Archive for October, 2009

Oct/29/09//Jen Willsea//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Moving from Paralysis to Action

I’ve been reading Diana Block’s memoir, Arming the Spirit, and am grateful for the chance to dig into another story of someone whose work for social justice came before me and contributed to where we’re at now. Diana went underground for thirteen years in the 1980s and 90s as part of a collective doing solidarity work with the Puerto Rican independence and Black liberation movements. Diana’s journey represents one group’s choice about how to be effective as white folks challenging racist systems of oppression.

“Our political history was rooted in our commitment as white people to solidarity with Third World struggles around the world and inside this country. That commitment will take different forms today but I think solidarity is still critical for white people who want to make social change. Also, for people who live in America, we definitely need to situate our work in relationship to the efforts of people around the globe who are fighting imperialism or we cannot expect to achieve very much.”*

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Oct/29/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

The Design of Experience: Fun

Thanks first of all to Margaret Benefiel of Executive Soul for turning me on to this video.  It times beautifully with a lot of thinking, writing, and experimenting we’ve been doing here at IISC about/with the power of design, and specifically the design of experiences that can change behavior and bring out the best in individuals and groups.  Check out this clip from The Fun Theory, an initiative of Volkswagen, that aims to show that fun is one of the best ways to change behavior for the better.

In the collaborative leadership trainings we do, inevitably we get to a point where people talk about the dry, frustrating, “deadening” and even pointless meetings and gatherings they often attend.  Many are at a loss for what to do.  One response on my part is to ask, “What has brought you to life at meetings that have been particularly engaging?”  And when the answer comes, to say, “Do that!”  If it brings us to life, there is a good chance it will do the same for others.  To paraphrase innovation guru Marty Neumeier, in order to “focus minds and intoxicate hearts” many more of us will need to think and act like (process and experience) designers.  So what are you doing to throw a little fun into the mix?

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Oct/28/09//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

Climate (of) Change

It has been quite a week or so on the climate action/activism/advocacy front.  From the global day of action to the Bioneers conferences happening around the country, to some interesting personal conversations I’ve had with staff members of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Conservation International (CI), to ongoing preparations for the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagan, it seems clear that momentum is gathering towards taking serious and significant steps to help mitigate and adapt to changes in our global climate that have already begun.

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Oct/27/09//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

Twitter’s Power to the People

I just finished reading “Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter” by Steven Levy on this month’s Wired. This is the stuff movements dream of!  How many times have you been a part of the “leadership” conversation? Or the eternal question on the problematic role of the charismatic leader?  Who should really be in charge?  What is organic or truly democratic?  Who has the power?  What type of power?  And how is power distributed?

We often say that one of the key attributes of networks is that you have to give up control.  And little by little we are learning that this giving up of control is a new discipline of leadership, something we are having to learn after being socially trained into the command and control fantasy.  From this perspective, by creating a space that organizes and runs itself, the people of Twitter have accomplished something that we movement builders can only dream of – so I think it’s worth taking a closer look.

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Oct/26/09//Marianne Hughes//Inspiration

PopTech Inspires

Every October in Camden, Maine, 700 remarkable change agents from across all sectors, issue areas and the world come together to share their breakthrough social innovations that they believe will build a just, sustainable and positive future. The gathering is hosted by PopTech a truly unique innovation network “known for its thriving community of thought-leaders, breakthrough innovation programs, visionary annual conferences and deep media and storytelling capabilities”.

This year’s conference was titled America Re-Imagined and again proved that while the media covers only catastrophe and great suffering there is a parallel reality, a great force, that is building, creating and innovating our way forward. The effects of this movement are seen everywhere and some of its most talented members can be seen and heard through the PopTech video link.

Take heart and enjoy!!!!

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Day of Action

Curtis passed this along to me today. A video from which explains how tomorrow, October 24, 2009,  is a Day of Action focused on climate change. is focused on reducing global CO2 levels to a healthier 350 parts per million (ppm) compared to the current 387 ppm we are currently hovering around.

