Author Archive

Jul/08/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, 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.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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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/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?

Read the rest of this entry »

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Expand (and Deepen) the Frame

6c891-ninedotsexercise

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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 . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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

A Different Take on Scale

community

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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/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

2806832762_14236de072_z By Vincepal

 

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. . . .  Read the rest of this entry »

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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: Read the rest of this entry »

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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 . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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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/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: Read the rest of this entry »

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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: Read the rest of this entry »

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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.   Read the rest of this entry »

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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?” Read the rest of this entry »

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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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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).   Read the rest of this entry »

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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? Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

System Change: Can We Get It Right From the Start?

Once upon a time there was a funder.  This funder had been working for almost a decade to strengthen local community efforts to improve early childhood development opportunities and outcomes around the state.  The communities appreciated and were grateful for this support, and the number of community collaboratives grew.

At the same time, in the face of persistent and racialized inequities, recognition was growing that something more was needed to hold these local efforts together, to harness and connect them, and to align state-level efforts with community needs and aspirations.  So a call went out from the various communities to the funder to help do something about this.  The funder responded, cautiously, and engaged in “listening” sessions with communities and advocates.  And it reached out to some potential resources, including IISC, to explore what might be done. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/06/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Learning Edge

The Take and Give of Living Systems

This video makes it clear how wonderfully complex and interconnected life is. ‘Trophic cascades’ invite us to consider how changes in one part of a living system can change other elements of the system and the system as a whole. How did wolves change the behavior of rivers in Yellowstone Park?  Check it out.

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Mar/05/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Network is the Leader

I just finished reading Mila Baker’s Peer-to-Peer Leadership: Why the Network is the Leader, which adds to the growing case for more widespread network thinking, foregrounding of human relationships, and shifting traditional conceptions (and myths) of leadership in business and beyond. Much of what Baker writes about has been expressed in the writings of others, including Clay Shirky, Carol Sanford, Nilofer Merchant, Kevin Kelly, and Harold Jarche, and I appreciate how she couches much of her writing in the evolving leadership and organizational development literature and thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/28/14//Curtis Ogden//Love, Networks

Networks-as-Change: Expanding Empathy

“In principle, empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”

-Frans de Waal

empathy Photo by Vamsi Krishna

 

Yesterday’s post considered the importance and power of the empathic turn in networks-as-change, to ground people in deep connection with living realities, for the sake of greater imagination, justice, resilience and responsibility. Taking cues from experience and the work and studies of others, here are some thoughts for how to cultivate radical “affection” (to quote Wendell Berry) in networks:

  • Go beyond abstraction to interaction – go to and meet in real places, explore them, consider how life happens there (see for example Story of Place and Heart and Soul)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/27/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Love, Networks

Networks-as-Change: The Empathic Turn

In “networks-as-change,” effectiveness is grounded in affectiveness.

In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of overall sanity, Wendell Berry, talks about what he calls “the turn towards affection.”  Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human tendency to despoil landscapes and “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination: Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/21/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Building Will Around Collaboration

Tulip in Snow greenblueglobe blogspot

This post is the third in a three part series exploring the question, “Can collaboration be learned?” Part 1 and Part 2 appeared the last couple of days.  This is an edited email exchange between Alison Gold of Living Cities, Chris Thompson of The Fund for our Economic Future, and myself.  When we last left off, Alison had posed a series of questions about identifying and cultivating the will to collaborate.

On January 27, 2014 12:33 PM, Curtis Ogden wrote:

Alison, I really like your questions and feel like they would be great to take to a wider audience.  I will say that I am profoundly influenced by Carol Sanford’s  mentoring in all of this, and the belief that personal development is key to evolving our will, moving from a more self-centered perspective to “other” perspective, to understanding the symbiotic nature of different levels of systems.  Read the rest of this entry »


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Feb/20/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Collaboration and Cultivating Collective Will

collaboration-hands

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s entry.  It is an edited email exchange between Alison Gold of Living Cities, Chris Thompson of The Fund for our Economic Future, and myself.  The point of departure was a question about what it takes to teach people to collaborate, and took us to a thinking about what it takes to cultivate the will to collaborate, beyond skill and having the right attitude . . . 

On January 23, 2014 9:17 AM, Alison Gold wrote:

All of this begs the question, how do you know when the will is there?  Or isn’t?  We seem to keep getting back to this point …

On Jan 23, 2014 at 9:27 AM, Curtis Ogden wrote:

I think that will can come down to two basic factors – having a strong “internal locus of control,” guided by and balanced with “external considering.” Read the rest of this entry »


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Feb/19/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

What Does It Take to Learn to Collaborate?

