Author Archives for Curtis Ogden

February 21, 2017

Practices for Personal Resilience and Development

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Photo by Elade Manu. Found on Flickr and shared under Creative Commons Attribution 2.o license.

This is a slightly edited version of a post from about 3 years ago, and it feels more timely in light of current events. Many groups with whom we work at IISC are trying to find a way to stay resilient amidst onslaughts and uncertainties. I have found my own need for personal practice to have grown accordingly. 

When I take time to slow down my interest is always refueled in practices that support my and others’ ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world. My line of inquiry is not simply focused on what can keep me energized, pull me back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but also how I can align my internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way. My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to others in the fields of positive and social psychology. Having revisited some of these writings again recently, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience: Read More

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February 7, 2017

Thinking in Systems, Through Sayings and Quotes

“Systems thinking without systems thinkers will change nothing.”

Derek and Laura Cabrera

A few months ago, Andrew Grant-Thomas of EmbraceRace and I presented an interactive session at the Facing Race Conference in Atlanta on systems thinking tools to address structural racism. We had offered a similar session at the 2014 conference in Dallas with our colleague Cynthia Silva Parker, and as it turns out, both sessions were done in a standing-room-only situation. Clearly there is a hunger for these skills and tools among racial justice advocates.

Systems thinking as a field has been around for a few decades, but its direct application to structural racism has not been widespread. Even where racism has been discussed systemically, activists have often craved practical skills and tools to identify and align strategically around areas of intervention that will yield the greatest return for effort.

In our session in Atlanta, we spent some time talking about and exploring the “thinking” side of systems thinking. We presented a few systems thinking sayings and quotes from different writers and practitioners, and invited participants to read and reflect on them and talk with others about the ones that most caught their attention. A specific request was to pay to attention to how the words impacted their thinking and perspectives. There were, in just the span of about 10-15 minutes, some remarkable insights reported. And so I invite you to do the same, to share any impacts, and also to add your own favorite systems thinking sayings. Read More

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January 6, 2017

The Edges of and Gaps in Network Development

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I along with some other colleagues was recently approached by a networks researcher and thought leader about any emerging lessons and what we perceive to be current gaps in the “networks for social change” field around knowledge and practice. We were also invited to share any blog posts that speak to these lessons and growing edges. Below is the gist of the response that I sent, and I am curious to hear any reactions, extensions, etc.

Below are links to three blog posts that I would say speak to the growing edges in my own thinking and what I am seeing as important considerations for the field going forward. To summarize, these all have to do with how to get at deeper systemic change purpose and potential (which is not always the presenting purpose or initially perceived potential when networks form), and related to that, surfacing and working with issues of power, privilege and identity

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December 23, 2016

Look to the Growing Edge

In these uncertain and challenging times, I take heart and inspiration from mentors near and far, living and passed. One that I look to pretty consistently is Howard Thurman, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. Thurman’s theology of radical nonviolence influenced and shaped a generation of civil rights activists, and he was a key mentor to leaders within the movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1944, he co-founded, along with Alfred Fisk, the first major interracial, interdenominational church in the United States. I will be reading his Meditations of the Heart over our break next week, and offer this excerpt and some of his encouraging words …

 “Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit.

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December 19, 2016

Systems Mapping and Strategy Development for a Better Food Future

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The following post recently appeared on the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) website. I have had the great pleasure and privilege of supporting FSNE for the past five years as a network design and development consultant, facilitator, and trainer. As we near the end of 2016, a year that has proven challenging to many, I continue to find some of my greatest hope in the work of this important and unique initiative, grounded in the tremendous commitment and generosity of its shared (net) leadership. This is not the first time that I have written about the work of FSNE. Other posts include: Distribution, Diversity, Dignity: Networking the “Business Case” for a Regional Food SystemLeveraging a New (Food) System NarrativeRacial Equity Habit Building 2.0Peeling Away Layers for Impact in Networks for Change; and Networks: A Love StoryThe post below speaks specifically to the past year-plus of work identifying “leverage areas” for coordinated collective action … 

