Oct/29/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Freedom and Unity: VTF2P Network Turns 4

“Our success is built on partnership, sharing success and sharing credit.”

- Sec. Chuck Ross

Final_newF2P_AtlasLogo_300dpi

 

“The mojo is in the motto.” With these words, Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross opened the doors and conversation on the fourth annual Vermont Farm to Plate Network convening last Thursday in Killington. Each of the past four years Secretary Ross has brought some critical words of encouragement and motivation to this fall convening, and by invoking the state motto – “Freedom and Unity” – at this year’s opening he seemed to hit the right chords at a critical moment in the evolution of the network.

In 2011, Farm to Plate launched to great excitement and some anxiety as it positioned itself as a cross-sector collaborative network to carry out a strategic plan to double local food production in Vermont in 10 years time, contributing to job and economic growth as well as food access in a state that sees high rates of poverty. Since then, as both Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (the backbone organization for Farm to Plate) observed and remarked through a plenary retrospective, it has managed to find its collaborative footing and grow significantly in numbers (more than 300 organizations strong). And importantly, it has seen real results in terms of direct, indirect and induced job growth resulting in 9,000 new jobs in the agricultural and food sector in Vermont. Furthermore, success is evident in individual members using network goals to inform and align their organizational goals. continue reading

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Oct/22/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks, Your Experiences

What is Network Strategy?

Slide1The above graphic is something that I recently created, borrowing heavily from the good work of Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor, to help convey what is meant by engaging in “network strategy.” One of the challenges we’ve encountered in working with different networks is helping people to understand the difference between strategy development and network development. I try to meet this challenge, in part, by showing how they are not so different, or at least, that they are intimately connected. The diagram is also designed to help people get beyond some of the either/or thinking that we encounter. For example, it’s not that we have to choose between decentralized self-organized action and more formally coordinated collective action. It can be both!

So here’s what the graphic is meant to convey. First of all, network strategy is grounded at a fundamental level in creating (strategic) connectivity, by building linkages and trust between key stakeholders and perhaps unusual bedfellows. This can be done by convening people; sharing stories, data and other forms of information; co-creating knowledge; learning together, etc. Part of the value of this connectivity is that it can lead to orthogonal thinking and bolster individual network participants’ efforts in the shared domain where the network is focused. What also may ensue is self-organized action between those who are meeting one another for the first time or getting to know one another better (see the arrow to the left side of the triangle). This is all well and good and is something that networks should try to track. continue reading

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Oct/21/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Why Equitable Networks?

baran_networks

Readers of this blog know how much promise we at IISC see in networks to bring about greater depth and breadth of change in our country and communities. At the same time, we do not see networks as a panacea. In fact, there are good reasons to be vigilant about “net work” to ensure that it does not exacerbate the very conditions we are trying to remedy, especially when it comes to social inequities.

We have previously referenced the report from the Aspen Institute, The Power Curve Society, which considers the broad implications of a globally networked economy that allows greater ease of transactions. In this technologically accelerated economy, the report states, wealth increasingly and problematically concentrates in the hands of a few rather than spreading itself out across the larger population. This seems to be a natural emergent phenomenon of not just the unchecked networked economy but of many networks. As Kim Taipale notes, this is a paradoxical result of “network effects,” -

“Freedom results in inequality. That is, the more freedom there is in a system, the more unequal the outcomes become.”

This is because of something known as the “power-law distribution” that takes hold on open platforms, as wealth flows to the “super-nodes,” a phenomenon sometimes called “preferential attachment.” continue reading

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Oct/20/14//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Not just all lives. Black lives.

We are just beginning to understand the potency of what is happening in Ferguson.  I have been blown away by the cross-movement solidarity.  Labor has been there this October.  350.org has been there this October.  We are finally beginning to understand the way it’s all interconnected.

Julie Quiroz and our friends at the Movement Strategy Center have just published the beginning of an important reflection.  I was particularly moved by this quote:

We are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives.  Not just all lives. Black lives.  Please do not change the conversation by talking about how your life matters, too. It does, but we need less watered down unity and a more active solidarities with us, Black people, unwaveringly, in defense of our humanity. Our collective futures depend on it.

- Alicia Garza, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter

I’m in.  Are you?

Read: From Moment to Movement: Learning From Ferguson October

Young Nigel_Ferguson Oct Marchers

Photo by Koran Addo

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Oct/15/14//Jen Willsea//Featured, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Ferguson October and #BlackLivesMatter

blacklivesmatterfergusonoctober

Photo source: Democracy Now

Last weekend, thousands of activists converged in Ferguson, Missouri for Ferguson October, a weekend of resistance including marches, panels, creative actions and civil disobedience. The purpose of the weekend was “to build momentum for a nationwide movement against police violence.” Two months ago, an unarmed Black man, Michael Brown, was killed in Ferguson by a white police officer who has not yet been arrested. While Mike Brown’s death was not an anomaly – at least two African American males are killed by law enforcement every week in the U.S. – the energy that is building in Ferguson, the organizing that is deepening there, the connections between Black activists and racial justice advocates of all races across the country that are being forged, and the new level of attention that Ferguson is bringing to this disturbing trend across the nation is new. I believe that we are in the midst of a crisis in this country. I believe that the young people and their allies who are on the front lines in Ferguson are calling all of us to action.

I believe this “movement moment” as many are calling it is about much more than Ferguson. This moment is opening up new opportunities for us to face and undo racism in all of its forms in all corners of this country. Let us finally declare that #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter, and make this our reality. continue reading

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Oct/15/14//CMcDowell//Cities, Featured

Big Data Alone Isn’t Enough to Spark City Innovation

This post was published by E Republic in the City Accelerator Blog.

Cities are complex places that can lack the infrastructure and processes to stitch together their constituencies. Today, cities are innovating, but many times that innovation is laser focused around data, big data and getting more data. This only gives us a glimpse of the reality regarding citizen experiences within a city. In short, big data by itself is insufficient for innovation.

In a guest commentary for the City Accelerator, Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, argues we must bring together the public to gain a holistic picture of the problems in our cities and the solutions needed to build communities that are economically healthy.

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Oct/15/14//CMcDowell//Cities

Innovation in Whose Interest?

This post was published by E Republic in the City Accelerator Blog.

Fiscal scarcity and competing policy demands bring with them a tendency toward favoring utilitarian solutions that do the most good for the greatest number of people. Discussions of urban innovation are sometimes limited by concerns that in an environment of scarce resources, communities cannot afford to focus narrowly on sub groups with unique needs.

In a guest commentary for the City Accelerator, Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, argues just the opposite. Not only does the old adage that the measure of civilization is how it treats its weakest members still stand, McDowell contends that designing for people living on the margins can create powerful positive change that flows outward and up.

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Oct/08/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks, Sensing and Surface Area

Nerve-Cell-4

In recent work with a couple of different leadership development programs, I shared a few stories about organizations that failed to recognize the value of informal networks within and beyond their formal boundaries by choosing to see themselves primarily through the lens of the “org chart” and fixed roles/job descriptions (what I sometimes call the “stay in your lane” approach).  In these cases what was lost was the ability to access greater organizational potential and intelligence.  If we think of organizations as living entities, then our connections within and beyond those cellular walls might be thought of as vital nerves or sensors.  When we fail to acknowledge or even cut these connections within, which often represent the pathways through which work actually gets done, we may stymie or destroy critical flows and functioning.  And when we fail to see and leverage how people in all roles are connected beyond the organization, then we reduce not only the potential contribution of each individual, but the overall surface area of the organization that might otherwise attune it and help it to respond to larger systemic opportunities or threats.  Which is why increasingly people are seeing mechanistic and fixed organizational roles as “irresponsible” – they do not allow people, individually and collectively, to effectively respond to circumstances and activate around that about which they care most.  So the invitation is to think and act more like a living network.  What are you doing to build greater sensitivity and surface area in your organization or change effort?

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Oct/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

How Networks Can Change Systems

network Image from Isaac Mao

 

At this point a couple of networks with which I am working have reached or are reaching the three year mark in their formalized existence. By many accounts, this is a milestone and inflection point worth noting, as these initiatives have built significant connectivity (depth and breadth) and alignment (shared sense of common identity and direction) among key and diverse actors. Furthermore, there has been a real proven capacity of these networks to meet individual self/ organizational interests in terms of learning, new partnerships, and a broader community/marketplace of support. And there is a growing appetite for and interest in how this all adds up to significant system change. Another way of framing this is people are wondering how they can activate the next level of the system to bring all of their interactions to a place where there is greater abundance, opportunity, and impact.

Three related thoughts about how these networks might achieve systemic change:

  • Change who and what matters.  As June Holley has said, “Systems change when new networks take the place of the old.”  This is not about rearranging the deck chairs, but significantly changing how value is defined, who does that defining, how that value is exchanged, and between whom. Think of local currencies, brought together by localized and more densely connected networks, that ascribe value to skills and belongings that may get overlooked by the standard market economy.  Or think about Craigslist, eBay, Freecyle, and how, through new channels of discovery and exchange, items and ideas we might otherwise throw away have found new value. These systems and tools are working because they offer more than one scale and source to assess value.
  • Build and re-channel power and wealth.  Power is held in place in part by existing patterns of connection and resource flows.  And power is not finite.  Abundance and alternatives do not necessarily dry up, but get held up, held back, held by and/or flow between and to some and not others.  Shifting and reclaiming flows through network activity can create new power arrangements and priorities.  For example, micro-finance has created a parallel banking system that has displaced much of the traditional banking and lending structures in the developing world.  These innovations are built on the logic of creating and accessing new connections and encouraging exchange, local and trans-local.
  • Embrace a diversity of systemic actors and levels of intervention. System change is less about finding the silver bullet, per se, and more about finding the silver buckshot. This will come in part from embracing a diversity of perspectives that yield orthogonal thinking and greater systemic intelligence. It is some combination of ensuing efforts addressing the system at different levels that will likely yield success, including those focused on deeper leverage points as laid out by Donella Meadows – shifting paradigms and mindsets, creating new narratives; developing and aligning around different goals for the system; and supporting self-organization.

leverage

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Oct/01/14//Miriam Messinger//Inspiration

Time Compression

We can “contribute to the degradation of human capacity or we can take a stand”. That was the bold call of Meg Wheatley this month when she presented on being a “Warrior for the Human Spirit” on her webinar for our friends at System Thinking in Action (STIA).

