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May 3, 2016

Networks: Redefining Who and What Matters

Image by Tracy Kelly

Part of the underlying and deeper change potential of taking a network approach is the notion that we lead with contribution before credential. This means being open to the idea, for example, that a 15-year-old high schooler or home schooler might have as much to offer a given conversation as someone with a PhD, that lived experience can be as valuable if not more so than formal education, that those on the so-called “margins” often have a clearer view of what’s going on than those who sit at the center.

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April 26, 2016

#the4thBox Cut-out Edition

Recently our staff and board came together for an annual meeting. Part of the day was spent exploring racial equity projects happening across the organization. That was the first time we tried a prototype of the Cut-out Edition of #the4thbox. It opened up conversations on everything from analyzing “the isms” to creative ideas to create the liberated, equitable world we want.

We hope that you find this helpful, as you support people to have these conversations and imagine a better world.

Download the4thbox Cut-out Kit

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April 26, 2016

Deepening Network Inquiry for Social Change: Who? What? How?

1_123125_2245076_2245628_100225_ss_chartex.jpg.CROP.original-originalIn many rooms where networks are the topic of conversation, a typical question of interest is “Who is connected to whom?” This is an important question, often the focus of social network analysis (SNA), and can lead to important and strategic information about things like hubs, gatekeepers, strong and weak ties, etc. And this is not the full extent of useful inquiry when thinking about social change.

Another important question is, “What is flowing?” That is, what kinds of value are flowing through these connections with respect to information, natural capital, money, cultural expression, etc. This is the focus of value network analysis (VNA) and is important to help understand the overall vitality and health of a network or system. Read More

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April 21, 2016

Strengthening the Network Within

Image by Steve Jurvetson

Much of the work we do at IISC includes some element of helping to develop networks for social change. This entails working with diverse groups of individuals and/or organizations to come together and create a common vision and clear pathway to collective action and impact. I’ve been reflecting on how important it can be to not simply focus on creating or developing networks “out there” and across traditional boundaries, but also “in here,” within different recognized borders.

“When a living system is suffering from ill health, the remedy is found by connecting with more of itself.”

– Francisco Varela

The notion that part of the process of healing living systems entails connecting them to more of themselves is derived, in part, from the work of Francisco Varela, the Chilean biologist, philosopher and neuroscientist. As Varela and others have surmised, living systems are networks, including individual people, groups, organizations, and larger social systems. Furthermore, they have noted that when a living system is faltering, the solution will likely be discovered from within it if more and better connections are created. In other words, as Margaret Wheatley puts it,

“A failing system [or network] needs to start talking to itself, especially to those it didn’t know were even part of itself.”

I find it interesting in the context of social change work to consider how the process of re-connecting at and within different systemic levels can be beneficial to those levels and initiatives as wholes.

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April 15, 2016

So Chocolate Bar

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I almost wept as I listened to the story of Dylan Siegel. At age six, he learned that his friend Jonah Pournazarian had a rare, incurable, and fatal illness. He rejected mom’s ideas about a bake sale and decided to write a book, So Chocolate Bar, (his word for awesome) and raise a million dollars to support medical research. And he did it! Now at age nine, his efforts are funding research that just wouldn’t have happened otherwise. The disease affects so few people that there was no incentive for drug companies or researchers to pay attention. This little guy thought that was unfair and decided to do something about it. How would you change the world if the life of someone you loved depended on it? How far would you reach if the possibility of failing never crossed your mind?

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April 12, 2016

The 4th Box Sparks Imagination

Start a Conversation

Remixers and meme-makers, we have a tool for you. We are pleased to be partnered with Center for Story-based Strategy in the release of an illustration kit: the4thbox.com

Imagery is a huge factor in framing the terms of a conversation. This kit is meant to inspire imagery that provokes new interactions between people. We believe these interactions will help open up imagination towards the liberated, equitable society we want.

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Artwork by Angus Maguire: http://beclouded.net/

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April 10, 2016

The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge Launches today

On April 10, 2016, Food Solutions New England (FSNE) launches the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge with more than 600 participants who want to normalize the conversation about race and racism. IISC is a co-sponsor because we agree that skill building and conversations are key for collective capacity to identify and address the different manifestations of racism, whether internalized, interpersonal, institutional, or structural.

Do you want to grow, learn, and support racial equity? You can join here on the FSNE website.

You can also connect to this project on Facebook or by using the hashtag #FSNEEquityChallenge on Twitter.

IISC Senior Associate Curtis Ogden has been helping to weave FSNE’s network for over five years. He is a member of this year’s Racial Equity Habit Building team, which will include blogging about racial equity and promoting the conversation on social media. Additionally, IISC’s communications team, Lawrence Barriner II and Danielle Coates-Connor, have been supporting this year’s Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge with communications and engagement strategy.

