Creating Quality Community
A vision of the third wave of community quality...
On the quality community quest, we are not alone
By Carole J. Schwinn -- Community Quality Coalition and David R. Schwinn --
Transformation of American Industry Project
If we dream that community quality initiatives will transform the community,
we will need transformational visions. While many such initiatives have
already significantly impacted the practice of quality management in their
community... more is needed.
Even as new groups emerge and network with one another, develop their own
visions and actions, and advance the practice of quality management in their
community, the need for a larger view -- a whole systems view -- of community
is needed. Before looking at where we hope to go, we will trace the
development of community quality initiatives to see if that record will help
us to formulate a new whole systems view of community.
Step-wise evolution of community quality initiatives
At least three phases in the development of community quality initiatives are
evident. In the first phase, communities aim to engage as many organizations
as possible in the principles and practices of total quality.
Grow the economy -- The focus here is primarily on awareness, education and
training, provided either for membership organizations or open to all
organizations in the community. During this organization--by--organization
appeal, educate and convert phase, the thrust is primarily tied to economic
development. The reasoning is that if the majority of organizations practice
quality, the whole community will prosper and the area will become known for
quality. The results will be retention and expansion of businesses and the
attraction of new businesses.
As service organizations, schools, healthcare providers and others become
involved, the perspective is one of providing continually improving services
to citizens and firms, in support of the economic development of the region.
Visions for organizational growth...
The vision statements of many
initiatives reflect this economic development thrust. Some have a tendency to
focus on a vision for the future performance of the excellence council
itself, rather than the future of the community. The vision of the
Philadelphia Area Council for Excellence (PACE) states, for example, "As a
council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, PACE will be a
critical force in creating a healthier economic climate in the Delaware
Valley," and emphasizes as well economic development, job creation and
enhanced community wealth.
Improve the communities by sectors: one by one -- A second phase, which could
be characterized as sector--by--sector, focuses on mobilizing citizens to
continually improve various sectors or sub--systems of the community,
including healthcare, education, export industries, the arts, the religious
community and others. The approach adds to economic development through a
human development thrust. It requires that community initiatives identify and
focus on problems that the community faces, and that it provides support for
work between and among organizations. Erie, for example, with over 20
sector--based teams, has helped to create a vision for schools in the year
2000, sponsored healthcare forums, and continues to launch new groups as
interest and needs emerge.
In our own work, the need for this approach became evident as we worked with
various organizations which all focused on human development. For example, in
Erie, Pennsylvania, has teams representing the police department, a
university, schools and county services for youth worked together over a
period of months, we all began to realize that these organizations could be
viewed as a single system.
Visualizing systemic connections...
The youth who had attendance problems or
dropped out of school were also those who kept police in the courts, rather
than in the community. These same young people were often placed in foster or
delinquent settings and never reached the university at all. With this
recognition, a need to collaborate, cooperate and continually improve the
human services sector became apparent. The Erie Excellence Council vision,
"To work together to continuously improve ourselves, our organization, and
our community" reflects that broader view.
The third wave: the community system
There is now an identifiable third
phase, a whole systems approach, based on a view of communities as whole
systems. The vision of Greenwood, South Carolina, reflects a broader whole
systems approach. Their broad, decades--long strategy is to move toward a
vision of a "community that cares about learning; where everyone accepts a
responsibility for encouraging and enabling all our people to reach their
full potential and becomes a positive contributor to our economic well being
and quality of life." While this phase promises to expand the work and impact
of community quality initiatives, it also requires new learning, new theories
and approaches, and consideration of an emerging world view based in systems
The emerging systems view of the world
Writers and scholars across many disciplines are suggesting that we are in
the midst of a fundamental shift from the old dominant mechanical or
Newtonian world view to a new, emerging one based on whole systems thinking,
quantum physics and new visions of what is possible.
The universe and society are not clockwork mechanisms...
Capra (in The Turning Point) writes that we are seeing a "confluence of
several transitions: the decline of the patriarchal values and structure of
the last 3000 years; the decline of the fossil--fuel age; and change in four
areas of thought, perception and values, including:
- The belief in scientific method as the only valid approach to knowledge...
- The view of the universe as a mechanical
system composed of elementary material building blocks...