The following is the first installment of an email exchange among Chris Thompson of the Fund for our Economic Future, Alison Gold of Living Cities, and me that was initiated given our shared interest in and practice around supporting cross-sectoral multi-stakeholder collaboration.  I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with Alison at the Community Foundations Conference in San Diego last fall, and of meeting Chris through Alison, though initially through the Next City story on network building for economic development in Northeast Ohio.  To date, this has gotten us to core questions around what it takes to cultivate collective will for collaboration. We invite you to join the conversation.­ 

On Jan 5, 2014, at 1:39 PM, Chris Thompson wrote:

Based on my Twitter feed I suspect more people than ever have this as their New Year’s Resolution: “I will collaborate more.”  The oracle himself, Thomas Friedman, sang its praises in this morning’s Times. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/13/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Silly Stuff Matters

Thanks to my colleague Ashley Welch for sending along the link to this video while I’ve been feeling a little under the weather.  It was a great quick boost and reminded me of how silliness matters in what can otherwise become very serious work.  And laughter is a legitimate and effective practice for resilience and development.

Please share with us your favorite silly and/or laughter inducing media!

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Feb/12/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks for Change: Growing Gratitude

“Grateful living brings in place of greed: sharing; in place of oppression: respect; in place of violence: peace. Who does not long for a world of sharing, mutual respect, and peace?”

-Brother David Steindl Rast

The research on the role of gratitude in supporting social resilience and thriving is quite compelling. According to the Greater Good Science Center, those who have a higher gratitude quotient or a regular practice of listing and thinking about gratitudes have been shown to experience the most significant boosts in happiness and fewer bouts of illness, have stronger social bonds in one-on-one relationships and with communities, and tend to be more generous. Connected to a host of other related positive emotions, gratitude is also shown to boost people’s willingness to reach out and connect with others, including across lines of difference, to see possibility more expansively, and to maintain a general spirit of openness. What’s not to like about gratitude?

Now imagine gratitude for one multiplied many times over in an ecosystem of social interactions and connections – that is, in a network. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/06/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Featured, Networks

Networks for Change: Collaboration & Cooperation

Collaboration is “a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties to achieve common goals by sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results. It is more than simply sharing knowledge and information (communication) and more than a relationship that helps each party achieve its own goals (cooperation and coordination). The purpose of collaboration is to create a shared vision and joint strategies to address concerns that go beyond the purview of any particular party.”

-David Chrislip and Chip Larson, 1994, p. 5

success

For a while now at IISC, we’ve referred to the above definition from Chrislip and Larson’s work, Collaborative Leadership, to describe the goal of our collaborative capacity building work.  And it has informed our approach around supporting social change networks. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/05/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Networks

Networks for Change: Conditions for Success

The other day I was interviewed by Eugene Eric Kim for a project we are working on together, and he asked – “What are some of the keys to creating the conditions for successful networks for change?” I really like the question because it spurred some interesting reflection that yielded a few off-the-cuff insights that I wanted to share, extend, and test out here.

The phrase “Bring it!” came to mind as I was thinking about what is key to creating conditions for collaborative network success, with a number of iterative qualifiers: Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/30/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Human Scale

“Life comes when you give people a chance to contribute something.”

- Coralie Winn

IISC board member Jamil Simon brought staff attention to the film The Human Scale a few weeks ago during a discussion about building the capacity of cities to collaborate amidst growing demographic complexity and other social as well as environmental challenges. The film is screening this very evening in Somerville, Massachusetts.

From the film’s website: “50 % of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/29/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Longest Journey

The Longest Journey

In our collaborative capacity and network development work at IISC, there is considerable complexity to hold.  This can create quite a mental exercise for everyone involved – What is the system we are trying to develop/problem we are trying to solve? What are the contributing factors?  What is our desired future state? Who should be at the table? What are the systemic leverage points and associated strategies?  Etc.

This is necessary work, and it can become incomplete or rather one dimensional when it only taps some of our collective faculties.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/22/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, What We Are Reading

Networks and the “Quiet” Revolution

“Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.”

-Susan Cain

How Not to Manage an Introvert“How Not to Manage an Introvert” (by Nguyen Hung Vu)

 

For several months I’ve been meaning to read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking.  Having completed it this past weekend, I have both a sense of validation (being one of ever-more introverted tendencies as the years pass) and being able to see with new eyes. IMHO, it is well worth the read, and if the thought of tackling the 300 pages is daunting, you might enjoy a taste via Cain’s TED Talk.

Here I wanted to reflect on some of the insights Cain’s work has to offer collaboration and “net work” for change.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

EmBODYing the Work

“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”

- James Joyce, The Dubliners

vision bodies

The above quote caught my attention in light of much thinking about and work around the importance of being more fully embodied in social change efforts. This year I have personally made some commitments to more intentionally acknowledge and care for my own body, including investing in a rather basic standing desk, and recommitting to a morning workout (this post on the lasting benefits of just a 20 minute exercise routine served as an extra-added push).  And I’ve been carrying this commitment directly into my work with clients, not just in terms of focusing on the importance of caring for themselves, but also grounding aspirations they have for their work. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/15/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks for Change: Values Before Vision?

vision |Photo by Christian|www.flickr.com/photos/91048408@N00/322951661/lightbox/?q=vision|

 

For the past year, Carole Martin and I have been co-facilitating a “network leadership program” supported by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund called the Community Practitioners Network (CPN). The overall goal of CPN is to further develop a group of proven and promising leaders as individuals, as a cohort, and as “critical yeast and connectors” (my language, not the Fund’s) in support of community and economic development in a region that encompasses northern New Hampshire, northeastern Vermont, northwestern Maine, and southern Quebec.  Throughout, we have been actively exploring a variety of leadership and network development practices for growing personal and interpersonal awareness, connectivity, alignment, resolve, resilience, and skillfulness.  

