Meanwhile…over Lakewood way, I’m involved as advisor, facilitator, and writer in the Lakewood Observer project. As an east sider with one foot planted in Lakewood, I like to believe myself to be the observer of the Observer. The crew of characters has been uniquely open and have welcomed my involvement and the wild stuffs I bring with me, stuffs stuffed into the ol’ toolbox. Gracias — you know who you are.

The model of the project is open source to a large extent. This means that ideas, conversations, documentation, planning, is shared freely, and, overwhelmingly, the project’s internal works and generativity do not attach themselves to particular persons over time. This means the project, in effect, owns the creative capital. Crucially, the LO project is necessarily fueled by volunteers vitalized by the collaborative and cooperative ethic.

Much to my surprise, I early on found out that my particular worldview about adult experiential learning would be given an opportunity to scale up from its usual home, dialogical learning, up through small group work and up to larger group initiatives. The first initiative posed at this last step is what we term a “pod” and it is an ongoing exercise in experiential and phenomenological anthropology. This anthropological pod serves as a fitting example of the over-arching vision from the perspective of community development. That vision is: to create a culture of inquiry and discovery in Lakewood; to, next, and building upon this, facilitate enhancement of the community’s cognitive ‘chops,’ and, to then see what happens as a result. Notable here is a hypothesis: this result will be different than the result obtained by a community that has not come to realize its ‘smarts,’ and has not come to know itself as well. Unintended consequences and loosening of top down controls are proposed in the project’s vision, and implemented in the initiatives of its mission.

The experiential anthropology is simple enough: individuals and teams go out into the community and survey persons regardless of who they are, where they are encountered, and make an inquiry. The single question of the survey, its ‘strange attractor’ so-to-speak is: what landed you in Lakewood? Appreciative elaborations follow from this question. The key to this initiative is not data capture. Rather, its the provision of the two way experience of authentic concern and genuine inquiry. Although the model is anthropological, its conceptual framework is phenomenological pragmatics and adult transformative learning. Thus its aim is emancipation via participation in the enactments of knowing. (Phew!)

There is a simple rules set. One, nobody is prevented from participating should they want to. Two, nobody is forced to participate or pushed to do what they do not wish to do. Three, participation is not anonymous. Four, no ideas are rejected out-of-hand. Five, grown-up courtesy is required of participants.Six, the project obeys the law. Actually this is the first time the rules have been documented. But, after 8 months, these seem to be the current set.

Gradiations of management are resolved in a free flow of pod stewardship, and through cooperative consensus. They are only apparently permanent in a strategic sense. So, the core is, by definition, permeable and flexible.

Here’s the radical edge. The Lakewood Observer Project is completely inclusive and pluralistic. Although there is necessarily an editorial vetting process for contributions to the bi-monthly newspaper, there is a minimal qualifying framework for participation. For example, anybody over the age of 16 can be trained to be do folk anthropology. In a strong sense, the project has disintermediated disciplinary and expert and professional hierarchies. The street philosopher has access as does the academic philosopher, yet no pre-qualification sets them apart. Only the effectiveness of their ideas, cognitive chops, and contribution does so over time. Likewise with differentials of age, accomplishment, experience, etc. The organizing principles are flat, fluid, and freed up from the confinements imposed by, as David Bohm put it, “identified being,,” as opposed to Creative Being.

This provides a summary. What happens when the creative being of a community is unleashed?

Perhaps the most radical aspect of this is that it puts such being before the economic goals of development. Fundamentally, its structure in time is: build civic intelligence, and, then, root economic development in this intelligence. This is, in fact, a very simple premise with very unknowable ramifications. It’s singular posit is that people are not essentially and primarily economic beings. And, this, mind you, carried into enactment, is a transgression against both materialistic imperialism, and, spiritual materialism.

Ponder why this is so. And imagine what allows for a community to be liberated via its learning about itself everyday.

Checkout: The Lakewood Library’s Future Tools Program, a diverse initiative focused on perspectives and tools for civic development which are decidedly out of the mainstream and aimed at deposing the robust prejudices of “neo-liberal” social darwinism and the various extraction processes of the monied urban barons.

The Lakewood Observer

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