- The view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence...
- The belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic
and technological growth."
The earth is a living system...
Similarly, economist Hazel Henderson (in The
Politics of the Solar Age) writes that the current shifts in thinking entail
a shift from "fragmented, objective, reductionist knowledge and the
mechanistic, industrial world view to a comprehensive awareness of the
interdependence of all life on earth -- what is now well known as the Gaia
hypothesis: that our planet is a living organism and we humans are
participants (not just observers) in its evolutionary unfolding. ...This new
era is one of mutual development -- far beyond the narrow concepts of
economic growth or development, which are proving disastrous in Africa and
elsewhere and leading to hunger and desertification.
Improve the whole system...
Systems philosopher, Ervin Laszlo, suggests (in
The Systems View of the World) that the picture we hold in our minds of a
perfect social system in which there is continual improvement of production,
fueled by ever--increasing demand and consumption of material goods may not
be the end, or the aim, toward which we should work. Rather, we should work
toward an aim of human development and a better life for all the world's
The current model simultaneously produces more goods and unemployment...
Psychologist Willis Harman, supports the idea that our mental models of
constant economic growth, have produced an economic system which no longer
requires the number of available workers. Thus, our present structure cannot
and will not provide enough jobs for people in the future. He predicts if we
continue in our current way of thinking and acting, we will have increasing
unemployment, social discontent and unrest.
The new war: environmentalists vs entrepreneurs...
Cultural historian Thomas
Berry and metaphysicist Brian Swimme (in The Universe Story) write that "The
future can be described in terms of the tension between two forces, the
ecological and the entrepreneurial." They believe that, "If the dominant
political--social issue of the twentieth century has been between the
capitalist and the communist worlds, between democratic freedoms and
socialist responsibility, the dominant issue of the immediate future will
clearly be the tension between:
- The Entrepreneur and the Ecologist...
- Those who would continue their plundering, and those who would truly
preserve the natural world...
- The mechanistic and the organic...
- The world as a collection of objects and the world as a communion of
- The anthropocentric and the biocentric norms of reality and value."
The Wonderland myth...
Berry and Swimme state that, "The present devastation
is the consequence of a powerful myth that has seized the human soul in
recent centuries, the myth of Wonderland, the Wonderland that is coming into
existence by some inevitability if only we continue on the path of Progress,
meaning by Progress the ever--increasing exploitation of the Earth through
our amazing technologies."
New learning theory
At least two developments are particularly relevant in
- The first is a new integration of synthesis and analysis as modes of
"Synthesis," writes Russell Ackoff, "or putting things together, is the key
to systems thinking just as analysis, or taking them apart, was the key to
Machine Age thinking. Synthesis and analysis are complementary processes.
Like the head and tail of a coin, they can be considered separately, but they
cannot be separated."
- The second view proposes that we learn only in relationship with another.
Biologists Maturana and Varela (authors of The Tree of Knowledge) challenge
us to think beyond our traditional view of the generation of knowledge.
"Biology," they tell us, "shows us that we can expand our cognitive domain.
This arises through a novel experience brought forth through reasoning,
through the encounter with a stranger, or more directly, through the
expression of a biological interpersonal congruence that lets us see the
other person and open up for him room for existence beside us. This act is
called love, or, if we prefer a milder expression, the acceptance of the
other person beside us in our daily living."
Applying the new views to the American communities and beyond
We suggest that the community picture we must create in our minds for the
future is a natural systems picture. We must begin to think of the community
itself as a natural, whole system made up of interrelated entities
(individuals, families, friendships/alliances, organizations and enterprises,
flora and fauna, water, air and land) which must all work together to
accomplish the aim of the whole.
The community's embedded entities taken individually do not constitute the
whole, nor can the aim of the community be accomplished without collaborative
relationships among the entities.
The characteristics or functioning of the whole community cannot be described
or understood by describing or understanding the characteristics or
functioning of the individual entities. Laszlo writes, "A fully autonomous
(independent) set of units would not constitute a system, only a heap."