In our most recent session, a two-day retreat in Pittsburg, NH, we engaged in discussion about and embodied practice of “vision.” Over the course of the two days, a robust conversation evolved about what makes vision powerful (in light of many uninspiring experiences) and its relevance in a networked world, in combination and contrasted with values. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/08/14//Curtis Ogden//Facilitative Leadership

Holding the Center

centripetal Photo by John Goode

 

Sometimes the “breakthrough” is not breaking down.

Sometimes “innovation” is having things not go the way they usually do.

Sometimes “success” is when people are willing to meet again.  

 

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Jan/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Seeing and Being Through Networks

For those who read this blog on a somewhat regular basis, you know that we at IISC find and experience great promise in embracing network approaches to (and as) social change. So what happens when we truly see ourselves as and in networks; that is, appreciating how we are inextricably embodied through and embedded in interconnected flows of energy, material goods, ideas, intentions, etc.?

Ten thoughts, in no particular order, nor meant to be exhaustive: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/19/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Empathy and the Dramatic Arc

“Stories bring brains together.”

- Paul J. Zak

This past week we have featured a couple of posts on empathy (see “Empathy + Equity –> Justice” and “Empathy Connect, Sympathy Disconnects”).  In light of these and also on the heels of recent powerful experiences in a couple networks for change around the use of storytelling to deepen connectivity and commitment, I found the video above to be instructive.  It is featured in a blog post entitled “How Stories Change the Brain” through the Greater Good Science Center.

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Dec/18/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks, What We Are Reading

Networks and Cultures of Giving

Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of Business whose research focuses on “motivation, prosocial giving and helping behaviors, initiative and proactivity.”  His work and writing, including his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, seem to have something to offer those interested in and engaged in developing networks for social change, as much of it points to data showing that organizations of all kinds benefit from fostering cultures of giving. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/12/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Thinking Like a Network

Over the past five years or so of supporting self-declared “networks” for change, I have evolved in my understanding of what is new when we call something a network, versus a coalition or collaborative or alliance.  On the surface, much can look the same, and one might also say that coalitions, collaboratives and alliances are simply different forms of networks.  Yes, and . . . I believe that what can make a big difference is when participants in a network (or an organization, for that matter) embrace new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing.  So let me propose that network approaches at their best call on us to lead with some of the following: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/11/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks, What We Are Reading

Networks That Work

I’ve spent time the past week reading through Networks that Work, a handy and concise resource for developing organizational networks, written by Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO of Community Partners, and Myrna Mandell, Ph.D.  The book lays out some very helpful pointers for more formally constructed networks.  I have highlighted 10 points below that resonate with our experiences at IISC around supporting organizational networks for social change.  My comments and extensions are in italics: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/05/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Practices for Resilience and Development

When I take time to slow down, as I was able to do over the holiday break last week, my interest is refueled in practices that support our ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world.  My line of inquiry is not simply around what can keep us energized, pull us back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but focused on how we can align our internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way and grow ourselves so we can help evolve larger systems.  My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology.  Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/04/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks and Structural Change

“Ultimately if we are to avoid failure in the most critical work of this century, the deepest reaches of our beings must be brought to bear in honestly reevaluating and shifting the most basic structures of our society.” 

- john a. powell

The following is a textual recapturing of a Pecha Kucha-like presentation that I gave at an ARNOVA Pre-Conference Session in Hartford, CT two weeks ago.  This was part of a 3-hour interactive conversation, co-designed and facilitated with Dr. Angela Frusciante of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, focusing on the power of networks for learning and social change, primarily with academic researchers and philanthropists.

At the Interaction Institute for Social Change, we are in agreement with Professor john a. powell when he points to the need to consider and make fundamental structural changes in our country and communities for the causes of greater social justice and sustainability. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/27/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

At This Table

In the regional food system network development that IISC has been supporting, we have been making a habit of building certain rituals into our meetings.  One is to invite offerings of various kinds to open and close meetings, an opportunity for people to share what matters most to them and bring more of what moves them to the conversation. The following poem has been making the rounds, and has become a favorite for some of the universals it seems to invoke.  Wishing you all a deeply nourishing Thanksgiving. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks and Living Systems Patterns

“The major problems of the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think.”

— Gregory Bateson

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joel Glanzberg.  I had been hearing about Joel and his work from numerous trusted colleagues, including Bill Reed of Regenesis Group and Ginny McGinn of Center for Whole Communities.  Joel describes himself as a builder, farmer, teacher, writer, storyteller, naturalist, and permaculturalist.  And I would add to that, living systems thinker.  Joel has cultivated a practice of seeing and working with patterns of life’s processes, and helps others to do this, for the sake of creating healthier and more whole communities of different kinds.

