Holistic Approach to Strategy, Policy Development, and Planning — Part 3
Understanding Planning from the Top Down
Place or Essence Sourced Planning: Now we switch starting points and move to the top. This nature of planning begins with defining the whole for which we will be planning. A nature defined whole. If human defined, it is creating a bounded enduring whole such as a family or corporation. A nation or part of a nation is less effective because people identify with places where they live more readily and less with jurisdictional boundaries. Human spirit identifies with valleys and deltas and ranges of mountains or biologically bounded places that give them a sense of life and spirit.
When jurisdictions are used it is often in chauvinistic or ideological ways which open us to a different set of energies and experiences that do not lead to wholeness. In fact the best way to overcome jurisdictional disputes through history is to find something that is valued by all parties with all feeling a need to steward it. In St. Mary’s Maryland Watershed in the USA, decades of legal and policy battles were extinguished when they are understood that for many of them to have healthy place to live, they all had to care for it. It came from identifying with the place and not the water over which they had been battling.
Systemic Planning: When governments and companies have organized and collectively galvanized a connection to a whole, the entities which are a part of it come to life and humans can see the systems in the whole as alive. It is then possible to see how to intervene in a way that activates nodes in the systems with multiplier effects that benefit all systems involved in a way they are more able to do their work. An example in British Columbia is in the Okanagan Valley where the community seized an opportunity to build carbon sink forests that create jobs, renew air quality, and promote healthy systems based in the uniqueness of the valley — “Deep slow reinvesting” is how they do things. When we see a place as only it is, then we see systemic interventions that can work there for all functions.
Let’s begin with a caveat. This feels wrong at first, to many. This is because it is not familiar and our brain prefers the familiar so it can conserve energy. Just remember this “conservation tendency” is a threat to learning and discovery and particularly creativity and innovation. We have to manage our reactions to the new to open doors in the mind. There will be plenty of time and ways to test and validate if it is worth letting go of old models and frameworks. But being willing to suspend certainty until you have experienced the different approach is a capacity needed for innovation.
First, one begins with a nature defined whole in mind and work from the whole, all the time. This may seem obvious, but it rarely happens. Lets remind ourselves how we know a whole. A whole is born (e.g. a person or animal), formed by nature in her work (e.g. a canyon), or created by humans with an intention of being an enduring whole — e.g. a family. This understanding of a whole is contrasted with planning processes that work with functional aspects such as jobs or forestry, or trying to mesh parts that are incomplete parts of a whole using task forces on these parts such as agriculture or energy. Additional examples of planning with parts include working with a river, storm water, or a city. These are not wholes. Other examples of a whole are a watershed as demarcated by nature, a constituent, or a valley. Okanagan or Cascadia are wholes, not the Province of British Columbia or the State of Washington.
Starting with a whole in mind enables working with the potential of the whole, as it is revealed by its essence, and the systems that are to be developed in pursuit and achievement of that potential. Understanding the wholes and their systems comes before examining current existence or problems. We most often start with seeking to understand current existence by examining and assessing issues, trends, challenges, and problems. The potential, coming before, then serves as a context for these restraining forces and a creative way to find nodal interventions in systemic ways. It also makes it possible to avoid fragmentation, reductionism, and non-strategic endeavors.
This sequence is the first place that the concept may seem wrong to many of readers. How do you go into the future without understanding the present? Just to clarify, we are not talking about time-based phenomena but rather eternal phenomena. Essence is always there and not about a future creation or end state. It has been there since it was formed as a landscape or born as a being or even an idea was conceptualized. So we are working from unrealized phenomena, not a future based phenomena. Additionally, “understanding” present conditions, without a principled based contextual framework, arises out of rifts with conflicted ideologies, perspectives and filters — not to mention quantity of data to be interpreted, interwoven, validated and aligned. We need a holistic context and systemic frame if we are to see it anew and unify the divided minds toward a whole.
Places, persons and entities are wholes. They have potential because they have unique essence in their forming and their unique way of working. Having begun with a whole and its potential, it is much easier to see what matters when we come back to trying to understanding current existence. We can now know what to study further, what to find pathways for transforming. Looking at current existence afterwards avoids the shotgun approach to data gathering (which is always on “parts” as well), the interpretation of possibilities from the world of what is already fixed in place and difficult to move can be bypassed when one begins with the essence and potential of what is being pursued. And most importantly it avoids losing sight of what is unique and distinctive in a whole that is uncovered in the process of identifying the potential of the whole and keeping it in mind. Without this, all trends, competitive threats, and problems present themselves as needing strategies. Working with all this current existence first leads to the mostly ineffectively process of setting priorities, seeking trade-offs, and being very inefficient in pursuing ventures and initiatives that divert energy from the pursuit of the best place to generate wealth — potential.