Archive for March, 2011

Mar/31/11//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

Funder as Convenor: Part 1

The more I do our collaborative consulting work here at IISC, the more interested I become in the role of the convenor in complex multi-stakeholder change efforts.  This role, typically held in our work by a funder or someone else with convening power (local/state government, school district, a well-connected community-based agency) has much to say about the success and nature of a social change effort, and yet from my perspective remains under-appreciated and/or poorly misunderstood.  Over the next few months I’ll spend some time in this space reflecting on what we and others are learning about this critical role and soliciting your thoughts, reactions, and experiences.

But first, what does it mean to convene?  In our practice, convening is one of a few central leadership functions in collaborative and networked approaches to change.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/30/11//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Kellogg Breaks It Down

My colleague Melinda and I are just coming off a powerful conversation with a process design team this morning about the importance of bringing structural analysis to the existing opportunities, or lack thereof, for children as these play out along the lines of race.  Low and behold, we receive the following job announcement from the Kellogg Foundation, for a Program Officer for Racial Equity.  Part of the description reads as follows, and stands powerfully on its own:

In recent years the foundation has sharpened its focus on improving conditions for vulnerable children, concentrating on three key factors of success and their intersections: education and learning; food, health and well-being; and family economic security. Given that a disproportionate number of vulnerable children in our society are children of color, as a consequence of both the legacy of this nation’s history of racial oppression and the structural racism that continues to permeate systems and institutions, both racial healing work and the dismantling of structural racism are key ingredients in any effort to, as the foundation’s mission statement reads, “propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society.”  Thus, the foundation has made a commitment to being an effective anti-racist organization and to working to achieve racial equity.

We’re standing.  We’re applauding. 

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Mar/30/11//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Black and Brown: Break it Down!

Last Wednesday, March 23, my colleague Melinda and I had the privilege of hosting a beautiful dialogue among a select group of Boston’s Black and Latino leaders.    Following is the invitation that we sent:

We have all heard the news – the United States will be a “majority minority country” before the turn of the century.  The historical significance of this demographic shift cannot be overstated – Americans are already contending with this emergent reality.  Black and Latino people have been living side by side for a long time, there are many ways in which ours is shared experience, our histories are profoundly intertwined.  We recognize strong alliances and cultural intersections and we also recognize old and new tensions. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/29/11//IISC//Collaboration, Sustainability

Dance Lightly

Photo by: Munana

The following is a letter by Akaya Windwood, President of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and member of the IISC Board of Directors…

Tsunamis. Unemployment. Volcanoes. Cote d’Ivoire. Homelessness. The Middle East. The Midwest. Pirates. Earthquakes. Drug and human trafficking. Union busting. Collapsing economies. Dropout rates. Nuclear fallout. Foreclosures. Floods.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/25/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Design Teams for Success

Just wrapped up a public Pathway to Change workshop this week in Boston, during which I spent some of our time talking with participants about the importance of process design teams in collaborative change work. These “little engines that can” become the backbone of our complex multi-stakeholder work as they hold the stake for creating an environment and a pathway that brings out the best in the many people attempting to realize a new reality around a given issue or issues. To this end, a spirit of risk-taking, thinking outside of the box, engaging in iterative work, and maintaining a willingness to prototype as “social architects” can be vital to long-term success.  I thank Tom Wujec for helping me to make the marshmallow tower-inspired point and ask what his message means for your teamwork.

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Mar/23/11//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Letting Our Eyes Adjust

Metaphors can be very useful in helping us grasp and work with otherwise complex issues and difficult circumstances.  I’ve been working with one particular image lately as I’ve been doing change work on both personal and professional fronts.  As we all know, it can be very difficult to move from where we are, even when we know change would likely bring something better.  Of course, there are many different sources of resistance, and something I’ve been thinking about lately is how the reality of our current situation, while being an impetus for change, can also become all-consuming in a way that obscures other possible paths forward.  I liken this to the image of standing under a bright streetlight at night.  Where we are is fully illuminated, and beyond that, the dark is that much more obscured in contrast to the brightness in which we are engulfed.  This can make any movement beyond that glow, as glaring and unpleasant as it may be, somewhat daunting.  We can’t see the alternatives!  But if we were to venture slowly out beyond the edges of the lamp’s light, what would we find?  Over time our eyes adjust.  Gradually, we are able to see more clearly that there are in fact viable alternative paths forward.  Perhaps thinking about and allowing for this adjustment will embolden our stepping into the shadows.