In 2015, the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Network Team began a year-long process to better understand how we could support the region in achieving the New England Food Vision. The Vision describes a future in which at least 50% of our food is grown, raised, and harvested in New England and no one goes hungry. It looks ahead to the year 2060 and sees farming and fishing as important regional economic forces; soils, forests, and waterways cared for sustainably; healthy diets as a norm; and racial equity and food justice promoting dignity and well being for all who live in New England. Read More

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December 6, 2016

Connection is Fundamental … and Adaptive … and Resilient

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Over the recent Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to meet with friends of extended family members, a couple who are engaged in both disaster relief and community planning work. She is from Nepal and he is from the U.S., and together they relayed a story about their time visiting Nepal during the devastating earthquake of 2015.

The two of them were hiking in the mountains when the 7.8 magnitude quake struck. Shaken but not hurt, they made their way back to Katmandu as quickly as possible to check in on family members and then to offer their assistance to others. Originally assigned the task of loading water jugs on trucks, they then volunteered and were enlisted for their translation skills, and headed out to some of the hardest hit villages with international relief workers. Read More

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October 25, 2016

Public Engagement for Resilience, Part 1: Structure Matters

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A team of us at IISC are partnering with an engineering firm to work on a climate change resiliency planning initiative in a vulnerable neighborhood in New York City. Our role is to lead the creation and implementation of a “stakeholder engagement plan” for broad-based input into project deliverables, including a fully funded infrastructure project and a feasibility study.

In developing our proposal for this initiative, we were guided by the notion that resiliency can and should be a core feature of social structures and processes. That is, threats to resiliency are found not simply in conditions such as low lying coastal communities or lack of back-up energy generation, but also in social disconnection and impaired flows of key resources. We were already aware of some of the vulnerabilities of this particular community, as well as its strengths in that it is well-organized and has a considerable density of social services and community organizations. That said, even when there are such assets in a neighborhood, there are many examples of municipally-sponsored projects that by-pass or fail to fully honor existing assets and networks in a community, with results ranging from missed opportunities to actually leaching resources (including time and trust). Read More

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October 12, 2016

Connections Change What is Connected

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I can’t remember exactly where I saw the phrase recently, but I latched onto it. “Connections change what is connected.” So true. And this is a reason to seriously consider the power and promise of building networks for social change.

In our mainstream culture it seems that many people tend to look at things in isolation, without appreciating that context and relationship have so much to say about the nature of … well, everything. Think about the following examples: Read More

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September 13, 2016

Network Behaviors to Leverage Network Effects

Think like a network, act like a node.

network_effectAt IISC, we continue to emphasize that networks, not organizations, are the unit of social change. Part of the reason for this is that networks at their best are able to leverage what are known as “network effects.” These effects, as described by Madeleine Taylor and Peter Plastrik, include the following:

Rapid Growth and Diffusion

Through its myriad nodes and links, as well as the ongoing addition of participants and new pathways, a dense and intricate network can expand quickly and broadly. This can be critical for spreading information and other resources and mobilizing actors in ways that organizations simply cannot achieve.

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August 30, 2016

Look for and Leverage Elegant Solutions

“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”

– Wendell Berry

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An essay that I return to now and then, including over these past summer months, is Wendell Berry‘s “Solving for Pattern.” Published in 1981, the piece essentially considers systemic approaches to more “sustainable “agriculture, though the concept alluded to in the title has wider application. The phrase “solving for pattern” is an invitation to take a larger and longer view of “problem-solving,” to think about interventions that serve a bigger picture in more sustained and multiply beneficial ways.

Solving for pattern, according to Berry, runs counter to reductionist and mechanical solutions, which lend themselves to more predictable and relatively contained situations. When reductionist solutions are applied to more complex and systemic situations, they are more prone to failure and to exacerbating negative aspects. Real-life examples include:

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