Each day, we participate in group process. To each process, we bring our own unique set of values and needs. The interaction between our various values and needs is what shapes the process and its outcome.
As a bus approaches a bus stop, the group of people waiting for it move through a process during which each person governs their actions based on their unique set of values and needs. Some may choose to wait for a wheelchair-using passenger to board first, while others may elect to quickly board before the bus lowers its ramp for that passenger. Each of the passengers makes a number of value judgements and decisions that collectively impact how effective, comfortable, and successful the boarding process is for all those both directly and indirectly – the bus driver, passengers who boarded at previous stops, passengers waiting at future stops – involved.
Values-based design, implementation, and facilitation centers the reality that our individual and collective values shape how we interact and interpret the many group processes we wittingly and unwittingly use to make our worlds work each day.
Values are centered in a given process or structure by 1) making explicit the value held by a stakeholders prior to and as part of the process, and 2) as the facilitator and designer, using a set of values to guide the work that is transparent and connects the single process to a larger vision for collective liberation.
By rooting our respective efforts in a shared set of values, we are able to cooperate across time, space, and culture to build a better world.
Structures and processes and the actors within them form systems. Those systems then overlap and interact with one another to form compounding systems. As we make decisions as actors based on our values, we can anticipate and track their impact if we have a conception of the system in which we are making those decisions. Assessing our impact on systems gives us the information we need to better align our actions in real life with our stated values – as, sometimes, an action we take in the name of a value may not have the impact we intend.
In waiting in line for the bus, a young person may choose to wait for a senior passenger in a wheelchair to board first because he considers “respect for the elderly” a central value of his. He believes that letting the senior passenger board before him is the best expression of that value in real life. However, the bus driver has been instructed to board all passengers able to walk before lowering a ramp for a wheelchair user. As a result, the driver attempts to communicate this to the young passenger, but they can’t hear well because they are standing off to the side of the door. Ultimately, the message ends up getting relayed, but at the expense of several minutes that has caused the bus to now be running late on its route and may cause another elderly rider already on the bus to be late for their appointment. By acknowledging the feedback demonstrating the impact of his actions on the system, that young person may choose to express their respect for the elderly in a different way the next time they are in the line for the bus with a senior rider.
While systems thinking is a rather simple concept, it is an invaluable tool for orienting and troubleshooting ineffective, destructive, or poor performing structures or processes. A single intervening action into a system can have tremendous impact. If the bus stop had accessible signage indicating that it requires all walking passengers to board before lowering the ramp, it might cut down on transit delays due to the ineffective negotiation of passenger norms.
“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” [Bill Mollison, Permaculturist]