Author Archive

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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Apr/10/13//Curtis Ogden//Social Innovation

Design for Public Engagement

In his post yesterday, Seth Godin offers up sage advice for designers of all kinds, including “social architects” like ourselves who are aiming to create convenings and collaborative processes that bring out the best in people and lead to greater social justice and regenerativity.  Among his points: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/04/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Internal Control, External Considering

Some very compelling points are made by Carol Sanford stemming from her work with “responsible businesses” about the importance of how people understand accountability.  She cites pscyhological research that suggests that having a sense of personal responsibility for outcomes (or an “internal locus of control”), whether those outcomes are good or bad, equates with higher degrees of happiness, health, and creativity.  The converse occurs when people attribute success and failure to outside forces.  ”Only when people are accountable for their own decisions can they develop the rigor and discipline called for in high-quality decision making,” Sanford writes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/03/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

New Structures for Health and Security

“Structure is purpose expressed through design.”

- Marjorie Kelly, Owning Our Future

Detroit Voices: A Community Calls Out for Change from Phase 4 Media on Vimeo.

The new food movement, which is really several related but distinct movements, is a beacon of hope in this country.  You can find evidence of this in many diverse settings, from Flint, Michigan to Northeast Iowa to northern Vermont to Oakland, California.  While there are important distinctions in terms of emphasis and core players, one cross-cutting theme appears to be that we must create new structures to better nourish ourselves (calorically, economically, socially) through policy change, different land use patterns, new infrastructure, stronger relationships with ecosystems, new enterprises, and community building.  From the growing number of food policy councils, to alternative financing mechanisms, practices like permaculture and agroforestry, and more intentional network building, people are setting the stage for some significant societal shifts. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/28/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Grace Lee Boggs on (R)Evolution

The following quote appears in a piece written by Olga Bonfiglio on the Common Dreams website, which profiles the remarkable Dr. Grace Lee Boggs.  The now 97 year old long-time Detroit political and labor activist, author, and philosopher is the focus of a documentary film in the works called American Revolutionary.

“We are at a stage in human history that is as monumental as changing from a hunter/gatherer society to an agricultural society and from an agricultural society to and industrial society. Read the rest of this entry »


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Mar/27/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Protection

This post is not exactly about an insurance policy, at least not in the traditional sense.  Picking up on the metaphor of last week’s piece on “Network Gardening,” today we bring focus to how we can protect the early growth of networks for social change.  Protect them from what?  The temptation to jump to action too quickly, leapfrogging the “problem conversation,” the tendency to want to institutionalize everything (what a friend calls “incorporation fever”), naysayers, exclusionist practices, and the heavy hitters who are used to getting their way.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/21/13//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Our System, Our Children

“We want a system that provides all children regardless of race or economic background with the same opportunities.”

- CT Right From the Start

The video above and words below appear on the CT Right from the Start (RFTS) website, and represent one of the outcomes of the past two years of work of a collaborative multi-stakeholder effort that IISC has been supporting as the lead process designer and facilitator.  RFTS runs parallel to the state’s planning initiative to create an early childhood office that consolidates services for children and families. Right from the Start has become an important voice for equity in Connecticut and we are very proud of its stance and our partnership . . .  Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Gardening

An interesting innovation I’ve seen recently in the realm of network building for social change is the creation of what is being called, in one particular system with which I am working, the “Network Support Team.”  In the context of what has emerged to this point as an “alignment network” focused on state-wide food system development and addressing community food insecurity, this volunteer team has stepped forward to help “tend to the whole.”  It functions much as a good gardener would in her attempts to nurture abundance and flourishing.  As this network considers movement into a more action/production-oriented mode, here is how the NST is helping the garden to grow: Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

A Plan is Not a Plan is Not a Plan

Last week I posted an entry on this blog about the myriad ways that people and organizations are engaged in “net work” for social change, by profiling three different initiatives focused on strengthening local food systems and food security.  Not only is there a difference in the process, but there is also variation in terms of so-called ends or outcomes.  The topic of “planning” has come up quite a bit in these networks and many questions asked about what “a plan” looks like in the context of multi-stakeholder/organizational initiatives tackling complex issues.  Once again, the answer is that it depends.  In both direct experiences at IISC and in additional research about other initiatives, there is a wide variety around what constitutes a plan for social change. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/07/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Design for Collective Impact

In a fascinating article in Fast Company, entitled “The Secrets of Generation Flux,” Robert Safian acknowledges that in these uncertain economic times, there is no single recipe for success.  Safian profiles a number of leaders who have been relatively successful at riding the waves in different ways, and notes that they are all comfortable with chaos, trying a variety of approaches, and to a certain degree letting go of top-down control.  This resonates with our experiences at IISC helping people to design multi-stakeholder networks for social change.  For example, even in a common field (food systems) and geography (New England) we witness different forms emerge that suit themselves to micro-contexts, and at the same time there are certain commonalities underlying all of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Mar/06/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Empathy

With thanks to Jeffrey Cufaude from Idea Architects, who I met on Twitter and from whom I learned about this video, I wanted to pass along this reminder of the power of empathy and the fact that the shoes of another are often our own.