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Mar/21/11//Curtis Ogden//Sustainability

The Practice of Belonging

Several years ago I worked with a friend who is an outdoor educator to put together an orientation session for a group of high school students who had signed on to be part of a youth activism project I was directing.  The program invited young people to explore issues in their community and to select and address those that spoke to them.  As part of our orientation, my friend put together an “alien test,” something he learned from the tracker and educator Tom Brown.  Just before the session we scoured the school grounds gathering leaves and bark, plants and nuts, a bird’s egg, soil, and other sundry items and brought these into the classroom where we met after school, along with a series of prepared questions.  One by one, my friend laid the objects and questions out in front of the students: What is this? Is this plant edible? Can you tell me whether this soil is healthy or not?  Where does your water come from?  Do you know which, if any, of the items you ate for lunch today was locally grown? There was a marked silence after most of the questions.  The point was made poignantly clear – in many respects we are aliens to our immediate surroundings.  For us to do meaningful community change work, we suggested, it behooves us to really get to know our community, or as someone once put it, take a step towards inhabiting it not just residing there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/09/11//Charlie Jones//IISC:Outside

KISS or Keep It Simple, Stupid

Fender Telecaster

“The Fender Telecaster is an instrument of beautiful simplicity.” Jim Mauradian, luthier.

For you non-guitar geeks this may take a moment to explain. The electric guitar as we know it today, is a product of the 1950′s. Back in the stone ages of electric guitar making, it was an accepted practice to trick out the instrument with as many buttons, knobs and toggle switches as could be fit on a block of wood. And dang it if those guitars didn’t look sweet. Problem was, most of those guitars sounded like crap and because of the complex nature of the design, were in constant need of adjustment when not in a state of total ill-repair.

In response to this over complicating trend, a Luthier named Leo Fender set about to design and produce an electric guitar that was (1) simple to use, (2) durable, and (3) sounded great. Leo Fender’s genius was in stripping away all of the unnecessary crap, reducing the design to the barest essentials.

The product of his design was an electric guitar called the Fender Telecaster, which to this day is considered by many guitarists (myself included) to be the platinum standard of guitars. Go figure.

I wonder how it might look if we consistently applied Leo Fender’s approach to our own work and lives. Thoughts? Anyone want to put in a good word for complexity?

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The moon is most happy, When it is full.

The moon Photo by: Aonir

The moon is most happy

When it is full.

And the sun always looks

Like a perfectly minted gold coin.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/03/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

AMP-ing Up Our Work


Over a year ago, during a network building community of practice meeting, future IISC board member, Idelisse Malave, suggested that I take a look at the RE-AMP Energy Network as a successful example of a multi-organizational network.  I made some initial calls to their coordinator and ended up dropping the ball (oh look, a squirrel).  Then a few weeks ago I was alerted to a new case study from the Monitor Institute about that very network.  And so we have Transformer: How to build a network to change a system, a wonderful report about what has contributed to the successes of a regional network that has been making great headway in reducing greenhouse gas reductions in the Midwest over the past six years.  Lead author, Heather McLeod Grant, a past participant in our network building community of practice, renders a great service in elucidating six key and contributing principles to RE-AMP’s success, many of which have great resonance with our experiences at IISC around designing and facilitating complex and collaborative multi-stakeholder change efforts. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/02/11//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

Radical Acceptance

This past week I’ve been in Florida for our family’s annual pilgrimage and a desperately needed reprieve from what has certainly been a challenging New England winter.  And as in years past, I’ve had the fortune to be able to attend a speaker’s series that my father-in-law has been instrumental in putting together down here.  Last Friday I got to hear from Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Carter and counsel to numerous other American heads of state, both Democrat and Republican, on matters of foreign policy.  Brzezinski had only 45 minutes to present what ended up being a dizzying tour of his perspective on the current state of geopolitics and suggestions for US strategy going forward.  As grand (and certainly opinionated) as this undertaking was, I was most struck by how he began his talk, and the ensuing response. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/01/11//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

Systems, Complexity, Networks part II

Clock-WorkPhoto by: RandomStar

A shared e-mail from Gibran to Curtis


I love thinking about this stuff with you – specially given the privilege that we have in actualizing these innovations through our most exciting client work.  We have to look a lot more deeply into what we are each calling a network.  As implied in my tweet of the Jeff Stamps quote:

“The evolution is from systems, to complexity to networks – these transcend and include each other.” Read the rest of this entry »

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