27 May, 2013

Before Neighborhood Watch Can Protect You It Must Unify You

Since becoming the neighborhood watch coordinator for my ward I've learned that before a neighborhood watch can protect a neighborhood it has to first re-create that sense of neighborhood and community that we lost somewhere along the way. 

Nobody has told me how we lost it but we all agree that St. Albans has changed a lot since, say, the 50s.

According to St. Albans residents who lived here in the 50s, there was a time when everybody knew everybody, people didn't need to lock their doors and Andy Griffith was the sheriff. OK, I made that last part up. But in the reconstructed memories people have of a fictional, perfect, idyllic St. Albans, Andy Griffith could have been sheriff and St. Albans could have been Mayberry. Though I know his parents, Phil and Nancy Driggs, I don't know Jeff Driggs but I suspect he had this in mind when he called his restaurant "Mayberry's". This shrewd branding wouldn't work everywhere but it's custom made for a town that likes to think it was once a Mayberry.

I was born in the 50s and I moved to St. Albans the first time in 1962 so I can't comment on what St. Albans was like in the 50s except to say humans were never perfect so I know 50s St. Albans was not perfect.

But I don't doubt it had more sense of neighborhood and community in the 50s than it does now.

And that's why the first job of any neighborhood watch coordinator and any neighborhood watch block captain is to introduce themselves to their neighbors, introduce neighbors to neighbors and re-create a sense that we're in this thing together.
While Higginbotham At Large reads all comments I only PUBLISH the comments of clearly identified commenters. There's no Ring of Gyges for me so there's no Ring of Gyges for you.

24 May, 2013

What It Means When Your Organization "Can't Get People To Volunteer"

If your organization is short-handed and your stable of hardworking volunteers are tired and weary, don't say it's because people are lazy and won't work. Here are some of the major reasons organizations dependent upon volunteers don't have enough:

1. People who did volunteer, were rejected. Don't treat your volunteer positions like little plums that you only give out to your friends or you'll always be shorthanded and tired. The question is not "Why don't people want to work?" the question is "How tired and shorthanded do you have to become before you'll realize your buddies aren't volunteering and it's time you signed up some people from outside your social circle?"

2. Perhaps people don't volunteer because they don't agree with your organization's mission or don't see how your organization's activities and projects further that mission. In other words, you're being boycotted by people who would otherwise volunteer. Perhaps it's time to re-think the way you spend volunteer time and labor. Maybe you're tired and shorthanded because potential volunteers know you'll just squander the help if you get it.

3. Sometimes people who would otherwise volunteer are waiting for leadership to change. Maybe it's time to open under new management.
Higginbotham At Large reads all comments but only publishes the comments of clearly identified commenters. It's not enough that I recognize your stupid alias; readers have to be able to identify you, too. Use an email that contains your name.

23 May, 2013

The System's Not Broken: It's Serving The Interests Of Somebody Who Wants It That Way

The following post first appeared in this blog July 2010 and is being republished because people keep forgetting that when an organization seems to be "broken" it's because somebody wants it that way.

21 July, 2010

The System's Not Broken: It's Serving The Interests Of Somebody Who Wants It That Way

Products are the result of systems that are perfectly designed to produce them. A system that produces tires will never produce soft, swirled ice cream unless that system is redesigned and reconfigured to produce swirled ice cream.

What’s true for manufactured goods like ice cream and tires is also true of our civic, social, governmental, advocacy and business organizations so if your organization isn’t producing the results it claims it wants to produce, the system must be redesigned. Read John Seddon’s Systems Thinking In The Public Sector or the books of Eliyahu Goldratt or Seeing Systems by Barry Oshry.

Don’t be afraid to notice that your organization doesn’t seem to be doing any of the things it would be logical for it to do if it were really serious about achieving its stated goals and objectives. Don’t be afraid to notice that your organization has a lot of meetings, puts on a lot of events and puts a lot of happy talk on its website but isn’t any closer to achieving its stated goals than it was 5, 20 or 20 years ago when the organization was formed.

Many organizations (read “systems”) really exist to serve interests other than the ones stated in its charter or website.

The Area Minister for a group of churches once sent me to meet with a dying church to see if I could show them how to increase attendance. The church’s stated goal was to reach its neighborhood with the gospel of Christ yet none of the church’s well-heeled middle-class and wealthy members lived in the neighborhood and the church was doing nothing whatsoever to reach its poor neighbors that lived within walking distance of the church. On Sunday mornings, the church’s tiny parking lot was overflowing with SUVs and luxury cars. The church was landlocked and there was nowhere to add parking so the only logical thing to do – especially since their stated goal was to “reach their neighborhood with the gospel of Christ” was to implement programs designed to evangelize the 500 or so poor people who lived within a 3-minute walk of the church. Long story short, the church chose to close rather than achieve their stated goal of reaching their poor neighbors with the gospel of Christ. The well-heeled members of this church joined churches where they could be with other well-heeled people. You see, they didn’t want to reach their poor neighbors with the gospel of Christ at all. Their real goal was to use church affiliation as a means of being with people they liked and could, perhaps, do business with.