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Feb/28/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Balancing Acts

While doing some research on network evaluation techniques, I stumbled on a very helpful and interesting resource entitled “Network Evaluation: Cultivating Healthy Networks for Social Change” by Eli Malinsky and Chad Lubelsky (respectively for the Centre for Social Innovation and the Canada Millenium Scholarship Foundation).  While it dates back to 2008 (5 years seeming like eons these days), the paper does a nice job of raising some of the inherent and necessary tensions and balancing acts of engaging in “net work.”  I lifted a number of quotes from the paper as a preface to some thoughts about network value, which I laid out according to a framework that I developed (see above) using the work of Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor in their seminal “Net Gains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/27/13//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

A Conspiracy of Love

“We have an obligation to wake others up so that they can share their light.” 

- Mayor Cory Booker

It was a privilege to see and hear Newark, New Jersey Mayor and possible Senatorial candidate Cory Booker speak this week.  His topic was education, which is near and dear to his heart, and he began by telling a remarkable story about his parents.  Booker’s mother and father were both born into relative poverty in the south, and both benefitted tremendously from other people looking out for them, extended family and community members.  His father, who was raised by a single mother, was able to attend college in North Carolina because neighbors came together and took up a collection for his tuition.  Ultimately both of his parents received a college education and went on to become successful executives at IBM. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/21/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Fire at the Gate

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” 

– Mahatma Gandhi

Winter is certainly a time that can test our resolve in the Northeast.  This winter in particular feels like it has done that on many fronts, including the volatility of the weather and the seemingly exceptional virulence of multiple strains of viruses making their way through the region.  And this is to say nothing of the ongoing personal and social challenges with which many of us are wrestling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Mischief-Making for Change

“The trickster is anybody who’s a bit of an outsider. They’re the ones who make change. They’re not thinking about making change; they’re almost doing it in a selfish way. But because they’re working outside the rules, they change the rules. Everything around them is always new, everything is an opportunity.”

- Angela Cheng

Over the long weekend, my wife and I spent some time looking through the archives of old TED talks and stumbled upon a great one from humorist-philosopher Emily Levine where she talks about the important role of the trickster in facilitating change. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/14/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

New Forms for Our Better Selves

The following post is taken from a message I recently posted on the Community Food Security Coalition listserv.  I have already heard from a few people and am setting up conversations with them to hear more about what they are doing process and form-wise to advance the work, and look forward to sharing what I learn from them in this space.  While the topic of this blog is networks focused on just and sustainable food system development, reactions are welcome from those working on new structures to address other social change issues . . .

IISC currently works with a number of food system-related initiatives around the country, providing process/structure design and facilitation support to collaborative multi-stakeholder approaches to change.  As we strive for more healthy, just, sustainable, and community-enriching food systems, part of our role is to hold the stake for the “how” of the work, to ensure that it aligns with the multi-dimensional ends we seek, and to fine-tune this to the essence of the particular geographic and social locale (municipality, state, region).   Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Structural Transformation

Design and Emergence

Working with numerous multi-stakeholder collaborative change efforts, we at IISC are often invited to help people co-create the structures and processes that will move their complex work and collective development forward.  There is never an easy or readily apparent answer and each case is unique to its particular context and nature.  A quote that I’ve found helpful to quell some of the anxiety that comes up around this work, especially among those who want to rush to adopt a structure that others have used and “get on to the work” (more on this false dichotomy here), comes from Fritjof Capra from the Center for Ecoliteracy.  Capra writes about the importance of recognizing and working the dynamics of life. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/07/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Nourishing Food and Community

“When we are sitting down and eating food at the table, we are at the last part of a long chain of events that helped bring that food to our plate.”

-Bryant Terry, food justice activist, author of Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine; co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen

“Every single time we spend a dollar on food, we are casting a vote for the kind of world we want.”

-Anna Lappe, author of Diet for a Hot Planet; co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen

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Feb/06/13//Curtis Ogden//Liberation, Networks

Collective Impact and Emergence

I have appreciated the growing literature around what has been called “collective impact.”  These writings from staff at FSG have certainly helped people around the country engaged or aspiring to engage in collaborative multi-organizational change work to develop shared language around some of the important underpinnings of walking this path.  I have also voiced some concerns about what is NOT mentioned in these writings, including some of the critical process elements and experiences that are core to this work.

So I am heartened that in their most recent installment, “Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity,” the authors recognize that Collective Impact is not simply a recipe to be followed and that its unique unfolding is part of its power.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/01/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Generations Co-Evolving

“You want to be engaging with people whose mind is alive, whose consciousness is alive, and who are seeking to create something.” – Carol Sanford

Carol Sanford – Generations learning from other Generations from Choosing 2Lead on Vimeo.

