Author Archives for Sara Oaklander

June 25, 2019

IISC’s 25th Anniversary Celebration: Lessons Learned

On June 11, 2019, IISC successfully celebrated twenty-five years of building collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity. It was a beautiful and soulful party with over 200 supporters at the historic Hibernian Hall in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a largely Black and working-class community in the heart of Boston. It was IISC’s first time planning an event of this magnitude, let alone celebrating such a major milestone as our quarter-century birthday.

As you know, part of IISC’s core and signature contribution to the field is that we bring people together to collaborate, lead, and design processes for social change and racial equity. Therefore, like a true IISC’er, I have been pondering some questions. What did we learn about collaboration, racial equity, process, and leadership through this event? What did this event teach or re-teach us about collective planning for change?

There are five observations that come to mind. Not so much about the mechanics of the event (get a great event coordinator is the short answer to that!), but rather about the important intentions around the event.

  1. Clear collaboration got us through every challenge. It was important for us to have a clear purpose for our event, a set of shared values to guide our planning, and a collective vision for our success. Our willingness to share leadership brought wisdom and effective action to our task. We also understood that our collaboration could be efficient. At IISC we remind people that not every decision needs to be made by consensus and this was true in our process. In the case of our event, we delegated the role of planning the event to a committee of diverse stakeholders by role, age, and race that could work nimbly with a relatively small number of constraints such as budget. Other than that, the sky was the limit. We solicited input from each other and other stakeholders as we went along so that we could harness the collective genius and perspectives needed to make this a truly special and unique event. When we hit a block or wall, we would ask the group, what do you think?
  2. Women of color leadership makes the difference. At IISC we are challenging our clients and ourselves to make and honor spaces for women of color to share their voices, to lead, and to flourish. Our event coordinator was a Black woman and at any given time, 70% of the event committee was comprised of women of color. These women of color brought intersectional approaches to everything, making connections between IISC’s equity values and our event vision and execution. We ensured that we had diverse voices on our event stage, and that we hired people of color, women, and Boston residents as vendors. Women of color have often had to make do with very little and to work on every task from bottom to top. With that, our skills kicked in, helping us to nail the small and big details. Collectively, we turned over every stone to solve every challenge along the way.
  3. Set an inspiring goal. At IISC, we promote facilitative leadership, and a major facet of this kind of leadership is inspiring people with vision. We decided to set a fundraising goal that was a stretch but not one that would strike fear in us if we didn’t meet it. We chose a goal that if reached, would allow us to accomplish what had otherwise seemed impossible: a goal that would provide long imagined funding for innovation and product development. And we not only met our fundraising goal, we shattered it!
  4. RPR works. At IISC, we talk about the three dimensions of success in any collaboration. Tending to relationships, designing artful and meaningful process, and achieving results. At each stage of our work as an event committee, we made space for each event committee member to personally check in about their lives and to learn about non-IISC interests and pursuits. We made sure to have focused and detailed meeting agendas with strong facilitation so that we could process all the event details before us and achieve our desired outcomes. We focused on achieving results. We set targets of $125,000 in fundraising and 150 event participants, and we exceeded both our goals. All three dimensions were essential to our event’s success.

5. Speak and show your values. At IISC our values include equity, networks, shared power, and love and we made sure our event program directly reflected these values. Event participants not only walked away knowing something about IISC’s historical accomplishments and what we do here at IISC, but also about the values that hold our work. Our special 25th anniversary video and program speakers spoke to racial equity, the value of networks, and of love as a force for social change. We had three tiers of event ticket prices along with scholarships, so that we could meet our fundraising goal and still make the event accessible to everyone. Our values were also displayed by hugs, laughing, dancing, and making connections between people around the room. It’s no fun to work on racial equity and social justice if you don’t get to live out and experience those actions and values.

There are many more lessons to learn, but this I know: love, commitment, collaboration, adaptability, connection, and ambitious goals had everything to do with our success. It’s actually hard to accept that our planning has come to an end. Our event planning committee members loved working with each other and experienced a sense of accomplishment that we hope to replicate throughout the organization in the next twenty-five years!

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June 10, 2019

Taking the Interaction Method Home

The Parker Clan

IISC is about to celebrate 25 years of service and my husband and I just celebrated 27 years of marriage. One of my colleagues asked how being part of IISC has influenced my marriage. I tell workshop participants all the time that using at home the collaborative methods and mindset that we teach will make it easy to use them at work. They will also make your home life better because they are rooted in values that are all about building up others and working together toward important common goals. Sounds like family life to me!

