Democracy works in part because of its vast and varied quilt of systems. Yes, they are sometimes slow and unwieldy. And yes, affecting needed change can seem like a daunting prospect.
Fortunately, there are civic actors among us willing to take on such challenges. They may not know it, but their unwavering patience, perseverance and profound sense of caring forms the foundation of civil society.
Think of civil society as another kind of system that operates beyond markets, government and electoral politics. It's best represented in the bonds and relationships that form over time when people get to know and even care about one another. This happens as they engage in public debate, solve vexing problems, negotiate, compromise and, sometimes, thankfully, act in concert.
We’re focusing more and more at Community Partners on the many ways people engaged through civil society are influencing big systems change. We think people like Caron Post and the members of the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force exemplify civil society’s spirit of joint problem solving. The task force, a consortium working toward a more integrated approach to addressing what is now known as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), just released a set of thoughtful recommendations -- laid out over five years and calling on all sectors of health and human services -- to push for true systems change.
We also appreciate how David Ross and Save Lives Los Angeles, with a focus on fostering next-generation emergency response systems in the region, reflect the notion that big systems change demands the principle of “move slow to move fast.” Ross already helped reform the emergency response system for heart attack and stroke victims, the #1 and #2 killers in LA. Save Lives applies the same cross-sector, network-based organizing approach to bringing the latest evidence-based advances in technology and medicine to the most comprehensive reform of the LA emergency response system since its inception.
The people and organizations who have joined the Save Lives project which works under the aegis of Community Partners, share a virtue in common: they know intimately the system they’re working to change. They understand the historic reasons the system developed. They know and value the lives of the people the system was set up to serve. They see and feel the friction points. They have continually in their minds the constellation of all the system’s complex moving parts – history, personalities, agencies, politics, resources, turf – and they do not panic in the glare of all that complexity. They move deliberately, gather the willing, cajole the reluctant, plead when productive, protect their backs, and stir up strategic crisis if that’s what it takes to get entrenched interests off the dime. And they deflect credit outward, away from themselves, to the places where credit keeps change moving and the people for whom credit is currency can use it well.
Society needs these system-savvy actors as much as all of us need the systems democracy’s built to pick up our trash, ease us through old age, give a new mom and her new baby a strong start, or rescue us when we’re in trouble. Maybe we ought to single them out now and then for the public appreciation they deserve. My bet is that if we do, they’ll demure. They’ll name everyone who deserves praise and take not a jot for themselves.