My colleagues and I find ourselves in many rooms with change agents of different generations.  Occasionally we will see conflict arise around differing styles and approaches.  Older generations may lean heavily on the notion that “this is the way we’ve always done it” or that new means and methods (social media, for example) are just a passing trend.  Younger generations may look at their elders as out of touch with the times, lacking in a new analysis, etc.  Thus, even when a common goal is held, an attitudinal gap can result in an unwillingness to work with and learn from one another. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/30/13//Curtis Ogden//Liberation

Coming Down For Justice

My colleague Cynthia and I are in the midst of delivering IISC’s newest course, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work, here in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Together with a group of dynamic and committed change agents, we are engaged in hands-on exploration of a variety of process and content tools so that we are able to better serve as facilitators towards the ends of racial equity and justice.  Part of our discussions today will focus on how we can maintain our center amidst triggering situations and use our identities to advance the work. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/25/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Urban Roots and New Economies

“It’s time for us to get together and talk about how we get more healthy food to people, how we bring our community back using local food, how we improve our community health using local food, and how we create new jobs. . . . We need to change our food system and the answers are in the room.”

- Stephen Arellano

I’ve been closely and excitedly watching and participating in the local food and urban agriculture movement as it grows both here in New England and in my native Michigan. Detroit has certainly been catching national attention, in part due to exposure via films such as “Urban Roots” and the good and ongoing work of the likes of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and the Fair Food Network. And my lesser known and native Flint is doing its own to grow what my friend Stephen Arellano has called “a human scaled economy” rooted in a reclamation of old industrial and abandoned residential lands for the purposes of equitably feeding the community, not just through good food, but through a grounded education and good profitable work. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/24/13//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

Reframing the Systems We Want

I’ve been playing with different reflection questions lately to try and help various networks and multi-stakeholder collaborative change efforts put a clearer and more aligned frame around the kinds of systems (food, education, health, etc.) that would yield more equitable, sustainable, and enriching results.  This is not to pretend that they can take control of the systems and command them to be different, but rather to create an image toward which they can nudge these systems via various leverage points.  In one recent convening, I borrowed a page from critical systems heuristics, which asks us to identify and play with the existing systemic boundaries, including motivation, power, expertise and legitimacy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/17/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Creating the Structures for a Generative Economy

OwningFuture

The following post was written by IISC friend Beth Tener, principal of New Directions Collaborative, with whom I’ve had the privilege of working over the past few years on a few different sustainability-related network building efforts.  Beth and I share a keen interest in supporting the development of new economic structures and flows that bring resources back to communities and keep value grounded in real and sustainable ways.  You can follow more of Beth’s insights on her blog.  

A friend handed me a copy of Marjorie Kelly’s new book Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution; Journeys to a Generative Economy and said he thought it was so good that he had bought a case of them to share with colleagues and friends. By the time I was 50 pages into the book, I had a similar impulse to buy a case. Kelly was the editor of Business Ethics magazine for 20 years and now works at Tellus Institute and has spent years considering how to reform corporations and create enterprises that are socially responsible.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/16/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Living Systems Lessons for Networks

I was recently turned on to the work of Louise Diamond by the Plexus Institute.  Diamond has been bringing insights from the dynamics of complex systems to peace building work for many years.  Her efforts connect to a growing number of practitioners and thinkers who see the need to approach social change with an ecological and evolutionary mindset.  In one of her papers, she extracts some of the “simple rules” that yield core practices for working in this way.  Here I have adapted and adjusted some of them in application to network building for food systems change. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/10/13//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Your Experiences

New Calls to Leadership

At this point in my tenure at IISC, I get the opportunity to return to certain systems and programs that I have been serving for a number of years.  This includes a few organizations and leadership development initiatives to which I’ve been contributing for a half-dozen years now, through two presidential elections, the Great Recession, the Arab Spring, the explosion of social media, and some stormy knocks over the head about the reality of climate change. Through all of this I’ve been interested to see how the conversation has changed, where it has in fact changed, within these institutions and programs and among the participants. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/09/13//Curtis Ogden//Facilitative Leadership

Developmental Facilitation

Another year, more time to hone our practice as facilitators.  As I’m sure has been previously mentioned in the pages of this blog, the meaning of the term “facilitation” derives from its root “facile,” or easy, so facilitation is intended to make something easy or easier.  Now this is not to say that the practice of facilitation is or ever should be easy.  And it is not about doing work for others (“Thank goodness you get to be the one trying to guide this group!”) so that they in some sense get off the hook.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/03/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Nested Social Change

A number of months ago, I posted something on what I called “The Dimensions of Social Space,” the gist of which was the proposal that we are called to tend to different dimensions of our social being in our change work – the autonomous/individual, the communal/collective, and the transcendant/”divine.”  When I wrote that post, I was thinking of these as three interlocking circles in a ven diagram.  I have since evolved my thinking to see them as systems sitting in nested fashion, going from the lesser (individual) to the greater (divinity) in terms of complexity.  Much of this development owes to the field of living systems thinking and the mentoring of Carol Sanford. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/02/13//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Change Reads

One of the many things I love about the Interaction Institute for Social Change is that we are very much a learning organization, committed to sharing lessons from the work we are doing, as well as new ideas and concepts we discover through in-person and virtual interactions with a variety of thought leaders.  This year, like any other, we benefitted from the writings of many, and I wanted to highlight five books that I found particularly valuable in 2012, and invite my colleagues to weigh in as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/30/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, IISC:Inside

Do It Together (DIT)

