The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Friday 27 April 2012

The Edge of Knowledge

“Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty”. How very true. A Polish-Jewish British historian of science, Jacob Bronowski, is credited with that quotation.

Just what do we know? What’s more, what don’t we know? Is it important? I think it is (but I don’t know that for a fact!). The first reason that I think that it is important to know that we don’t know is because otherwise we can fall into the trap of believing our own beliefs. From there it is easy to take the next step of believing ourselves to be experts. Another step on and we believe we have a greater knowledge or better understanding than others. The road to oppression, authoritarianism and tyranny then opens up ahead of us.

A second reason is that knowing that we don’t know is a precursor to learning. To be open to learning and the opportunity of something new we have to be prepared to admit that that we don’t know. Too often though, our decisions (personal and political) are made as if we know it all. Decision-making becomes trapped within what we know rather than looking for the questions that arise. Einstein said it well when he noted that our problems cannot be solved with the thinking that created them.

But what happens as we learn? We find that there is yet more to learn. For every question that we find an answer to it seems that dozens more questions then arise. Why is that? A simple model may help to illustrate what is happening.

Diagram 1 is a simple model of what we know. What we know is the area inside the circle. What we don’t know can then be thought of as the circumference of the circle: the edge of the circle or the edge of knowledge.

If we expand our knowledge (Diag 2) by asking questions and getting answers to them, the body of knowledge (the area of the circle) gets larger. But what happens to the circumference of that circle? It too, expands, and we now see that there is a lot more beyond the circle (Diag 3) than we first thought.

If this model is a reasonable one, then is it ever possible for us to know everything?

Perhaps rather than asking that question we might ponder whether an insight posed by Socrates twenty-five centuries ago is more apt. When it was suggested that he was the wisest man living Socrates replied that “the only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing”.

When working for social justice and community development knowing that we know nothing may be exactly the knowledge that we need to bring with us.        

Tuesday 24 April 2012

4 Key Issues for Community Development Workers

Community development is often described as a process or as a tool to be used in advancing some social outcome.  Community development however, also articulates a vision for a better society.  Two of the elements of that vision are the twin concepts of equity and empowerment.

With these two elements in mind I have come up with the 4 key issues that community development workers in the Western world must face in the 21st Century.  I offer a brief description of why I consider these to be key and invite you to make comment on these or to suggest that some other issue should be promoted above these.

In each case these are over-arching issues, they are global in nature.  Facing them at a local level will undoubtedly involve a diversity of strategies, plans and projects.  Furthermore, these 4 issues are inter-related; facing one of them will inevitably mean having to look at the other 3.

Here they are.  Are they yours?      

1. Climate Change
Notwithstanding the claims of climate change sceptics it appears that the case for human-influenced climate change is well established.  It is not the intention of this post to verify this (there are many sites that do that).  There are two reasons that I put climate change at the top of my list of “4 key Issues”.  One is that the human race has not had to face this issue before; hence, we are in unchartered territory.  The other is that it affects all of humanity – whether contributing hugely to the issue or having contributed barely little.

Sadly, it will be those communities that are most dispossessed, most disadvantaged, most easily ignored who will bear the most cost.  Already, inhabitants of tiny Pacific Island communities are finding that their lifestyles and homelands are being disrupted and are being displaced.  Yet, in general these are the communities least culpable for creating climate change.

2. Wealth Inequality
We have known for some time that the poor suffer from greater ill-health, unemployment, lesser educational attainment and other social ills.  There has also been a recognition of a growing gap between rich and poor.  This gap has been lamented for being unfair, immoral or a case of greed on the part of the rich.

Evidence is now being adduced to show that this growing gap is closely correlated with worsening social indicators.  It is not so much the existence of an absolute level of poverty that brings about social ills but the growing relative difference between rich and poor.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (The Spirit Level) have shown that as the difference between the top 10% of income earners and the bottom 10% gets larger then so does the prevalence of social ills within society become more prevalent.  Wilkinson and Pickett further suggest that these social ills affect all of society, not just the poor.

3. Desire for Participation
What do the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the feminist movement of the 1970s, the fall of the Iron Curtain in the 1990s and the Arab Spring of recent years have in common?  In all cases, the answer is a greater desire for participation in the decision-making processes that affect people and their communities.  These were all movements of global significance.  You will no doubt be able to identify smaller, local campaigns seeking the same aim.  In the city I recently lived in thousands of citizens are demanding greater transparency and accountability from their elected local government representatives.