A community is more than its parts
Similarly, the community as a whole
cannot be described or understood without understanding the whole systems in
which the community itself is embedded. In other words, one cannot hope to
understand, describe, improve or transform a community without first
understanding the aim of the larger system, and how the community interacts
and collaborates with other entities in the larger national system to
accomplish the aim of the whole.
What is the aim?
This brings us to one of Dr. Deming's favorite questions,
"What is the aim?" His own retort follows, "Without an aim, there is no
system." Current community vision statements suggest that the most common aim
has been to promote and teach the principles and practices of quality
management in pursuit of economic development ends.
In current community quality efforts, we have been in the business of helping
- Implement better methods of work...
- Produce better products and services...
- Satisfy consumer demand...
- Keep organizations in business...
- Create wealth and jobs.
Improvement efforts in schools, healthcare and government have also been
generally driven by the same aim: to provide the environment to fuel economic
growth and material wealth in the community.
Time for a new aim
It is time to pursue a different aim. Using a natural
systems perspective, we would say that the aim of any natural system is
twofold: one, to maintain itself in a dynamic, symbiotic and learning
relationship with its environment (the systems within which it is embedded)
and two, to continually renew itself.If we held a natural systems picture or
world view in our minds, how might the future community that we would create
The third wave perspective of community systems
With the natural systems
view in mind, we would say that:
The aim of a community is to help create a future in which it and the whole
earth system can maintain themselves in a dynamic, symbiotic and learning
relationship with its larger environment (system) and to continually renew
A community developed from that model would:
- Use resources in a manner that accounts for the whole system's
- Recycle spent resources to sub--systems which support the whole system's
renewal and evolutionary processes...
- Exchange knowledge with other communities around the world and use that
learning to create still more self--sustaining systems...
- Import only those resources absolutely necessary for renewing itself...
- Provide satisfying, cooperative and evolving work processes that enable
people to use and develop their best talents and skills...
- Make learning and personal development one of the community's highest
In Hazel Henderson's words, in the new reality, the "inputs to production are
energy, resources and knowledge and the output must be more fully--human
We might call those communities learning communities
The ideas outlined
below are just a beginning in thinking about the possible attributes of the
community as a natural, learning system. In a learning community, the people:
- See the community as a natural system made up of its land and air, plants
and animals and natural assets, as well as social system... its people, its
organizations and its institutions...
- Recognize that the community is part of a still larger natural system in
which communities, regions, states and nations are interrelated and
interdependent. They value cooperation over competition...
- Understand that communities, like all natural systems, continually renew
and transform themselves toward higher levels of complexity and order through
the process of differentiation and integration...
- Value and encourage diversity, appreciating a "tapestry versus melting pot"
image of the web of relationships and synergy among all groups...
- Have knowledge of and respect for the region's history and heritage, live
in the present, and anticipate and create the future through shared vision...
- Recognize that there are no single, right answers and that conflict is
inevitable. They search for common ground and shared meaning through the
process of dialogue, rather than violence and confrontation...
- Take advantage of a wide range of opportunities to learn and apply
leadership skills, and understand that leaders come from everywhere:
families, neighborhoods, all types of organizations and institutions and all
walks of life...
- Build thinking and acting skills needed by all citizens (dialogue, mental
models, system modeling, visioning, team learning, listening, et cetera).
They see learning and growing (as well as helping others learn and grow) as a
primary responsibility of community membership...
- Understand underlying system dynamics which impact the behavior of systems,
identify leverage points and act collaboratively to intervene and improve...
- Measure success by indicators of health, environmental well--being and
other issues of quality of life as well as by economic indicators.
Getting from here to there
In The Age of Unreason, British author Charles Handy says that "we are now
entering an Age of Unreason when the future, in so many areas, is there to be
shaped by us and for us -- a time when the only prediction that will hold
true is that no predictions will hold true; a time, therefore for bold
imaginings in private life as well as public, for thinking the unlikely and
doing the unreasonable." A new vision for community therefore requires:
- New ways of thinking...
- New ways of imagining...
- New ways of acting.
A personal check list for getting from here to there
communities as whole, natural, learning systems seems to suggest certain
actions we can all take.
Learn to become agents of change and innovation...