I was especially interested to hear more from Joel about some of the living systems principles that guide his work, and to think about how these apply to what we at IISC do around network development for social change and focusing on networks as human environments.  What appears in quotes and italics below is pulled directly from Joel’s website; the comments in regular text are my own:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/14/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Embracing Change

“Much of what we think of as ‘rules’ are really just traditions and habits and assumptions that don’t get challenged until some new kid comes along who really doesn’t see the value of dying at the office or getting punched in the head, just because everyone else has.”

-Jason Clarke

Thanks to Laura Moorehead of the Institute for Civic Leadership for sharing this resource with us.  Jason Clarke is the founder of Minds At Work, and has been consulting to government and industry for nearly 30 years. In this talk, Mr. Clarke raises a number of interesting points about overcoming resistance to or ambivalence about change.  I especially like his approach of helping people move from what is perceived as negative about change to what is interesting to what is positive.  Meet people where they are and help them find that space between what is “good” and “bad”- the space of “unusual” or “different.”  This is the space of artistry and innovation.

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Nov/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Where There is Will

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

- Lao Tzu

Recently overheard:

“Yes, sure it’s great that that community is taking a network approach.  But we don’t have anything like the resources they have here.”

“No, I didn’t follow up on my commitments to the team.  I acknowledge that.  I’m just an “in the moment” kind of person.  When I’m with the team, I’m with them.  When I’m not, I’m not.”

“No, we haven’t met yet.  Someone should take responsibility for getting us organized.” Read the rest of this entry »


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Nov/07/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Connectivity is a Result: Learning in Networks

Our friends at Third Sector New England (TSNE) have released an informative report about learning networks. From 2004 to 2012, TSNE and clusters of nonprofit organizations joined in a grant program designed to further social change through building relationships and sharing insights that enabled them to better work together to achieve common goals. The resource, entitled “Funding Learning Networks for Community Impact,” includes interesting explorations of the stages in the development of learning networks and the roles and functions that are key success drivers for nonprofit networks. There are also wonderful and resonant quotes throughout from participants of the Capacity Building Fund (CBF) about the power of and key contributors to effective networks, and I wanted to share a dozen that really jumped out, while strongly suggesting you consult the entire report: Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/06/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, IISC:Outside, Networks

Networks and Changing the Game

Last Friday, I worked with the Network Support Team (NST) of the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) to facilitate a gathering of over 100 food system and food security activists.  This was the fourth convening in the past year and a half, and featured what have become typical elements of fostering connectivity between people (welcoming and introducing ourselves to new people, learning together, making offers and requests) and alignment around the CFSA vision.  And to honor what has been growing in the network as both a call for and a question about the possibility of collective action, NST members Melissa Spear, Marilyn Moore, and Jiff Martin created the following exercise to stimulate people’s thinking about how the network could “change the game” in Connecticut and boldly advance the state towards a reality where “everyone has access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate, and affordable food.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/31/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

VTF2P Network: Leading With Values

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week the Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Network held its third annual convening.  This marked the move to the third year of the F2P Network’s existence, and another significant milestone.

At the first convening in 2011, there was a mix of enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, impatience, and some reticence.  Many were intrigued by the notion of this new form of multi-organizational collaboration seeking to double local food production in 10 years time, boost the state economy, and address issues of food access and security.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/30/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Network Mantras: Show Up, Contribute, Repeat

Reporting live from the third annual Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Network convening, I am relishing this opportunity to work with and watch a successful network move into its third year of existence. There is much more to share about the F2P journey, which I hope to do in a follow-up post to this one, but for now, I wanted to highlight a couple of themes that continue to resonate throughout the convening and contribute to the growth and success of this network.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/24/13//Curtis Ogden//Love, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Net Work Does Not Justice Make

“Wealth and income distribution no longer resemble a familiar ‘bell curve’ in which the bulk of the wealth accrue to a large middle class. Instead, the networked economy seems to be producing a ‘power-curve’ distribution, sometimes known as a ‘winner-take-all’ economy.” 

 - David Bollier, from “The Power Curve Society”

As is no doubt evident from past posts on this blog, we at IISC are enthusiastic about networks and their potential to create more equitable, healthy, thriving and sustainable communities.  We do not, however, subscribe to the belief that network approaches in and of themselves guarantee the kinds of just and humanizing opportunities and outcomes we seek.  We do encounter people who hold up networks as a sort of panacea, hoping that in an age of more distributed technology and open source approaches to problems and solutions, we will achieve some kind of democratic ideal that has to this point eluded us.  That there is promise is evident in many stories that we have heard, witnessed, and shared on this site.  That there is reason to be vigilant is also illustrated in the many signs of an ever-growing and highly racialized gap between rich and poor in this country and a continued reluctance on the part of many to look at these glaring inequities or the systems that perpetuate them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/22/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Finding What You Didn’t Lose

With appreciations to Carole Martin for passing this along, I wanted to offer this poem as a reminder of the important role of listening in helping to create trust and grounded-ness in the work of social change . . .