Meg presented four things that interfere with our deep connection and our ability to be warriors for humanity:

  1. Burgeoning bureaucracy
  2. Austerity measures and mentality
  3. Distraction
  4. Time compression

Time compression: The ways in which we squeeze ever more—more tasks, goals, emails, news sources—into the same amount of time that has always been available to us.

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Photo Credit: Greenzowie
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Sep/30/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Poetry for Collective Impact

Image by Dominic Alves

I have a practice in most of the networks and collective impact efforts I support, which is to offer poetry at the opening and closing of convenings. I’m struck by how impactful and important people have said this can be for them. In fact, just recently a very well-respected member of the public health community was compelled to say that this is exactly what is missing from the movement, more poetry and artistic expression!

“Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

-Lucille Clifton

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Sep/25/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Orthogonal Thinking & Doing

“You have to remember that any boundary is a useful fiction.”

-Buckminster Fuller

Diversity Photo by Fady Habib

 

As the story is told, a crucial element in the breaking of the genetic code was when physicists moved into the field of biology. These scientists, including Max Delbruck, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Erwin Schrodinger, brought with them a new perspective and new methods that changed genetic research. As Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi note in A System View of Life, it was Schrodinger in particular who suggested that “the gene could be viewed as an information carrier whose physical structure corresponds to a succession of elements in a hereditary code script.” This story illustrates how innovation and evolution occur at the meeting of fields. This is the promise of orthogonal thinking.

Orthogonal thinking draws from a variety of, and perhaps seemingly unrelated, perspectives to achieve new insights.  It is the even momentary blurring of boundaries to see what might emerge. A while back I provided a portrait of a “facilitative leader,” neurophysiologist Erich Jarvis, who understands the power of thinking and doing orthogonally and has used this to create research breakthroughs around avian vocalizations and human speech. Another relevant story is WaterCredit, a model that has developed to address the needs of the nearly 1 billion people on the planet without access to safe drinking water. Through WaterCredit, micro-finance institutions provide micro-loans to individuals to finance their own water and sanitation solutions.  The program resulted from the intentional pulling together of diverse private sector, public sector, and financing institutions.

The benefits of orthogonal thinking speak to the importance of diversity in supporting collective intelligence and resilience. A recent Scientific American article by Kathleen Phillips of Columbia University highlights a number of studies showing how racial diversity creates greater complexity in and broadness of thinking.  The same holds true for gender and ideological diversity.  As Phillips notes:

Being with similar people makes us think we all hold the same data and perspective, which stops us from processing and fully sharing information.

Bottom line: it may behoove us in our social change work to create spaces in which people and ideas that might not otherwise bump into one another, can interact.  Are you getting orthogonal enough?

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Sep/24/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

The “Right” Network Form?

Network Photo by Jenny Downing

 

Every now and then we get the question about what is the best way to structure a social change network, to which the most frequent response is, “It depends.” Case in point, in a past post, I offered examples of three different network forms growing out of the same region (New England) in a similar field (food systems). These forms that have evolved in three states have largely depended upon the initial framing question for the change effort (how to tackle food insecurity vs. how to grow the agricultural economy vs. how to achieve food justice), contextual factors (political dynamics, what already exists, who is engaged), and resources (not just funding, but certainly funding) available. And since the writing of that post, each has evolved, more or less significantly, in line with new challenges and opportunities. Some of the take-aways from this align with the lessons of moving from a more mechanistic to a regenerative outlook -

  • start where you are with what actually is,
  • avoid buying into “best practices,” and
  • expect and even desire it to change as you go.

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Sep/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Networks and Regenerative Thinking

“Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found…. Local life may be as much endangered by those who would ‘save the planet’ as by those who would ‘conquer the world.’ For ‘saving the planet’ calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know and thus will destroy the integrity of local nature and local community…”

Wendell Berry

Spiral Fern

I’m grateful to the mentors I’ve had who have introduced me to regenerative thinking, an approach that aligns with a living systems view of life and a network way of working, as opposed to one that is more mechanical in orientation.  To be clear, mechanical thinking has its place, but less so it seems in the unpredictable and complex world of social change and working with social systems, including networks.  Yet there still seems to be a fair amount of it out there, underlying various change tactics and wholesale approaches that may be otherwise well-intended.  The problem is that few seem willing to slow down to examine the roots of their chosen efforts, to lift up for closer inspection how their thinking may or may not be in alignment with what they are really after. continue reading

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Sep/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Learning Edge, Networks

Social Velocity

Running water Photo by Guy Renard 25

 

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. continue reading

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Sep/03/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Dawnn Jaffier, Rest in Peace

Dawnn

Photo credit: Boston Globe

Sadly, I am writing yet another memorial post, in a summer that has seen too much tragedy. This weekend, Boston laid to rest Dawnn Jaffier. By all accounts, she was a remarkable young woman who lived a life of service and love. Over the past several days, many young people have testified to Dawnn’s positive influence on their lives and many promised to continue to live as she lived, investing in the lives of young people. This time, death came at the hands of an 18 year-old young black man, allegedly bent on retaliation. Jaffier was innocently caught in the crossfire. While some are calling for an end to the festival and parade that provided the backdrop for this tragedy, I think her death cries out for renewed efforts to intervene in the complex system of internalized oppression – a system that cultivates within black people ourselves a belief in the marginal value of black life – and in a system of structural racism that allows gun trafficking to flourish despite the costs and continues to lock too many men of color out of the kinds of opportunities that could compete with the call of the streets. Dealing with either side of the equation without the other seems a fruitless endeavor.

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Sep/03/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Learning Edge

Collaboration: Learning to Walk Again

Learning to Walk Photo by Tela Chhe

 

One mantra I have for working with groups is, “If you’ve seen one group, you’ve seen one group.”  Part of the welcome and challenging nature of collaboration is that in each instance we are dealing with a unique organism or constellation of human beings coming together to get something done.  As complex living systems, groups of people are not prone to simple “best practices” for getting them working in a prescribed way.  There certainly are some “promising practices,” including what we teach at IISC in our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change courses. Still collaboration, including the practice of group facilitation, is a heuristic undertaking – an experience-based approach to problem solving, learning, and discovery that suggests solutions which are not guaranteed to be optimal.

All this said, it appears that there are certain patterns of behavior, archetypal personalities, and common inflection points in group work and network development that tend to emerge that might suggest different kinds of preventions and interventions.  Systems therapist David Kantor has written about some of this in his book Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders as he reflects extensively on his Four Player Model.  And there is psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s classic work on stages of team formation - forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning.  See also the Drexler/Sibbet model of team performance (graphic below).

img_team_performance_model

Something else I’ve been observing and thinking about is the developmental stages of “consciousness” in groups and how we might account for and work with these.  This is akin to Robert Kegan’s work on Constructive Developmental Theory (CBT) which outlines stages of mental complexity or “orders of mind.” As I mentioned in a post last month , developmental theory certainly merits vigilance so as to avoid using it in an overly prescriptive way or to perpetuate power, privilege and dominant cultural perspectives. And I personally have found that it can provide insights and possibilities when held lightly. continue reading

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Sep/02/14//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion, Uncategorized

#BlackLivesMatter. What can be done about the police?

This post is a continuation of We are in the midst of a crisis in this country.”

Over the last few days, Black activists from cities across the U.S. joined the Black Life Matters Ride, traveling to convene for a historic weekend in Ferguson, Missouri as part of a national call to end state sanctioned violence against Black people. We have a lot to learn from what’s going on in Ferguson right now and it seems that a window of opportunity is opening for the moment to become a movement, one that is about Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a white police officer and that also about so much more. We need to get to the root of these problems if we are going to end state sanctioned violence against Black people once and for all, rather than end up with yet another version of Jim Crow era state-sanctioned lynching.

If we could only eliminate police officers with racist attitudes from police forces, wouldn’t that take care of this problem? I am afraid it would not.

What will it truly take to end state sanctioned violence against Black people?

First, we need to start collecting national data on police stops and use of force and thankfully there are folks working on that.

Second, we must uproot much more than explicit racial prejudice. Some of the most illuminating research about police violence I know of is being done by Dr. Philip Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity. Goff reminds us that attitudes only predict 10% of behaviors. Behaviors are actually much more heavily influenced by unconscious brain activity and biases. I’ve heard Goff present his research a couple of times at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation America Healing Conference and I was surprised to learn that explicit racial prejudice is not the biggest predictor of police officers’ use of deadly force. Instead, over 80% of incidents that involved police use of deadly force were preceded by threats to the officers’ masculinity. Masculinity threat is a more reliable predictor of a police officer pulling the trigger than racist beliefs. In the U.S., men of color are stereotyped as hyper-masculine, so it is impossible to separate masculinity threat from conscious and unconscious racial biases.

As a white person, I am challenging myself not to demonize or otherize white police officers who are committing violent acts against men of color. Why? Because we need to ask what is going on in the minds and hearts of people like Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, and Johannes Mehserle, the former San Francisco BART police officer who killed Oscar Grant. The moment I distance myself from white people like them, I am in danger of reinforcing the notion that racist violence is something I can blame someone else for, thus extricating myself from both the problem and the solution. White brothers and sisters, none of us is free from this haze of fear and disillusionment until all of us is free from it. We have got to have conversations about both the conscious and unconscious dimensions of racism, and about the interdependency of white supremacy and patriarchy. We white folks have got to take responsibility for engaging other white folks in these conversations. And we have to do this until we no longer hear things on the mainstream news like “You know who talks about race? Racists.”

