultural change depends upon understanding existing history and culture, is most effective when related to that history. The challenge is to find the right way to understand and respond to both history and culture.

A second linked discussion thread was the difference between individual and organisational creativity. This one was triggered by a post by Jeffrey Baumgartner on Nava Shalev's Global Relocation Portal blog - In this post Jeffrey makes a clear distinction between the two and argues that organisations must consciously manage organisational creativity if they are to maximise individual creativity.

Now that's fair enough. But like the earlier and related concept of the "learning" organisation, management of organisational creativity is actually a slippery topic.

Organisations can, as Jeffrey suggests, adopt policies that will encourage creativity at individual level, they can consciously bring in new people from different areas (I am always astonished at the way organisations want to just recruit people from narrowly defined experience slices), they can use multi-function teams. But is this the management of organisational creativity or simply the creation of conditions that will encourage creativity? Is is possible to go further than this? Does it in fact matter?

As consultants and managers, our experience has been that there are in fact creative organisations, that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, that it does therefore matter. However, getting this across properly to clients is hard because so much of it is "soft" stuff, things that cannot be directly measured. And we live in a measurement age.

How does this link to community creativity and development?

Two of my colleagues - Tom Schwarz (Kinnogene Australia) and David Jago (Smart Meetings - have been working on the development of new facilitation approaches at community level intended to help communities resolve problems and take greater responsibility for their own development.

This work links to the broader question. Why do some communities develop despite the odds while others in apparently similar positions stagnate or decline?

The answer appears to lie in the presence of key champions. However, when we dig down we find that it is normally the combination of those champions with community history, structure and culture that creates the positive outcome. Champions on their own do not appear to be enough. This equates to the difference between organisational and individual creativity referred to by Jeffrey Baumgartner.

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