“Thinking in terms of networks can enable us to see with new eyes.”
– Harold Jarche
A couple of years ago I teamed up with Bruce Hoppe, a very skillful and savvy network mapper, to do a network capacity building and analysis engagement with a national education organization comprised of a growing number of member schools. While the organization referred to itself as a “network,” leadership recognized that it did not necessarily intentionally leverage itself as such, or do so with great consistency. Furthermore, there was reported unevenness of understanding among member schools of what it meant to be a member of this network. So Bruce and I were invited in to work with the leadership team to see what might be done to grow network awareness, intention and activity.
In addition to doing some “thinking like a network” training and coaching with the core leadership team, we put together a network survey that yielded some interesting results. The survey was intended to surface how people in the network currently took advantage of the network, what they valued about it, and what other value they would like to see come from their membership and participation.
In analyzing both the pattern of responses and the network map that Bruce constructed, we were interested to see stories emerge of mediated and self-organized collaborations between schools. This included reports of information sharing, staff exchanges, and coordinated learning. This raised a few questions – Was network leadership aware of these collaborations? Were others in the network familiar with them? The answer was that there was some awareness, but this was not at all widespread. The hypothesis emerged that if examples of collaboration were more widely shared and celebrated, this might become both license and motivation for others to do so.
Something else that emerged from the network map were signs of various geographic clusters of schoolswhere there was relatively robust and/or growing communication and coordination. At the same time, there were schools that were in relatively close geographic proximity (in a state or sub-region of a state) where there was little if any interaction and exchange. Clusters in a network can become very powerful engines of collaboration, innovation and influence, both for members of the cluster and also the rest of the network. Leadership was invited to look more closely at the conditions that might be supporting interactivity in some clusters as opposed to others, and also to share examples of robust cluster activity with the rest of the network to inspire curiosity and connectivity.
Another take-away from the survey analysis was that there were clear (what we called) “champions” in the network, individuals who participated in many different virtual and in-person network activities at a relatively high degree of frequency. These super-users were identified as an asset to be further engaged to the extent that they might be ambassadors for the network as a whole, given their apparent enthusiasm. In addition, we raised the idea of creating a cluster of the champions, or a community of practice, that might exchange and prototype promising practices for network engagement.
Also related to this notion of champions was the discovery that the formal school coaching role that existed within the network could play a potentially powerful weaving function within the network. That is, coaches worked with multiple school leaders and often saw opportunities to make connections for the sake of peer exchange. However, this was not a formally condoned aspect of the coaching role. Leadership was invited to consider what it might look like to move coaches out of the role of highly customized support for individual schools and to do more generalized workshops and connecting of peers to ramp up interactivity, and support capacity, in the network.
Collaborations, clusters, champions and coaches-as-weavers – helpful isights from a network survey and map that we look forward to continuing to build upon and learn from, including how to leverage both virtual and in-person convenings to energize the network.
“I believe that the struggle for racial and social justice provides an unparalleled lens through which to visualize – and achieve – more honest, just, and positive interrelationships in all aspects of our lives together.”
The FSNE Challenge is a remixed and more sector-specific form of an exercise created by Dr. Eddie Moore (founder of the Privilege Institute), Debbie Irving (author of Waking Up White), and Dr. Marguerite W. Penick-Parks (Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh). After FSNE formalized its commitment to racial equity in its sustainable food system work about 7 years ago (more on our journey in this article), a small design team saw the potential of using the Challenge to invite more widespread (networked!) conversation about the connection between race, racism and food systems and ultimately greater action for racial and food justice.
We also see the on-line version of the Challenge as a way of creating “network effects” around the justice work that many are already doing in our region and beyond through small world reach, rapid dissemination, adaptation, etc. Participation in and the complexity of the Challenge continue to grow – in 2015 we had 200 participants, mainly from the six state region of “New England,” and in 2019 we had some 5,000 people participate from all 50 states in the US, Canada, Mexico and other countries outside of North America.
