The following activities and projects are either underway or are possibilities. They give just a hint of the kinds of projects that Boisevolve could undertake. For more details on any of these, just reach out.
- Learning to Create Together
- Boise Talks
- Structured Dialogue for Complex Issues
- Bicentennial Boise
- The Empty Chair
- The Social Planetarium
- Ideas, Arrangements, Effects: A Reading Circle and More
AssumptionScope is a home-grown social invention for helping our community bring to light, reflect on, and evaluate the assumptions underlying our systems and institutions. It is like an X-ray that will look into the matrix of institutions like government, education, health care, justice, our economic culture, or any other aspect of our society locally or on a wider scale. AssumptionScope is also like a mirror, because we’re the ones who unconsciously give shelter to the assumptions. We should be asking ourselves if we actually believe in them. If we do, great. If we don’t, then the door opens to invite us to think about and express what assumptions (or core values and ideas) we really do want to be at the foundation of our systems.
We’ve already made some progress on AssumptionScope. The basic process for surfacing, displaying, and inviting people to weigh in on them has been developed. We piloted the first step—surfacing the assumptions—with a real group of people. In this case, the system was public education, and the people who were asked to create the initial “inventory” of assumptions that seem to be underlying that system were all present or past professional educators who were particularly reflective about assumptions
Another step we’ve taken is to prepare to build a website dedicated to AssumptionScope.
The kind of help needed for this project includes:
- Helping organize and run focus groups to surface the assumptions underlying other various systems that we depend on all the time: government & politics; health care; justice; our economy; and others.
- Taking AssumptionScope out into the streets and hallways and parks and spaces people inhabit and work with short, thought-provoking, in-person surveys that ask people how much they agree with assumptions operating in our current systems & culture.
- Helping finish and run the AssumptionScope website, which can serve as a model that any group or community in the world can adopt and adapt.
- Pulling out and reporting on key insights from the AssumptionScope experience to share with the community, and helping make sure that mass media and social media pick up on and disseminate those insights.
Learning to Create Together
The past several years have put into a stark light just how weak our we are in terms of our capacity for democracy—that is, democracy as a way of life in which we create and act upon a will in common. In many ways we’re at a very immature state of development in our civic capacity. This includes knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions needed at the personal and inter-personal level and the very models of leadership that we seem to embrace.
Where do we start to address this? Schools would be a great place. While there are some exceptions from teacher to teacher, school to school, and from district to district, education for democracy as a way of life is generally hard to find in schools today. 12th grade American Government class covers the mechanics of government, and Idaho requires that seniors pass the basic “citizenship test” questions before graduating. But this does not develop the lifelong attitudes and skills needed for democracy as a way of life—something our society so desperately needs. What if kids had opportunities for learning democracy as way of life woven across their entire 13 years of K-12 experience?
This Boisevolve activity will focus on catalyzing the design and implementation of a comprehensive K-12 civic education program that can be promoted from the bottom up (the level of neighborhoods and parents and teachers and principals) as well as the top-down (district leadership and state education requirements).
The design approach would start with painting a big picture, defining what a desired “civic life” would look like, and then working in to the design of an educational experience. For this reason, the approach to design must also be participatory, because no one committee or institution has the right to define what a desired “civic life” looks like on behalf of all who will be served by the program.
You don’t need to be an educator to help with this activity. It’s enough just to believe that we have a long way to go in learning how to BE a democracy—perhaps in better ways than we ever did as a society—and to want to help make that happen starting right here in Boise. Here’s where we’ve need help:
- Research and writing
- Public outreach
- Promoting support and participation both within and outside of education
Conversation is vital to our ability to connect, to learn, to solve, and to create. Unfortunately, many of us rarely have opportunities for meaningful conversation. That lack of opportunity harms us personally and it has a damaging effect on our community and our society as well. Boise Talks was created out of this need for people to engage in meaningful dialogue about things of both personal and public concern.
Boise Talks would be an opportunity to experience group dialogue on a regular basis. The group size in Boise Talks—20 to 30 participants—would be large enough for the group to exist at the boundary between the individual scale and the social/societal scalesmall enough to ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard but . There would be no set topic or agenda, and there would be just enough facilitation to the dialogue to keep it inviting and moving. All are welcome.
What would be the purpose for Boise Talks?
- To provide people of the Boise community with an opportunity to hear and to be heard in a setting that is safe yet conducive to risking assumptions and ideas.
- To help people gain comfort in, and competence with, dialogue.
- To help people surface and examine assumptions, whether about society, other people, or themselves.
- To help people confront the wider society and culture that inhabits them and which mediates between themselves and others.
- To help people find and create authentic, “impersonal” fellowship.
What Boise Talks would not be
- While participants would explore and address different points of view, Boise Talks would not be a debate group or a conflict resolution group.
- While participants might learn more about themselves and feel good through participation, Boise Talks would not be a therapy group.
- While participants might get into deep exploration of ideas and issues, Boise Talks would not be a philosophy group or a political group.