Finding What You Didn’t Lose

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water. Read the rest of this entry »





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Oct/17/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Bringing Networks Home

I had a virtual exchange the other day with Jane Wei-Skillern of Stanford University, as we discussed different ideas for going beyond case studies to help engage people in thinking in networked ways.  This is what came to mind at the time, and I am eager to hear from others what you have done:

  • In the past I have asked people to think about network forms or topologies (hub and spoke, mesh, distributed); assign different forms to pairs/trios and have them think about what examples of that form exist in their lives.  What are the strengths of that form?  What are its limitations?  How might they shift it to be more “effective” in terms of desired impact?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/16/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks: Trust, Drive Time and Other Offerings

“Creating a culture of trust in a network can have a big payoff. Why is this so? First, when trust is well-developed in a network, people are willing to get involved in high-risk projects where their reputation and resources are at stake. These kinds of projects usually have a lot of impact. Next, high levels of trust usually make decision making easier and less time consuming. Finally, a culture of trust enables people to accept and work with people who are quite different from them, which increases the number of people working on network activities.”

- June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook

The importance and power of trust in networks for social change cannot be overstated.  Time and again, and despite what might show up as initial resistance, being intentional about getting to know one another beyond titles, official positions, and transactional exchanges reaps tremendous benefit, for all the reasons June Holley mentions above and more.  Taking time and making space to build trust helps people to do the important work of social change and is in many cases an embodiment of the change we are trying to make in the world – when we expand our circles of compassion and inclusion; when we create new patterns of opportunity, exchange and resource flows; when we see and validate previously unrecognized or undervalued assets.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/09/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Leveraging Networks as Marketplaces

I am increasingly interested in how networks can help to reclaim and reshape marketplaces, bringing them back down to earth and keeping them more stimulating of local economies, helping give value to what is not formally valued, as well as shifting and restructuring flows for greater equity and abundance.  So I was delighted to get a number of tips on this front from Lawrence CommunityWorks during a visit there last week.  Staff and residents shared a number of ways in which they help to identify and exchange assets as a part of daily operations.  For example, here is an exercise called “Marketplaces” which comes from Bill Traynor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/03/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks as Human Environments

Yesterday, Carole Martin and I took the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network on a site visit/retreat to Lawrence CommunityWorks, to see first hand what a network approach to community and economic development looks like. There is much to be said about what LCW has done, learned, and is looking to do going forward, and some of this has already been captured in case studies and articles.  Here I want to focus on one important lesson that staff and residents have learned over the past 15 years or so when it comes to taking a network approach.  This lesson falls under the caution – “Avoid a Fetish for Structural Forms.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/02/13//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Featured, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Complete (Social) Capital

Last week I represented IISC as a presenter/facilitator in a “deep dive” session at the Council on Foundations Conference for Community Foundations.  The title of the session was “Complete Capital”and was inspired by an SSIR article by the same title written by Antony Bugg-Levine of the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF). Briefly, complete capital is a framework to help funders and other investors develop a fuller picture of the assets required to address complex social challenges: financial, intellectual, human, and social.

After presentations by Alison Gold of Living Cities (intellectual capital), Lisa Spinali (human capital) and Jessica LaBarbera of NFF (financial capital), and in the light of a couple of helpful case studies presented by Alison and Jessica, I offered a view of social capital that is more complex than what appears in the SSIR article.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/26/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Flipping Orthodoxy

During his presentation at this week’s Council of Foundations Conference for Community Foundations, the Monitor Institute’s Gabriel Kasper talked about the need for innovation in community philanthropy. This included a call to examine orthodoxy in our organizations and communities, that is, the behaviors and procedures that we often take for granted with respect to the way we go about our business.  This notion of orthodoxy was developed by the innovation firm Doblin and is further outlined in an article in Rotman Magazine.  Gabriel then encouraged attendees to, essentially, “steal like an artist.”  So in that spirit, I wanted to share the plenary exercise he had participants go through that I am particularly interested in bringing to some of the networks with which I work: Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/25/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

More Cracks in the Network Code


Our friend Jane Wei-Skillern recently co-wrote (along with Nora Silver and Eric Heitz) another valuable contribution to the growing “network building” body of literature, entitled “Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers.”  This piece is part of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ learning initiative, Scaling What Works.  While the guide mainly addresses funders, it also has something for those outside of the philanthropic world.  Its core offering is a set of principles to guide what the authors call “the network mindset”: Read the rest of this entry »


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Sep/18/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks for Change: Inquiry and Emergence

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

In their article, “Using Emergence to Scale Social Innovation,” Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze highlight the critical role of self-organization, spontaneous and purposeful arrangement and action without formal or “external” management,  in facilitating social change.  As self-organization occurs in social networks, emergent and unexpected phenomena flow through the strength and flexibility of connections between people and groups.  As Wheatley and Frieze note, these emergent phenomena tend to result in “a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts.”  This is part of what constitutes the “intelligence” and resilience of networks.  This capacity flows naturally when conditions are ripe for individuals to freely find each other and create. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/12/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks for Social Change: A Developmental View

“If what we change does not change us we are playing with blocks.”

