Communities of Excellence #1 #cong19

Synopsis:

There is a lack of awareness of what quality and excellence are and their potential for communities and society in general. This is a great loss that is even more amazing when we see many members of a community working in organisations that embrace excellence as the way they do business in achieving quality outcomes. Yet it seems that very little of this excellence leaks out into community and everyday life.

Communities are not organisations and we need new images and vocabulary that facilitates everyone in a community to appreciate quality and practise excellence.

This paper draws from a four-year primary research study of the village of Grange Co. Sligo which sought to bring organisation based quality principles into all aspects of community life.

The presentation of findings will arm you with the vocabulary, images and confidence to bring the concepts of quality and excellence into your life and your community.

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4 Key Takeaways:

To help you in your own endeavours or as you work with others or communities you will leave this presentation with:

  1. A universally acceptable and readily understood definition of quality.
  2. An explanation of excellence as the desired way of achieving a quality outcome.
  3. A graphic and terminology describing fit for purpose human activity systems.

As we all become more aware and demanding of a quality outcome we must deepen our understanding of what it is and how it is achieved.

About Bob Kennedy:

Bob Kennedy is a retired lecturer from the Institute of Technology Sligo. His career in industry and academia was primarily concerned with manufacturing, mechanical engineering and design. From the mid 1990s the emphasis shifted to Quality and particularly Quality Management Systems in manufacturing industry.

The rest of Bob’s career was spent exploring how other sectors of society could benefit from the adoption of these quality principles. This culminated in a four year research project in the village of Grange, Co. Sligo to explore the practicalities of practising ‘quality’ at all levels of society. The challenge was to match the many endeavours going on in the community with the most appropriate and beneficial quality tools and techniques used in industry.

The outcome of the research unlocks the potential of quality and excellence for every individual and group in any community.

Contacting Bob Kennedy:

You can contact Bob on LinkedIn

By Bob Kennedy

Every community regardless of its size is a hive of activity. It will have families, clubs, societies, shops, businesses etc. All are pursuing their own unique endeavours but all share a common desire. They all want to succeed. They all want to achieve a quality outcome.  Unfortunately, few if any will have the vocabulary, skills or resources to achieve this in a harmonious way.

Firstly, they will find it difficult to agree on what is a quality outcome. Then of course there is the problem of how it should be achieved. Finally, they will have little appreciation that they are part of a system that will either facilitate or frustrate them depending on its makeup.

These impediments can be overcome if we can embed the following mantra into the psyche of every individual, interest-group, industry and institution in the community.

This mantra is:
“To achieve quality outcomes we must practise excellence and maintain systems that are fit for purpose”

Communities who embrace this mantra will become known as ‘communities of excellence’ communities where excellence is practised. Few people would complain about living in such a community even if they didn’t have a clue what excellence entailed. The challenge is to unlock the mantra’s potential using terminology and images that everyone in a community can relate to and encourages them to be brave and experiment with it.

This paper draws from a four-year primary research study based in the village of Grange Co. Sligo, Ireland which sought to bring organisation based quality principles into all aspects of community life.

But communities are not organisations and new images and vocabulary were needed to facilitate everyone in a community to appreciate quality and practise excellence.

Research outcomes

The research outcomes develop the three stages of the mantra as follows:

To achieve quality outcomeswe must practise excellenceand maintain systems that are fit for purpose.
Research Outcome #1

Definition of Quality

Research Outcome #2

Excellence as the Methodology for achieving a Quality Outcome

Research Outcome #3

Model of Community viewed as a Human Activity System

What is Quality?

This is a legitimate question for anyone wishing to achieve some purpose. Such a person or group of people are engaged in purposeful activity. This activity might be the setting up of a group or the provision of some service. Regardless, they all want a quality outcome.

So what is a quality anything?

  • What is quality childcare?
  • What is a quality restaurant?
  • What is a quality leisure group?

Quality can be a very vague concept. Yet we all know it when we see it or even more readily when it is missing. The vague nature of quality can sometimes lead to the notion that quality is whatever you think yourself. This is how real life at community level sees quality and its ambiguity is not very helpful.  We must empower people to move their appreciation of quality to a more structured level.

All of us would agree that a quality outcome is achieved when the right things are done right.

This interpretation helps us when grappling with quality as it applies to: childcare, restaurant or leisure group? It’s liberating as everybody now knows what quality is as it applies to anything or to any activity. A quality outcome is achieved when the right things are done right.

Research outcome #1: A definition of quality that everybody can relate to.
A quality outcome is achieved when the right things are done right.

What is excellence?