The current idea is that meetings would be held twice a month for about 90 minutes. Multiple groups could be created to accommodate greater interest and different schedules.
This activity would need volunteers to help finish the guidelines for how the meetings would work, to help with outreach and logistics, and to help facilitate.
Structured Dialogue for Complex Issues
Many of the issues facing our community and society are complex, with many elements and aspects that interact with each other. A popular term for this type of issue is wicked. When we try to address these issues using strategies that work well for simple issues, the result is often poor. We also typically fail to include the range of viewpoints needed to capture the full picture and to develop appropriate solutions.
Some folks who recognized this situation decades ago created a process for addressing complex issues, one that is based on representation of the full range of perspectives, on dialogue, on democratic process, and on software tools to help a group better deal with the complex relationships and uncover the “deep drivers” of an issue. The process also allows a much more effective path to developing solutions together. Originally called CogniScope, the process has since been renamed Structured Democratic Dialogue and Structured Dialogic Design.
Regardless of the name, the process has been used many hundreds of times around the world, for many different kinds of challenges. The success rate is very high, in part due to the nature of the process and in part to an insistence on integrity in the process.
We in the Boisevolve group have some experience with this process, and we have access to the software that supports the group dialogue in dealing with complexity. The Boisevolve project idea is to facilitate this process locally with stakeholders dealing with complex issues. Such issues would include housing affordability and greenhouse gas reduction. We would ultimately aim to get the process adopted by local institutions and establish permanent local expertise in organizing and facilitating the process.
Volunteers will be needed to help with outreach, planning, logistics, and facilitation.
Boise’s 200th anniversary isn’t until 2063–more than 40 years into the future. But 40 years provides a good amount of “distance” for visioning and for idealizing. What do we want our city to be like at its bicentennial? This project would engage a broad swath of people in articulating their desired image for a Boise 40 years beyond today. Why is this of value? Because vision opens up possibilities, and idealizing releases our true aspirations–not just for tomorrow, but for today as well.
The project would be designed to include reflection on the inhibitors and pitfalls of visioning and idealizing, such as the resistance we’ve built up to doing it, confusion between the creation of a desired image of the future and predicting the future (the two are very different), and not including a wide range of people in the process. It would also seek to highlight the benefit and practical power of visioning and idealizing.
The Empty Chair
The Empty Chair involves promoting a simple act: setting aside an empty chair, in any meeting where people are making decisions affecting the community in general, to represent future generations and those who are affected by our actions and decisions but who are not present in the room. The project is thus intended to foster a shift toward long-term, systemic, and inclusive thinking. When originally conceived as a Boise Commons project, The Empty Chair involved providing placards designed for easy placement on the empty chair. The placard explains what the empty chair is meant to represent (and helps to ensure that no one sits in it). The practice of using the empty chair would be promoted among local government, quasi-public entities like neighborhood association boards, corporate board meetings, non-profits, and religious organizations.
The Social Planetarium of Boise/Treasure Valley
The “social planetarium” is not a new idea, yet it is a transformational one that has not yet really been implemented–certainly not in our community. Our version of the social planetarium concept is basically a space in which people of all ages can learn about their community, issues of common concern, and the trajectory of the community from its past through its present and on to alternative futures. In the social planetarium, people can also interact with each other and with public institutions, weighing in and practicing some of the skills of democracy. The social planetarium might resemble some of today’s interactive science museums, but instead of themes of science, the theme is us. The social planetarium would serve as a mirror and a canvas for the community.
Ideas, Arrangements, Effects: A Reading Circle and More
Ideas, Arrangements, Effects is a recent book published by a group in Massachusetts whose message is simple yet powerful: Ideas are embedded in social Arrangements, which in turn produce Effects. This can be seen everywhere from the way our streets are designed to the way a classroom is set up and run to larger aspects of society. It’s a great lens for understanding systems and considering how to address issues at their roots (the Ideas and the Arrangements, in the terms used in this book), which is one of the capacities that Boisevolve seeks to build.
This activity may include a reading circle around the book, with discussion of what it means for people in Boise working to make a positive difference, but can also spin off activities to help people in the community think about how to trace Effects (what we observe happening now) back through Arrangements (patterns, rules, policies, etc.) and to the Ideas (assumptions, beliefs, etc.) at their root, OR forward from alternative Ideas through possible Arrangements and then desired Effects.
Other Possible Activities
The range of activities that we could pursue is great, and Boisevolve will develop and carry out activities based on participant initiative, volunteer energy, and the timeliness of local needs and opportunities. A Boisevolve activity must meet the following criteria:
- It must be designed to either (a) change people’s relationship to culture or (b) push culture toward greater support for human development and a thrivable relationship with the environment, or both.
- It must be designed to build capacity in at least one of the priority focus areas.
- It must have a good chance of having a powerful and enduring effect on cultural capacity for conscious evolution in our local community.
- It must be something that we can actually do.
An additional desirable quality in a Boisevolve activity would be an ability to be adapted or adopted by other people in other communities.