The Challenge of Mapping out Different Scenarios for Arcosanti’s Future

Below I consider my experiences and awareness of what is termed in the NGO community as Outcome-based Mapping. When I was involved with a small nonprofit called oneVillage Foundation (2003-2010) we got a 15k grant from a grant-making foundation in Canada called Commonwealth of Learning. The money went to fund and distance learning program focused on educating youth about Information Technologies and how to use them. This  initiative also supported the establishment of a telecenter called the Winneba Open Digital Village that we had funded in Winneba Ghana (mostly with our own money).

One of the things we had to do was a part of the evaluation of that grant and its impact on the local community of Winneba was do an series of Outcome-based Mapping Reports. While designed primarily for aid programs in non-affluent countries funded by organizations in the affluent countries, it may also have relevance on projects where a multitude of stakeholders contribute to a project that may be distant from their everyday lives such as is the case of Arcosanti. The point is to figure out how to make sure there is a mapping process that links together all the stakeholders so that we are effectively working together to make the Arcosanti dream a reality.

Its important to note that I do not have a formal or defined role in the leadership body that is in charge of designing and deciding the future strategy of Arcosanti. However as a community member of Arcosanti and employee of the Cosanti Foundation – which is non-profit that manages the Arcosanti project – I feel I have a stake in it. Therefore, I have decided to embrark on an exercise to write a document to discuss and present different scenarios for Arcosanti’s future.

Arcosanti is now in a time of leadership transition unprecedented in its history. In Sept of last year we saw the handover from the Presidency of Paolo Soleri to the new president Jeffrey Stein. Part of Jeff’s goal, as I understand it, is to develop a more robust organizational process at Arcosanti. A key step towards is to come up with a five year strategy and mandate annual budgets as well as other key mechanisms to ensure accountability and effective movement towards the performance benchmarks outlined in the strategy document. Yet what I think is vital from all this is to enable a real and robust discussion that includes all the stakeholders and ensures that they all have a voice and input into what becomes the ultimate formulation of a strategy and eventually its implementation towards an idealized future development at Arcosanti that brings the vision close to the reality.

There are various methods for visioning, developing, strategizing, implementing and tracking of strategy plans. An important element is leadership consensus about not only the need to develop a serious plan or strategy, but also a clear idea of what it is they are doing is about. What is the focus of the mission and vision articulated? There is a lot out in the Internet about strategy planning and design not just in terms of creating nice looking documents but more importantly developing the art of convening stakeholders in a NGO towards some kind of shared consensus on how to proceed collectively as a group. Learning how to dialog and work as a group is probably a more important step to building an Arcology than the building itself, because ultimately it’s a collective effort of people with great passion that build ambitious things like what Arcosanti aspires to become.

Outcome-based Mapping is term used in the NGO community. This can be interpreted in many ways such as developing an understanding of what the outputs are, where they are taking us, how stakeholders affected or targeted by the outputs feel about the effort and how they are integrated. This includes creating a feedback loop of communications so that outputs produced are relevant to the consensus in relation to the organization’s mission to serve its stakeholders. One outcome of this could be to design a planning process based on outcome based mapping –  in terms of better tying the project outputs/outcomes with its mission, goals and objectives.

Arcosanti is a community that has developed from the vision of Paolo Soleri. The community is diverse in age and outlook. Not everyone here cares about Arcology and planning strategies for its success here or elsewhere. The disengagement of many here from the practice of sustainability and sustainable living also related to the above statement needs also to be considered.

Many do come here with a concern for the direction of humanity. They frequently have an expectation that Arcosanti is somehow linked to the green or ecological design movement. Often they are looking to be inspired by innovative and cutting edge approaches or technologies related to the greening of the economy and society. Thus making it many times challenging for those involved in communicating the vision of Arcosanti and Arcology both officially and more informally through discussions by residents with interested visitors.

What I realized was important about Outcome-Based Mapping is to understand how to improve the links between the stakeholders in the organization. In relation to Arcosanti and Arcology there are several main groups:

  1. Visitors who are particularly interested in Arcosanti and have backgrounds and interest relevant to the field of sustainable or ecological design and development
  2. Alumni who took the workshop and who may have lived at Arcosantiy beyond their workshop
  3. Residents who have lived at Arcosanti for an extended period of time
  4. Elites/Donors who have come across Soleri’s work and are interested enough to drop by and develop a relationship (ex in: former AZ Governor and US Interior Dept Sect Bruce Babbitt, Movie Director and Producer Francis Ford Coppola, CA Governor Jerry Brown, etc), This would probably include a lot of the value that the board provides – high level contacts who are potential funders of the project.

As part of the Output-Based Mapping process it might do us well to consider impressions people have about Arcosanti and their expectations that it might practice and develop ecological design and sustainability development concepts. Each group mentioned and listed above will be slightly different in their perspective and priorities. However most likely there is a common theme or pattern as the stakeholder groups are surveyed.

Areas of Interest:

  1. These might include developing our electrical power sources, producing as much organic and sustainable food as possible, using local building materials to reduce impacts and the recycling of waste water and solid waste.
  2. It also might include cultural events and sharing of knowledge in relation to people gathering around a similar idea or concept such as Arcosanti or Arcology.
  3. Another aspect could be community development and promotion of more authentic and human scale community values which could be seen as really what the Occupy movement is about.
  4. We could also imagine an educational program developing around this so that workshoppers could develop real skills in the fields relevant to sustainable higher density habitat construction and planning. This would focus but not be limited to architects.
  5. Promotion of large scale urban Arcology or alternatively more human scale and authentic sustainable habitats that could be replicated around the world, inspired by the success of Arcosanti in the coming years.

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