In one section of Lean Logic, the late David Fleming focussed on “call and response”, the principle by which localities can call on their local authorities for assistance to develop projects, without themselves losing the initiative.
He cites the example of Portland, Oregon:
“Portland is now widely recognised for its neighbourhood associations and the extent of their initiative-taking in decisions affecting the city: local government responds to citizens’ requests for action, providing an incentive for participation to deepen over several decades.
An example of initiative-taking in Oregon
Some years ago the writer met Portland’s Dilafruz Williams, one of a group of local people who set up a state school for teenagers – an Environmental Middle School – in Portland. The state education department’s benchmarks for eighth graders were taken into consideration, to ensure that the EMS graduates would be ready for high school.
In fact, despite spending two days a week outside the classroom, their test results have been above average. Pressure to admit the hundred on their waiting list has been resisted, because it is considered vital that each child should have the sense of security that comes from knowing all the other students and teachers in the school.
The site requirements were that the school should be in a central location on a local public bus route, so that students from all neighbourhoods could participate and there should be land around the buildings.
They come from diverse urban backgrounds and this diversity, lack of supervision, absence of a caring adult at home, lure of gangs and peer pressure can lead to inappropriate behaviour. By addressing each student as a unique person, the EMS community finds ways to deal with the problems consistently exhibited by a handful of students.
“Call and response” would not come easily: the discussions would often be acrimonious, and maintaining the dialogue is recognised as the specific responsibility of the citizens, who have to “educate” new officials (with the help, if need be, of introducing them to committed residents in the shape of a room-full of “100 people screaming mad”).
“But the process has flow, pull and feedback; it has the focused intention of local people with the confidence to know what they want and believe that there is a chance they may be able to accomplish it.
“So it is not that the government has no role here; rather, it rediscovers its role as public servant, working for people that have recovered their confidence.
“An initiative within this framework has been launched in the United Kingdom with the Sustainable Communities Act (2007). This has been organised at a higher level than the Portland scheme: it is about local authorities calling on assistance from central government rather than local communities calling on local authorities, but the principle is there, and it may well extend downwards.
“A less formal approach which is likely to have a better chance of recovering local presence is the Transition Movement”.