I recently did work with an organization that had approached us with an interest in designing a retreat during which staff would consider options for embracing climate action and environmental organizing strategies as part of their efforts moving forward. In one of our early planning calls, I asked how this new direction made sense given where the organization had historically focused its resources (affordable housing, open space advocacy, community beautification), and the response was a very thoughtful, “That’s a good question.” Furthermore, I asked if there was anything they were planning on letting go of. Again, pregnant pause and . . . “That’s a good question.” And so began a very fruitful conversation, the upshot of which was an opening segment of the retreat that focused on developing a coherent frame for the organization that could more easily and sensibly integrate climate and environmental work.
At IISC, we constantly see organizations and individuals taking on more work than they can possibly manage. There are always good ideas and intentions on the table. And in the effort to do more, what can get lost is not simply energy, efficiency, and impact, but coherence – what exactly are we trying to do? This is not necessarily clarified by coming back to one’s mission or vision statement, dusting off the strategic plan, or surveying the landscape of opportunities. “Start with the whole in mind.” Carol Sanford’s wise words are of tremendous assistance here. As she writes in a post on holistic systemic strategy, “We need a context and a new frame if we are to see [the landscape] anew and unify the divided minds toward a whole.” We need to understand the essence of our organization or community, as it evolves, to clarify possibilities that align with true potential and that feed the system as opposed to suck it dry.
How is this done? Well, I’ll tell you how we did it and you can tell me how you have or would. I had staff think and write/draw, first individually, then in pairs, then as a large group, about the image or story or tag line of the organization that emerged for them with these new programs in place. Not, “We are what we have always been and now we do a little bit of that.” No. By integrating these new activities, what do we become? What do we now understand about our essence that we did not before? What’s the new picture? The new possibility? And then, and only then – What out there helps us to be become that, that more highly evolved organism? It was a great conversation, with some amazing ideas put on the table.
And it is surely to be continued . . .