Don’t be afraid to notice that your organization isn’t doing the things it would do if it were serious about achieving its stated goals. Don’t be afraid to speak up and say what you’ve noticed.

Don’t be afraid to notice that your organization – your system – is not producing the product its website says it’s trying to produce and that it will never produce that product until the system is redesigned. Don’t say “the system is broken”. No, the system is producing exactly what the system is designed to produce.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself and your org’s leaders one simple question: “Why?” When your org plans an event that doesn’t seem to advance the org’s stated goal, ask why. When the org doesn’t do the things it would seem logical for it to do if it really wanted to reach its stated goal, ask why.

Many orgs exist not to actually achieve their stated goals but to provide a showcase for the org’s leaders or to provide what I call a “hunting and fishing license” to go out and advance their political or business interests under the guise of “effecting public policy” or “creating a better business climate” or even “reaching the neighborhood with the gospel of Christ”.

The system’s not broken. It’s functioning as designed. The system is serving the interests of its designer. If you don’t like the product you have to redesign the system that produces the product. 

22 May, 2013

People With No Stake In The Future Should Not Be Planning The Futures Of People With A Stake

The following post first appeared 2 July 2010 and I hope you will keep it in mind as you vote for 34-year-old Shelly Ellis and 28-year-old Jason Philabaun for St. Albans city council this June 1.

People With No Stake In The Future Should Not Be Planning The Futures Of People With A Stake

Because I am a systems thinker, I know that outcomes of any kind are the products of systems that are perfectly designed to produce those products and that those systems, unless altered, will always and only produce the same results. That's why I can say with authority that if you’ve recently been elected or appointed to a position of titular leadership in an organization that hasn’t done anything in decades, it’s not an honor it’s an insult and an indictment. You were elected because the do-nothing organization knew they could count on you to prevent, not promote, positive change. Why? Because the last thing do-nothing organizations want is positive change so they perpetuate and guarantee their culture of backwards thinking by passing the cold, charred, flameless torch of leadership to those who won’t show them up, those who can be counted on to get nothing done. Your election or appointment was exactly the outcome the system is designed to produce. You are the same kind of dud the system has been producing for decades and will continue to produce unless the system is changed. The fact that nobody changes it is proof that the keepers and protectors of the system want the system to produce duds like you.
In towns whose tax base and population are declining, new leadership is suffocated in the crib through exclusion from programs, organizational leadership and committee membership. The last thing an existing leader wants is to share power, glory, credit, recognition or influence with someone else so potential leaders are at first ignored and, later, if they seem to be getting some traction, attacked by the current titular leadership. (See my 26 July 2009 review of Tribes by Seth Godin).
Most of the time where you see a whole town that has been declining for decades, all the existing orgs in that town from City Hall to the Rotary Club to The Chamber of Commerce and even the Regional development Authority are co-conspirators in the town’s demise. The rank and file members of those orgs can’t be depended on to elect real leaders because they haven’t see any real leadership in their lifetime so they don’t know what leadership looks like. Sometimes this inability to discern preventers of leadership from real leaders is so pervasive that an entire town loses its ability to even elect a capable mayor or city council.
When a town or a region has raised an entire generation of people who don’t know that their so-called leaders are fools or impostors, new organizations sometimes spring up promising to bring change. But these organizations can’t transform their communities without changing the culture of low expectations and aspirations that the current leadership has fostered.
If you’re serious about changing your community, you first have to identify the people who feel disenfranchised and ignored by the titular leadership – the mayor, the city council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary, the Regional development Authority. These disenfranchised people are the largest single interest group in any town. Inform them, get them thinking about the future of your community and, together, you can transform the community.
Don't waste your time trying to win over the existing leaders. The existing leaders see capable young leadership as a threat to the status quo and to their natural human tendency to enshrine the past and defend past decisions.
if your town's civic orgs don't get anything done and won't give you a "seat at the table" find the disenfranchised majority and enfranchise them. Start a new organization. Start a movement.
Second, you have to identify and empower people who really have a stake in the future of your town, people who would like to raise a family or start a business in your town. Forgive me for being blunt but in the kind of backwards, small towns I’m thinking of, the older folks who run the town couldn’t care less about the future of the town. They’re retired, their businesses have been sold or closed, their children left years ago and their grandchildren will be making a life somewhere else. Chances are, if you live in a town that is losing businesses, losing population, losing its young people and losing its future, your town is run by people who have no stake in its future, people whose opposition to progress has more to do with ego than with principle, more to do with validating its past than with creating its future.
It doesn’t make any sense to entrust the future of your community to people who have no stake in your town’s future. Expose the civic and political leaders who have no stake in the decisions they make about your future.
And while you may begin the community culture change through organizations like Charleston Area Alliance or through new orgs like Create West Virginia, if you really want to change your community, you eventually need to elect Congress members, governors, legislators, mayors, regional development people, city council members and other leaders who actually have a stake in its future - people with kids to raise or businesses to start or educations to acquire. The change from a do-nothing, fall behind state or community to a vibrant state or community can’t happen if the reigns of political power are still held by people who don’t know why we should be laying down conduit and high speed fiber and don’t understand why Starbucks is not about coffee as much as its about creating democratic meeting places where people share ideas.
These people who “get” conduit and democratic meeting places are easy to find. They are your young people. I’m talking about young couples who need a good place to educate and raise their kids and young entrepreneurs who need a community capable of retaining and attracting the talent they will need to grow their businesses.
As I said in my 22 January 2010 post about economic development, your community may only be one Steve Jobs or one Sergey Brin away from giving birth to a company (or an industry) that will transform your region but if you drive away all the young thinkers and inventors and entrepreneurs, you may be driving away the next Google or Apple.
Maybe the inventor who can perfect the electric car lives in your town. Will he or she stay or will he or she leave?
Some of my regular readers may think this is a strange position for a “Boomer activist” like me to take. My regular readers may have expected me to say that leadership should be in the hands of people with years of experience and wisdom. No not unless those experienced, wise leaders have a stake in the future. Leadership should be in the hands of people with the greatest stake in your town’s future no matter what age they may be. A few of those people will be Boomers like me but most of them will be much younger.
To change the culture of a community you have to change the conversation of that community. Do you want to change the culture? Start a new conversation. Create a document that you can print out and put on windshields, stick behind storm doors and hand to young adults you see in your daily walk. Your document might say:
"Is your community creating the kind of business, education, cultural, social and lifestyle in which the next Sergey Brin or Steve Jobs could be nourished and the next Google or Apple grown? If not, why not?"
Or your document might say, "Think of a talented person who left your community and has no plans to ever come back. Why did he or she leave and what would we have to do to get him and people like him to come raise a family or start a business here?"
If you put your name and your contact information on that document I'll bet some of the disenfranchised and some of the voiceless young adults whose futures are being planned by people who have no stake in it will contact you and ask you what you plan to do.
If they do, start a movement. Start an organization of those with a stake.And even if you don't have a plan, you've planted a seed of change. You've changed the culture a little bit just by changing the conversation from "How can we raise money for this year's stupid parade?" to "How can we make our town the kind of place where a young inventor or entrepreneur would want to build the next Apple?"
Your future was being planned by others since before you were conceived. After conception, your first 9 months was a case of gestation without representation. Somewhere between the womb and the tomb, shouldn't your future be decided when you're in the room?

