Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ripple Effect of Dog Poop as A Keystone Strategy

Instead of an overarching strategy, many communities chase after every grant possible, discarding workable programs spawned by one grant to chase after yet another grant.

This is far more common than you might think, including in my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina.

It is what happens when strategy-making is inside out vs. outside in and defined by resource limitations rather than being revenue or results driven.

So I smiled when news articles picked up that struggling Naples, Italy announced what some would call a “keystone” strategy by taking DNA samples to aggressively crack down on pet owners who let their dog poop all over sidewalks and other public places there without bothering to pick it up.

Why would a community with major problems focus on dog poop?

It is really another take on the counterintuitive “broken windows” theory, a “keystone” strategy at the heart of crime reduction in many cities.

It is based on the observations by social scientists that people, not just criminals “take cues from their surroundings and calibrate their behavior.”  Some places, such as New York almost immediately seized upon this as a powerful “overarching” or “keystone strategy.

Many others have wasted the subsequent decades arguing against it, essentially settling for having no “overarching” strategy at all.

Identifying a “keystone” strategy is also how Paul O’Neill, a nearly life-long bureaucrat famously turned Alcoa around while CEO, by making safety the giant company’s focus.

Many experts thought O’Neill was nuts but safety turned the company around.  It is because “keystone” or “overarching” strategies have a ripple effect.  In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg calls them transformational.

O’Neill had picked up the importance of “keystone” strategy by studying what made some government agencies so much more effective than others.

It is the same reason that something as simple as fastidious community attention to appearance and upkeep can ripple throughout other areas because it is linked to reducing littering and crime in general, reducing domestic violence, improving general public health, increasing property values, stimulating economic development, encouraging volunteerism and philanthropy as well as enhancing community pride.

In nature, changes that have immense ripple effect are called “trophic cascades,” an ecological process that ripples through the ecology.  An example of this is the reintroduction of wolves after 70 years into Yellowstone Park, which cuts into my native nook of Idaho.

Described in this incredible video clip by columnist George Monbiot based on his fascinating book entitled, Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life, the reintroduction of wolves in this area even changed its physical geography.

Closer to home, urban reforestation if practiced holistically and with gusto, can also have a cascading or ripple effect.

Local and state governments try to be strategic.  But they fail for two basic reasons.  They let available resources suffocate strategy-making, resulting in an addiction to grants and a revolving door of programs that are never given the capacity to be scalable.

The other reason these strategic plans fail is that they neglect to identify an “overarching” strategy, one that can synergize multiple goals into a concentrated focus and create disruptive change.

It really is that simple.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely phenomenal video clip "How Wolves change rivers".

A must see!