Concurrent with this trend is a lessening of trust in politicians and political processes.  It seems that the two phenomena are acting in opposing directions.  My suggestion is far from that.  The two phenomena in fact reinforce each other.  They point to a greater desire for direct participation.  Simply put: empowerment.

4. Sustainability
Since the 1970s we have been warned that we live in a finite world and that resource depletion is a serious issue.  Back then, people like Rachel Carson, E F Schumacher and the Club of Rome were often dismissed as “prophets of doom”, scaremongers or just plain cranks.  The small bands of early environmentalists were labelled as “hippie greenies” and the warnings were ignored.

Now it is hard to go through a day without seeing references to sustainability, adverts for fuel-efficient vehicles or bio-degradable products on supermarket shelves.  But, have we responded adequately?  Worse, are we still ignoring warnings?

To satisfy increasing demand we are tampering with areas of sensitive ecological values, polluting the very land and air that we live on and in.  All in order to increase supply.  However, there is another way to influence the system: decrease demand.

Moving from an “increased supply” mentality to a “decreased demand” mentality will place stress on communities used to living in an era of economic growth and a sufficiency of resources.  Helping communities to prepare and cope with that shift will bring forth the best of community development workers.

These then are my “Big 4”.  Do you agree?  In facing these 4 issues, community development workers can:
  • help prepare communities for mindset shifts
  • help organise communities towards greater co-operation
  • help communities gain new skills
  • help communities participate in decision-making and problem-solving
  • help communities recognise the importance of diversity and low-energy options
  • help communities advocate for greater equity
  • help shift our indicators of progress from economic ones (e.g. GNP, GDP etc.) to ones based on happiness and well-being (e.g. the Happy Planet Index and the Bhutan initiative)

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Arrow of Change

How does a community or society bring about social change? A complimentary question asks how does change filter through a community?  For community development workers and those working for social justice it is useful to have some model to understand the processes of change.  All models are just that – a model.  They can be accurate or inaccurate; they can be useful or useless.  They can be simple or complex.  They can all be tested.  Here is a model relating to the filtration of new ideas and behaviours that seems to be reasonably accurate, useful, simple and has stood the test of time.  I present it here for your use.  I call it the “Arrow of Change”, because of its shape, not for some warlike analogy. (With thanks to Fillippe Franchette - a Catholic Priest from Mauritius)
Diag1.  The Arrow of Change