12 May, 2013

Why I'm Campaigning For Shelly Ward, Write-In Candidate For St. Albans' Ward 9 Council Seat

Because Shelly Ellis has already done more for her ward and for the city of St. Albans than most sitting council members have done, I'm urging residents of ward 9 - that's the area south of Kanawha Terrace and between the Vine Street hill area and the Hughes Drive area - to get out and vote for Shelly Ellis in the June 1 General Election.

I met Shelly through her citywide involvement in Neighborhood Watch. I'm the Neighborhood Watch coordinator in ward 4, Shelly is the Neighborhood Watch coordinator in ward 9. It's a thankless job that takes much more time and effort than meets the eye, but it's also the best way I know to really get to know your ward. Because of Shelly's experience and boundless energy, she's become more of a Neighborhood Watch Coordinator At-Large, assisting in the start-up and development of Neighborhood Watch programs in other wards around town. 

I don't live in Shelly's ward and I can't vote for her but II plan to campaign for Shelly in the South Vine and South Walnut areas of ward 9 because St. Albans needs council members who will get out and work for their wards and for St. Albans.

Election Information:

Upcoming City Election Dates:
General: June 1, 2013
Polls Open from 6:30AM to 7:30PM

Early Voting Period:
May 17 - 29, 2013
The City Clerk’s Office will be conduction Early Voting in person May 17-29, 2013 during our normal business hours of Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. There will also be early voting on Saturday May 18th & 25th from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The office will be closed on Monday, May 27th in observance of Memorial Day. The City Clerk’s Office is located at 1499 MacCorkle Avenue, St. Albans.

01 May, 2013

St. Albans, WV, Ward 4 Neighborhood Watch Meeting Tuesday May 7


From: Joseph Higginbotham, Ward 4 Neighborhood Watch Coordinator

The May Meeting Of The St. Albans, WV, Ward 4 Neighborhood Watch Is Tuesday May 7 At The Crossings Church, 2031 Harrison Ave.

This is not a church service. This is a non-sectarian public meeting where people of all faiths (or no faith) gather to learn how to keep Ward 4 safer.

Your St. Albans Police will be there. Your city council woman will be there. Your neighbors will be there. 

Will you be there?

Mark it on your calendar before you forget.

For more information contact Ward 4 Neighborhood Watch Coordinator, Joseph Higginbotham, at (304) 550-6710.