Participation, Policy, Structure and Leadership:
The Ordering and Reordering of our world in Times of Crisis

By Robert Hyfler, PhD

In atypical times, rules and assumptions change. Some change by design, some by necessity, some just because. Jargon and fad concepts go out the window and are recognized for what they are… jargon. There are no gurus, only the helpful and the less helpful. What remains for all to see is the world we have created stripped bare, its components and assumptions, good and bad, easily recognized but only newly understood.

The building blocks of community are not immutable but have historical staying power: Leadership, Structure, Policy, and Participation. What does change is how they are ordered, how they are prioritized, how they are defined and combined. Described here are three scenarios of their combination: the Conventional, the Aspirational and finally that of Crisis. Other models or scenarios, more complex, more radical, more cynical, even more dystopian would not be hard to imagine.

The Conventional Scenario creates a defined order in the communal world as we have come to know it, ordered along the lines of Leadership, Structure, Policy and Participation. Leadership, defined by traditional rules of age, gender and wealth constitutes a self-selected, self-perpetuating, collective that stewards communal life. They are not consciously self-serving and are often talented folks, generous of both time and dollars. However, they see the world through the prism of their circles and play by rules and assumptions long agreed upon. Institutions and structures are the physical and organizational embodiment of their world view, as are the executive and management leadership they hire. The health and vitality of Structure is of the highest importance.

Policy, good policy, is defined in this lead scenario by sustainability, replicability, and affordability – built always to last. Boldness and creativity are not absent in the scenario. They are mechanisms of adjustment and re-calibrations, anomalies of necessity. THEY (Amcha, the clients) are never US (except in the case of overly funded, indulgent leadership development programs).

Participation in the Conventional Scenario appears as one dimensional infomercials, heavy on case studies and testimonials but with little dialogue and only marginal feedback. As financial viability is of the highest import, the system is in perpetual campaign mode powered by universally accepted public relations myths. We are One. (Undoubtedly, there are readers who will protest (too much) the harshness of what has just been said.)

In juxtaposition to the Conventional Scenario stands an Aspirational Scenario – a world our dreams might make. The first scenario is turned on its head: Participation, Policy, Structure, and Leadership. Participation, open dialogue and open processes drives communal decisions. Distinctions between decision makers and the receivers of services begin to break down. Leadership is fluid and often changes and looks like the many shades of the community in its diversity of background, income and life choices. Innovation, new solutions to old and emerging problems, reformed structures are more easily born. The new ordering is defined not solely by thought leaders, funders, utopian theorists or organizational technicians but by open deliberations convened to grapple with real world situational challenges. In the Aspirational Scenario all may play a role, none have dominance.

Ironically, in a Crisis Scenario, a reality not dissimilar to where we are now, the dichotomies between the two previous scenarios weaken and a synthesis of the Conventional and Aspirational Scenarios takes shape. It is an “all hands on deck” scenario where the stewards of the past must cooperate with new talent and listen to new voices. We have never been here, the past does not rhyme with our present or future. Assumptions in regard to current resource allocation and the processes of decision making and buy-in need to be questioned in a reality where there are no comfort zones, no niche agendas, and the bottom line is saving and repairing lives. (Mamash!) When the future of so many are at stake fairness and inclusion are not just words. Insiders must give up their elitism, outsiders must come to the table high on ideas and shorn of resentments. All apologetics and criticisms must be purposeful to the tasks at hand.

And when this is not quite over, when we have transitioned to a new reality of the middle range, we will remember and we will learn. And we will be all the more thoughtful, caring and human for the experience.

Bob Hyfler has near four decades of experience in Jewish communal life. He is currently an active member of a national Jewish agency board. Recently relocated, he can see Florida from his back porch.