When I’m on my best behavior at home (as a mom, wife, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law) I use lots of what I have learned and teach at IISC. It’s also true that when I’m on bad behavior, I’ve usually forgotten or laid aside what I’ve learned. Here’s a sampler …

  • Distinguish content and process. Use appropriate processes for the outcomes and people you’re working with. Pay special attention to process and how people are relating to one another.
  • Be clear about my role in the conversation. Am I participating? Just facilitating? Coaching?
    • When I am a participant, bias toward asking questions that build understanding and help ideas to emerge. Engage with what others are saying rather than just advocating for my own ideas.
    • When coaching, ask questions and share observations that help the coachee to gain insight. Before giving advice, be sure the person wants it.
    • When I’m just facilitating, don’t do the work for the group or turn the conversation toward me or my ideas. Help them to think it out.
  • In all cases, inquire before advocating. And then inquire some more!
  • Be clear about who’s the decision maker and involve others appropriately in the process. Remember that even when I have the authority to make a decision, I will still want to consider ways to involve others who will be affected by that decision. And, be sure to explain my rationale.
  • Remember that big agreements are often built through a series of small agreements.
  • Remember IISC’s collaboration lens:
    • Networks – Remember that my family is part of a broader network. Cultivate relationships, build the capacity of everyone in the network to be strong, contributing members, build a gift culture.
    • Exercise “power with” rather than “power over.” Again, even when I do have power over (as with a small child), bias toward building the person’s power to discern and act on their best motivations rather than just imposing my will.
    • Work for equitable outcomes, matching my strategies to the individual needs. Recognize that people will experience the family and the world differently based on their identity.
    • Nurture the love that does justice. Deeply honor the humanity of everyone, even people we disagree with.
  • When in conflict, don’t be overly wedded to my position. Reveal and encourage others to reveal the underlying interests and look for common ground. Explore options without commitments before trying to move toward an agreement.
  • Be clear and specific about feedback. And only offer it when you are genuinely committed to the other person’s improvement. Make sure to give reinforcing feedback as well as constructive feedback.
  • Remember where you are in the open-narrow-close stages of building an agreement. Don’t start to narrow (analyze options) too early or good ideas may not emerge. Don’t close (make an agreement) until you’ve got all the ideas on the table and have thought them through together.
  • And, of course, many of our norms for collaboration:  Remember it’s ok to disagree. Listen for understanding. Enable empathy and compassion. Take space/make space. Keep it real. Keep it here. Take responsibility for impact, regardless of intent.

I’m curious about what’s on your list folks!!

Years ago, I used to joke (only half kiddingly) with Ron and Susan Kertnzer, who were affiliates and former staff of Interaction Associates who were married to each other. After participating in a workshop that they facilitated, I thought we should create a workshop called “The Learning Marriage and the Facilitated Family.” The skills we teach could strengthen some basic building blocks of our society. And, if we would learn and use these skills at home, using them at work would be second nature! That idea never got out of the discussion phase. Who knows whether it’s an idea whose time will eventually come!?!

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February 2, 2018

Inviting Productivity with Rays

February 5, we launch a connection/productivity experiment called Rays. It derives from a critical piece of team infrastructure we invented while working at IISC, the secret ingredient to our team’s performance. Without it, we noticed a gap and with it, the work (and our team) flowed more smoothly. That makes us think our little practice could benefit others. So we’ve decided to do an open call for participants.

The practice is a short, daily meeting: Rays. For less than 30 minutes, you will join an online call and share three things:

  1. RAY: something you are grateful for
  2. TASK: something you are doing that day
  3. BLOCK: something literal or existential in the way

There is no solving. It’s just reporting and listening. 

We are inviting people to join us in February (starting as early as the 5th!). You commit to showing up to an online call for 5-days, up to 30 minutes, and sharing.

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June 21, 2017

IISC Welcomes Kelly Bates as New President

On behalf of the Board of Directors of IISC, I am delighted to announce that Kelly Bates has been appointed president of the Interaction Institute for Social Change effective June 15, 2017.

Since assuming the role of interim president in October 2016, Kelly has successfully led IISC with a sure hand through a time of significant organizational change, working effectively with the Board and staff to strengthen our organization. More recently, Kelly has pivoted to addressing IISC’s future direction and vision, launching and leading a joint Board-Staff strategy team and coordinating this with a comprehensive re-examination of IISC’s business model.

For those of you who do not yet know Kelly well, her appointment as our permanent president will draw on her 20+ years leading advocacy, racial justice, and women’s organizations.  Prior to IISC, Kelly was the founding executive director of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research at Emerson College. She also served as the executive director of Access Strategies Fund, a social justice foundation funding organizations to expand democracy in communities of color and low-income communities. For ten years, Kelly led a consulting and training practice specializing in working with social change organizations and other institutions in the United States around issues of power, diversity, and organizational development. Read Kelly’s full bio here.

As we approach our twenty-fifth anniversary under Kelly’s leadership, the Board looks forward with great excitement to further strengthening IISC and – along with IISC’s talented and committed staff and our valued partners and affiliates – to shaping the next chapter in IISC’s future. Please visit our website to learn about our current work and services.  And stay tuned as we roll out our new racial justice organizational training and announce plans for the celebration of our 25th anniversary!

Very best wishes,

Frank Robinson

Chair of the Board, IISC

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May 29, 2009

The 3/50 Project

This is an issue that I believe is at the core of building community where we live and work. I was delighted to learn that there is actually a national movement (of sorts) to promote the importance of this idea and thought I’d pass it on to you all.

You’ve probably heard me make the point when it comes to buying books for IISC from Harvard Bookstore instead of Amazon.com. For me, in addition to the bookstore, it also comes up around my local hardware store vs. Home Depot, and my local camera store vs. Best Buy. And on and one the possibilities go!

Thanks for considering your own possibilities in this regard. And thanks for listening!

Sara Oaklander

Visit the350project.org

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