“As long as it remains invisible, it is guaranteed to remain insoluble.”
Margaret Heffernan, from Willful Blindness
Photo by Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux
The following is a slighted edited re-post of a piece that appeared at this time last year on our site . . .
As I look back on this past year through the lens of the work we have done at IISCsupporting networks and movements for social change, one of the most significant themes from my perspective is the value and importance of “making the invisible visible.” Over the past twelve months, we’ve facilitated many reflection sessions with diverse groups to gauge the development and impact they observe from our work together. I tend to ask people how they seechange happening at different levels: self, group, larger systems (organization, neighborhood, community, state, region, etc.). I also like to ask them to reflect via the use of stories to capture and convey significant development.
What has surfaced from this sharing is that even though some of the big goals around equity and sustainability are still ahead of us, there has been movement and part of this development comes down to seeing and being able to work with what had previously been unseen. While the methods for getting to this recognition have varied – from system mapping and analysis to network mapping to structural and power analysis to learning journeys to dialogue and tackling difficult conversations– by creating space to see, share and explore, there has been significant deepening of relationships (to self, other, the work), understanding and commitment.
IISC welcomes Kelly Bates to our organization as Chief of Staff and Democracy Strategy. Kelly brings excitement to our work in Big Democracy and public engagement, especially as we seek to engage people from all walks of life. She has spent the past twenty years running social change organizations, and consulting and training around political engagement, anti-oppression, and diversity.
“I am thrilled that Kelly has joined IISC,” said IISC President Ceasar McDowell. “She is bringing her experience leading organizations and deep understanding of democracy and racial equity to IISC.”
Kelly is the recipient of leadership awards from Boston NAACP, Boston University School of Law and, in 2013, she was awarded the Women of Color Changing Our World Award. Kelly credits IISC with shaping her style as a facilitator and leader, very early in her career. “I have deeply respected IISC for years,” she said. “I have hired IISC, been through public trainings, and worked with the team here. IISC facilitation is powerful, meaningful, and extremely well-executed.”
Sustainable City Network publishes about best practices for Leaders in Government, Education, and Healthcare. Recently they featured IISC Senior Associate Cynthia Sila Parker, reflecting on Rhode Island’s 2-year planning process, which incorporates equity goals. Read More
Our eyes met and locked a split second after we noticed the feet of two young men sitting next to each other in the circle – both had a pant leg rolled up to show an ankle monitor. In the same circle, sat two sheriffs with guns and tasers strapped to their hips and covered by their untucked shirts. It was day three of our training, Moving Forward in Addressing Race, Power and Privilege, and we were now harvesting the fruits of many hours of challenging mental, emotional and spiritual work.
“I have learned to see that not all police officers are rude and mean,” shared a 14 year-old Latina girl. “I have learned that some officers care about me and want to be fair; this is the first time I’ve been in a space where I felt heard by adults (in the system).”
Having law enforcement at the table with an openness to change is important. Systems are made up of individuals. Individuals centered on equity values and skilled in moving policy forward, in partnership with multi-sector networks towards common goals, can create long term change.
“I have gained sight and vision where before I was blind,” shared a white male law enforcement officer, “and I am willing to give what ever it takes personally and professionally to our cause.” Read More
“Networks are present everywhere. All we need is an eye for them.”
You may have heard a version of this story before:
There was a man who had worked at a factory for twenty years. Every night when he left the plant, he would push a wheelbarrow full of straw to the guard at the gate. The guard would look through the straw, and find nothing and pass the man through.
On the day of his retirement the man came to the guard as usual but without the wheelbarrow. Having become friends over the years, the guard asked him, “I’ve seen you walk out of here every night for twenty years. I know you’ve been stealing something. Now that you’re retired, please tell me what it is. It’s driving me crazy.”
The man smiled and replied, “Okay, wheelbarrows.”
This tale about not seeing something in plain sight reminds me of a dynamic that can ensue in network gatherings where at some point anxiety is expressed about not getting to “concrete” outcomes. This happened recently at a large convening of a national network attempting to set systemic change strategies. Read More
Today community activists, designers, planners, and public officials convene for a day-long event, Design, Development, and Democracy. They are called to imagine connected, democratically-driven design and development processes that can expand and deepen our democracy.
“It is important that we recognize city planning decisions as democracy opportunities,” said IISC President, Ceasar McDowell. “These decisions are not now, and never have been, separate from political matters.”
Cities are complex places where competing interests influence quality of life. To build just and resilient cities, people across sectors—not only planners—must influence decisions related to the built environment, community health and interconnected social issues.
That is why IISC has joined with Sasaki Associates, MIT’s Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, the Boston Society of Architects, and Harvard University Graduate school of Design to host Design, Development, and Democracy (DDD) at the Bruce C. Bolling building in Roxbury.
I spend a lot of time pondering the above questions [see post] as well, and appreciate your thoughts here. It’s very helpful.
Re: ‘going beyond abstraction to interaction’, Yes! And even further than interaction – in the past year or so, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for something June Holley said to me awhile back – ‘I always say – start with micro-collaborations.’Read More
Last week, we held an internal learning session for staff and affiliates entitled “Advancing Equitable Networks.” IISC Affiliate Kiara Nagel and I presented some thoughts about our ever evolving practice of supporting network development for social change, including situating our current approach in IISC’s mission and vision, and our collaborative change lens (see above), which lifts up the importance of understanding and shifting power dynamics for equitable outcomes, embracing love as a force for social transformation and seeing networks as the underlying infrastructure of change.
We then elicited and shared some questions that are at the growing edge of our network consulting practice, including these three: Read More
Today marks my last day at the Interaction Institute for Social Change. This has been my professional home for the last 10 years. IISC is the community that has shaped me and my capacity to fulfill my life’s purpose. I am eternally indebted to this place. This is the platform that has allowed me to make my contribution to our quest for liberation. I leave with love, appreciation and commitment to our evolving relationship. Read More
We are thankful for the thousands of people taking to the streets in Chicago in protest of the murder (and attempted cover-up) of Laquan McDonald. We are thankful for the thousands of activists demanding #JusticeforJamar in Minneapolis at the #4thPrecinctShutdown who have endured gun violence at the hands of white supremacists, desperate to stop the growing Movement for Black Lives.
Black Lives Matter Protester carries ENOUGH sign. Photo credit Barry Yanowitz, 12/14/14
Lesson 4: Lead boldly, collaboratively, authentically
Finally, working in this kind of collaborative partnership is unfamiliar for many planners and also for many community residents. It requires everyone to do their best to embrace the discomfort and awkwardness that comes with learning and develop both attitudes and habits that support collaboration. IISC has found that several key values and attributes are important for collaborative change agents to be well-positioned to support this way of working. The attributes include demonstrating a collaborative mindset, strategic thinking and a receptive and flexible skillset for facilitating collaboration. Core values include mutuality and service, authenticity, and love – a deep regard for the well-being of others. Read More
Lesson 3. Build the capacity and culture within public planning institutions to focus on equity and to facilitate broad-based public engagement.
Most planning agencies, regulators, and planning consultants are not well equipped to take on the challenge of seriously engaging communities that chronically experience social inequities. As a planning agency prepares to launch a planning process, it needs to build both a culture and capacity that welcomes and supports engaging community members. This often begins with acknowledging the expertise that comes from lived experience, and the awareness that the agency may not have all the knowledge and skill it needs to take equity seriously. Read More