 

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April 6, 2016

Peeling Away Layers for Impact in Networks for Change

“If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”

– William Stafford, From “A Ritual to Read to Each Another”

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A couple of weeks ago I was a participant in a SSIR webinar on network leadership. I spent my air time talking about Food Solutions New England as an example of a social change network that has been leveraging authenticity, generosity and trust to address issues of racial inequity in the food system. In telling the story, I realized that much of it amounts to a gradual process of shedding layers and “making the invisible visible.” Specifically, it has been about making visible power and privilege, connection and disconnection, tacit knowledge and diverse ways of knowing, and complex system dynamics. As a result, many in the network sense we are now in a better position to build from what we have in common, and that it is more likely that the vision of a vibrant, equitable and eco-logical food system will be realized. Read More

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March 22, 2016

Love While Challenging Racist Behavior

This post contains a true story and a Facilitator’s Guide for handling situations like this.

A True Story

At a recent training I was leading for an all queer and multiracial group, an older white man “John” took offense to my use of the word queer.  As an icebreaker, I had asked the group to share in a pair, when did you first know you were queer?   During the debrief, John took time to explain how the Q-word brought back painful memories of the many ways he was shamed growing up.  As he explained, he got emotional and then said “using the Q-word is like using the N-word for me.”  And he actually said the N-word.

The air in the room suddenly got heavy and many people shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The three black men in the group looked stunned, and the rest of the people of color in the circle turned to me to do something.  The white man kept talking, completely unaware of that this micro-aggression had caused a change in the room.  I waited for a white person to address what happened.  But folks remained silent, so just as the next person began sharing, I stopped the process.

“I want to stop and check something out with you and the group. Is it ok if I do that?” I asked John and turned to the group to seek their approval.   “John, thank you for sharing the impact that I had on you when I used the Q-word in this circle.  I want to account to you for that.  I also heard you use the N-word and I am wondering if you would be open to hearing the impact that that word could have had in the space?”

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March 22, 2016

SSIR Webinar: The Network Leader Roadmap

What does it really take to catalyze diverse groups of people, within organizations or across sectors, to build trust, take action, and work together to achieve uncommon results? This is the question driving a panel hosted by Stanford Social Innovation Review on “The Network Leader.” The panel will take place on Tuesday, March 22 at 2PM EST.

IISC Senior Associate Curtis Ogden will reflect on the unfolding story of Food Solutions New England, a network he has been involved with for about five years.

“We are seeing people drawn to the network because of this commitment to justice and authenticity,” says Ogden. “We are seeing other organizations take up internal work around power and privilege. This network is more impactful because it sees more fully and clearly what is going on and what must be done.”

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March 22, 2016

Equitable Networks: Freeing and Connecting Knowledge and People

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Not long ago, at a gathering of the Food Solutions New England Network Team, one member, Dorn Cox, told the story of a farmer who has become renowned for the health of his soil. Remarkably, the soil health consistently increases, due to on-farm practices created over years of close observation and experimentation. This is significant as it has boosted the quality of the farm’s produce, reduced the need for and cost of inputs (helping to increase revenues), increased the soil’s ability to handle extreme precipitation and dry conditions brought on by climate change, and mitigates carbon release.

This accomplished practitioner has subsequently been sought out by academics and has served as lead author on numerous peer reviewed academic articles about his soil health practices. Dorn then relayed that the farmer recently reported that because of academic protocols he cannot get access to the very articles he has co-authored. Dorn punctuated his story with the lesson that:

To support learning, equity and resilience, knowledge wants and needs to be free and accessible.

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This is a key principle for leveraging networks to make change. In the old world, knowledge was owned and proprietary. But in this increasingly volatile world, to help people be adaptive to change, there is need for robust flows of information that are equitably generated and accessible. This was a lesson learned by professor Anil K. Gupta, before he started the Honey Bee Network in India.

By his own admission, Dr. Gupta had been engaged in the practice of extracting information from people that served his own or purely academic purposes, without ensuring that the information made it back into the hands and minds of practitioners. He realized that “on efficiency and ethical grounds,” this could not continue. Read More

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March 17, 2016

Intentional Network Ethics

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There is a difference between being a network by default and being one by intention. Sometimes that can be a big difference. I encounter a fair number of networks that are networks in name and in standing, at least in that they are connected entities. But that is pretty much it. Experience shows there are any number of different ways to structure a network, and name it for that matter.

And what I find is most important is the underlying intention to maximize network effects, including: speeding the spread of resources, ensuring resources reach everyone in the network, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to share resources, growing the overall pie of resources, strengthening adaptive capacity and collective intelligence, growing abundance and equity in many different ways.

What this boils down to is a set of network ethics, which I would summarize (certainly incompletely, and to which I invite additions and alterations) in the following way: Read More

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