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

-African proverb

This coming Sunday, my colleague Gibran Rivera and I will be presenting at the Connecting for Change Conference (Bioneers by the Bay) in New Bedford, MA.  This is one of my favorite events each year, as it gathers many thoughtful and innovative presenters and participants from local/regional and national/international levels to talk about how to create whole (just and sustainable) communities.  In our workshop, “Are You Down With D-I-T? Skills for Change in a Network World,” Gibran and I will guide attendees through an exploration of the convergence of two of today’s powerful memes – the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement, which seems to be fueled in great part through younger generations and social media, and “collective impact,”  made popular by FSG in its SSIR articles. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/29/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

What We Know – Marianne Hughes

This is Marianne’s last week as Executive Director of IISC. We’re devoting the blog to her writings and thinking this week.

 

Earlier this week during an IISC staff learning session, we entertained the question, “What do we know from our years of doing collaborative capacity building work?”  Here IISC founder and Executive Director, Marianne Hughes, speaks to the core framework that supports our process design and facilitation work, the Pathway to Change.

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Dec/28/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Power of Networks

IISC would like to share our Top 5 most influential post of 2012! Join us until the New Years Eve when we reveal our number 1 blog post!

 

Thanks to Harold Jarche turning me on to this video, which appeared in his recent post “It’s All About Networks.”

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Dec/27/12//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Deepening Collective Impact

IISC would like to share our Top 5 most influential post of 2012! Join us until the New Years Eve when we reveal our number 1 blog post!

The following post began as a response to FSG’s lastest contribution to its work around “collective impact” on the Standford Social Innovations Review blog.  There is much value in the additional details of this cross-sectoral approach to creating change, and I especially appreciate what is highlighted in this most recent piece regarding the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of “backbone organizations” to support and steer the work.  In the ensuing conversation on the SSIR blog, there is a comment from an FSG staff person about the importance of building trust in launching these efforts, and it was from this point that I picked up . . .

With deep appreciation for the good work of FSG in helping to codify this important approach, I wanted to add that from our experience at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, helping people develop the skills of process design and facilitation is of paramount importance in cultivating trust and ultimately realizing the promise of large-scale multi-stakeholder collaborative efforts.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/21/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Systems Thinking Gleanings

I had a unique opportunity the other day with a client to do a little year end reflection about the path we have walked with a complex multi-stakeholder change process, which has featured a dive into systems thinking thanks to IISC friend David Peter Stroh. David was actually the one who put the question out there, “What have you gained as a result of adopting a systems thinking lens?” Here is some of what came up in terms of gleanings and appreciation:

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Dec/20/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Inspiration vs. Development

“Are you a sophist?”  I’ve been wrestling with that question for several weeks, at the invitation of Carol Sanford.  Carol points out how many of us in the helping professions have fallen into the habit of trying to provide well-intended inspiration and advice to others at the expense of diminishing their capability.  She likes to tell the story of Socrates’ awakening to what would often happen to those who listened to the Sophists preach in ancient Greece – people would leave inspired, and keep coming back for more.  At a certain point, many of these “followers,” after seeing increasingly diminished returns, would become demoralized and convinced that they would never be able to reach the heights that were suggested in the speeches and sermons they heard.  So Socrates took a different tack.  He sought to help others grow by asking questions that helped them to move and take control of their own development. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/13/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Turning to One Another

I was so grateful when Laura Moorehead, Director of Training with the Institute for Civic Leadership, shared this reading from Margaret Wheatley at the close of my time with this year’s ICL class.  From my perspective, there is much wisdom here, and the words do a very nice job of summarizing much of what IISC was there to share and discuss regarding leadership, networks, and collaborative change . . .

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/12/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

A System for All

For two years, we at IISC have been working with the staff of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, based in Hamden, CT, as it has responded to a “community call” and stepped up to convene a multi-stakeholder process to create a “blueprint” for a state-wide early childhood development system that works for all children and families, regardless of race, income, or ability.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/05/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Turn Towards Affection

I think it could be said that so much of what ails us in this day and age stems from a severe case of fragmentation.  The combination of silos, specialization, segregation, industrialization, derivation (think processed food and “derivative” investment instruments), and abstraction has rendered us strangers and adversaries to one another, the larger systems that sustain us, and perhaps even to ourselves.  Hence the call that you see often in this blog for a more holistic view and picture, one rooted in an understanding of the systemic nature of reality.  It is also what drives our approach at IISC in terms of being more network-centric in bringing about progressive social change for healthy whole people, communities, and ecosystems.  This is fundamentally about work that reconnects us to what matters most.  And to be clear, this is not simply heady work, which keeps our minds separate from our bodies and emotional selves.  Perhaps no one says it better than farmer, poet, and land activist Wendell Berry, who in his recent Jefferson Lecture framed the solution to our current situation with the title – “It Turns on Affection.”  Below you will find an excerpt, that I shared this very morning with the Food Systems New England Network Design Team: Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/28/12//Curtis Ogden//What We Are Reading