The video and site go over exactly what tomorrow means and how you can participate. To find out what is going on around you, take a look at their map. Enjoy!

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My Prophetic Tradition

In a March 2009 post in their now retired blog, Kitchen Table, Princeton’s Melissa Harris Lacewell (Professor of Politics and African American Studies) and Yolanda Pierce (Professor of Literature and African American Religion) engage in a conversation about the Black Church prophetic tradition.  Other than the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  it is possible that the recent controversies surrounding the widely respected and widely reviled  Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright have been the ways in which most Americans have even come close to truly understanding what this one of so many beloved contribution of African Americans to social justice, theology and Christianity is all about.

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Oct/23/09//Charlie Jones//What We Are Reading

The Social Change Agent of American Politics

I read this column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and thought it appropriate to share.  Enjoy!

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Oct/22/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Accentuate the Positivity

Been looking for the answer to unlocking your group’s/team’s potential?  Look no further than a complex chaotic attractor!  According to researcher Marcial Losada, this is what underlies the dynamics of high performing groups and produces novel and outstanding results.  Integral to chaos theory, a complex chaotic attractor, when it emerges in a group, is what leads to innovation, bringing a system to new levels of insight and possibility.  The question is how can we create the conditions for the attractor to emerge?

Losada has an answer, based on intense observation and statistical analysis of high and low functioning groups.  What he has to say has an interesting parallel to what we at IISC have been pointing to as essential elements of the facilitative leader or collaborative change agent who is able to effectively tap into the participation of others.  The core elements we have listed in our “Profile of a Facilitative Leader” include being:

  • collaborative (interested in working with others, seeking win-win solutions)
  • strategic (keeping one’s eyes on the big picture and different possible paths of action)
  • receptive and flexible (actively soliciting others’ ideas, changing course when necessary)

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Oct/21/09//Linda Guinee//Social Media

Scooter Reflections on Social Media #4

This morning on the way to work, I was reflecting on the incredibly successful National Equality March that happened a couple of weeks ago – and which I observed from friends’ posts online and on TV.? This was a march organized quickly with very little money. It apparently took much less money and much less time than previous marches have required thanks to the use of social media.? It was organized through social media organizing by groups like Stonewall 2.0 – using all the latest approaches to organizing – and counts were that about 200,000 people showed up, most of them young and energized and calling for equality at a Federal level, calling for Obama to make good on his promises to the LGBTQ community.

There are some great videos (friends reported that there were a HUGE number of flipcams at the march – and a look at youtube proves that to be true – as well as large numbers of slideshows put to music). So not only was the organizing done online, but the march itself went viral right away.

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Oct/20/09//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

The Unconference

I’m writing from the Opportunity Collaboration, and anti-poverty convening in Ixtapa, Mexico.  It has been quite an experience and while we are working with powerful content, I want to write about process.  This has not been a conference!  About 260 delegates have been convened in a beautiful resort to tackle the problem of poverty from a relatively diverse set of approaches and outlooks, ranging from philanthropy to micro-finance, nonprofits and other social ventures.

Groups of 20 delegates come together 2 hours each morning in what has been titled the Colloquium for the Common Good.  This is the common conversation we are having throughout the convening as we are invited to reflect on our values and why we do this work.  I have been honored to serve as facilitator for one of these groups and I am quite impressed by the depth of our conversations.

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Oct/16/09//IISC//Spiritual Activism

Green Faith

Still vibing on the fact that yesterday was Blog Action Day, I want to share about this very cool documentary about the growing faith-based environmental justice movement in the United States, entitled Renewal.

A description of the film is as follows:

RENEWAL is the first feature-length documentary film to capture the vitality and diversity of today’s religious-environmental activists. From within their Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim traditions, Americans are becoming caretakers of the Earth. With great courage, these women, men and children are re-examining what it means to be human and how we live on this planet. Their stories of combating global warming and the devastation of mountaintop removal, of promoting food security, environmental justice, recycling, land preservation, and of teaching love and respect for life on Earth are the heart of RENEWAL.