Excellence was described earlier as the methodology for achieving a quality outcome. This is much more complex than quality since it is the alpha and the omega of quality. Excellence helps us flesh out our appreciation of a quality outcome and then makes it a reality for us. It is a methodology that facilitates our definition, realisation, delivery and evaluation of a quality outcome. Excellence creates the culture, the synergy that supports the emergence of a quality outcome.

Look again at our definition of quality “A quality outcome is achieved when the right things are done right”.

A cursory examination of this definition will solicit two obvious questions.
Q1: Who decides what is the right thing to do?
Q2: Who decides how it should be done?

A third less obvious question is “How do they make these decisions?” The answer to all these questions is that we must practise excellence, which is defined as follows:

Research outcome #2:  Excellence as the methodology for achieving a quality outcome.

Excellence is an evolving methodology for achieving a quality/better outcome.
It is based on voluntary on-going dialogue and agreement between the creators, consumers and complementors in the activity system, who define, realise, deliver and evaluate dynamic emerging expectations in an enlightened, effective, efficient, ethical, elegant and enjoyable manner.

This definition of excellence is of necessity long and at first glance complicated. Essentially it says that the clients involved in an activity will be the deciders of what a quality outcome is and how it is achieved. It identifies three categorises of clients [3Cs]:
1. Creators [those providing the service],
2. Consumers [those who use or are affected by the service] and
3. Complementors [regulators, interested parties etc.].
No one category can decide. These 3Cs must voluntarily engage in dialogue and agreement as they define, realise, deliver and evaluate dynamic emerging expectations. Expectations that they accept will change. Finally, they do all this in an enlightened, effective, efficient, ethical, elegant and enjoyable manner.

Practising excellence is not easy for any individual or group as most want to rush into activity and get things done. They do not want engagement or dialogue which they perceive as being problematic and time wasting. They effectively think they know best and should be allowed get on with it. But they are wrong. Excellence isn’t easy but it’s the right way to achieve a quality outcome.  It takes all three categories of client to practise excellence as well as a fit for purpose system.

It takes a system to practise excellence.

Obviously excellence cannot exist in a vacuum it needs us as creators, consumers and complementors to make this theory a practice, a way of doing things. Put another way excellence needs a fit for purpose system to adopt and practise it. What does a ‘fit for purpose system’ look like?

When a group of people come together for some purpose i.e. to achieve any task they can be described as a purposeful complex adaptive system. Figure 1 gives us an image of such a system which is fractal in nature applicable to all levels of society and complexity: individuals, interest-groups, industries and institutions and indeed entire communities. It is a surprisingly simple system of four elements: Context, Climate, Clients and Culture that operate in a dynamic flux of inter-dependency.

The Story Behind the CongRegation Themes

CongRegation has morphed and grown since the first incarnation experiment in 2013 although the fundamental structure of what makes it special has remained the same.

One of the key things that changes annually has been the theme and interestingly the original theme of ‘Social Media’ still features strongly in some people’s perception of the event.  Let me take you through the evolution to this years theme.

The first year focused on social media which as a sector was still evolving and needed lots of discussion and guidance.  We gave options to people about submissions ranging from Case Study, Tips, How to Guide through to a what was called a ‘Rant’ (positive or negative perspective on the topic).  Most submissions took the form of a leadership type piece essentially a smart positive rant, where opinions were given space to be elaborated, dissected, reassembled and made ready for discussion.  It was clear that this was the type of contribution and form that people were naturally more attracted to but is the most difficult of all the options.  It takes time to narrow down the vast choices, percolate the ideas, build a reasonable case, research, compose, edit, test, rethink and finally submit.

This single choice of submission was carried into year 2 but the theme broaden out a bit to include digital media, partially as a reaction to the broader nature of year one submissions.  Rather than just document work done, attendees wished to dig deeper and ponder the topic at a more challenging level, rather than just deliver a blog post that could have featured on a regular social media blog. This was the what I saw as the emergence of what I called the ‘Mental Itch’.  We are surrounded by all the theme areas but we rarely really question them or construct our thoughts into a robust argument or stance.  In a world of twitter, microcontent and limited attention span long form content forces us to consider things with a bit more depth, sometimes to quite personal self reflective areas.  We are also all incredibly busy and possibly don’t reward ourselves with higher debate and thinking when stuck in the now.

Year 3 became a bit more challenge focused with the theme exploring the impact of technology on work and personal lives. This evolved from conversations at year two as personal impacts were questioned.  As the diversity of attendees expanded and as the curious nature of attendees grew there was a collective desire to look at something bigger and tap into the collective mindsets.  If my observation from year two was around the general willingness to tested (submission and conversations on the day) year 3 taught me that the more meaningful content frequently involved peeling back layers of the onion to really see what, who was ticking.  This happens naturally during the day in Cong but year 3 contributions contained not just smart insights but also deeper personal perspective.