Leadership and Networks

If you have not already seen it, our friends at the Leadership Learning Community have published a rich new resource entitled “Leadership and Networks: New Ways of Developing Leadership in a Highly Connected World.”  Some of us at IISC contributed to this publication, directly and indirectly, and overall it seems to do a nice job of bringing together otherwise disparate stories about the power of networks in guiding leadership development and movements for change.  Here you will find brief overviews of instructive cases such as the Barr Fellows Network, Lawrence CommunityWorks, the RE-AMP Network, and KaBOOM!, along with a list of additional resources and readings.  I also appreciate how it explicitly builds the case for considering network approaches, including their ability to: Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/15/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Most Astounding Fact

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Nov/14/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Be Aware of Boundaries

Seeing the words “Critical Systems Heuristics” may tempt you to run screaming from this post, but please hang in there while I distill what this important framework and addition to the systems thinking body of work has to offer our social change efforts!  CSH is attributed to Swiss social scientist Werner Ulrich and his efforts to bring critical analysis to the boundaries that we construct around and within systems.  Far from being primordial, these boundaries and divisions are an expression of what people see and value from their particular perspectives.  As Ulrich writes, ” The methodological core idea [of CSH] is that all problem definitions, proposals for improvement, and evaluations of outcomes depend on prior judgments about the relevant whole system to be looked at.”  His effort is to help make these boundary judgments explicit so that both those affected by and those implementing such judgements might see alternatives that better serve the whole. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/07/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Embracing Restraint

A couple of days ago my colleague Cynthia Parker blogged about the challenge and importance of staying connected across political divides.  The conversation that has ensued seems especially relevant to where we stand right now, the day after the elections, faced with what some fear will be an increasingly polarized country.  No matter where we may fall along political lines, there are strong feelings on all sides about what is the “right” direction for our country and how to get there.  In this increasingly mediatized world, it is very tempting and easy to stand behind our computers and cast aspersions at one another.  And all this does is continue to fray the already worn social fabric.  How do we continue to recognize that we are all in this together, like it or not, and that respecting our collective humanity is a baseline for progress? Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/31/12//Curtis Ogden//Your Experiences

Practicing Wholeness

On Sunday, Gibran Rivera and I facilitated a workshop at Connecting for Change/Bioneers by the Bay about change practices for a networked world.  Another way of thinking about what we were exploring was to put it in terms of “practices for wholeness.”  Part of our premise was and is that we are suffering from a worldview that leads with and to fragmentation and fixity.  This is part of our inheritance from the industrial age that strives to understand through division and an associated mindset that believes we can make a separation between observer and observed with no associated impact.  For certain tasks, of course, it makes sense and is possible to divide, diagnose and put back together.  But this does not make sense, nor is it possible, in the case of complex living systems.  Furthermore, we have gotten ourselves in a bind because our habits of thought have led us to thinking that the divisions and categories we have created are in some sense primordial.  And so we are hard pressed to believe, or remember, that what we do to our “environment” or “others” we do to ourselves! Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/25/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

A Network Speaks . . . of Value

At the second Vermont Farm to Plate Network Convening two weeks ago, my colleague Beth Tener and I facilitated a conversation about the value the nearly 200 people in attendance see the network adding to the food system.  From where they sit, what do they see net work enabling that they have not been able to accomplish in the “old way”?  Here’s a taste:

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Oct/17/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Butterfly Story

At the closing of last week’s Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering, my colleague and friend, Beth Tener of New Directions Collaborative, shared the following beautiful story and metaphor from the evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris.  In it is the invitation that we both feel net work offers – to not simply engage in new superficial ways of working, but to let it take hold of us in shaping a new “genome” for human awareness of and interaction with living systems . . .

A caterpillar can eat up to three hundred times its own weight in a day, devastating many plants in the process, continuing to eat until it’s so bloated that it hangs itself up and goes to sleep, its skin hardening into a chrysalis. Then, within the chrysalis, within the body of the dormant caterpillar, a new and very different kind of creature, the butterfly, starts to form. This confused biologists for a long time. How could a different genome plan exist within the caterpillar to form a different creature? Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/11/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks Simplified

Having spent significant time on this blog and in the field focusing on the complexity of network building, I thought I might bring it back to something much more basic and intuitive.  Fundamentally, building networks is about building relationships.  I am reminded of Nicholas Christakis’ research on the spread of physical and mental health in social networks.  Here is something he found – if we are happy, those one step removed tend to be 15% happier.  Those two steps removed are likely to be 10% happier.  And those three steps removed are about 6% happier.  Beyond that, there is much less impact.  But the point is clear, how we are matters, not just for ourselves, but for others.  To whom and how we are connected also matters.

Be the change you want to see.  Connect for that change to go beyond “me.”

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Oct/10/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Tipping Points

Image from |Isaac Mao||http://www.flickr.com/photos/isaacmao/78734579|

A couple of weeks ago I put the following question out into the Twittersphere – “What leads to tipping points in networks for social change?” While I did not get any direct responses, I had a number of people say they were curious to hear what answers came back, and then my own brain was activated to look for movement towards greater impact in the networks with which I am involved in various ways.  I also have been in touch with other network capacity builders about their observations.  Clearly there is no silver bullet for rendering networks more effective, but there are some key ingredients and rites of passage that seem to come up in most.  Here is what I’ve seen and heard:

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Oct/04/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

What is Your Thread?