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Oct/15/09//Curtis Ogden//Featured

“Maximum Contemplation, Minimum Action”

It’s Blog Action Day, and thus, we write with others on climate change. Be sure to check out the other blogs too!!

I am always interested to see parallel worldviews evolving across different fields.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the connections between the burgeoning enthusiasm about networks in social science and social change efforts and the growing interest I’ve been noticing in Permaculture, partly owing to the Transition Town movement and conversations about mitigating and adapting to impending climate change.

Permaculture was developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s as an answer to unsustainable industrial agricultural practices.  It entails creating robust, flexible, living systems that integrate ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agroforestry.  The focus of Permaculture is not on the individual elements in a garden, but rather on the relationships between them (just as networks are all about the links).  For example, with the Permaculture lens, one is always thinking about how one plant relates to others (could it cast shade or serve as a natural pesticide for others) and how different “zones” might serve one another (a pond stocked with fish can cut down on mosquitoes, eaves on a house can catch rain water that is siphoned into a garden, etc.).

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Oct/15/09//Linda Guinee//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Rethinking Stakeholder Analyses

Earlier this week, I had the great fortune of hearing Rinku Sen (Applied Research Center), Ellen Gurzinsky (Funders for LGBTQ Issues) and Lori Villarosa (Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity) present on “Catalyzing Change and Deepening Racial Justice Impacts” at the Neighborhood Funders Group Annual Conference in New Orleans. It was an exciting session in which they talked about the current racial context in the US and ideas about how grantmaking can be done with a racial justice lens – including real stories about work some specific foundations and groups of foundations are doing. I’ll likely be sharing more over my next few blog posts about grantmaking with a racial justice lens, but wanted to start with some reflections about group processes that came up for me based on their presentation.

As a non-funder, I was listening with an ear toward things that might be applicable to group process as well. Rinku talked about the difference between using a diversity approach and using a racial equity approach to grantmaking, which started me thinking about the difference between these two approaches in stakeholder analyses of multi-stakeholder processes. A diversity approach, as she described it, would be one in which what matters is what the group of people assembled “looks” like – if there are representatives from all the groups affected, etc. – while a racial equity approach might lead one to assemble an entirely different group.

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Oct/14/09//IISC//Featured, IISC:Inside


Congratulations to Louise, Stevie, Sharon and the IISC Ireland Team!! The group was presented a National Training Award for “Partnership and Collaboration” in Northern Ireland. According to the NTA website, the “NTA identify and celebrate organisations and individuals that achieved really outstanding business and personal success through investment in training.”

Ireland.AwardFrom left to right, Sharon Duffy, Louise O’Meara, Stevie Johnston.

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Oct/14/09//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

See(d)ing the Whole

Thinking of the fall harvest, the other day I was picking through David Ehrenfeld’s essays in Becoming Good Ancestors: How We Balance Nature, Community, and Technology, when I came across an amazing story about a team of Russian plant biologists.  In the first half of the last century, Nikolai Vavilov, who is known as the father of modern crop plant protection, traveled far and wide, gathering samples of crop seeds from all over the world for his Institute of Plant Industry in what is now St. Petersburg.  His collection made him the chief preserver of global agricultural diversity.

Vavilov was an outspoken critic of Trofim Lysenko, the chief agronomist under Stalin who subscribed to a non-Mendelian approach to plant genetics.  Though Lysenko’s theories were later discredited, Vavilov was arrested for his criticism and imprisoned in a Siberian gulag.  In his absence (he eventually died in Siberia), and in the face of the German armies marching on Leningrad in 1941, Vavilov’s dedicated assistants scrambled to preserve the Institute’s seed collections.  They prepared duplicates of samples, shipped some to other parts of the country, and secretly planted others in nearby fields.  Ironically and tragically, several of these scientists died of malnutrition.  They literally chose to starve to death rather than consume the edible seeds that surrounded them.