The point of the Racial Equity Challenge is not simply to spread but also deepen the commitment to racial equity and food justice. So we hope that participants return each year, and many do, and also continue the work in between. Because of this, we make sure that the Challenge continues to evolve in content and format, increasingly with a bias towards action. A couple of years ago, seeing how things were developing, we created the “ladder of engagement” below to think about how to continue to move people along a continuum from “not paying attention” to “organizing.”
It has been inspiring to see numerous organizations self-organize to take the Challenge in-house, convening colleagues, fellow congregants, community members and classmates to reflect together on learning and making commitments to action. This has included groups such as Health Care Without Harm; the Wallace Center at Winrock International; Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems; Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; Southside Community Land Trust (Providence, RI); Agricultural Sustainability Institute at University of California-Davis, Georgia Organics and many others who have convened around the Challenge.
Last year we responded to these organic efforts and some specific requests by creating a discussion guide for facilitators to design and steward conversations in their organizations/communities. In 2019, the Challenge also went deep in the home institution of Food Solutions New England, the University of New Hampshire (the Sustainability Institute serves as the network’s “backbone”). With the support of a Professorship that I shared with Karen Spiller, we did considerable “in-reach” to staff, faculty and students, including a launch event and campus presentations, which resulted in more than 500 people participating in the Challenge from UNH. We also turned the Challenge into workshops that we offered at gatherings such as the White Privilege Conference.
Last year, we heard for months after the Challenge many appreciations from different parts of the country and how participation is moving people from learning to action –
to create a community equity summit
to bring equity centrally into organizational strategy
to shift one’s job so that they can focus more centrally on issues of injustice
to bolster people’s courage to have courageous conversations
to bring an equity focus to food policy work
We hope these ripples will continue to be amplified this year!
So what exactly is the Challenge?
It is a self-guided learning journey examining the history and impacts of racism how it is connected to our food systems, examples and tools on how to undo racism and build racial equity and food justice.
How does the Challenge work?
People sign up (YOU can register here) and then starting March 30th, they receive daily email prompts focused on a different theme along with links to related resources (readings, video, audio) that take about 10-15 minutes each day. In addition, there is a robust Resource List for people to look through and continue their learning. Those who register also have access to an online discussion forum for those who want to talk and think out loud about the daily prompts and other learning along the way.
How is the Challenge evolving in 2020?
To meet the growing demands of participants and the expressed desire for many to go deeper and to replicate and extend the Challenge in different ways, we have developed a variety of additional supports.
We will also offer a one day in-person training for people who are interested in facilitating groups to prepare themselves for that undertaking.
Another feature this year is a more robust Outreach Kit that has been pulled together by FSNE Communications Director, Lisa Fernandes. The Kit includes sample communications that can be used to recruit others to participate in the Challenge through email, social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook), as an outreach flyer.
Related to outreach, and a late-breaking development, a US Representative in our region (whose name we cannot reveal yet) has agreed to tweet out daily prompts to her constituents via social media. How about inviting your elected officials to do the same!
New this year – in collaboration with the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and the Garfield Foundation, we are excited to offer mini-grants up to $1,000 to organizations and groups based in any of the six New England states who need some financial support to meaningfully convene discussions or group conversations around this year’s Racial Equity Challenge. Funding can be used to cover expenses such as printing, room rental, refreshments, childcare and travel reimbursements for attendees of session(s), language translation/interpretation, etc. More information is available here.
Also new this year, organizations (such as non-profits, agencies, schools, businesses and other groups) can register to be listed as “organizational participants” of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge! Each individual should still register with their own email address in order to receive the daily prompts during the Challenge, but organizations can now indicate to the world their support for the work of building equity and dismantling racism in our food system! Contact FSNE with any questions about this.
All of this is in line with how FSNE sees itself evolving as a network into its next decade, creating accessible and supportive resources that might be shared and easily adapted through aligned, diverse and robust connections in the region and beyond.