I’ve found myself gravitating more and more to this poem, sharing it with others often in the context of system change work.  In these times of flux on so many fronts, the good news from my perspective, is that we are being asked to loosen our grasp on the myths of fixity and solidity that no longer serve us.  On the other hand, letting go can be very disorienting.  With so much changing, what can we count on?  What guides us through?  What is the thread that you follow? Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/03/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network “Doing”

“It’s about redefining ‘doing.’”

- Carole Martin

A question that has come up across a lot of the network building and advancement work with which I’ve been involved lately is one form of “What constitutes ‘doing’?”  I would say that it is a fairly predictable pattern that people come together to launch the network, eager to take action to increase local food production and/or food access, to restructure the education system for more equitable outcomes, etc., and they pretty quickly discover that there is some foundation building they need to do first.  This work includes building trust and relationships and establishing some common expectations, goals, processes, and indicators for their collaborative efforts.  After a while, another pretty predictable dynamic occurs when people who often identify themselves as “activists” and “doers” start to ask, “When are we actually going to DO something?!”  And then we see the classic tension emerge between what often gets labelled as “talking vs. doing” or process vs. action.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/27/12//Curtis Ogden//What We Are Reading

Racing to Justice

IISC staff is engaged in reading this recently published and important book by john a. powell, currently Director of the Haas Diversity Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. I sometimes have the tendency to skip to the end of non-fiction books, in this case the Afterword, to see where the story ends. Without wanting to be a spoiler, I wanted to share these words from powell, which I find a real motivator to dig deeply into the book and the work it asks of us:

“To reach our common ground, to create a sense of mutuality and common space, we must realize that the embodiedness that spiritual seekers know is also needed in the justice system and in efforts to end suffering in our society. Abstract concepts and cold individualism fall short of justice, fall short of addressing need, and allow the victory of greed. We need to reach out to one another from a perspective that makes group membership less determinative of opportunity and more related to enhancement of self and community. We need to increase our sense of abundance and improve our sense of well-being, as individuals and in relation to one another. Accomplishing this requires an identification of the white worldview along with an incorporation of the many of visions that tell America’s story. And it requires a renewed commitment by all of us to fulfill the promise of a truly democratic society.”

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Sep/26/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

How Vertical Are You?

I want to tip my hat to mentors and thought partners, both near and far, for fueling my thinking around the topic of this post – thanks to Carol Sanford, Richard Hawkes and Tom Lombardi at Growth River, Glenda Eoyang, Richard Barrett, and my IISC colleague Gibran Rivera.  There is much discussion in the social sectors these days about the need to be more fearless, to take risks, to fail early, to be innovative and vulnerable.  Influenced by my colleagues, I like to frame all of this as being about our need to think and act more “vertically,” that is, with an evolutionary thrust, in the direction of personal and systemic growth and development, opportunity generation, and a sense of  accountability to a greater community or “we.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/20/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Coming Full Circle

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

-T. S. Eliot

It’s interesting to see how, as much as things evolve, there is also a circularity to this movement.  For the past few years we have been working with the Graustein Memorial Fund on Right from the Start, an early childhood system change initiative for which the Fund has served as core convenor and funder.  Come to find out that IISC’s new President, Ceasar McDowell, was in on early conversations that launched the Memorial Fund’s unique and wonderful Discovery program to seed community-based collaboratives for early childhood development planning. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/19/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Dimensions of Network Success

Currently engaged in a number of state-wide and regional network-building initiatives focused on food, health and education system change, I am beginning to see some interesting patterns across efforts to build connectivity-based and more fluid movements for change.  Watching these dynamics unfold, I can’t help but come back to one of our foundational frameworks at IISC, what we call the R-P-R Triangle, for all that it has to offer our thinking about network strategy and success.  This framework (see below) makes the point that any kind of collaborative endeavor is a multi-dimensional affair when it comes to the core determinants and definitions of success.  Of course, we often come to the network or collaborative table eager to see results, to work in new ways to have greater impact on the issues that we care most about.  Without concrete results or wins, it is hard to justify continued net work.  But results are just a part of the story, and the big results may take some time in coming. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/13/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

New Beginnings

During Monday’s IISC staff meeting I read the following poem.  It speaks to where many of us may find ourselves in this new season.  And it encourages some resolve as we embark upon new directions, approaches, configurations, partnerships, breadths and depths with our social change work in these uncertain and pregnant times . . .

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge. Read the rest of this entry »




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Sep/12/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Inspiration

The Growing Edge

“Look well to the growing edge.  All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born . . . “

Howard Thurman

The following are some notes I jotted down as I got myself ready to facilitate IISC’s first staff meeting of the new season, and in full swing of our new President, Ceasar McDowell’s, tenure.  The overall theme was one of new beginnings . . . 