Year 4 ‘The Future’ emerged as a natural extension of the Year 3 theme of the impact of technology on our lives.  Technology has a role but it’s not the only player in town and year three surfaced a lot of fears and reservations that people had about the future direction we were heading.  An attempt to capture on the day insights in the form of an open challenge to create a better future was also attempted but these themes are so big, multi faceted and broad that consensus is almost impossible to achieve.  In fact, we could not even reach consensus on who should get the award for best contribution (the crystal ball is still sitting in my office).   Addressing the final challenge on the day of producing ideas on what would make a better future proved difficult as the more views on the future that emerged the more questions that accompanied it.

The ‘Innovation’ theme of year 5 reflected the emergence of ‘meta themes’ and could be viewed as an additional component of the convergence between technology and future.  This allowed the flexibility to explore experiences, expertise and scratching of the mental ‘itch’ – something that was always nagging you at the back of your mind that you wished to explore more deeply.  The compliance aspect of the submission (ie cannot get a ticket without it) was replaced by sometime cathartic release of energy and focus on a blank canvas topic.  CongRegation creates a peer based, trusted environment to explore areas and it was heartening to hear challenges to conventional wisdom and counter intuitive approaches.  As the attendee profile also broadened so did the entry point and background perspectives. The range of angles, perspectives, commentary, guidance and strong opinions reinforced my own internal view that everyone has a piece of the jigsaw puzzle and no one has all the pieces.

Last years theme of ‘Ideas’ proved difficult for people as not alone do we rarely think about ideas in an external inquiring stance but we generally live in the moment of having an idea and the problems it poses. Ideas is related to the Innovation theme but interestingly many felt that Innovation had become abused as a concept due to over use – words matter.  Similar to innovation, executing on an idea was a key exploration thread.  In normal life this theme gets superficial treatment and is often interwoven into bigger fabrics.  David Gluckman’s presentation in Ashford Castle and his comments about Ideas alerted me to this rich vein – if we just viewed it differently and pondered it more deeply.  Rather than a collection of idea pitches the submissions contained a mix of well thought out reflections and probings.

Informally the theme has come out of conversations after each CongRegation and this year was no different involving late night (strike while the iron is hot) chats in Danaghers after the huddles and ukulele session finished.  Four key suggestions emerged:

Fear: this popped up in a lot of huddles, would connect in a very deep way but also risked becoming very personality focused.

Imperfection: This was viewed both as perfection and imperfection and could produce fascinating divergent views

Transition: This originated from a conversation where it was felt a lot of people at CongRegation has experienced change or were undergoing deep self reflection (career, life).

Community:  In its seventh year is CongRegation becoming a community that takes place in a rural community.

The date and theme were put out as a Twitter poll (not the most scientific way but I wanted to make it a bit more objective) and Community was the clear winner.

Over the last year I have had many conversations with Tracy Keogh about community from a business perspective from how do you define it, to the different perspectives to the joys and problems of working with communities.  I have lived in rural and city communities, in communities in different culture China, Spain, Canada.  I worked with different work communities and communities of practice.  I have watched online communities grow from the early email lists and the fascinating worlds that evolved and have become the tail wagging the dog.  I live in a rural community but see multiple levels, complications, fantastic endeavors, open mindedness, closed mindness to completely unconnected groups.   Everywhere I look I see tribes, formal/informal groups of people and witness the same people behaving in completely different way.  Community surrounds us, united us, it drives and moulds us and we rarely question it deeply.  My curiosity is only now starting and I like all the contributors have permission to think, reflect, express and share our insights.

Only starting also is the awareness of how much I have to learn about this arena.  Since agreeing the theme I have had fascinating conversations with sociologists about community and place, the evolution of communities through migration and the view/power of filtered, collated research to explain what I see daily but do not necessarily understand.   As per Joan Mulvihills comments I have become hyper alert to community related topics to the point of having email conversations with a poet who featured on RTE Sunday Miscellany, straight after the show as he had a unique perspective on a community where I lived.  Coffee time discussions have uncovered doctorates who have tried to implement industrial standard on to a rural community to try improve the community.  Psychologist friends fascinate me on the way the thread multiple theories and thinking into explain how and why we operate in groups and communities.

Personally I am really excited about this theme, I am looking forward to being challenged, reflecting, researching , wondering, writing, scrapping, sharing, testing and I hope, like all the contributors, that this process along will enrich me a little bit more.