Saturday, August 8, 2009

Radical Common Sense

Seeing things a new way

This week I chatted with my very dedicated Houston SafeGrowth folk working on their projects. They were looking for crime stats and maps. Nowadays such things are online in most cities. In Houston the police stats and local media crime trackers are both freely available.

Information gathering is frequently overlooked while developing solutions to crime. I cringe when I see unsupported assumptions guiding actions. So with their risk assessment underway, the Houston SafeGrowthers are doing an excellent job of getting their stories just right.

Interestingly, over the years I've learned that, by itself, information gathering is insufficient, a possible flaw in the fashionable evidence-based prevention and policing programs.

Part of the problem is what Toffler calls obsoledge – obsolete knowledge. Knowledge is always changing, especially knowledge about safety and our ideas on how to improve it. As we gain a fact, it is already obsolete and incomplete. As any crime analyst will tell you, nowhere is this truer than in crime stats. Over the years I have seen many evidence-based strategies create an echo chamber of misinformation.

Crime data isn't enough

While evidence is important, the problem is our belief in common sense and how we use that evidence to lead others to solutions. Leadership being the operative word.

We use the term “common sense” believing it a practical way to think about getting things done. But beneath common sense are a bunch of assumptions leading to contrived solutions that don’t get things done. Solutions like solving crime with incarceration, more cops, or cameras. I wrote about Zimring’s book Crime Decline and Waller’s book Less Law, More Order to tackle some of that misinformation.

Perhaps a better way to proceed is to use Radical Common Sense.

Futurist Marilyn Ferguson says Radical Common Sense is accepting we cannot solve our deepest problems through traditional ways or wishful thinking. We must learn the lessons of modern biology; a natural world that works more through altruism and cooperation (live and let live) than by competition (every man for himself). It means we accept the criminal justice system for the adversarial, blunt tool that it is and instead see our future in cooperating, sharing best practices, and accepting that our fate is tied to that of others.

Radical Common Sense is leadership based on our ability to teach others, ourselves and our ability to change accordingly. Who does Radical Common Sense in our line of work?

My recent favorites include Jim Rough and his wisdom councils and Mark Lakeman and his city repair movement. Each have questioned basic assumptions and learned to change their view. They identify the consequences of their solutions from many different sides, but they do their reasoning in collaboration with those in the community, not only from a lab, ivy hall, or computer screen.

Radical Common Sense ideas can be simple and beautiful

Here's the thing; What characterizes these Radical Common Sensers is how they minimize their time in regret or complaint. As Ferguson says, every event is a lesson to them and every person a teacher. That, of course, is the classic definition of a grassroots, community leader. It's also how we create successful SafeGrowth practice and safer neighborhoods.

The not-so-hidden agenda is the conviction that leadership must become a grassroots phenomenon if our societies are to thrive. If that strikes you as unlikely, consider first of all that nothing else is likely to work. And secondly, be aware that people already secretly suspect that they are capable of taking charge. [Ferguson, 2005, Aquarius Now: Radical Common Sense].

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