 

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Aug/25/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Rest in Peace Michael Brown

Michael Brown

This morning, Michael Brown is being remembered. The country’s attention is shifting for the moment from the caustic, racially charged circumstances that led to his death, to a celebration of his life. You can watch it live right now via Colorlines.

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Aug/20/14//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

“Get to know the collision of hope and despair”

Despair and hope Photo by Ron Cogswell

Following the recent New England Food Summit, my IISC colleague Cynthia Silva Parker and I turned to one another and essentially said, “Now the real work begins.” We had wrapped up co-facilitating a two day gathering of over 150 delegates from around the region with one 0f the goals being to bring everyone in attendance to a common understanding of how racism exists in our food system. In a debrief by the core team for the effort about a week later, the comment was made to nodding heads that a strong hope going forward is that white people become much more ardent and active throughout the region raising the question of how race and racism are operating in the systems of which we are a part.

Two months later, this hope is both challenged and echoed by recent events and in an article that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Washington University Professor of Law John D. Inazu makes an appeal to not make what is unfolding in Ferguson “a black thing.” More pointedly, he asks white friends and colleagues to spend more time getting to know the real and tragic dynamics of racism in this country. While the article is directed primarily at residents of greater St. Louis, it’s message speaks to all. It is well worth the read, and here I’d like to rift on Inazu’s entreaty . . .

In conversations about racial inequity, I am increasingly approached by agitated white colleagues asking what they can do. Here is a response (and know that I am also talking to myself here): continue reading

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Aug/18/14//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Looting

I tend to believe that nonviolent direct action is a more effective strategy for attaining justice than asymmetrical warfare.  That being said, it seems ludicrous to stand on the sidelines and ask the people who are most directly impacted by injustice to calm down, be patient and be peaceful.

Looting-2

Image credit: US Uncut 

If you believe that nonviolent direct action is the path to justice in places like Ferguson, Missouri then you take nonviolent direct action in solidarity with the people of Ferguson.  Please don’t stand on the sidelines and ask people to calm down when government-sanctioned authorities are shooting their children.

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Aug/15/14//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion

We are in the midst of a crisis in this country.

We are in the midst of a crisis in this country. When a split second decision by one person results in multiple wounds or death for a young man or young woman. Because he didn’t get off the sidewalk quickly enough? Because his music was too loud? Because she knocked on your door? No, these are not the reasons. All of these young people happen to be black. This is not a coincidence.

mylifematters

Image credit: Dignidad Rebelde

We are in the midst of a crisis in this country. When we white people cannot connect the dots and see these incidents as patterns rather than isolated events. When we think that a black president means that racism is past tense and this is an equal opportunity nation. When police officers respond to a community’s upset at the death of a young man who did nothing wrong in riot gear. continue reading


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Aug/12/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Liberation, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Too serious? Never!

In my early days many of my friends called me too serious because of comments I would make about the racism and sexism in a Disney film or the rampant misogyny and conspicuous consumption in popular music. My kids still think so. But having come to see systems of oppression, it’s hard for me to “un-see” them when I turn to entertainment. Spoken word poet Madiha Bhatti puts out a powerful message. Much better to listen to the whole thing, but check out the refrain to whet your appetite!

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Aug/11/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Networks, What We Are Reading

Structure Begets Collaboration (or Not?)

Structure Photo by Synopia

A number of readings I’ve come across lately reference the important consideration of organizational structure and how it encourages or discourages collaboration.  In a post from last week, I highlighted the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, which focuses on “evolutionary (Teal) organizations” that embrace an ethic of self-organization to facilitate more purpose-driven, holistic and responsible engagement on the part of organizational members.  In order to encourage self-organization and intrinsic motivation, these entities adopt less formally hierarchical and fixed-role structures in favor of fluidity and networked leadership.  According to Laloux, this brings more timeliness and relevance to the inner workings and responsiveness of these organizations. continue reading

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Aug/01/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Blinded by Privilege

University of California researcher, Paul Piff, and his colleagues have been studying privilege.

In one study, they set up a rigged game of monopoly. The players who had been randomly assigned to get more money and other advantages began to demonstrate some disturbing differences from the other players. They began to move their pieces around the board more loudly, displayed “signs of dominance and nonverbal displays of power and celebration,” ate more pretzels, and came “ruder, less and less sensitive to the plight of the poor players, and more likely to showcase how well they were doing.” After the game, the rich players attributed their success to their skills and strategy, not the systematic advantages they had over the other player, even though they knew the advantages were real and were randomly assigned.

monopoly

In a rigged game of Monopoly, denial of unearned privilege has few consequences, but what about in the rigged game called life?

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Jul/30/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Social Innovation, What We Are Reading

Reinventing Our Collective Selves

“Re-examine all that you have been told . . . dismiss that which insults your soul.”

- Walt Whitman

Butterfly

Developmental theory is the source of some good healthy discussion within the Interaction Institute for Social Change.  On the one hand, some point out that the notion of “stages of development” has been used to classify and oppress people, especially when theories come from privileged and powerful purveyors, are overly deterministic and linear, and do not account for cultural location and variation. On the other hand, some point to the “empowering” notion of evolution and development that can help liberate people from fixed and mechanistic views of the world and humanity.  I had this all very much in mind as I read Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.  Laloux brings developmental and so-called “integral theory,” including the work of Ken Wilber, into the palpable realm of organizational practice and through his research, posits an evolutionary trajectory from aggressive (Red) to bureaucratic (Amber) to achievement-oriented (Orange) to culture/empowerment-oriented (Green) to self-actualizing/authentic (Teal) organizations.

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Jul/29/14//CMcDowell//LoveLiberates, Spiritual Activism

Boston to Gaza

Last year, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, I was facilitating a  group of students and faculty at MIT reflecting on the impact and meaning of the bombing.  The participants ranged from people who had been at the marathon site to those who witnessed it on TV.  All experienced the lock down that occurred in Cambridge and felt the impact of the death of eight-year-old Martin William Richard, and many of them shared something deeper, the trauma of being an unwilling victim and sometimes perpetrator of planned, unexpected, unwarranted or thoughtless violence. From a former Israeli solider, who asked “do I kill these 4 men in my line of sight because of the threat they may pose?” to a woman who survived a brutal rape, the bombing made visible the deep trauma so many people live with from day to day.

But something remarkable happened that evening. As we sat in circle listening to each story a young veteran spoke up about his experience with violence in the streets of LA and the deserts of Iraq.  He spoke with a deep passion that disrupted the quiet reflection of the group.  “We can’t just sit around and talk about this. If things are going to change we have to shift something fundamental in ourselves in order to stop the massive violence in our world.” He continued, “For me it is the following commitment I have made to myself and that I tell each person I am engaged with I Will Not Harm Your Children.” Then he stopped.

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Jul/29/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Inspiration, Social Innovation

Creative Change 2014

I just facilitated the 6th Creative Change Retreat at the Sundance Institute in Utah.  The amazing experience leaves me grateful to my friends at the Opportunity Agenda for trusting me with the design and facilitation of such a significant convening.

Today more than ever I am convinced that the change we want to see in the world is a change that demands the evolution of consciousness and culture.  As the artist and the activist come together – as they become one – we will be able to join into a different kind of intervention.

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Jul/24/14//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Stepping Up to the Social Justice Plate

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The following article appeared in an email newsletter from the Vermont Farm to Plate Network (VTF2P) one of IISC’s clients in network and collaborative capacity building.  The author is Beth Cullen, co-chair of the Farm to Plate Consumer Education & Marketing Working Group and owner of Root Consulting, who attended the New England Food Summit that Cynthia Parker and I helped to design and facilitate.  It is great to see the power of that two day convening and conversation continuing to ripple out into the region.  VTF2P plans on integrating the conversation about equity into their upcoming October convening . . . 

New England Food Summit targets social justice to drive change in the food system  

The 4th Annual New England Food Summit, organized by Food Solutions New England, convened over 110 delegates in June to discuss racial equity and food justice in the region. Summit organizers unveiled the New England Food Vision, a regional aspiration to locally produce at least of 50 percent of the fresh, fair, just, and accessible food consumed by New Englanders by 2060.

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Jul/23/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks as Responsible Structures

freedom-and-responsibilityThere is growing awareness that current organizational structures can breed irresponsibility.  That is, arrangements are created where people are less able to be responsive in helpful ways.  This happens, for example, when accountability is bottlenecked in hierarchies and decision-making is distanced from where the action is most timely and relevant. continue reading

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Jul/22/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Networks

Find Your Scenius

I recently read an opinion piece that seems to validate the work we have been doing for the last number of years.  In “The end of geniusJoshua Wolf Shenk successfully argues that “the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network.”

THIS! My friends, is what we have been working on.

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Jul/17/14//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Network Profile: FSNE

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The following article appeared last month in the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) newsletter.  NESAWG is a 12-state network of over 500 participating organizations.  Together, they unite farm and food system practitioners and allies to build a sustainable, just and economically vibrant region.  From one network to another, the article profiles Food Solutions New England (FSNE), a network building effort now going into its third year of intentional development.  It captures where FSNE was just prior to the New England Food Summit, which advanced connectivity and commitment to both regional action/identity and work for racial equity.  NOTE: I have added links, bolded text, and pictures to the body of the article.

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Jul/16/14//Miriam Messinger//LoveLiberates, Spiritual Activism

The Fast of the 17th of Tamuz

I have never observed the Fast of the 17th of Tamuz. Yesterday, I did. I fasted in solidarity with others who were making a stand with our bodies for peace and in mourning lives lost in Palestine/Israel. At a time of horrific violence and avowed enmity between so many Muslims and Jews, it was a comfort to be fasting together, during Ramadan.