Most of us involved in community quality initiatives have come to this work
from backgrounds and commitments to quality and human development. If we are
to help transform communities, we must accelerate our own learning as agents
of change. We must ourselves learn from the larger systems in which our
communities are embedded, and discover the local interventions that we can
make. Theorist Eric Jantsch writes that innovations or "fluctuations" from
individual sub--systems will always be subjected to dampening by the larger
system. Innovations will either break through to create new structures or be
destroyed by the dampening influence. His advice is that a successful system
innovation takes more than a charismatic revolutionary leader and more than a
small hard core of revolutionary activists: its success requires cooperation
among groups and individuals that will "depend on sufficiently dense packing
on the one hand and on flexible, not too strong and rigid coupling on the
Learn from new lifestyles and experiments in community...
We are beginning to see the reflection of changing values and world views in
many simpler, less complex, less consumption--driven lifestyle choices that
people are making.
The voluntary simplicity movement seems to be gaining steam. All over the
world, people are experimenting with various forms of community, from the
Mondragon community in Spain, to community land trusts in the US, and a
computer-- based, barter system in operation in British Columbia. We must
begin to learn from these experiments and help to support and network among
Create opportunities for others to learn in community...
Support both operational and conceptual learning...
Daniel Kim (of M.I.T.'s
Organization Learning Center) differentiates between operational learning and
conceptual learning. Operational learning relates to the learning
opportunities we create for applying the theory, process and tools of quality
management to work processes. Operational learning enables organizations and
communities to organize for both greater autonomy and responsibility through
self--managed and self--directed workteams, as well as for reduced
consumption and waste of resources. Conceptual learning, Kim notes will
enable organizations and communities to begin addressing "the thinking behind
the doing" and "opportunities for discontinuous steps of improvement where
reframing a problem can bring about radically different... solutions."
Adopt new measures...
Hazel Henderson and others point out that economic indicators such as the GNP
and GDP were never intended, nor should be used as overall indicators of
health of our communities or societies. Henderson insists that we must be
"organized cybernetically to take advantage of feedback, not just in the form
of prices (which often are rigged, or do not reflect full social costs), but
also feedback from voters (i.e., democracy) and from nature (such as acid
rain and climate change). The more a society is structured to use a variety
of these multi--dimensional feedbacks -- to learn from them, modify
structures, behavior patterns, as well as values -- the better they can also
adapt to new conditions and survive."
Develop new leaders with new skills...
Margaret Wheatley, in her book Leadership and the New Science, attempts a
synthesis of the many interrelated aspects of the emerging world view and
challenges us to think about leadership, its skills and attributes, in new
and different ways. She contrasts the concept of situational leadership with
the leadership of relationships. She writes, "Leadership is always dependent
on the context, but the context is established by the relationships we value.
We cannot hope to influence any situation without respect for the complex
network of people who contribute to our organizations."
Develop new relationships within communities...
If we are to play a transformational role, we must begin to connect with and
learn from others who are involved in the business of transformation:
- Those involved in the feminist, peace and green movements...
- Those with expertise in community organizing and community building...
- Those involved with other social movements in our communities.
Most importantly, we must connect with people from all walks of life who need
to have a voice in the future. Al Gore writes, "If we feel no connection to
those in our own communities whose lives are being wasted, who are we?
...This reaffirmation of our connection to others involves an obligation to
join with others in adequately defending and protecting those of our rights
-- such as the right to breathe clean air and drink clean water -- that are
naturally among the individual rights belonging to others as well as to us,
and are vested in the community -- or nation, or world -- as a whole."
Develop new relationships among communities...
We must also connect and learn with other communities... We must understand
that we can have common aim, purpose and vision, and that we can work
together to create a better future.
Laszlo suggests, "We must allow that several systems can jointly participate
in an invention which makes them very close collaborators. Such systems will
henceforth behave so closely in harmony that they respond to challenges from
other systems as a team."
New commitment and hope...
The community quality initiative movement is not alone in the arena of trying
to create a better future. There is a growing commitment to and belief that
we can make a difference. One need only to look around to see that we have
the opportunity to be a force for creative and positive change. Robert
Theobald writes, "We are creating a very different world. As we begin to
discover its style, we shall like ourselves better, learn to use our
strengths, and manage our weaknesses. Above all, we shall know that we can
achieve nothing significant without colleagues who share our fundamental
hopes and dreams and help us develop them. We shall show that this new world
can develop more positive energy with less cost than the industrial era it is
In all of our work, we must become participants with, rather than controllers
of the process.