This model suggests that the way in which change makes itself manifest within society is through a series of transitions from one group of people to the next group, rather than occurring en masse.  The transition from one group to another can, admittedly, be very quick, almost instantaneous, but I think you’ll agree that such transitions within society do take place with any social change.
This model suggests that there are three major groupings when it comes to social change.  The Agents are those that see that change needs to happen and try to raise the need for change publicly.  The Implementers are those that take up the new ways of acting and thinking.  Then there are the Adopters, those that utilise the change and normalise it.  This is the phase at which a Social Change Agent may declare that the desired change has occurred within society at large.
Each of these major groupings can be further broken down into sub-groups for ease of understanding.  It is important to note that these groupings are not mutually exclusive.  People can, and usually do, belong to two or more of these groupings at the same time.  The groupings should be thought of as describing behaviours or actions rather than describing the people or actors. 
The Agents
Visionaries:  This is the sub-group that asks questions such as “why is this the way it is?”, “how can we make this better?”, “what will improve this situation?”  It is the role of people in this sub-group to unlock our normal ways of thinking, to unfreeze our standard patterns of behaviour.  Visionaries have a dual role of critiquing present situations as well as enunciating a vision for the future.  These people can sometimes be reviled in their lifetime, yet hailed as innovators, visionaries or history-makers in future years.  Think of people like Martin Luther King Jr, Lech Walesa or Copernicus.  All thought of as cranks or rebel-rousers when they first came to public attention, but later recognised as the leaders of a new way of thinking and acting.
Supporters:  These are the people that listen to the Visionaries, take up the cause or issue that the Visionaries are espousing and set about demonstrating the new ideas within society.  These are the people that can often be seen on the streets with leaflets, demonstrating in front of Embassies or camped out on sacred lands etc. 
Proclaimers:  No social change would proceed beyond these first two sub-groups were it not for people who worked at gaining grass-root support for the new ideas – the Proclaimers.  Beyond the very visible role of the Supporters is that of discussing the new ideas and generating policies and practices related to the ideas.  These are the people who will discuss the new ideas with work colleagues, sports mates or friends and family.
The Implementers
Experimenters:  It has been said that ideas change the World.  That is necessary, but not sufficient.  The Experimenters are those that try out the new behaviours, test the ideas out and thus show what the new ideas and behaviours might look like.  In the 1960s and 70s many young people in Western cultures tested out new living arrangements then known as “mixed flatting”.  It was to be a testing time for how men and women might come to relate to one another.
Legitimisers:  The next transition from experimentation is that of legitimising the ideas and behaviours.  In order for this to happen the ideas and behaviours need to be utilised by influential groups, such as churches, professional bodies, political parties etc.  For example, although the environmental movement had been around for a number of years it was not until political parties began to be formed with the environment as a central concern in the 1970s that such issues became part of the political landscape.
Teachers:  Although I have used the term “teacher” here, it is used in both a formal and informal sense.  This group teach the new behaviours and ideas to others.  For example, formal courses in bi-culturalism or cross-cultural communication are now taught in schools and tertiary institutions.  Prior to this formal education, Non-Government Organisations and informal groups of citizens were holding study sessions and workshops within community settings.
The Adopters
Only when the new ideas and behaviours are adopted by large groups (if not the majority) within society can the social change be said to have become an accepted part of everyday life.  By this stage it is difficult to think of these ideas and behaviours as “new”.  However, I shall continue to use the term for clarity sake.
Early Adopters:  This is the group within society who will be amongst the first to adopt the new ideas or behaviours as part of their normal, regular or ordinary day-to-day life.  Although adopting something different to their normal modus operandi they do so without fuss and bother.  They do not actively try to teach others, or in other ways proclaim the ideas.  They are the first in society to “normalise” the ideas or behaviours.  This group however, are still a minority within society, and hence open to ridicule, uncertainty and loss of motivation.
Maintainers:  Social change, if it is to become part of the norm of society requires maintenance.  This next group are those that overcome the potential for Early Adopters to “give up”.  They have affirmed the new ideas and behaviours so much within their lifestyle that they are unable to return to the earlier ways of thinking or modes of behaviour.  Again, there is no fuss or bother shown by this group.  The new ideas or behaviours are now firmly embedded within the normal patterns of everyday community and social life.
Users:  Finally, the social change is so much a part of the everyday normal patterns of social life that people just use the ideas and behaviours without wondering where the ideas or behaviours came from or even questioning their veracity.  It has been said that there are three kinds of people:  Those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, those that wonder what happened.  The Users could be described as belonging to a fourth kind; those for whom although something has happened, for them it has always been thus.  
This model sounds simple, indeed it is.  However, life is never that simple and any individual person could be a member of more than one of those groupings at the same time or move through these phases within their own lives. 
What initiates change?  A human acting?  But then, what makes that person act?  We must first think (whether it’s a thought that asks “what if I do this?” or “there’s something wrong here – let’s fix it”) it’s our thoughts that begin the process.  Ah, but that’s a further discussion for a later time.

Friday 13 April 2012

Creating The Space: Part 2, Re-Thinking Bureaucracy

I ended Part 1 of this post by noting that political bureaucracies cannot control the outcomes and processes of community development.  I further lamented that most bureaucracies continue to operate from within a mechanistic, technocratic worldview.  So last Century!  Indeed, so 18th Century.  The word bureaucracy was coined in the early 18th Century by a French economist who coined the term by combining two French words, bureau (office) and cratie (rule of).  It didn’t take
J S Mill long to describe bureaucracy as a “vast network of administrative tyranny” in 1837.  How many of us have thought since then that bureaucracies are a necessary evil?

In a world in which new worldviews, new paradigms, new ways of thinking and organising are desperately needed, do these necessary evils have a place?  Especially, do bureaucracies have a role in community development?

I suggest that they do, as a transitional catalyst towards a more socially just, more equitable, more sustainable world.  Community development itself needs to take on some big issues and it needs the space in which to operate.

Big Issues

The big issues that community development has to work with in the 21st Century include: climate change, growing wealth inequality, war/terrorism, peak oil, increased claims of participation and rampant consumerism.  These are not discrete issues.  They are all intimately connected, inter-related, feeding back on one another.  In short, they are complex.

If we are to face these issues we will need flexibility, creativity, adaptability and dialogue (not debate).  We will need a new consciousness.  Community development is one of the vehicles that could stimulate such consciousness.  How do we stimulate something new?

Out of the Void

We require space.  Trouble is that as soon as we find some space we humans are inclined to try to fill it:  Silence – fill it with speech;  Open air – build a skyscraper;  Empty stomach – buy McDonalds.

If we search through most of the mythologies and stories of the beginnings of time and life we find an uncanny similarity.  The world came out of nothing, out of the Void, out of “the Nothingness”.  Intuitively we have known that space is the birthplace of “things”.  Today, science is catching up on this intuitive knowledge.  Furthermore, science tells us that 99.99……..% of the world is actually space. 

Can we envisage that?  Think of an average family home in a Western suburb.  If that was the world, matter would be a microscopic speck of dust on the mantelshelf.  The rest would be space.

Space – yes.  Empty – no.  Space is full of energy, vibrations and thought.  (Who’d have thought that?)  It is where our creativity, our intuition, our “flashlight” ideas come from.
Graphic: Ben Gilberti
Yet, as I said, we seem to be uncomfortable with space and want to enclose it and fill it up.  What’s more is that once an idea does emerge we, especially our bureaucracies, want to control the idea, capture it, tame it and make it conform to notions of order and uniformity.

Re-Thinking Bureaucracy

It doesn’t need to be that way.  With some re-thinking of their purpose, bureaucracies could help to create the space in which community development takes place.  Bureaucracies could act like a gardener.  They could till the soil, provide some nutrients, ensure that the soil is irrigated, make sure that the soil is not deprived of sunlight, and then have faith that the seeds in the soil will sprout and flourish in their own diverse, harmonious and magnificent ways.

Unfortunately most bureaucracies are acting more like open-cast miners.  They push aside the natural growth, dig in one direction, displace people, plants and animals in the process and end up with a sterile pit.

OK, enough of the metaphors.  What role can bureaucracies really play?  Firstly, bureaucracies have to give up on the idea that they are in control, that they know best, that the resources belong to them.  That’s not easy.  Systems thinking says that systems have three distinguishing features: elements, connections and purpose.  Elements in a system are easy to change.  In a bureaucratic system we could change the Managers, the Administrators, the Clerical workers etc. and still have the same bureaucratic system.  Changing the purpose is not so easy – yet that is what needs to happen if bureaucracies are going to create the space in which community development can occur in order that the big issues can be worked on.

OK, OK!  That’s what bureaucracies need to give up.  What can they do to create the space?  Well, I’ve given it some thought and here is a quick brainstorm of some ideas: (a later blog will expand on these suggestions)
  • allow outcomes to emerge
  • provide opportunities to network and share ideas
  • provide organisational (not project) funding for community groups
  • acknowledge volunteers
  • pass on information
  • start thinking big picture, rather than getting trapped in detail
  • maintain connections and relationships
  • be open to two-way learning
  • connect, connect, connect
  • remove red-tape (don’t drown in paper-work)
  • be open, honest and transparent
  • recognise success but don’t steal it
  • view failure as a stepping stone to success
  • encourage innovation and a “try-it-and-see” attitude
  • go with the flow
Pie-in-the-sky?  Bureaucracies won’t change?  Most of the big issues suggest that we haven’t got time to sit back and bemoan that it won’t work.  It has to work, and it has to start with our thinking.  We have to re-think the purpose of bureaucracies, which just may mean that we will have to re-name them, because they won’t be bureau-cracies anymore.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Creating The Space (Part 1: Why Bureaucracies Cannot Control Community Development)

For many years I was employed to do community development work by bureaucracies in one form or another.  My jobs were to facilitate community development from within those bureaucracies.  Much as I tried, I found that a difficult task to accomplish.
The problem, you see, is that often bureaucracies (indeed, large organisations per se) want to control the outcome of community development.  Inevitably that also means that they want to control the process as well.  There’s the rub!  They can’t, I can’t, we can’t, none of us can.

Not only can bureaucracies not control outcomes or processes of community development, nor should they even be wanting to do so.  I’ll come back to that in Part 2.

Why can’t we control the process or outcomes?  It’s simple really: it’s complex!  Now if that sounds like an oxymoron, perhaps it is, but let me explain.

How We Thought of the World
Since the days of Descartes, Galileo, Newton and other pioneers of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Western society had come to think in terms of linearity, cause followed by effect, parts and fragmentation.  Although this began within scientific arenas the ideas and thinking quickly established themselves within other spheres as well: political, economic, managerial and even social.  A mechanistic, technological model of society emerged and found it’s zenith in the 20th Century.

Even social justice and social change agents were not immune to this way of thinking – this paradigm.  For the first half of the 20th Century one of the catch-cries of social activists was “the ends justifies the means”.  A classic example of linear thinking.  Even later, when this was challenged, particularly by the new feminist movement, it was merely suggested that “the means have to be in harmony with the ends”.  Still maintaining the idea that cause gave rise to effect.

Not until the latter part of the 20th Century did ideas about systems theory, feedback, non-linearity and complexity start to get noticed by some within the movements for social change.

To come back to my question then:  why can’t we control processes and outcomes?  Complexity theory provides an answer.