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Jul/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

An Introduction to Self-Organization

“The ideas of self-organization are very important to understand the autonomy, the authenticity and basic humanity of people.”

-Fritjof Capra

One principle of “thinking like a network” that I like to highlight is the notion of moving from permission and perfection (looking for the one right answer) to self-organization and emergence.  Self-organization is a defining characteristic of living systems and connected to their adaptive capacity and development. I like this short video as an introduction to self-organization and how it highlights the importance of diversity, connectivity and “local interactions.”  NOTE: It starts to get into “network effects” and social organizations around 2:30.  The significance of understanding self-organization is essentially that we develop a better understanding of how life, including social systems, actually works and are able to work better with systemic potential, rather than trying to command and control what is much too complex.

“I think self-organization and the newer understanding of life and complexity, when it is applied to the social realm and human organizations, can help people to find their authenticity as human beings.”

- Fritjof Capra

8752450625_3661a18c6f_z Photo by Jun Seita

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Jul/15/14//Curtis Ogden//Facilitative Leadership, Networks

Leadership as Network Weaving

Thanks to Deborah McLaren for putting this slide show together that references the good work of June Holley, Chris Brogan, and Beth Kanter.  I find that there are many people out there who naturally get the concept of “network weaving” and many others still who are still learning to understand its value, and to see it as a function of leadership in a networked world.

At IISC, we like to talk about “Facilitative Leadership” as a practice of “creating and inspiring conditions” that deliver on the promise of collaboration (innovation, rapid diffusion, equity, resilience, adaptation, etc.).  In this vein, I particularly like what Chris Brogan suggests as the following leadership practice related to network weaving:

  • Spend 20 minutes every day thinking about your network
  • Spend 10 minutes every day cultivating your network
  • Deliver 2 or 3 times as much value as you ask from your network

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Jul/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

Principles for Network Leadership Development

“In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time.  It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible.”

-Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze (2006)

 

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For the past two years, I’ve had the fortune of partnering with Carole Martin to create and deliver a network leadership development program for regional and economic development in “the north country” (northern NH, southern Quebec, eastern VT). This opportunity was made possible by funding from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Foundation and took the form of something we called the Community Practitioners Network (CPN). Subsequently, some of the members of the first cohort have taken to calling it the “Community Placemakers Network” (more on that another time).

One of the first steps Carole and I took in creating the program was to begin with a set of principles, which, in good network fashion, evolved over time. These principles guided our design and facilitation of the program as it emerged, and we offered them to and co-evolved them with the cohort as they considered how to bring them to their own leadership in their organizations, communities, and beyond. Here is a condensed version of the lastest iteration of the principles:

  • Look for what is beyond the immediate sight lines and intersections – Part of the power of networks is emergence; expect and delight in the unexpected that comes from the meeting of different minds and perspectives.
  • Design for serendipity - Don’t try to control and account for all outcomes.  First of all, it’s impossible.  Secondly, as Andrew Goldsworthy once said, “Too much control can kill a work.”
  • Periphery, not (just) center – Network action is not simply about what is happening “in the room” but what transpires “after the meeting,” not what goes on at a “steering group” level, but what happens in two-sies and three-sies that form/partner/innovate “out there.”
  • Process sometimes counts as actionCreating stronger connections and building alignment among network members/participants can be significant progress.
  • We move at the speed of trustMake time and space for trust to be built.
  • Contribution before credential – Contributions are what count, and can come from anyone.
  • Feed the network through questions so that it has a life of its ownUsing inquiry can help to unlock network potential in the pursuit of unique and context-specific answers.

Always eager to hear others and how you have put them to use . . .

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Jul/09/14//Jen Willsea//Collaboration, Facilitative Leadership, Testimonials

Living Cities Takes Facilitative Leadership to Heart

shiftsinhistory

Two recent graduates of a Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop Mistinguette Smith and I led in New York, Alison Gold and Juan Sebastian Arias from Living Cities, recently wrote to us about a creative way they are bringing the frameworks and tools they learned back to their organization. So many of you ask us for advice about how to apply this stuff that we thought you’d want to know about it too! continue reading

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Jul/08/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//LoveLiberates, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Love Liberates Communities From Violence

I met Juan Pacheco of Barrios Unidos recently at a gathering focused on creating an affirming narrative about boys and young men of color. He shared his own personal story—a journey from El Salvador to the U.S., from a supportive family to a gang as a substitute for family. He shares the power of love to transform violence and to liberate young people from despair, pain, and confinement within a prism of societal and self-perceptions of failure. Here are just a few of his many inspiring thoughts, quoted from two talks that you can listen to on line.
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Jul/08/14//Curtis Ogden//Love, LoveLiberates, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Networks: A Love Story

4641338811_3cb14b7719_z Photo by Leland Francisco

 

Over the past 8 years at IISC I have seen and experienced some interesting progressions. When I first joined the organization, in our Facilitative Leadership trainings, we talked about the “interior condition” of effective collaborative leaders. At the core we mentioned that these leaders and change agents embraced an ethic of “service, authenticity and respect.” Then we made the bold move of changing “respect,” which came across to many as a bit weak, to LOVE. For the first couple of years after making this switch, when I asked “What’s love got to do with it?” with respect to effective leadership and work for social change, there were often uncomfortable silences. Some participants would ultimately want to reframe love as “respect” or “passion.”

Then in 2009 I started noticing a change. More heads nodded in rooms when I mentioned the “L-word.” Less nervous laughter and shifting in seats. In one particularly striking instance, during a training with health care professionals in Maine, a senior and very respected physician responded,

“What’s love got to do with it? Everything! Beyond my technical skills, I am effective in so far as I am able to really see my patients, students, and colleagues, to make them feel seen for who they are.”

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Jul/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks, Sustainability

Mind the Lines in the Mind

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The other day I was working with an emerging inter-institutional collaboration of universities looking to move the needle on “transitioning to sustainability.”  Like so many other conversations that I am a part of these days, there were bold visions tempered by structural realities, including robust conversation about internal constraints to the kind of progress people are striving to realize.  These constraints are not simply internal to our organizations in the form of protocols and politics, but also to our thinking.  As David Bohm once wrote,

“Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.”

And so there is a call to constantly “mind the lines” that are not simply “out there,” but that are conscious and unconscious projections of our thoughts, and that do not serve our intensions. Perhaps no one says it better than the late Donella Meadows in a piece from which I read the other day and have pulled extracts below.  For the entire essay, visit the Donella Meadows Institute.

From “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World” by Donella Meadows (December 24, 1987)

The earth was formed whole and continuous in the universe, without lines.

The human mind arose in the universe needing lines, boundaries, distinctions. Here and not there. This and not that. Mine and not yours.

That is sea and this is land, the mind thinks, and here is the line between them. See? It’s very clear on the map.

But, as the linguists say, the map is not the territory. The line on the map is not to be found at the edge of the sea. . . .

Between me and not-me there is surely a line, a clear distinction, or so it seems. But, now that I look, where is that line?

This fresh apple, still cold and crisp from the morning dew, is not-me only until I eat it. When I eat, I eat the soil that nourished the apple. When I drink, the waters of the earth become me. With every breath I take in I draw in not-me and make it me. With every breath out I exhale me into not-me. . . .

Between you and me, now there is a line. No other line feels more certain than that one. Sometimes it seems not a line but a canyon, a yawning empty space, across which I cannot reach.

Yet you keep reappearing in my awareness. Even when you are far away, something of you surfaces constantly in my wandering thoughts. When you are nearby, I feel your presence, I sense your mood. Even when I try not to. Especially when I try not to. . . .

I have to work hard not to pay attention to you. When I succeed, when I have closed my mind to you with walls of indifference, then the presence of those walls, which constrain my own aliveness, are reminders of you.

And when I do pay attention, very close attention, when I open myself fully to your humanity, your complexity, your reality, then I find, always, under every other feeling and judgment and emotion, that I love you.

Even between you and me, even there, the lines are only of our own making.

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Jun/30/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Liberation, Love, LoveLiberates, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Self-love Liberates

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is what the Community Healing Network (CHN), chaired by the late Dr. Maya Angelou, calls a “psychological freedom fighter.” The clip of Dr. King posted here is a portion of his 1967 speech, “Where do we go from here,” which is well worth reading or listening to in full.

The CHN describes the straightforward and deeply challenging struggle of black people (and I think it’s fair to say all people of color in some way) for psychological freedom from racism. continue reading

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Jun/27/14//Jen Willsea//LoveLiberates, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Laverne and CeCe Shed Light on Liberation

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Transgender women of color are finally making a (positive) splash in the mainstream media. Janet Mock, a writer, has been getting accolades for her new memoir, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much MoreLaverne Cox, an actress in Orange is the New Black, was recently on the cover of Time magazine; and CeCe McDonald is increasingly being recognized as a trans activist leader.

On June 5, 2011 in Minneapolis, CeCe McDonald and her friends were passing a bar on the way to a grocery store when they were accosted with homophobic, transphobic, and racist slurs. CeCe defended herself with a pair of fabric scissors in her bag. She was accused of murder even though she acted in self-defense, jailed for defending herself against bigotry and violence that transgender people often face. The judge rejected considerations of how gender, sexual orientation, race, and class played into the situation; statistics that trans people are more at risk for hate violence; the swastika tattoo on the attacker’s chest and his three previous convictions for assault; as well as the meth, cocaine, and alcohol present in the attacker’s system.

In this Democracy Now! clip from February 19, 2014, CeCe (after her release from prison) and Laverne talk about why black trans bodies matter. It is a must watch for anyone who cares about human beings and wants to better understand what is at stake in the movement for trans liberation. As a cisgender (in other words, non-trans) queer white woman, I am inspired and humbled by these two fierce trans women’s words.

“I know what is like to always have this guard up because you don’t know when somebody will literally try to kill you for just being who you want to be…. I’ve yet to hear of a trans woman who has just lived her life happily….” CeCe McDonald

Why do we insist that there are ok expressions and not ok expressions of masculinity and femininity?

When will we stop policing people’s gender expressions?

When will we start allowing ourselves to see people who challenge mainstream notions of gender not as freaks who are offensive or dangerous, but as beautiful people with unique gender wisdom?

Many trans people are warriors on the front lines, fighting for liberation from restrictive and false gender norms. When will we wake up and see that this fight is one that all of us, people of all gender identities, will benefit from?

Laverne calls us to the future we can all be a part of creating if we choose to:

“How do we create spaces in our culture where we don’t stigmatize trans identity, where we create spaces of gender self-determination? It is so often acceptable to make fun of trans people, to ridicule trans people. When we look at the epidemic of violence against trans people so many people think that our identities are inherently deceptive, inherently suspect, and that we should be criminalized because of that. In Arizona they were trying to criminalize going to the bathroom last year. How do we begin to create spaces where we accept trans people on trans people’s own terms and let trans people lead the discussions of who we are and what the discussion about what our lives should be?” Laverne Cox

Keep an eye out for the release of the documentary, FREE CeCe, to learn more about CeCe’s story and the culture of violence experienced by trans women of color.

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Jun/26/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

Network-Inspired Questions for Change

networked inquiry

Picking up on the spirit of yesterday’s post about asking “beautiful questions” and inspired by a staff challenge to articulate lines of inquiry stemming from IISC’s core lenses, I offer this post.  It distills some of the underlying questions that adopting a “network lens” inspires for social change work.  Please add, adjust, edit, and rift!

  • How does your organization/network/change initiative strive to add value to (rather than duplicate) existing efforts?  What do you do best, and how might you then connect to the rest?
  • What are you doing to support and strengthen connections and alignment within and beyond your organization/network/change initiative?

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Jun/25/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Power, Equity, Inclusion, Social Innovation, What We Are Reading

More Beautiful Questions

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”

- Warren Berger

A-More-Beautiful-Question-Cover

One of my favorite reads of the past six months is Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.  It strikes me as being an important read for any social change agent.  Early on, Berger begins with the following provocative statement, that rings true to personal experience: 

“Well meaning people are often trying to solve a problem by answering the wrong question.” 

In some cases this is because they have not paused long enough, if at all, to consider the underlying question their efforts are trying to solve.  Or, as my colleague Cynthia Parker has said, they are “solving for solution,” essentially promoting and/or fighting over their own preferred approaches.  And so they continue to offer the same old, ineffective and outdated, approaches or products.  This is especially problematic in a time of such change and flux, when we can’t fall back reliably on what we already know. continue reading

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Jun/24/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured, Learning Edge

Agree on Process

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You might have picked up that I’m down on too much process and too much meeting.  It’s a funny place for someone that makes a living facilitating.  It is part of a semi-conscious effort to look at the opposite of my core assumptions and seek the wisdom there. continue reading

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Jun/23/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Inspiration, Liberation, Love, LoveLiberates, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Love of her Many Identities

Check out the ways that love of her many identities frees up spoken word artist Jamila Lyiscott to be her full self. She reminds us that a  full, loving embrace of yourself and your cultures enables others to see you more fully and embrace all of your cultures, while it makes space for others to do the same for themselves. That’s change making at a personal level that can radiate outward to the entire community.  continue reading

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Jun/20/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, LoveLiberates, Power, Equity, Inclusion

One for the “Righting a Wrong” File!

The settlement of the case of the Central Park 5 is a great day for the five individuals, add a great day for the cause of racial justice. The case of Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise is a textbook case of structural racism: implicit bias, coupled with strong-arm institutional police practices used against young men of color, and a media too eager to believe the hype, leading to the conviction of five innocent young black men for a horrendous crime. The documentary about these young men, by Ken Burns, captures the intense impact of the wrongful accusation and imprisonment on the lives of the five young men and their families.  continue reading

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Jun/19/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Inspiration, Love, LoveLiberates

Love Liberates.

We continue to explore the power of love. Listen to Dr. Maya Angelou speak about the power of love to liberate the human spirit. She speaks of how her mother’s love liberated Maya to become her fullest self and how Maya’s love liberated her mother at the end of her mother’s life. She speaks of the unconditional love that frees a person to make their highest and best contribution to the world—a love that is at once personal and public, individually meaningful and essential to our collective lives.

“Love liberates. It doesn’t bind.”

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Jun/18/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Expand (and Deepen) the Frame

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You probably know this challenge.  Start with 3 rows of 3 dots in the form of a square.  Now using only three or four straight lines, connect all of the dots without lifting your pen or pencil from the paper (see answers above).  I was reminded of this exercise by some of the participants in the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network (CPN).  They used it as a metaphor during a presentation about a multi-functional collaborative platform they are proposing to connect a rather vast and disparate region of New Hampshire’s northern most county, including parts of western Vermont, southern Quebec, and eastern Maine.  The vision for the platform is that it would help to build connectivity and alignment around a core set of regional values that would also inspire action for community and economic development. continue reading

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Jun/17/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, What We Are Reading

Does Collaboration Work?

I like to describe the Interaction Institute for Social Change as a collaboration shop.  I like to describe my work as helping people work better together.   Certainly any article tilted “The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results” is bound to get my attention.

I find this to be a powerful piece, and it confirms intuitions and observations from my ten years of doing this work.  It is too often that we collaborate for collaboration’s sake.  And it is too often that we fall into the tyranny of a consensus that yields subpar results.

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Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco continue reading

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Jun/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Structural Transformation, Your Experiences

Re-Claiming and Re-Purposing Space

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Last week’s New England Food Summit was a unique opportunity to bring a conversation that had begun in the northern more production-oriented parts of the region to a place where access, equity and urban ag are leading edges of the conversation.  Food Solutions New England (FSNE) is leading a charge that challenges the imagination of people in six states to see and work together for a day in 2060 when we are able to produce (farm and fish) at least 50% of what is consumed here.  This challenge takes on unique dimensions in different parts and communities of the region. In Rhode Island, where this year’s Summit was held, this means working with the highest unemployment rate in the country, an ever more diverse population and the reality of very limited space in which to place new food operations.

But as Ken Payne, member of the Rhode Island delegation and chair of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, reminded Summit attendees, a central call is to creatively go about the work of “repurposing space” – physical, moral and economic.

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Jun/11/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Your Experiences

CommonBound!

CommonBound

This past weekend’s CommonBound Conference was quite the experience.  It was inspiring to be with the more than 600 participants from around North America talking about and sharing examples of what it might take to evolve a just and sustainable economy.  I found the event’s closing plenary, an interview of and conversation between Adrienne Maree Brown, Gar Alperovitz, and Gopal Dayaneni, to be particularly stirring. For those who missed it, here is a smattering of what was buzzing in the Twittersphere . . . continue reading

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Jun/05/14//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Why Teaching a Man to Fish Is a Lie

Very much looking forward to joining my IISC colleague Andrea Nagel while facilitating at this weekend’s CommonBound Conference, hosted by the New Economy Coalition.  The proceedings will feature Ed Whitfield from the Fund for Democratic Communities. Whitfield is a long time social justice activist, who has been involved in labor, community organizing and peace work since the late 1960‘s . He was the chairman of the Greensboro Redevelopment Commission for 9 years and formerly board chairman of Greensboro’s Triad Minority Development Corporation.  In the short video clip above Whitfield speaks to the fallacy of the “teach a man to fish parable” noting that to know how to fish is one thing, “having access to fishing poles and water holes” is another.  His message is very much in alignment with our commitment at IISC around lifting up issues and dynamics of power, equity and inclusion.

If you are interested in following CommonBound on-line, you can check out this link. Or follow along on Twitter via #CommonBound. continue reading

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Jun/04/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Your Experiences

The Map Is Not the Territory

In my current work with the Cancer Free Economy Network, I have the opportunity to partner with a very skilled team of consultants, including Joe Hsueh from Second Muse.  Joe’s core offering to this initiative is system mapping and helping people to hold systemic complexity.  The short video above, taken by another team member, Eugene Kim, features some of Joe’s thinking about what it takes to gain “strategic clarity” when striving to evolve a complex system.

One of the many things I appreciate about Joe is his holistic approach to system mapping which renders it much less mechanistic than I’ve seen from other practitioners.  In fact, as this great article in The Guardian about Joe and his work illustrates, he comes from a very deep, some might call it spiritual, place.  As the article quotes him, “Systems mapping, system modeling – all these scientific tools and methods – these are not ends in themselves. For me, they are tools for us to create a space where we open our minds, open our hearts and open our will.”  In this sense, the (system) map is not the territory in more ways than one.

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Jun/03/14//Danielle Coates-Connor//Liberation, Love, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Yuri Kochiyama: May 19, 1921 – June 1, 2014

Monday at our staff meeting Maanav Thakore called attention to Yuri Kochiyama’s passing. This post is a compilation of articles and media that honor her life and legacy.

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Jun/03/14//Jen Willsea//Love, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Teeth: A Social Justice Issue

What is the number one reason for school absences in low income communities in the U.S.? It’s dental-related illness. I was blown away when I learned this. It was not what those of us working on the Boston Promise Initiative, a holistic approach to children’s academic success age 0-24 in the Dudley neighborhood, would have guessed. How can we expect children to learn if they are in pain? Why should any children suffer from an entirely preventable disease?

