Feb 20, 2011

When the Rebels Become the Establishment

Thomas Kuhn argued in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions that science does not advance by an orderly process of knowledge-building, but instead undergoes periodic "paradigm shifts" The current paradigm is the Truth as accepted by the establishment in any given scientific discipline; they research and teach that Truth to their students and function as keepers of the paradigm.

All is well until rebels pick at the established paradigm and find a chink in the rhetorical armor, a series of figures that don't add up, or an alternative explanation of Truth - and then the fight is on. Eventually, the paradigm shifts and a new version of the Truth emerges. What's fascinating to me is that at this point, the rebels become the very establishment they just over-turned.

I see the same phenomena with bike advocacy groups as well. Many of these groups are borne from dis-satisfaction with status quo, be it poor facilities, unequal treatment, lack of consultation, or whatever. Eventually somebody gets mad enough to actually do something and puts their time and energy into trying to change the world a little bit.

Once advocacy groups take root, have some victories and establish an organizational structure, those same insurgent groups can become creators (and then defenders) of their own status quo because these groups now have the bully pulpit and can set priorities, deem certain issues to be important and direct the time, recruiting and fund raising to those areas. Volunteers can feel good because they are pitching in on something that they have been told is important, whether it is or is not important to the greater community.

The obvious solution here is meaningful, on-going and responsive stakeholder engagement with their constituent communities. Remember, though, that stakeholder engagement is a dialogue - there needs to be discussion on both sides of the table. The various bike advocacy groups do a pretty good job of reporting on their activities. The ball is in our court, comrades, to let those groups know how well their actions address our real issues and concerns.

Therefore, if you care about riding your bike, keep in touch with the groups like Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, Transit for Livable Communities and the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee and do your fair share to offer feedback on the needs of Twin Cities and Minnesota cyclists.

They represent us, but they need to hear from us to do that effectively.

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