In preparing for today’s meeting I was thinking a lot about how I can often take for granted development, growth . . . evolution!  In one moment I may be struggling with a challenge, straining with the growing pains and demands of a given situation and then a few moments (or hours or days or weeks) later I’m skating with relative ease to the rhythm of  life and not even appreciative of that fact.  I have simply moved on.  But of course it wasn’t so simple – in many ways it was and is remarkable. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/06/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, What We Are Reading

We Are Moving, Part 2

Yesterday I posted a bit of a summary of Carter Phipps’ provocative new book, Evolutionaries, which included the suggested trajectories from a variety of evolutionary thinkers and observers, including greater (and increasing rates of) external and internal complexity, convergence, creativity and change.  The implications I left off with included a call for a stronger embrace of our creative self-starting (entrepreneurial) potential and also the necessity of engaging in more intentional and skillful collective (cooperative or collaborative) effort.

To take this another step, there is much in the evolutionary (biological/physical and philosophical/spiritual) literature that validates and extends our thinking about how to work with life and dynamic systems to steward change in broadly desirable, just, and life-affirming directions.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/05/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, What We Are Reading

We Are Moving, Part 1

 “Innovation is as much a function of the right kind of relationships as it is of a particular kind of individual vision.”

-Carter Phipps

I capped off my summer reading with what was for me a fascinating and important book – Evolutionaries by Carter Phipps.  Phipps is the editor of EnlighteNext magazine and enthusiastic about the evolutionary worldview and how it is showing up in many different fields, from biology to sociology to philosophy and theology, transforming our very understanding not simply of the cosmos, but of ourselves.  Over the past few years, readers of this blog have probably picked up on the interest that my colleague Gibran Rivera and I share with Phipps when it comes to the evolutionary worldview.  Evolutionaries does a wonderful service in deepening and broadening as well as bringing much more nuance to this perspective, rendering it more timely, accessible and applicable to the work of social change. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/30/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

More Science to the Social

“Sensitivity can be very self-absorbing.”

-Bill Reed

The older I get the more of an appreciation I have for science. Perhaps this is the natural balancing process that occurs over time in my Myers Briggs profile – more T to my natural F, more S to my natural N. It also owes to the impatience I have with the tendency I’ve noticed to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to social change. Two examples I’d like to lift up are thinking about and reactions to consensus and hierarchy. As I become more influenced by research into living systems, I realize that these concepts are often given a bad name because of our tendency to take (or make) things very personally. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/29/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Encouraging Breakthrough Interactions

During a recent planning session for an upcoming conference on community food security, we had a rich discussion about ensuring that the gathering embody some of the future we are trying to realize.  This included breaking down silos and encouraging boundary crossing of different kinds.  To punctuate the value of this, Rachel Greenberger of Food Sol invoked the words of Cheryl Kiser  – “It’s not about breakthrough ideas, it’s about breakthrough interactions.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/22/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Honey Bee Network

Anil Gupta created the Honey Bee Network to support grassroots innovators who are rich in knowledge, but not in resources.  His aim is to help them and other grassroots entrepreneurs gain the recognition they deserve.

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Aug/16/12//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Collaboration by Difference

I learned recently about the work of HASTAC and Cathy Davidson, and appreciate what she raises here about the importance of designing for divergence and difference.  And I would also take her up on her third question and ask what she might be missing.  For me, it is one thing to distinguish between experts and novices, and another thing to altogether redefine “expertise,” understanding that academic/formal educational training is not the sole source of valuable knowing.  Let’s lift lived experience to that level as well! Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/15/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, IISC:Outside

Doubt is the Beacon of the Wise

“There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity.”

-Alan Watts

Earlier this week I facilitated and participated in a momentous meeting in one of the state-wide change processes I have been involved with for the past few years.  This meeting featured community and parent organizers, “service providers,” funders, and other educational advocates from across the state in conversation with newly hired state-level staff charged with creating a plan for ensuring greater alignment of state agencies in the direction of better opportunities and outcomes for all young children. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/14/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Inspiration

Gathering Voices and Questions

This trailer is from a film about the work of dropping kowledge, an initiative in which IISC’s new President, Ceasar McDowell, has been deeply involved. dropping knowledege “invites you to question yourself and the world around you.” “Every time you ask yourself a question, a new dialogue begins,” and dialogue is a step to reclaiming conversation and its outcomes.

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Aug/09/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Learning Edge

Buyers Are Liars

“Ninety per cent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves – so how can we know anyone else?”

- Sydney J. Harris

Recently I was in a conversation with an acquaintance who is a real estate agent.  We started bantering about houses and communities that would fit our values and lifestyle/family goals.  At a certain point, she said, “You know, we can dream all we want, but as we like to say in real estate, ‘buyers are liars.’”  In response to my baffled look, she added, “Most people think they know what they want, but I find you really have to take people out into the field, ask a lot of questions, show them a bunch of options, and see how they respond.”  Turns out people often end up in a somewhat or completely different place from their originally stated aspirations. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/08/12//Curtis Ogden//Facilitative Leadership, Featured

Facilitating from the Chair

One of the comments that often comes up in our popular workshop, Facilitative Leadership goes something like this, “It’s great that I’m learning all of these practical leadership and facilitation skills, but what happens when I’m not the one leading or facilitating?”  How can we keep things rolling when we aren’t formally in charge and when formal leadership is not so skillful.  My answer today: there’s always an opportunity to lead, ask good questions, facilitate from the chair! Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/02/12//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

Embracing Injustice

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. … In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.”