Dental Care

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May/28/14//Danielle Coates-Connor//Inspiration, Liberation, Love, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou

I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’

- Maya Angelou

Today, May 28, 2014, the New York Times writes:

Maya Angelou, the memoirist and poet whose landmark book of 1969, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — which describes in lyrical, unsparing prose her childhood in the Jim Crow South — was among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century black woman to reach a wide general readership, died on Wednesday in her home. She was 86 and lived in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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May/28/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

A Different Take on Scale

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I will admit to being a bit dubious when I read articles about “scaling social impact.”  A fair number of these pieces come from rather privileged places and can smack top-down solutions that perpetuate existing and problematic power dynamics and largely ignore the specifics of local realities.  I am also concerned that many continue to hold an industrial/mechanistic/extractive view that renders “scaling up” simply more of the same old damaging same old.

So I have been heartened to hear different takes on scale this past month in a few conversations about evolving a more regenerative, “human scale”, and equitable economy. continue reading

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May/21/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Inspiration, Love, Power, Equity, Inclusion

We’ve Lost an Unsung Hero—Remembering Vincent Harding

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Vincent Harding died on Monday and our world is emptier for it. Vincent is an unsung hero of the Civil Rights era, whose work as a speechwriter for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was essential if not widely known. His best-known speech was Dr. King’s speech Beyond Vietnam, where Dr. King boldly extended his critique to U.S. foreign policy, connecting the struggle for civil rights in the U.S. with struggles for justice in other parts of the world. You can hear Vincent explain the significance of the speech in an interview with Democracy Now! You can hear or read some of his thoughts on spirituality and justice in an On Being podcast called Dangerous Spirituality. continue reading

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May/21/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Networks

Whose Party Is It?

Surprise Party Photo by Waqas Mustafeez

 

A question I find myself asking quite a bit of those with whom I am doing network building and collaborative change consulting is some version of, “So whose party is this?”  A change or developmental initiative may be born in the mind of a single person or small group of people.  And she/he/they invite others to that party, her/his/their party.  Then over time, the idea may arise on the part of the invitees that this isn’t just “your” party, but “ours” (collectively).  This may not come up so much as a direct statement but through questions about and behavior around power dynamics, how the effort is framed, who to engage, etc.  Now what?  Depending upon the goal, sometimes your party needs to stay your party, and sometimes it needs to shift, through the emergence of a better question or opportunity.  Of course, people may make the decision for you by taking the party with them. Or maybe there are two (or more) parties that ensue, in which case, the question becomes, if you are still welcome, “So whose party am I at right now?”  The question is not simply meant to be about ownership, but intent, transparency and equity, and how people can show up in value-adding ways.

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May/20/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Facilitative Leadership

Say Go

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I’ve been thinking a lot about process.  What is the best way to get things done?  What is the most collaborative and inclusive way to move forward?  Our bias towards inclusion, towards a process that is truly democratic, can often seem at odds with the idea that “action trumps everything.” continue reading

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May/19/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

How We Invented Illegal Immigration

This might be the most important seven minutes of your week. For, me, it was one of those beautiful moments when understanding history – a hidden story that isn’t widely told – helped me think much more clearly about an important contemporary issue. Aviva Chomsky, author of “Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal,” explains how recently the concept of “illegal immigration” was developed and how it was developed specifically as a way to discriminate against Mexican workers in the U.S. At the time, visas were not needed to enter the country; people from Mexico, many of whom returned seasonally, were considered workers not immigrants; people from China and other Asian countries were not allowed to enter the U.S. at all; and only people from Europe were considered “immigrants.” And, preceding all of that history of course, there were a couple hundred years of European settler/ immigrants who carried no documentation and were not considered “illegal.”

Link to audio


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May/15/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Degenerative Habits of Mind

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

― David Bohm

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I have learned a tremendous amount over the last several years from practitioners associated with the Regenesis Group – Carol Sanford, Bill Reed, Joel Glanzsberg, and Pamela Mang.  Specifically, they have pushed my own thinking about my own thinking, and how this kind of awareness is key to supporting successful system change.  I recommend all readers of this blog to check out the wealth of resources on the Regenesis website.  And I want to highlight a blog post from Pamela Mang, a segment of which I have included below, that points to how our dominant ways of thinking can undercut our stated aims.  The full post can be found here on the edge:Regenerate site.

“The way we think is shaped by patterns that we’ve been taught or picked up over the course of our lives, patterns that are deeply embedded in our culture and institutions. Over time, these patterns have become increasingly interdependent and self-reinforcing and, most problematic, increasingly habitual because they are invisible to us. If we want to change how we think, the first step must be to make visible the patterns that currently shape our thinking. Only then can we decide which are useful when, and which condemn us to degenerative outcomes. . . .  continue reading

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May/14/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Do-acracy vs. Democracy?

In a number of the social change networks that I am supporting there is very active and interesting conversation, and experimentation, going on around what I would call the process-action tension.  As I have written elsewhere, I see this as a bit of a false and often unhelpful dichotomy, and I have certainly seen and been part of networks that have gotten bogged down in some version of analysis paralysis and never-ending consensus building. Increasingly there is a leaning towards getting out there sooner than later and trying things, learning from experiments and actions, readjusting, etc., which is all well and good.  At the same time, I see it as part of my role to raise questions about how the embrace of “do-acracy” might have unintended consequences around long-term alignment as well as sustained and truly systemic impact. continue reading

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May/12/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Be Color Brave

Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments and chair of the board for DreamWorks Animation challenges us to be “color brave” instead of “color blind.” Here are a few snippets from her TED talk. Well worth listening to in its entirety.

“[R]esearchers have coined this term “color blindness” to describe a learned behavior where we pretend that we don’t notice race. If you happen to be surrounded by a bunch of people who look like you, that’s purely accidental. Now, color blindness, in my view, doesn’t mean that there’s no racial discrimination, and there’s fairness. It doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t ensure it. In my view, color blindness is very dangerous because it means we’re ignoring the problem… this subject matter can be hard, awkward, uncomfortable — but that’s kind of the point… If we can learn to deal with our discomfort, and just relax into it, we’ll have a better life.

“So I think it’s time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, male, female, all of us, if we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, I think we have to have real conversations about this issue. We cannot afford to be color blind. We have to be color brave. We have to be willing, as teachers and parents and entrepreneurs and scientists, we have to be willing to have proactive conversations about race with honesty and understanding and courage, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do, because our businesses and our products and our science, our research, all of that will be better with greater diversity…

“I’m actually asking you to do something really simple: observe your environment, at work, at school, at home. I’m asking you to look at the people around you purposefully and intentionally. Invite people into your life who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t act like you, don’t come from where you come from, and you might find that they will challenge your assumptions and make you grow as a person…

“I’m asking you to show courage. I’m asking you to be bold. As business leaders, I’m asking you not to leave anything on the table. As citizens, I’m asking you not to leave any child behind. I’m asking you not to be color blind, but to be color brave, so that every child knows that their future matters and their dreams are possible.”

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May/07/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Your Experiences

Aligning Beliefs and Tactics

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.”

-The Talmud

Last week I had the privilege of being part of faculty for the launch of the Presidio Institute’s Cross-Sector Leadership Program in San Francisco.  My role in representing IISC was to lead conversation around core concepts and frameworks related to the design and facilitation of complex multi-stakeholder change processes. The last day I partnered with Jennifer Splansky Juster from the Collective Impact Forum to do a deeper dive around collaborative process design, with Jen offering more guidance around the specifics of taking a “collective impact” approach. During this session, I invited Fellows to step back and take a deeper view of their cross-sector change work by reflecting on the framework above, the essence of which I have inherited from the thinking and work of Carol Sanford.

This framework offers that our chosen change methods are always grounded in an underlying belief system about what we hold to be true about humanity, the world and what constitutes “knowing.”  Not being aware of or transparent about this can get us into difficulty when it leads to mixing and matching techniques/methods that may contradict one another, or when we are not operating from the same system of beliefs as others.  Here are some questions I offered the CSL Fellows in consideration of their cross-sector work: continue reading

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May/06/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured, Learning Edge

Learn by Doing

It’s good to plan.  It’s good to reflect.  It’s best to do.

Here at IISC we spend a fair amount of time supporting others in articulating what they want to achieve, including those who must be included, and defining a pathway to action.  When done well, this work depends on a fair amount of reflection on practice – how do you think about what you do?  What are you learning about what you do?

We also train people.  We help them become better facilitative leaders.  We introduce specific practices – specific things people can do.

Without the practice the lessons are lost.  We learn by doing.

I was just talking about this in our office kitchen with Danielle Coates-Connor, one of our colleagues, and she compared it to meditation.

It is quite hip to talk about meditation these days.  Mindfulness is in.  At least in theory.  People have a sense that stillness of the mind and present moment awareness are powerful ways to live and thrive.  But there is a huge gap between knowing this and practicing this.  Too many of us still believe that thinking about meditation is a lot like meditation.   But it’s not.

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The same is true for our projects and our dreams.  We can get the right stakeholders together.  We can talk about what we want to do.  We can visualize it.  We can plot it out.  But the learning doesn’t begin until we start.  The change does not begin until we do.

Do you wonder:

How to integrate more “doing” in your “planning?”

How to integrate more “doing” in your “reflecting?”

How to start experimenting as soon as possible?

How to start learning?

