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
January 6, 2017
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.
December 23, 2016
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 …
December 19, 2016
“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.
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 System; Leveraging a New (Food) System Narrative; Racial Equity Habit Building 2.0; Peeling Away Layers for Impact in Networks for Change; and Networks: A Love Story. The 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
December 6, 2016
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
October 25, 2016
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
October 12, 2016
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
October 7, 2016
In light of a recent conversation with Jana Carp, an academic who has studied the underlying principles of the “slow movement” and how they connect to sustainability, place-making and livabily, I am revisiting, revising and reposting the piece below. Jana and I were connected by a mutual colleague with the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, given our mutual interests in public engagement, community-building and sustainability (inclusive of justice), and had an interesting conversation about slowness and networks.
At one point, the question came up as to whether networks might cut against slowness, especially when the emphasis is on rapid growth, diffusion, and trans-local connections. My thought at the time was that this certainly could be the case, and that is why it is important to think about both the breadth and depth dimensions of networks, as well linking different scaled networks (local, regional, global). The importance of networks for social change can certainly reside in their reach and rapid scaling. Their potential also resides in the nature and quality of connection, how deep the ties that bind are and what they help to create and circulate. And this brought me back to these reflections on how to think about “social velocity” in networks and collaborative work …
My friend Joel Glanzberg is a constant source of provocation and insight. The way he sees the world, through a living systems and pattern-seeking lens, is not only refreshing but unnerving in that it is evident how simultaneously critical and rare his perspective is. Joel is great at helping me and others to see beyond objects and structures to underlying patterns and processes, and how these are what animate living systems. Read More
September 13, 2016
Think like a network, act like a node.
At 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.
August 30, 2016
“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”
– Wendell Berry
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:
August 23, 2016
“Processes aimed at racial equity change can overlook the privileged side of inequity.”
In numerous social change networks that we support at IISC, racial equity has been put at the center of the work, whether or not that was the initial impetus for coming together. This is not seen as ancillary to the change effort, but now understood as foundational, in that systemic inequity around race is part and parcel of the water in which we swim. In a few of these networks where there is a majority of white participants, increasing numbers of people are asking what they can do about structural racism, and one response is that there is important work to be done around whiteness and white privilege. As Gita Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk point out, this is often a critical missing link in racial equity work. Read More