Marge Piercy

At IISC we see taking a developmental view as being critical to effective collaborative and network-based approaches to social change.  This is largely because of the complexity of the issues we are striving to address with our partners and the “adaptive” nature of the work.  It is also because we hold an evolutionary perspective; that is, we see change and development as being part of the underlying dynamic of reality. As scientist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once declared, “We are moving!” And so we are interested in paying attention to and working with evolution as it occurs at different levels – individual, team/group, organization/institution, community, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/04/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks for Social Change: Life on the Edge

“Look to the growing edge!”

- Howard Thurman

Edge has its advantages.  This is the finding of ecologists and other scientists looking at how peripheral spaces can provide adaptive strength.  For example, where different habitats meet, there is considerable fecundity and the extent to which there is more significant overlap there is that much more richness and species able to thrive in more than one setting.  Trees make interesting use of edge by maximizing the surface area of their root systems to find and take in nutrients in the soil.  We also know that innovation tends to happen where different disciplinary fields meet, and therefore through a porousness and openness to new thinking on the edge. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/28/13//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Glimpses of Wholeness

Last Friday, as we closed our joint offering with the Center for Whole Communities, “Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most,” at Knoll Farm, participants and facilitators alike carried forward insights and ongoing questions about what wholeness is and what might help to create more of it in our communities and organizations.  The timing was auspicious as the nation has been marking the anniversary of the March on Washington and reflecting upon the progress we have made towards wholeness as embodied in Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, delivered in a speech 50 years ago today.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/21/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Connections Are Made Slowly

As we enter into the last weeks of summer (yes, it’s true), I find myself becoming more reflective, slowing down a bit in anticipation of a seasonal transition.  What comes to mind is this poem from Marge Piercy, for all that it has to offer in terms of thinking about harvesting, about reaping what we’ve sown through our care-full efforts, about going slow to go fast, and what it takes to do social change work well.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/14/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Building: Beginnings and Boundaries

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a gathering, convened by the Garfield Foundation, of “network building” practitioners interested in advancing this field for the sake of making more progress around fundamental social change, including greater social equity and sustainable communities.  The launch point for our discussions was the successful RE-AMP network that Garfield has supported for several years now in the midwestern United States.  We began by looking at a framework for change that has emerged from RE-AMP’s experience, while acknowledging that this is a data point of one.  From here we talked about what we are all learning in our respective experiences, and perhaps more importantly, what we do not know.  There were several themes that I heard emerging in our conversations, and I wanted to highlight one in this post, which is reflected in the title – how we begin and bound our efforts matters. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/07/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Building AS Strategy

At IISC we like to define the success of collaborative change efforts in multi-dimensional ways.  In particular, we make reference to results, process, and relationship elements.  Results are what we typically think of as the “measurable” outcomes of a change undertaking – policy change, livable wage, job creation, healthier communities, etc.  Process has everything to do with the how of the work – how we approach our change efforts, the steps we take, how work is shared and by whom, and with what spirit.  Relationship is about both the quality of interpersonal connections as well as how people relate to the work itself.  From what one might call an “old school” mindset, there is an assumption that process and relationship are only important insofar as they help to achieve results. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/31/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Why Networks for Social Change?

“Thinking in terms of networks can enable us see with new eyes.”

- Harold Jarche

The biological sciences have revealed that all living things in an ecosystem are interconnected through networks of relationship; that is, they literally depend upon a web of life to survive and to thrive. On the social science front, we are also beginning to appreciate that groups, organizations, and communities depend upon and function in distributed networks of relationship that go beyond contrived boundaries, formal roles, communications, or decision-making protocols.  After all, we are a part of life! Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/18/13//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

A Systems View of (In)Justice

“The point is that justice was always going to elude Trayvon Martin, not because the system failed, but because it worked.”

 - Robin D. G. Kelley

The post below is a somewhat edited version of one that appeared on this blog a year ago.  As we have continued to have conversations at IISC and with our partners about the implications of the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, one thing that has become clear about who and where we are as a country is that there is an overall inability and/or resistance to thinking about racism from a systemic perspective. As evidence, we hear comments such as, “Race did not have anything to do with this verdict.  The women on the jury are not racist.”  Or, “Justice was done.  The jury followed the letter of the law.”   Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/10/13//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Making and Feeding a Region Whole

“We are what we measure.”