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May/05/14//IISC//Uncategorized

#BringBackOurGirls

“Some of my relatives lived for decades in the North, in Kano and Bornu. They spoke fluent Hausa. (One relative taught me, at the age of eight, to count in Hausa.) They made planned visits to Anambra only a few times a year, at Christmas and to attend weddings and funerals. But sometimes, in the wake of violence, they made unplanned visits. I remember the word ‘Maitatsine’ – to my young ears, it had a striking lyricism – and I remember the influx of relatives who had packed a few bags and fled the killings. What struck me about those hasty returns to the East was that my relatives always went back to the North. Until two years ago when my uncle packed up his life of thirty years in Maiduguri and moved to Awka. He was not going back. This time, he felt, was different.” – Chimamanda Adichie continue reading

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May/05/14//IISC//Uncategorized

Bring back our girls Mr. President, dare to be Presidential

“Globally, it’s quite an agreeable fact that the geographical land mass hitherto known as Nigeria, often described as the giant of Africa, whether towering or lame, is almost not a Nation anymore. Ours is now a safe haven for terrorism, a dungeon for unemployed, job seeking Nigerian youth, a grappling economy and a hellish transportation bureau for the abduction and possible trading of our children, especially girls.”-Toyosi Akerele continue reading

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May/05/14//IISC//Uncategorized

#BringBackOurGirls

“The abduction of more than 230 schoolgirls from a rural school in Chibok, Nigeria by the Islamic terror group Boko Haram, and the failure of the Government to act despite clear local intelligence to their likely whereabouts, has ignited something extraordinary among ordinary people in the country.”- Tracy McVeigh, The Guardian continue reading

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May/02/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Who’s Actually in Charge?

“Our minds automatically justify our decisions, blinding us to the true source, or beliefs, behind our decisions. Ultimately, we believe our decisions are consistent with our conscious beliefs, when in fact, our unconscious is running the show.”Howard Ross, Kirwin Institute, 2008

Pages from 2014-implicit-bias continue reading

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May/01/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion, What We Are Reading

Telling a New Story

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Last week, Curtis Ogden wrote about the power of narrative to build engagement and shape the action in networks. We’ve also been taking a deep dive into the role of narrative in racial healing. That is, focusing on the need to expose and transform the deeply embedded narratives about race that allow racism to persist through unconscious bias, individual behaviors and micro-aggressions, institutional practices, and structural arrangements in this society. The report “Telling our Own Story” describes the ways in which narratives about race have shaped the U.S. culture and values, and laid the foundation for social structures based on false stories about the value of people based on a racial hierarchy. Here are a few opening ideas. We hope you will read the full report.  continue reading

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Apr/24/14//Danielle Coates-Connor//Facilitative Leadership, Love

Rev. Starsky Wilson on Love

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Apr/24/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Networks and Narrative

“Narratives can create a very different world, one where pressure evolves from a source of stress to a source of excitement, calling us to achieve even more of our potential, both as individuals and collectively.”

 - John Hagel

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Today’s post gives a big tip of the hat and bow of gratitude to John Hagel for his work on narrative, which I believe has much to offer networks for social change.  First a little story . . . continue reading

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Apr/23/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Falling is Not Failing

Kate Tempest and this video were brought to my attention by Tom Kelly of the Sustainability Institute at UNH when he presented Tempest’s work as an “offering,” a ritual opening and closing we use in our meetings of the Food Solutions New England Network Team meetings.  It was certainly apt as we were talking about what it means to “put ourselves out there” on various fronts, to enter new territory with one another as we collectively push forward the conversation about New England creating a more just and sustainable regional food system.

I appreciate Tempest putting herself out there in general as a young artist, and this particular poetic rendering of the Icarus tale that suggests the young ambitious man’s “fall” provides lessons for the collective advancement of those whose feet have not “kicked the clouds.”  Celebrating boldness and reaching new heights . . .

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Apr/22/14//Gibrán Rivera//Cities, Collaboration

Activate the Question Campaign

Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT brings the concept of a “Question Campaign” to our emerging work on Cities.

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The question campaign is anchored by the premise that  “asking questions invites people into conversation, rather than shutting down discussion by giving only answers.”  Question campaigns “generate dialogue as a crucial first step in creating actual change on the ground.” continue reading

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Apr/21/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Cities, Power, Equity, Inclusion

One Boston?

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“Is there really One Boston? Boston Strong? Is the violence that occurs on a day-to-day basis acceptable? Is the reaction and response to violence different depending on where it happens or whom it happens to? Have we become desensitized to ‘regular violence’?” These are the questions the Blackstonian newspaper raises in a report detailing the 237 shootings in Boston since the Marathon bombings. continue reading

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Apr/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Network Development Through Convening

8562448300_2a5c7b1e59_z (1) Photo by Kevin Doyle. Some rights reserved.

 

Conferences and other large in-person convenings provide a great opportunity to launch and further develop networks for social change.  As has been mentioned previously on this blog, and borrowing from the good work of Plastrik and Taylor, at IISC we see networks for change as developing in various inter-related dimensions, including connectivity, alignment, and action. Paying attention to these dimensions of success can inform a variety of approaches to support a more robust, trust-bound, commonly-oriented, self-organizing and (as needed) formally coordinated collective.

Here are some methods to consider for convenings to help feed and grow networks for change: continue reading

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Apr/15/14//Gibrán Rivera//Cities, Liberation

The City: Time to Turn to One Another

At IISC we are orienting our selves towards the City.  These are the places where most human beings will live.  They are the theater of human struggle, and thus for liberation.  And as Jen points out, they just might be the key to sustainability.

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Inequality is tearing our society apart.  Oligarchy’s global claw back has been relentless, and potentially self-destructive.  We are governed by moneyed interests and the precariat have been abandoned.
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Apr/14/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Cities, Collaboration, Love

Love is a Process


 
Picking up where Gibrán’s post about our interior condition left us last week and my recent viewing of César Chávez, I wanted to lift up a description of love offered by staff of LUPE on a visit I took there last fall. “Love is a process, not a destination. Love is a set of actions that arise from an emotional state or a cognitive commitment.” Recently, I wrote about the power of strong emotions to create the space for breakthroughs. Today, I want to focus on the processes and commitments rather than the emotional states related to love.

When I read and listen to the reflections of people who are deeply committed to social justice, I am struck by their commitment to engaging with people and engaging the struggle in ways that proceeds from a powerful internal compass, even in the face of strong resistance. Think of the standard bearers of nonviolence during the Civil Rights Movement, who practiced non-retaliation in the face of attacks. Think of the painstaking and beautiful reconciliation process in the wake of Sierre Leon’s civil war, where the restoring right relationship between perpetrators and victims began with a public expression of remorse and a request for forgiveness.

In these cases and many others, there was as much attention to the interior condition of the people involved as there was to designing the processes by which they would catalyze change.

How are you attending to your own interior condition as you work for justice? How are you encouraging others to attend to theirs? How does that translate into processes that embody your commitments to love?

 



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Apr/11/14//Gibrán Rivera//Liberation, Structural Transformation

Our Interior Condition

The structural vs. transformational debate is alive and well.  I’m glad that Curtis and Cynthia have been dipping back into it over the last few weeks.  It is good to start at the end: the answer is a both/and, it’s not a good idea to get stuck in binaries.

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The print pictured above captures it for me.  It is Nelson Mandela’s drawing of the view from his cell at Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 30 years.

Take that in for a second.

Thirty years in jail for daring to stand up for freedom.

The print’s beauty is undeniable.

How is this perspective possible?

There was something in Mandela’s mind, something in his soul, that could not be subjugated.  Oppression doesn’t get more structural than four walls and a padlock.  But they could not take away his freedom.  This is the freedom that breaks chains.  It is the freedom that inspires the world and liberates a whole people.

Nelson Mandela is the icon that destroys the binary.  Structural and transformational integrate in his lifetime.

I agree with Curtis and Glanzberg that “The pattern most in need of shifting is not out there in the world, but in our minds.” And I agree with Cynthia that our mind changes when we become aware that others share in our condition and that our condition is the product of a very specific structure.

But there is something else happening here.

We have an interior condition.  This interior condition is significantly affected by our thinking, but it is more than our thinking.  This interior condition is significantly affected by our objective conditions, but it is more than our objective conditions.  This interior condition is profoundly individual, but it is greater than the individual – our interior is “inter-subjective.” We have a collective interior.

Bringing our care and attention to what is inside.  Nurturing, cultivating, developing, evolving what is inside.  Connecting to one another there.  Actively engaging a mutual awakening – that is the key to changing our thinking and to transforming our structures.  It is the next step to liberation.

 

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Apr/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Making Space for Kindness

‘The effect of positive emotions on helping others is stronger and longer-lasting than self-interest.”

- Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley

At times thinking about social change can get rather complex, and rightfully so.  And it can be helpful to ground ourselves in some of the simpler (though not necessarily easy) and timeless principles and practices of gratitude, kindness, and generosity.  This video, from a rather surprising source, speaks truth about the power of giving, recently validated by a study conducted by Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley, who are also creators of The Reciprocity Ring.  Both the study and this video remind me of an ongoing line of inquiry I have with respect to networks for social change - How can we cultivate skill, will, and structure so that the natural impulse to give (and receive) can thrive?  

How are you making space for kindness?  What does this look like?  Feel like?  Sound like?  What is the impact?

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Apr/09/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Sustainability

Re-Thinking Progress: Getting Cyclical

What if the goods of today became the resources of tomorrow?

Regular readers of this blog know that I am particularly interested in living systems and networks and how they can inform how we approach our change work so that it is more in synch with how life works. This video is very much in alignment with my interests and ongoing inquiry, and while focused primarily on the economy and production, IMHO it has implications for all areas of focus for social change.  Some of the provocative questions it raises include the following: continue reading

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Apr/07/14//Danielle Coates-Connor//Uncategorized

Simple Deeds for Justice — ¡Si se puede!

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I saw the new biopic about  César Chávez this weekend. Criticisms notwithstanding, I think there is a lot to celebrate and a lot to learn from this film. Here are a few things that struck me.

While details apparently were missing, this was the first I had heard of the solidarity between Filipino and Chicano farm workers. It was a clear example of how race has been used to keep the class system in place in this country.

While the role of women in the movement was not fully explored, I think Helen Fabela Chávez made one of the most important statements in the film as she and César discussed moving from LA to Delano to organize workers from within their ranks. “We can’t ask the people to do anything we are not willing to do.” There is no power like the power of personal experience and personal sacrifice to make change happen.