Jantsch suggests a creed that we might adopt and/or adapt for ourselves: "In
life, the issue is not control, but dynamic connectedness...
- I want to act from that knowledge...
- I want to move into a universe I trust so much that I give up playing
- I want to stop holding things together...
- I want to experience such safety that the concept of allowing -- trusting
that the appropriate forms can emerge -- ceases to be scary...
- I want to surrender my care of the universe and become a participating
member, with everyone I work with, in an organization that moves gracefully
with its environment, trusting in the unfolding dance of order." (bullets
added for emphasis)
Writing a new story for community
We have said that if community quality initiatives are to play a truly
transformational role in the global society, then we must have
transformational visions. We must have pictures in our minds that represent
the world we truly want to create and leave behind for its future
Thomas Berry, in a moving essay (The Hudson River Valley: A Bioregional
Story) tells us that we need a new story to tell one another as we begin this
quest. He writes:
Tell me a story. How often we said that as children.
Tell me a story. Story illumined the world for us in childhood. Even now we
might make the request: Tell me a story.
Tell me the story of the river and the valley and streams and woodlands and
wetlands, of the shellfish and finfish.
Tell me a story. A story of where we are and how we got here and the
characters and roles that we play.
Tell me a story, a story that will be my story as well as the story of
everyone and everything about me, the story that brings us together in a
valley community, a story that brings together the human community with every
living being in the valley, a story that brings us together under the arc of
the great blue sky in the day and the starry heavens at night, a story that
will drench us with rain and dry us in the wind, a story told by humans to
one another that will also be the story that the wood thrush sings in the
thicket, the story that the river recites in its downward journey, the story
that the Storm King Mountain images forth in the fullness of its grandeur.
...This is the moment of change from a sense of the valley as subservient to
human exploitation to a sense of the valley as an integral natural community
which is itself the basic reality and the basic value, and of the human as
having its true glory as a functioning member, rather than as a conquering
invader, of this community. Our role is to be the instrument whereby the
valley celebrates itself. The valley is both the object and the subject of
celebration. It is our high privilege to articulate this celebration in the
stories we tell and in the songs we sing.
Perhaps this is the picture we must hold in our minds that represents the
world we can create and leave behind for its future inhabitants.
This article was originally published in the Journal for Quality and
Participation and is copywritten by the Association for Quality and
Participation, 801-B W. 8th St., Suite 501, Cincinnati, Ohio 45203, Tel:
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"This is the time, we are the people, let's work togetherx Now!"
About the authors: Carole Schwinn is president of the Community Quality
Coalition's volunteer board of directors, a member of the AQP's Board of
Directors and is the assistant to the president of Jackson Community College
in Jackson, Michigan. At the community college she has worked on coordinating
the Transformation of American Industry National Community Colleges Training
Project since 1984. Most recently, she has been responsible for two highly
successful nationwide satellite teleconferences on quality and organizational
David Schwinn has been the primary consultant to the Transformation of
American Industry since its formation in 1984. During the same period of time
he has been a consultant with both Ford and General Motors. Prior to taking
on the Transform-ation project, David had been heavily involved with
initiating and guiding Ford's adoption of Dr. Deming's philosophy.
Between their combined activities in the Transformation of American Industry
and the Community Quality Coalition, Carole and David have been participants
in resourcing the quality management efforts of hundreds of for--profit and
non--profit organizations in 30 states, Puerto Rico and New Zealand.
Community quality, visions and world views...
Community quality -- When the first known community quality initiative,
GOAL/QPC, was founded in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1980, its leaders saw
that the theories and practices of Dr. W. Edwards Deming could help the
community's business and industry recover, thrive and grow. Soon thereafter,
in 1983, leaders in the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce launched the
PACE initiative to provide awareness and learning in quality management for
its member organizations. Since then, nearly 200 others have followed in the
path laid down by those early community pioneers.