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Oct/13/09//Gibrán Rivera//Social Innovation

Investment Shift

I had dinner with one of my closest friends the other night, he has become extremely successful in the world of finance, but he is not your traditional investment banker.  He works for a relatively small boutique shop that specializes in buying (not selling!) other investment groups.  Now, I’m not one of those nonprofit consultants that think our sector should behave more like the business world – by now we all know where that gets us!  But I do think there are many lessons to be learned, especially from those who are successful in business by carving out their own rules.

When my friend is about to buy a firm their main focus is on the culture of that firm:

  • Is it a culture that successfully unlocks the talent and self-motivation of its people?
  • What is the leadership like and what do they really want?

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Oct/12/09//Marianne Hughes//Learning Edge

Living with Complexity

In last week’s New Yorker, John Cassidy wrote a must-read article entitled “Rational Irrationality – The real reason that capitalism is crash-prone”. It is about the complexity of the financial market and brings to mind another classic book written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “The Black Swan – The impact of the highly improbable“.

Both the article and the book deal with what Nassim Taleb describes as the characteristics of a black swan (i.e. a highly improbable event), which are: it is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact and after the fact we concoct an explanation that makes it more predictable than it was. The near financial collapse (saved from complete collapse by government intervention), the astonishing success of Google and 9/11 are all black swans. Both authors speak directly to our human limitations in explaining our inability to see what’s coming whether opportunity or disaster. A major reason according to Taleb is that humans are hard-wired to focus on specifics when we should be focused on generalities. We concentrate on what we know and simplify, narrate and categorize. And, we simply do not reward those who can imagine the impossible. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Gift of Gratitude

A gratitude-heart
Is to discover on earth
A Heaven-delivered rose.

- Sri Chinmoy

The other day I shared with my colleagues an experience I had of a sudden feeling that came over me, during a moment within the hectic routine of a typical morning, in which I felt great peace and joy amid the flurry of my two young daughters, husband and me readying to launch into our day.  An intense feeling of love for my family and all those I am blessed to have in my life came over me, and seemed to emanate from the deepest fiber of my being out of nowhere. I was awe-inspired by this deep, unexpected, and unprompted feeling of gratitude.  I’m more accustomed to feeling moments of gratitude during or after contemplation, but because of its spontaneous onset and its lingering affects, I recognized it to be a great gift.

According to Dr. Michael McCollough Professor of Psychology at Southern Methodist University, when scientists began researching links between religion and good mental and physical health, their studies indicated that gratitude plays a significant role in one’s sense of well-being, as many of the world’s major religions acknowledge and convey the virtues of gratitude. Further study including the secular population showed that those who had a tendency toward gratitude were more likely to be happier and healthier than those who did not, whether they were religious or not. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/08/09//Curtis Ogden//Social Innovation

Roots Rising . . .

Today’s post is inspired in part by a story I heard recently about a foundation that was paying consultants to work with grassroots community initiatives at a lower rate than it was for them to work with “more formal” organizations.  It is also fueled by last week’s work with some amazing community activists in Holyoke, MA at the Food and Fitness Policy Council and from around New England at this year’s Grassroots Retreat convened by the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF) and Toxics Action Center (TAC).  It both blew me away and fired me up to learn about all of the initiatives that are under way from Hartford, CT to Hardwick, VT, Great Barrington, MA to Little Compton, RI, focused on local food and energy production, the preservation of local water rights, smart growth promotion, healthy lifestyles for our children . . .