- Whole Measures mantra

From August 20-23, IISC is excited to once again partner with the Center for Whole Communities to offer our jointly created workshop “Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most“ at beautiful Knoll Farm in Vermont’s Mad River Valley.  This summer’s offering is meant especially for New England-based and focused food system and food security advocates.  This includes those working from different angles (production, distribution, access, public health) and scales (neighborhood, community, state, region). Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/04/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Roots of Our Interdependence

I recently was reminded of a truth about resilience.  It came in the form of a story told by someone about the root system of red wood trees.  These giant and venerable beings, some standing as high as 350 feet and as old as 1000 years, are not so deeply rooted in the soil.  Their roots tend to only go to a depth of about 4 to 5 feet, which is extraordinary when you consider how far up they reach.  So how do red woods remain vertical amidst storms and the ravages of time?  The answer is that they reach out to one another.  Below the surface, they stretch their roots out horizontally where they become entwined with those of their neighbors.  This becomes the source of the forest’s strength – vast networks of interconnections.

On a day when we like to focus on independence, I like how this story reminds us of the extent to which our ability to survive and flourish is caught up in our common roots and interrelationships.

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Jul/03/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Network Story of Change

A couple of weeks ago there was an intriguing article in Next City entitled “The Post-Hero Economy: Learning to Lead Through Networks.”  In it, Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz tell the story of some extraordinary attempts to boost a region in the midwestern United States.  The focus is not on a leader or leaders, but on a network.  As the authors state, “When telling stories of transformation and turnaround, it is tempting to shape them into personal stories about heroes. One charismatic visionary — a mayor, school superintendent, entrepreneur, outraged citizen — steps up and, with unrelenting vigor and inspirational leadership, starts an irreversible cascade of change. But there is a growing body of research suggesting that, as a system or problem becomes more complex, arriving at a solution requires multiple minds from multiple sectors or perspectives.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/27/13//Curtis Ogden//Structural Transformation

The Development Imperative

It would seem that the only way for our organizations to be of ongoing service to the larger living systems of which they are a part is for them to be adaptive and in a state of ongoing learning and development, to have a fluid state of “fit-ness” and ability to contribute generative value to the larger whole. The only way for this to happen is for the sub-teams and individuals that comprise these organizations to also be in a state of ongoing learning and development. In order to help others grow, we must commit to growing ourselves.  The leadership imperative then, is to model a commitment to personal development and to create conditions that encourage ongoing internal qualitative growth.  Management and management alone is “horizontal,” over time becomes firefighting, and eventually flatlining.  Leadership is “vertical” and takes everything to the next level.

What are you doing to create the time and space for evolution?

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Jun/26/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

A Ritual to Hear Each Other

 

The last few weeks I have recited on a number of occasions the following first stanza from William Stafford’s poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”

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




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Jun/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Organize for Complexity

Thanks to Harold Jarche for turning me on to this beta codex network presentation about seeing and designing organizations as networks.  It captures much of the learning that has been coming out of our work at IISC with different kinds and scales of networks for social change.  Below is a list of ten key points from the presentation: Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/19/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networking the Divide

I recently had an email exchange with someone who was reflecting on the difficulty of bridging the divides in a nascent network in the southern United States that is trying to tackle the local food system.  Trying to reconcile differences (owing to diversity in functional lens, experience, generational perspective, social location, etc.) around a topic this vast can be very challenging.  And I think this is precisely why networks are especially good mechanisms, and why adopting the “network mindset” is an excellent approach, moving forward, especially when borrowing from the framework above (adapted from Plastrik and Taylor’s work, 20o6). Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Walking Away From the King

“We must join in common cause, we need conversations of the whole.”

- David Korten

David Korten: Walking Away From the King from Katie Teague on Vimeo.

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Jun/12/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks: Redefining Who and What Matters

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


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Jun/06/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

A Kid’s Fix for Education

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Jun/05/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Keep Dancing

I read a quote earlier this week that I had seen before that went something like, “We need to act our way into a new way of thinking.” Indeed, increasingly what seems to be called for is the practice of prototyping and risk-taking, breaking the more linear and often drawn out process of plan-act-reflect-refine. This poem by Mary Oliver, from her book A Thousand Mornings, captures something of this spirit for me: Read the rest of this entry »

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May/30/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Jarche on Networks

A few of us here at IISC are avid readers of Harold Jarche’s blog, Life in Perpetual Beta.  IMHO, he is a fount of wisdom and helpful information about the connected age and economy in which we find ourselves.  The past couple of weeks, I’ve gleaned the following gems from his writings, which I take with me into the network building work we do at IISC: Read the rest of this entry »

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May/29/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

A Network View of the Future

In her new book, futurist Marina Gorbis references an inspiring passage from a document created in 2007 that supports the values of the Institute for the Future (IFTF):

“Valuing open collaboration, independence, and the ability of anyone to rise to the endeavor, we draw on network leadership models that provide a platform for self-organizing structures. The value of these self-organizing structures is that they can act quickly, responsively, and creatively from the edges. The guiding concepts in this view of leadership are openness, self-election, continuous prototyping, robust platforms, and low coordination costs. Leadership skills focus on community building, consensus building, mediation, commitment, and humility.”