Visions and world views
If we were to ask a dozen people to define vision,
we would be likely to hear a dozen different answers. In the book of Proverbs
the phrase, "Where there is no vision, the people perish," suggests that
people have agreed for a very long time that vision plays an essential role
in our lives.
Senge and vision...
Peter Senge tells us in The Fifth Discipline that at its
"simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question, 'What do we
want to create?'" Visions help to give us purpose, meaning and significance.
They help us to feel that we are a part of something larger and grander than
ourselves. Shared visions, writes Senge, give us focus and energy for
learning and the courage to take risks and experiment with new ways of being.
Vision, however, "becomes a living force only when people truly believe they
can shape their future." He continues: "A shared vision is not an idea. It is
not even an important idea such as freedom. It is, rather, a force in
people's hearts, a force of impressive power. It may be inspired by an idea,
but once it goes further -- if it is compelling enough to acquire the support
of more than one person -- then it is no longer an abstraction. It is
palpable. People begin to see it as if it exists. Few, if any forces in human
affairs are as powerful as shared vision."
Senge's observations suggest that it is through vision that we create the
future... that the future results from the pictures we carry in our heads, in
other words, from our world view. Our "mental models," as Senge calls them,
are our often unacknowledged, underlying beliefs and assumptions about the
world. It is our world views that shape our visions or pictures of the
desired future and guide the actions we take to carry us there. As surely as
we created our current reality from our current world views, transformational
visions for a better future will emerge from our own transformational world
The new emerging world view compared with the old/existing view...
- Patriarchal, command and control methods
- Strategies for growth
- Fossil fuels
- Reductionist and analytic thinking
- Valuing conformity
- The world is static
- Natural systems
- More feminine, democratic, collaborative, nurturing methods
- Strategies for development
- Solar and renewable fuels
- Synthesis and systems thinking
- Valuing diversity
- The world is dynamic
"A personal check list for getting from here to there"
- Learn to become agents of change and innovation...
- Learn from new lifestyles and experiments in community...
- Create opportunities for others to learn in community...
- Adopt new measures...
- Develop new leaders with new skills...
- Develop new relationships within communities...
- Develop new relationships among communities...
New commitment and hope...
In all of our work, we must become participants with, rather than controllers
of the process.
An example of conceptual learning...
Viewing pollution as scrap, rework and waste...
Al Gore writes in the
introduction to Earth in the Balance that the Japanese are "again searching
for ways to redesign the entire production process, this time with an eye to
eliminating unnecessary pollution at every step along the way. What they are
finding is that waste in the form of pollution is also economic waste. By
eliminating the inefficiencies that lead to the initial production of
pollution, they have discovered that it is often possible to simultaneously
improve productivity, profits and environmental efficiency."
References and resources:
- Ackoff, Russell. Creating the Corporate Future (NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1981).
- Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books,
- Capra, Fritjof. The Turning Point (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1982).
- Deming, W. Edwards. Out of the Crisis (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of
- Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance (NY: Plume, 1992).
- Handy, Charles. The Age of Unreason (Boston: Harvard Business School Press,
- Harman, Willis. Global Mind Change (NY: Warner Books, 1988).
- Henderson, Hazel. Paradigms in Progress (Indianapolis: Knowledge Systems,
- Henderson, Hazel. The Politics of the Solar Age (Indianapolis: Knowledge
Systems, Inc. 1988).
- Jantsch, Erich. The Self--Organizing Universe (NY: Pergamon Press, 1980).
- Kim, Daniel. "Toward Learning Organizations: Integrating Total Quality
Control and Systems Thinking." E40--294. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Sloan School
of Management, 1990.
- Kohn, Alfie. No Contest: The Case Against Competition (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1986).
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- Pirsig, Robert. Lila (NY: Bantam Books, 1991).
- Maturana, Humberto and Varela, Francisco The Tree of Knowledge. (Boston:
- Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline (NY: Doubleday, 1990).
- Swimme, Brian and Berry, Thomas. The Universe Story. (San Francisco: Harper,
- Theobald, Robert. Turning the Century (Indianapolis: Knowledge Systems, Inc.,
- Vaill, Peter. Managing as a Performing Art (San Francisco: Jossey--Bass,
- Wheatley, Margaret. Leadership and the New Science. (San Francisco: