June 13, 2017
“Life moves toward other life… If we trusted more in these cohering motions, we could move into an essential role … supporting the system to explore new connections, new information, new ways of being. It means focusing on opening the system in all ways.”
Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, a simpler way
“Bridging” in the work of network development speaks to the act of creating connections between socially heterogeneous groups (or putting it a bit more crassly, building bridges between “us” and “them”). The benefits of bridging include making it possible for diverse groups to share and exchange information, creating new forms of access, as well as leveraging new ideas and spurring innovation between groups representing different interests and/or backgrounds. Bridging widens social capital by increasing the “radius of trust.” Unlike “bonding,” or more in-group relationship building (think “birds of a feather flocking together”), bridging can help create more inclusive structures that can have implications for long-term resilience and more equitable development. The following is a story of a network engaging in intentional bridging work for more robust connectivity, flows and opportunity …
Food Solutions New England (FSNE) is a regional, collaborative network organized to “support the emergence of a New England food system that is a resilient driver of racial equity and food justice, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.” FSNE is convened by For the past 5+ years, IISC has worked with the convening “backbone organization,” UNH Sustainability Institute, to launch and structure itself as a formal network, as well as to concretize and evolve its core commitment to racial equity as it has become more diverse and inclusive and worked for systemic change.
Eighteen months ago, FSNE was faced with making a decision about where to hold its annual Food Summit. The Summit was originally conceived to bring together delegates from across New England to strengthen collaboration for regional food system sustainability. The commitment was made early on by the convenor to move the Summit around the region, holding it in each of the six New England states once before going to any of them for a second time.
Delegates to the 2015 New England Food Summit gathered in Boston, MA.
In 2016, Connecticut was the last state to host the New England Food Summit. The network’s backbone organization was faced with a decision about the specific location within the state. Previous Summits had been held in prominent hubs in the other states – Portsmouth (NH), Burlington (VT), Portland (ME), Pawtucket/Providence (RI) and Boston. While places like Hartford and New Haven might have been natural considerations given their respective amenities and relative centrality in the state, the choice was made to bring the Summit to Bridgeport. This decision was spurred in no small part by the leadership of State Senator Marilyn Moore, who hails from that city and is a member of the FSNE Network Team. Senator Moore pointed out that not only would it be significant for Bridgeport to play host, given it is often overlooked in favor of its more well-known and regarded neighbors, it would also be enlightening for Summit delegates to see reality on the ground. Furthermore, this choice was viewed as an expression of FSNE’s commitment to racial equity and food justice.
May 29, 2017
I recently received an email from the NorthSky Nonprofit Network about a practice group they have called the “Network Sandbox.” They introduce a tool (for “Tuesday Tool Time”) and invite members to play with it. I was happy to be told that they recently incorporated “connection stories” as a tool. Here is their invitation to participants to stretch and innovate:
This week’s tool is inspired by the new connections catalyzed by the mini-grants. While the survey we used collected some anecdotal information about the new connections, it left all of us wanting more… richer, deeper stories about these connections. Curtis Ogden from the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC), calls connection stories “critical nutrients” for networks that “feed a network forward.”
Tool: Connection Stories
Source: Interaction Institute for Social Change
Purpose: Collect and share stories of connections that have happened because of networks and share them back to the network to inspire more of the same.
From Curtis’s blog: Making these stories more explicit and accessible can have a number of different impacts:
- They model the importance of reaching out across boundaries and to “the other”
- They encourage network behaviors that build a foundation of trust and understanding, which …
- Contribute to “network effects” such as resilience, adaptation, and innovation.
- They can encourage cultures of equity, inclusion and diversity.
May 8, 2017
“Clearly, we made some people uncomfortable. Good. For too long, our comfort has come on the backs of many who have been uncomfortable for a long, long time.”
–Niaz Dorry, FSNE Process and Network Team Member
Food Solutions New England (FSNE) is a regional, collaborative network organized to “support the emergence of a New England food system that is a resilient driver of racial equity and food justice, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.”
For the past 5 years, IISC has supported FSNE to launch and structure itself as a formal network, as well as to concretize and evolve its core commitment to racial equity as it has become more diverse and inclusive and focused on systemic transformation. Over the winter, editorial staff from the Othering and Belonging Journal at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society solicited an article submission from FSNE to tell the story of why and how the network has operationalized its commitment to racial equity and food justice.
“While Othering processes marginalize people on the basis of perceived group differences, Belonging confers the privileges of membership in a community, including the care and concern of other members. As [john a.] powell has previously written, ‘Belonging means more than just being seen. Belonging entails having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of social and cultural structures. Belonging means having the right to contribute to, and make demands on, society and political institutions.'”
–Andrew Grant-Thomas, from Othering and Belonging Editors’ Introduction
The article was published last week under the title “Equity as Common Cause,” co-authored by El Farrell, Tom Kelly and Joanne Burke of the UNH Sustainability Institute (the convenor of FSNE), Karen Spiller of KAS Consulting and the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (Karen is lead FSNE Ambassador) and myself, as network facilitator, with input and voices of many others, including Connecticut Senator Marilyn Moore, Julius Kolawole of the African Alliance of Rhode Island and Niaz Dorry of North Atlantic Marine Alliance. Read More
April 25, 2017
With inspiration from Nancy White – thank you! (and make sure to check out Nancy’s blog) – I have been returning to and reviewing the list of Liberating Structures created and collected by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless for application to some strategy development work with a couple of social change networks. As described on the website:
Liberating Structures are “easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust.
Liberating Structures are meant to foster enlivening participation in groups of all sizes, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone.”
In reviewing the various structures, I’ve pulled out and added to a list of strategic questions that could be offered in concert with different group processes (World Cafe, Open Space, pair shares, fishbowls, individual reflection, etc.) to open up possibilities … Read More
April 19, 2017
In sustainable agriculture you hear talk about no and low-till farming. These are approaches that emphasize minimal disturbance of soils to preserve their structural integrity and also to keep carbon in the ground. No-till increases organic matter, water retention and the cycling of nutrients in the ground. As a result it can reduce or eliminate soil erosion, boost fertility and make soils more resilient to various kinds of disruptions. This flies in the face of mainstream approaches that recommend ongoing and significant intervention, “fluffing” soil and digging down to considerable depths to get rid of weeds and aerate the ground. What actually happens can be quite destructive to the long-term productive and regenerative capacity of the soil.
“When we harvest, weed, rake or trim gardens and landscapes, we remove the organic material that feeds the soil.”
I like this as a metaphor for what can happen when there is failure to see and respect the networked structures that already exist in communities, organizations and other living systems. Read More
April 4, 2017
“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it.”
– Toni Morrison
Once again, I’ve been re-reading Niels Pfleaging’s short book Organize for Complexity (and eager for the release of the English version of Complexitools) amidst the growing demand we are hearing at IISC from people who want to liberate their organizations and themselves to be able to intelligently respond to change and to come back to life! Here’s the gist – as things shift more, and more rapidly, some people’s inclination may be to try to exert greater control or dig in to what is familiar, but does not work. The more one does so, the worse things can get. As Pfleaging writes, we see a “high price for the illusion of control.” Within organizations this takes the form of various gaps – social, functional, and temporal – that make them increasingly irrelevant, ineffective and irresponsible.
Responding to complexity requires (to borrow a phrase from Eugene Eric Kim) new muscles and mindsets.
March 22, 2017
“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
James A. Baldwin
For the third year in a row, IISC is working with Food Solutions New England to design and facilitate the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge (April 9-29) as an extension of our mutual commitment to racial justice. The challenge is a virtual and networked remix of an exercise created by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Debby Irving, offered as a way of spreading and deepening commitment to learn about, talk about and take action to solve racial injustices in the food and other related systems.
This year, we are adding additional tools and prompts to create a rich environment for learning, conversation and action. This includes:
- a more extensive resource page with readings, tools, videos and organizational links,
- a new list of daily prompts with links to resources and room for participants to offer written reflections,
- a series of original blog posts on the FSNE website committed to relevant topics and themes
- a Twitter hashtag (check out #FSNEEquityChallenge)
March 10, 2017
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”
Grace Lee Boggs
The past twelve months I had the pleasure of working with a team from Food Solutions New England to design and facilitate its first Network Leadership Institute. This initiative grew out of FSNE’s ongoing commitment to cultivating thought leadership and network leadership “to support the emergence and viability of a New England food system that is a driver of healthy food for all, racial equity, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.” Another impetus for the Institute was a year spent doing system mapping and analysis that revealed four leverage areas for advancing a just, sustainable and democratically-owned and operated regional food system, including cultivating and connecting leadership. Read More
February 27, 2017
“We add value to society-at-large when we dare to connect.”
– Gibran Rivera
For the past five years, Food Solutions New England has been building a regional collaborative network organized to support the emergence and sustainability of a New England food system that is a driver of healthy food for all, racial equity, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities. This network was formally launched with support of IISC in response to a shared sense that greater connection, trust, deep collaboration and innovation were needed across food system efforts throughout the region. To create this connectivity, we have engaged in a number of structural and procedural innovations, including creating an Ambassador Team to do network weaving and the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, which will happen again this year from April 9-29.
Along the way, we have been witnessing some important boundary-crossing and new partnerships emerging. One example in particular stands out, stemming from a field visit a number of us did to a fishing community in the region to learn more about the challenges to and innovations among small scale fishermen. Our tour was organized by a network team member and community organizer of color who focuses on fisheries who has many deep connections in that community. One of the attendees of the tour was an older white man who does policy work in another state. Personality-wise, these two individuals are quite different, along with their chosen points of intervention in the food system. And yet on the heels of that tour, the organizer and the policy wonk became good friends and colleagues who continue to learn from one another and coordinate more around fisheries and policy analysis/development, creating new opportunities in and across their respective worlds. Read More
February 21, 2017
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
February 7, 2017
February 2, 2017
“Systems thinking without systems thinkers will change nothing.”
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
This is a follow-up post to one from a few months ago focused on public engagement structures as important contributing factors to community resilience. The previous post ended by noting another important part of the engagement for resilience story is process.
For work we at IISC have done in a variety of communities, we have strived to ensure that public engagement processes are accessible, equitable, contribute to self-empowerment and community resilience, and get to other meaningful and desired outcomes. To this end, we have brought a number of process design considerations (see list below), all viewed through our collaborative change lens, which lifts up power, networks and love as central features to building real capacity for change. Read More