Complex Butterflies                                                                 

Complexity theory arose during the early 1960s when Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist, tried to speed up the computation of a weather modelling programme he was running on a computer.  The computer stored data to 6 decimal places, but printed out the numbers to only 3 decimal places.  Lorenz decided to re-run a model part way through and typed in the initial data to those 3 decimal places.  Coming back later Lorenz was astounded to find that the model, although initially closely resembling the earlier outcome, now had widely diverged from it and was fluctuating wildly.  How could this be, pondered Lorenz?  Small differences in initial conditions should cause only small differences in outcome, according to the prevailing paradigm of the time.

To try to explain this an analogy known as the “butterfly effect” is often used.  This analogy suggests that a butterfly fluttering it’s wings in the Amazon jungle could trigger a thunderstorm over Tokyo.

Within the mechanistic paradigm was the principle that acquiring knowledge meant that we could understand order and hence we could also control and predict outcomes based on our understanding of the underlying order.  However, complexity undermined that way of thinking in a profound way.  No longer could we think of things being orderly; some, indeed many, were chaotic.  Although this chaotic world could be partially modelled and predicted there was no certainty.  Although most chaotic systems have boundaries, within those boundaries it was no longer possible to predict accurate outcomes.  Of course, it has to be said that many other traditions and cultures were aware of this "way of the world" centuries earlier.  Unfortunately, it has been the Western viewpoint that has tended to dominate over the past couple of Centuries.
Relationships are Complex

Ah, but that’s all just theory, only applicable to weather patterns, fluid dynamics, genetics and quantum physics.  Human society isn’t like that.  Isn’t it?  Here’s a quick example.

Think of two people.  Perhaps a newly married couple.  How many relationships are there between those two people?  1 – right.  That was easy.  Two children later and there are four people in the family.  How many relationships are there now?  Fairly easy to work out.  6 relationships between any two of them, 4 possible relationships between any three of them and another relationship that involves all four of them together – 11 potential relationships altogether.  That number of relationships could be controlled, with good parenting and perhaps a bit of luck.

But the nuclear family we know is not that contained.  What if the grandparents come for a visit, say at Christmas time.  Now there are eight people in the house.  How many relationships are there now?  You could try drawing the possibilities, or if you’re mathematically inclined you could work with permutations.  Whatever you do, you’ll find that there are 301 possible relationships.  OK, that’s getting a bit harder to control – perhaps that’s why there are sometimes fractions at Christmas time!

What if we double the number of people involved from eight to sixteen.  Many community groups can think of examples were there are this many people in a group:  the older persons outing, the weekly Mums and Tots group, the yoga class, there are many examples.  Anyway, with those sixteen people, how many potential relationships are there?  Would you believe that it’s close to 80,000!!!!  Staggering isn’t it?  No wonder society and communities are complex.


That’s why bureaucracies cannot control the outcome or the process of community development – they’re dealing with relationships, psychologies, mindsets, aspirations, fears and behaviours of people.  The sadness is that many bureaucracies are still trying to operate within a mechanistic, deterministic model of the World.

But, there is a place for bureaucracies.  It does require a re-thinking of their role though.  That’s for Part 2.

Graphic: Thanks to

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Rhythm and Harmony

Last weekend I chanced upon a very encouraging sight and sound.  Strolling through Parramatta we came across a group of mainly young and a few older people about to start playing music.  Calling themselves Rhythms of Peace this was to be only their second public performance.
The group of a dozen or so were a mixture of South Asian and Middle East students and a few elders from the surrounding schools and area.  Two of them were only 8 years old.  Then the music started – magnificent.  Highly percussive with overtones of beautiful harmonies – instrumental and vocal.

The two youngest (a boy and a girl) contributed their dance movements (she, from her cultural heritage and he adding hip-hop moves to the music).  As we sat in the sunshine and listened and watched I thought of how this grouping was encouraging for the future.  The backgrounds of the group and the musical influences came from cultures quite geographically removed, now transported to Australia.  Yes, diversity yet bringing about harmony.  I thought of the title of my blog site.  Here before my eyes and ears was the rainbow personified.

The group itself is a project of SEVA International who have a vision of social cohesion with diversity.  The project has been funded by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Later I learnt that a goal of SEVA was to “build understanding, acceptance and harmony through sharing of culture, experience and history”.  If the rhythms and harmonies I heard and saw in that sunny mall in Parramatta were anything to go by then SEVA are well on their way to building that. 

Well done to SEVA and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  A special high five to the young people who brought their diverse musical styles together in a beautiful way.