Please join us, and spread the word, the invitation, the conversation and the commitment to others!
At IISC we believe that collaboration is possible if we focus on results, process, and relationships. We also understand that it’s hard to collaborate and do the work of racial equity if we pressure ourselves to work and “do” at a pace that depletes us and keeps us from experiencing our humanness and connection with each other. I offer this poem in that spirit to all our friends and visitors.
Be gentle on yourself
Like lapping waters drifting to your toes
A kitten’s cuddle at your calves
The nestled warmth of glowing ember
We are stretching too hard
Northeast dwellers haunted by those that arrived at Plymouth rock
Who created an epicenter of work til you drop
And colonize til you drop
And enslave until you profit
Working working working themselves
Working working working stolen people
on stolen land
This we have inherited
A ceaseless mantra in our head that
More needs more
More needs to be created
And more needs to be sustained
And we get sick
And we yell at each other
And train our kids and workers to emulate the same
Hurting our hearts
And our births
We need not look far for models to reclaim our humanity
The way we treated earth as wondrous toddlers
The circles of the Wampanoags and First Nations
Rituals and spirituals of Africans
Buddhists and indigenous religions
To simply breathe
Walk slowly with intention
Hold each other in times of conflict in circle
Sing songs of cherishment and liberation
Listen until someone is truly finished
Share meals and libations
Till and protect our earth together
And fearlessly love
We are enough
To silence the frenetic finger on the text and keyboard
To engage in single task to explore our natural focus
excels at many things, but one of the things we don’t do as often as we might
is to share our accomplishments and toot our own horn. In the spirit of
collaboration, we rarely take credit; however, I do want to elevate and
celebrate the special contributions IISC has made this year.
challenging as it was, 2019 was a successful year at IISC. We served over 70
client organizations and networks and trained over 700 leaders in the skills of
collaboration and racial equity. We published sixteen blogs to influence our field and share
learnings on the deep importance of empathy, equity, daring leadership, and
have shaped the field of racial equity and justice by combining our knowledge,
experience, and skills with the likes of great organizations working for change
like Race Forward, Building Movement Project, and Change Elemental.
built tool kits for racial equity for United Way Worldwide and campaigns such
as the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge used by networks all over
the world! We started building a workshop curriculum for the breakthrough book Decolonizing Wealth by author Edgar
Villanueva, which is shaking the philanthropic field to its core. We offered
two well-attended webinars for current and aspiring IISC staff and affiliates
on network practice and racial equity consulting at IISC.
celebrated our 25th anniversary with over 200 old and new
friends and raised over $170,000 to fund our work, innovations to our products,
and a video that displays IISC’s rich
team has been on the move upgrading the Facilitative
Leadership for Social Change curriculum with a racial equity lens and
frameworks. Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations (ARJ), our signature workshop to
help leaders implement racial justice in day-to-day organizational life, will
now be offered to cohorts of leaders seeking deep change for
racial justice. Due to its popularity, we have also piloted an advanced ARJ
workshop to take learning to the next level. We are developing a new concept
for a workshop designed for people of color to support their leadership as they
traverse the challenges of change in deeply racialized contexts. Freedom is
speaking, IISC ended 2019 in the positive. That’s IISC’s third year in a row of
sustaining a healthy financial surplus; an accomplishment never seen in our 25
years. We are starting a reserve fund to help us through future difficult times
and unanticipated needs.
has been a remarkable year with impact, learning, and growth all the way
As IISC Senior Associate Curtis Ogden was
trolling on Twitter, he came across a post from Adam Kahane of Reos Partners who
shared five practices for breakthrough facilitation. IISC enjoys teaching the
tools of facilitation through our signature workshops. We offered additional ideas
using our lens of equity to build on his ideas.
how our team responded:
@adamkahane tweeted on Jan 7, 2020
Five simple (but not easy) practices for Breakthrough Facilitation from Adam Kahane