Many of these efforts are being run with very few resources beyond the passionate people who have other full-time jobs or who in some cases are unemployed and still working as volunteers (this is not to overlook the financial support and wonderful technical assistance offered by the likes of NEGEF and TAC).   Often these change agents are in the work because they cannot not be in it.  This is about their lives, their families, their homes.  And yet, what seems to get lost is that it really isn’t just about their lives and communities, it’s about all of us and wherever we live.  We always live downstream or upwind from someone.  We are all connected. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/07/09//Linda Guinee//Featured, IISC:Inside

Bringing Technology Into the Core

Recently at the Web of Change Conference at Hollyhock in British Columbia, there was a session on “Organizational Transformation,” facilitated in large part by Sam Dorman and Jason Mogus (with some thoughts thrown in by Gibran Rivera and myself). In large part, the session was discussing the ways in which organizations are wanting to incorporate technology and social media into their operations and need to shift structures and cultures to do so. Sam and Jason described that many organizations have traditionally been organized so that these functions were siloed into either a technology/IT function or a communications function – and often brought in after direction was set and strategy was developed as the way to spread the word. What has become clear is that this approach not only doesn’t work, but REALLY REALLY doesn’t work. It’s critical for the folks creating the technology strategy to be integrally involved in development of direction and strategy – not just the add-ons that come later.

One of the big questions at Web of Change was how do you do this? It’s a question about how you actually change the culture of an organization, once you’ve identified the direction you want the culture to head. We talked about the model of a collaborative organization – changing from traditional hierarchical organizations to a collaborative model (one of the things IISC works with organizations regularly to do). Gibran then started talking about how, in actuality, much of what’s being done technologically needs to be replicated in person – dispersed leadership, emergent thinking and self-organized, network approaches rather than centralized, hierarchical decision-making. So the question is: what would it take to really unleash the potential of individuals to create and implement projects that bring about real change – and what organizational structure would support this? Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/06/09//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Outside

Developing Network Weavers

The gap between theory and practice is always larger than we tend to see.  I love my job because it consistently invites me to help groups bridge this gap.  I just had a beautiful time working with a group of network weavers who are part of the Young People’s Project.  The task is to help them understand how networks work and how to behave as weavers for their own national network.

The challenge of this work has been to take all the amazing things we are learning about the role of weavers in a network and figure out how to apply these to the day to day work of these weavers.  Instead of spending too much of our time in the fuzzy world of network theory, I grabbed directly from Jack Ricchiuto’s piece on The Power of Network Weaving and went on to adapt it to very practical exercises for the weavers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/02/09//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Inspiration

The Vision Thing

Vision is up.  It’s everywhere.  President Obama has brought the fine art of visioning to the highest office in this country and is inspiring others to partake in his enticing images of an engaged and service-oriented citizenry as well as in becoming fellow storytellers of a preferred and more hopeful future.  Just the other day people I know who work in state government mentioned that they are seeing visionary language on Massachusetts state websites the likes of which were lacking prior to Governor Patrick taking office.  And many who have been laboring for years for a more just and sustainable world, sense the window of opportunity that has opened to audaciously put forth their intentions for, and commitment to, a reality that may have seemed unimaginable only last year.  Despite (or perhaps because of) the economy, boldness is in!

Which raises the question for me – what makes vision work?  I mean, what really makes it take?  For every group or person I work with who gets excited about personal and organizational visioning, there is another who sees the endeavor as being lightweight and fluffy.  “Where’s the beef?” they want to know.  Where’s the action?  How does intention become invention? Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/01/09//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Presence for Productivity . . . Plus

My colleague Linda Guinee recently forwarded a great blog post by Mark McGuinness of Lateral Action .  Mark is a consultant in the realm of personal creativity and productivity and he is the father of infant twins.  This recent development has him taking a hard look at the advice he often gives others and what holds up under the demands of two babies and sleepless nights.  Whether or not you are a parent of young children, it is well worth a read, and I couldn’t agree more with tips such as “let go of routines, focus on systems” and “you can’t please all the people all the time, prioritize the important stuff.”  Much of this is in line with Melinda’s post last week (see “Less=More: A Dare”).

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