Personal sacrifice for la causa was a consistent theme. We get glimpses of the impact of the move from LA to Delano on the entire Chávez family, illustrated mostly through the experience of oldest son Fernando. When a former classmate shows up, César offers him a job as the “legal department,” with the salary of five dollars per week, making him both the highest and lowest paid staffer. At just under 4% of median income in 1968, that would be the equivalent of about $40 per week in 2012. And, of course, there was Chávez’ 25 day fast. He said of the fast (an actual quote here, not the movie!) “A fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement. The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes. During the past few years I have been studying the plague of pesticides on our land and our food,” Cesar continued “The evil is far greater than even I had thought it to be, it threatens to choke out the life of our people and also the life system that supports us all. This solution to this deadly crisis will not be found in the arrogance of the powerful, but in solidarity with the weak and helpless. I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice. Carried out by men and women whose hearts are focused on the suffering of the poor and who yearn, with us, for a better world. Together, all things are possible.”

The film also gave glimpses into the integrity, fearlessness, and creativity of the UFW’s strategy to secure rights for farm workers. Chief among these was the transition from strike to boycott—the transition from something that farm workers were doing to something that everyone was doing.

While a motion picture typically isn’t the way to learn about the history of social movements, this one sparked some useful thinking for me. What level of sacrifice am I willing to make for the causes I stand for? How am I working across racial lines to build solidarity? How can I support the kind of boldness and creativity needed to move justice forward in my lifetime? What about you?

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Apr/03/14//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Learning Edge

Unintended Consequences

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Another story about what can happen when we fail to hold a broader systemic view in our social change work . . .   I was working with a food system-focused network the other day and the good news was reported that great strides have been made in reducing food waste, in large part because distributors and retailers are doing a much better job of tracking inventory and fitting it better to consumer demand.

On the other hand, it was also reported that this spells a real challenge for the “emergency food” world and food banks, which have been largely dependent upon excess food to provide for the growing number of people who are food insecure.   continue reading

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Apr/01/14//Jen Willsea//Cities, Power, Equity, Inclusion, Sustainability, What We Are Reading

Re-Imagining Cities

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At IISC we often talk about three hugely important pieces of context for social change work these days:

  1. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift, from the Industrial Age into an age that doesn’t have a name yet
  2. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas
  3. In 2042 the U.S. will become a majority people of color nation

In this context, as a nation and a globe we are choosing to face or ignore urgent questions about climate change, racism, wealth distribution, violence (the types we condone, penalize, and ignore), and the quality of life that we are willing or unwilling to insist upon for every human being on this planet. It’s quite overwhelming…

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Apr/01/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Social Innovation, Uncategorized

Brainswarm Instead of Brainstorm

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The recent barrage against the effectiveness of brainstorming has been a bit hard for those of us who are grounded in the Interaction Method. But evidence matters, doesn’t it? I know that Curtis has talked about the limits of brainstorming a couple of times in this blog. continue reading

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Mar/31/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Structural Transformation

What needs changing in here?

Sail Away

This post continues a conversation that Curtis Ogden started last week. (Process is Where Change Happens) It’s a conversation we’ve been having for years at IISC. On one hand, we recognize the importance of understand how thinking shapes the systems we produce and reproduce. And it’s important to understand that inequities and oppression are not just a matter of thinking that can be changed simply by changing our minds. I’ve often been impatient with the “change your thinking, change the world” discourse because I’ve seen it used as an excuse for avoiding discussing the systems dynamics and the resulting inequities they produce. Still, I think there are a few ways in which focusing on the change “in here” can provide power for changing conditions “out there.”

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Mar/27/14//Curtis Ogden//Uncategorized

Process IS Where Change Happens

5439281902_380e6bfee0_z Photo by Crunchy Footsteps

 

Process can sometimes get a bum rap in our work, as in: “I’m not a process person.  I’m action-oriented.” This attitude can become a source of considerable frustration, and yet, I get it.  Some people are tired of what seems like endless talk that gets them no where.  And yet to translate this kind of seemingly circular conversation (what Chris Thompson has referred to as co-blaboration) as “process,” as opposed to action, does a disservice to what is essential to the work of social change.  No, I’m not talking (only) about talking.  I’m talking about how it is precisely at the level of process that we can make truly profound change. continue reading

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Mar/26/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Feed Your Network

Over the last few weeks I have fielded a number of calls from people who are interested in figuring out how to develop different kinds of networks.  I’m always eager to have these conversations, precisely because there is no single right answer, and it really comes down to a process of discovery and experimentation based on the unique nature of the network and system in question.  That said, I do like to ask people the question, “What are you doing to feed your network?” continue reading

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Mar/25/14//Gibrán Rivera//Power, Equity, Inclusion

I get angry

I get Angry

This post is a response to yesterday’s post by Cynthia Silva Parker.

I was truly moved by Cynthia’s heartfelt exploration of anger and its role in our quest for justice.  I get angry.  I get angry in some healthy ways, and in many unhealthy ways.

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Mar/24/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Got anger? Get action

Anger is Energy

We talk a lot at IISC about the power of love as a force for social change. But what about anger? I’ve seen a couple of recent examples where anger—cleanly and clearly expressed—created space for breakthroughs that I don’t think would have happened otherwise. Anger helped people in power to “get it” about something that they had not otherwise “gotten” when the volume and heat were lower.

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Mar/20/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Your Experiences

Unique, Not Special

faces in the crowd Photo by Big Mind Zen Center

One of the roles that I’ve found to be particularly helpful in coaching collaborative initiatives and groups over the long-term is to help people understand that as a collective, they are unique.  That is, like every living being, each group has its own distinct qualities and personality and for groups who have not worked together before, part of the early work is getting a better sense of who we are together and how we want to be together.  We cannot simply assume that what worked with one collaborative will work with another.  We have to honor history and other contextual factors as well as work to find was is real and essential about this living system. continue reading

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Mar/19/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

Storytelling as Action

storytelling here

A few different experiences last week reinforced my conviction that storytelling can constitute significant “action” and advancement, including work done in networks for (and as) change.  The first was during a session that I co-delivered on behalf of IISC with the Graustein Memorial Fund and The Color of Words, about our work with an early childhood system change effort in Connecticut called Right From the Start. During the conference session we emphasized that one of the biggest leverage points for system change is at the level of narrative and belief systems.

Surfacing the dominant implicit and explicit stories about what is and should be, analyzing the degree to which they align with our values and intentions, and countering/reframing them if and as necessary has been part of the work of Right From the Start (RFTS).   continue reading

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Mar/18/14//Gibrán Rivera//Spiritual Activism

Mindfulness and Freedom

Mindfulness and Freedom

I am just returning from my very first visit to India. I had the unbelievable privilege of participating in the first “Four Noble Truths Event” hosted by the Sarnath International Nyingma Institute.  It was in Sarnath, at the “stupa” pictured here, that the Buddha offered his first sermon – 2500 years ago!

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Mar/18/14//Mistinguette Smith//Facilitative Leadership, Inspiration

Engaging Hearts and Heads

I’ve spent the last two days with twenty-three people who do the concrete, sometimes humble work of convening meetings, directing resources and evaluating programs.  They came from far flung places, from Ohio and Illinois to Hawai’i, to explore how the tools of Facilitative Leadership can remake our work so that it awakens and nourishes our communities’ deepest desires.  Working with them was like a peek into the future of what leadership can be.

There are lots of workshops that help leaders to learn about decision making; there are few that require a decision-making process to be informed by our hearts as well as our minds. This group seized the opportunity to engage both their hearts and heads to wrestle with tough practical questions: How can you do brainstorming that includes people who value reflection and introspection more than quickly generated speech?

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They made space to speak tender truths that usually cannot be said out loud: How can we help our communities hold each other more accountable for achieving results without damaging the richness of our relationships, or abandoning our traditional cultural processes?

And they practiced creating the conditions for the people they serve–the people they supervise, their clients, their coalition members–to take responsibility for learning and working through these questions together.

It was an honor to witness how they showed up for each other in the workshop, as well as what they did and what they learned. Twenty-three new and seasoned facilitative leaders reminded me that the purpose of leadership is to show up as an agent of dignity and hope.

If another world truly is possible, I think I spent the last two days with the leaders who will guide us there.

Please register today for the Facilitative Leadership for Social Change  workshop Mistinguette Smith will co-facilitate April 22-23 in New York City.

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Mar/17/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Power, Equity, Inclusion

First Food Fiesta

Into the Lense

What do IISC’s lenses of networks, power and love have to do with breastfeeding? Turns out, a lot! I had the privilege of facilitating the second annual First Food Forum: Every Child, Every Mother, Every One of Us, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for its first food grantees. Participants connected the dots between networks, power and love in powerful ways. Love is probably the easiest connection to make.

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Mar/14/14//CMcDowell//Featured, Structural Transformation

Liberation Planning

Liberation

Last week Darren Walker opened the Resilient Cities lunch reminding us that not only do we need to work to make cities resilient and sustainable, we must also work to make them just. As I listened to Xav Briggs, Joan Clos, Toni Griffin and others speak, I thought about my work at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and what working to make just cities means for planning and planners. How does one attend to the myriad issues facing cities: poverty, crumbling infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic collapse? continue reading

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Mar/13/14//Curtis Ogden//Liberation, Networks

Networks and Articulating Needs

yourneedsAt last week’s gathering of the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network, Carole Martin and I facilitated a session on network/multi-stakeholder engagement techniques.  This built upon some work we’ve been doing with the cohort around “positivity” practice, and the question of how, beyond individual practice, we can spread the increased capacity that positive emotions bring to groups, organizations, and networks.  To this end we explored some of the methods from Art of Hosting, and also engaged in some of the practices of Liberating Structures.  Our leading question was, What about the way in which we engage with one another can facilitate the best of what we have to offer to a shared endeavor? continue reading

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