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May/23/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Power of Words

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

-Mark Twain

Some version of reflection on the power of words has been coming up frequently in various networks lately, including the power of the right phrase, the right question, or the right story to become an attractor that galvanizes collective action. This seems a critical function in networks, tapping memetic resonance.  What have you seen in net work that helps unleash the lightning?

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May/22/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks and Power

I am just coming from a convening of the Northern New England Networks Community of Practice in  Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.  The theme of the gathering was “Power and Networks,” and very timely in that a few network building initiatives with which I am working are reaching a fever pitch in terms of working out issues of power and privilege.  Borrowing from something my IISC colleague Cynthia Silva Parker has said in the past, while power is always at the table, now it’s on the table!  And I wanted to share some of the gleanings from the overall session. Read the rest of this entry »

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May/16/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

How Story Moves the Mind

The following is a segment of a blog post from Pamela Mang that appeared on edge::regenerate.  Pamela references the newest book from Daniel Pink, To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.  In particular she highlights a section on the Pixar formula for storytelling, and how this can help us to frame our change work in engaging ways.  I have also found it very helpful for getting people to open their minds to complex initiatives and imagine what it would take to really shift things.  This can often be a humbling experience, in positive ways, and can lift up the importance of reaching out to others, taking a holistic approach, and speaking to both hearts and minds . . .  Read the rest of this entry »

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May/15/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Feeding a New Economy

This beautiful video speaks to the importance of will, community, and creativity to transform an otherwise unused asset into a new engine for local economic vitality.  In the words of catalyst Greg Cox, “This is an evolution. . . .  You come up with an idea.  The human animal reacts with fear almost all the time.  And you go, ‘Ah, it can’t happen.  It’s Rutland.  It’s not going to happen here.  It’s been too difficult.  We just don’t have the capacity.’  This is the way the story is.  We looked at the outcome we wanted and we’re trying to rewrite the story.”

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May/09/13//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

Hopping to Justice?

“Problems require solutions.  Questions must be lived into.  We often do not know the difference.”

- Krista Tippett paraphrasing Jacob Needleman

I recently had a lively and illuminating conversation with an unexpected teacher.  He came in the form of a well-spoken and measured man who works in the field of emergency food.  We were talking at a state-wide food system convening about the causes of and solutions for hunger and he mentioned the idea of the “two footprints.” Read the rest of this entry »

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May/08/13//Curtis Ogden//Social Innovation

Openness is Opportunity

Sometimes people call openness in group process and social engagement “disorganized” or “unstructured.”  I find this to be a misperception and, frankly, unhelpful.  Openness is differently organized and structured.  It is different from many of the talking-at, entertainment-oriented, consumer-creating, and being-numbing settings to which we have grown accustomed.

Openness can certainly create discomfort, in part because it calls on us to step up and reach out, not hunker down and hide.  It asks us to take responsibility and consider questions like, “What do I value?”  “How do I want to contribute?”  “What can we create here?”  Openness is opportunity if we choose to act, knowing that through the perceived risk and any felt discomfort lies greater purpose, meaning and vitality.

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May/02/13//Curtis Ogden//Facilitative Leadership

Practice, Practice, Practice

Don’t practice for perfection, practice to be present.

There comes a point in almost every IISC workshop we deliver where the answer to a particular challenge is simply, “practice, practice, practice.”  This is not for the sake of having THE answer, but rather to learn how to be present to the situation that arises.  As we say around the practice of facilitation, “It’s not knowing what to do that counts, it’s knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.”

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May/01/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network ROI and Co-Creation

“The most robust and resilient networks are those that create additional value for each participant while strengthening a community or ecosystem as a whole.”

- Adam Pattantyus

Taking another cue from Carol Sanford, I wanted to explore the notion of return on investment (ROI) for networks.  In the words of Sanford, return on investment refers to “the future increase in value that is expected when the initial capital contribution is made.”  Capital can take many forms, and for network participants, or “co-creators,” this is often knowledge, creativity, wisdom, and connections.  Why would co-creators take the time and risk to make such an investment?  What is the expected ROI?  Presumably, when we are talking about networks for social change, the principle driver is the desire to make a meaningful difference for people and the purposes we care about.  And, to rift a bit on Sanford, co-creators are kept in the game if the net work enhances their capabilities, grows their connections, and gives them increased opportunities to be innovative. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/24/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks Building: No Small Change

In the past few weeks, I have heard some interesting and divergent comments about networks as they relate to social change.  In one case, someone in philanthropy declared that the “network experiment” was over and it was “back to funding individual organizations.”  In another case, I heard tremendous enthusiasm expressed relating to the “paramount importance of building trust and relationships” for change to happen.  To the first –  “No!”  To the second – “Yes, and . . .”.  We are still in the midst to waking up to the reality and potential of networks in our lives, present company very much included.  Here is some of what we are seeing and hearing with respect to where network approaches and tools, at their best and very much with our intention, can take us.  Read the rest of this entry »


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Apr/18/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Harmony

“This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more beautifully,
more devotedly than ever before.”

― Leonard Bernstein




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Apr/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Equity for Prosperity

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