Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Shape of the Trap: DMC among other things

Top: from US Patent No. 6,655,077 titled “Trap for a mouse” Bottom: DMC Development Review Process

A trap is a trap only for creatures which cannot solve the problem that it sets. Man-traps are dangerous only in relation to the limitations on what men can see and value and do. The nature of the trap is a function of the nature of the trapped......With the shape of the trap in our minds, we shall be better able to see the relevance of our limitations and to question those assumptions about ourselves which are most inept to the activity and the experience of being human now. - Geoffrey Vickers, Freedom in a Rocking Boat

Again with the click bait and switch

So, ok. DMC is not a trap. At least not in the sense we usually understand traps. Vickers’ observation about the function of a trap is a reference to the central challenge posed by complex human systems. We are ensnared by our own limitations and assumptions. Importantly the “systemic” traps to which Vickers wants to alert us are not “things” that simply arise ex nihilo - out of nothing.

These traps are built by people. There is benefit to be derived by first recognizing them as such. One of DMC’s early attempts at sloganeering excitement was, “Let’s build this thing!” The slogan said more perhaps than it intended. It wasn’t “let’s build something” or “let’s build anything.” It was let's build “This Thing” - a Destination Medical Center.

What makes building This Thing even more complicated than just being the BIG idea and GRAND plan it is,  is that we must build "This Thing" right where we have already built something else - the city of Rochester, Minnesota. DMC will rise among other things. Among those many other things are the rules - codified or not - by which things get done or do not get done.

And that brings us back to complex human systems. These systems are of our own creation. Born out of our own best efforts to make something of and for ourselves. These systems do not occur naturally. They are constructed socially in our daily activities, our bureaucracies, our civic institutions, customs, mores, routines and shared beliefs; capabilities and competences; lifestyles and practices; institutional arrangements and regulations; associations, affinities, networks, affections, and legally binding contracts.

These systems inform how things get done in government, markets, and civil society. These systems determine what gets done. These systems define what is even possible to think about even being done. These systems decide what gets counted and thus what counts.

We create these systems and then work within the systems we have created. We create the rules, then live by the rules we create including rules for creating and changing the rules; and, rules for who gets to make the rules; and, the rules they use to make the rules that must in turn obey the rules that have been made to make them.

And it keeps going on. Often it passes without notice. Sometimes it gets noticed in a big way. But, noticed or not “the trap” is always there.

Regime changed: being DMC in the process of becoming DMC

Whatever it is DMC is in the process of becoming, it is becoming This Thing within the systems - most immediately, the city - that already exists. In doing so, it brings to bear rules of its own. Rules supported here - Rochester. Created there - St. Paul. Returning now to Rochester in ways that are finally being noticed. Noticed because rules get most noticed most when the rules are broken.

Recently, rules were broken. Rules that were overlooked. Rules that were there, but not yet written. Rules that existed strategically, but not yet tactically. Rules that change the rules. Rules that change the rules for making rules. Rules that change the ruling system of rules - which is another way of saying, the regime.

Sorting through the dualities of structure can make the brain hurt. So, we don't do it very often and never very completely. Also, it is probably not all that often we need to do so. We find that things generally work out, even if they don't last. Even when nothing is working out, it somehow keeps going on. So the days pass. Best not to think about it too much.

But: Vickers cautions us: "...[W]e the trapped tend to take our own state of mind for granted --- which is partly why we are trapped."

The moral:

The sound you heard back when the Holiday Inn deal collapsed was not - as some might imagine - a thunderous crack of doom. It was the sharp snap of a trap.

The second mouse will get that cheese.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Food Truck Wars II: What's it look like to you?

Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes? - Groucho Marx

Two scenarios:

(1) You are a business owner. The city council will be considering revisions to an ordinance that directly impacts your business. In fact, it will define how, where, and when it will operate. The ordinance will also assess fees upon your business.

Prior to the consideration of these revisions to the ordinance, the city council solicits the formal input of other groups in the city. Groups that will include businesses that compete with yours. Despite requests that your business interests be included, representatives of your business interests are not invited to participate in this part of the process.

Your competitors are asked how much you should be required to pay for a license to conduct your business. Their replies - along with their other responses - are consulted as the city council drafts the ordinance. You are informed that if you have something to say about this ordinance you must attend a public hearing to do so along with everyone else - including, of course, your competitors whose input was solicited in the drafting of the ordinance.

(2) You are a business owner. The city council is considering assessing your business fees to fund a position that services your business. The position has already been approved. Using fees to fund the position has already been approved. The only question that remains is what fees will be assessed and how much they will be.

As the city council discusses these fees, a member of the city council turns to you and asks you how you feel about those fees. Are these fees “OK” with you? You answer. You invite a colleague sitting with you to answer. That colleague asks a third colleague if he has anything to add. The city council hears all these views. They return to their deliberations weighing this direct and immediate input from you as they consider the fees you will be assessed.

Who you see is what you get

These scenarios are not hypothetical. They reflect what transpired prior to and during the March 20, 2016 Committee of the Whole meeting of the Rochester City Council. Under consideration were revisions to Chapter 143A of the Rochester City Ordinances: Food Vending on a Public Street.

Prior to the meeting the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, Rochester Downtown Alliance, and Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce were asked to submit comments to the city council. The city council delayed its deliberations until it could hear from these groups. Apparently, the Chamber did not submit a response (at least not publicly). The RCVB and RDA did.

The RCVB 2015 annual report lists as its vice chair the current city council president. Another council member employed by the RCVB is an ex officio member of its board. The RDA lists among its board members the mayor, the RCVB president, and that same council member employed by and serving as an ex officio member of the RCVB board.

When a member of the city council raised the issue that the food truck owners were not afforded the same opportunity to comment prior to the meeting as the RCVB and RDA, the city council president replied that's why the city council holds public hearings. The city council president did not offer an opinion on why it was the RCVB and RDA could not have also offered their comments at a public hearing.

For future reference

Later in that same COW meeting, the city council reviewed a text amendment to Section 60.605 of the Land Development Manual regard Neighborhood Informational Meetings. The changes appear to be a big step in the right direction. Among other things, the amendment intends to involve stakeholders - especially those directly impacted by city council actions - early in the process.

Early involvement of this sort is something to be widely encouraged as a standard practice of a transparent local government that actively engages with and empowers the community it purports to serve. We should applaud it when it happens. We should lament it when it does not. That such engagement might happen more often and more evenhandedly is something to which many in the city aspire.

Until such time as these open, fair, and inclusive engagement practices are adopted by the city, the food truck owners might want to form their own association. They might also consider offering a seat on their board to the city council president and other city council members. Couldn't hurt.