-Bryan Stevenson

I am grateful to Ellen Parker of Project Bread for passing this video along to us.  I find deep resonance with the messages that “identity is powerful” and that we need to balance our enthusiasm for design, technology, and creativity with an embrace of suffering and injustice.  And how about the invitation to see everyone as more than the worst thing that they have done?  Do yourself a favor and watch this important and inspiring talk.  Thank you, Mr. Stevenson.


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Aug/01/12//Curtis Ogden//Facilitative Leadership

Teaching Trust in Action

It was a pleasure and privilege to return to Dallas a few weeks ago, and spend time again with Cohort 1 of the Teaching Trust, whose mission is to “prepare educators to lead the change we need for the academic success and equity of all students.”  This extraordinary and committed group took a turn at “teaching back” to my colleague Kristen and me what they took away and have applied around the Facilitative Leadership practices, including “share an inspiring vision/inspire a shared vision.”  Enjoy!

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Jul/26/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

The Story of Change

It is hard to believe that I may have to convince some people that 6 minutes is worth their time to watch this, but seriously, think of how easy it is to fritter away that time in other ways.  This is well worth the watch, as is reading Bill McKibben’s recent piece in Rolling Stone Magazine.  Both the video above and the McKibben article put much in perspective and remind us why climate change is a fight we cannot afford to lose.  They also confirm why it is so important to come together as a community to share solutions, ideas, and positive energy.  For an opportunity to do this in New England this fall, check out Connecting for Change.

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Jul/20/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Simplifying Complexity

“Simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity.”

-Eric Berlow

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Jul/19/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Land, People, and Place

“I believe that we can restore our hope in a world that transcends race by building communities where self-esteem comes not from feeling superior to any group but from one’s relationship to the land, to the people, and to the place.” 

- bell hooks

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Jul/18/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

The Measure of Our Experience

“We become what we measure.”

- Whole Measures mantra

Click here to view this video

Last week I had the pleasure and privilege of partnering with colleagues from IISC and the Center for Whole Communities to offer our course, Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most, at beautiful Knoll Farm in Vermont.  The weather and the participants did not disappoint, and the entire experience spoke to the power of paying attention to and naming what matters most as a point of departure for creating and measuring wholeness in communities and organizations.  We broke bread together, engaged in dialogue and storytelling, sat around the campfire, took in the richness of the Mad River Valley landscape, laughed, cried, and even got our groove on a bit.

Enjoy a taste of the experience in the video to which the link above leads (click on the image).  And please consider joining us for a future session and other opportunities at the Interaction Institute for Social Change and CWC.

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Jul/12/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Generation Food Project

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Jul/11/12//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Planning vs. Doing?

It often emerges as a core tension in our complex multi-stakeholder change work.  It’s embodied in comments such as, “Let’s stop all this talking and start doing something!”  Or, “I’m not a big process person, I just want to get to action.”

In the New England Regional Food Summit two weeks ago, speaker Rich Pirog raised the importance of trying to find, in an ongoing fashion, a balance between process and action.  This he has learned from doing many years of building regional food networks in the Midwest. It is certainly the case that we can over-talk, over-think and over-process together, driving one another crazy and/or from the room.  And we can also jump blindly, prematurely, and harmfully to action.

So how do we strike an artful balance and keep differently oriented people in the game?  A few thoughts:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/05/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Features of Healthy Living Systems

In a rich and recent conversation about the upgrade of our very popular course, Facilitative Leadership, IISC deliverers addressed the question of which main points to instill through the addition of a new and framing segment on systems thinking.  I offered the comment that we need to be sure to say that systems thinking is not monolithic, that there are different schools of thought and approaches within the field, and that we must also be clear about what our underlying cosmology is regarding systems thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/04/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Feeding Our Interdependence

Regular readers of this blog will know of my work around and passion about food systems.  Food, as Growing Power founder Will Allen once put it, is “the great connector.”  So much comes together in what we eat, including: chains (more ideally cycles) of producers, processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, and composters; global and local providers; considerations of environment, economy, and equity/access; cultural traditions; and of course community when we bake and break bread together.  On this July 4th holiday, as conversations heat up around the region, country, and world, about the importance of remembering what literally sustains us, I want to celebrate the food movement and share 10 of the more inspiring and instructive articles, reports and videos I have come across in the past year or so.  Enjoy and Happy Interdependence Day! Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/29/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Food Network Solutions

“Agriculture can serve life only if it is regarded as a culture of healthy relationships, both in the field—among soil organisms, insects, animals, plants, water, sun—and in the human communities it supports.”

-France Moore Lappe

Reporting in from the Food Solutions New England convening in Burlington, Vermont.  Exciting and challenging conversation happening here about how to knit individual state food planning efforts into a robust regional network that ensures greater availability of and access to “local” food.  As part of the proceedings, we have heard a very informative and inspiring presentation by Rich Pirog, now of Michigan State University and previously of the Leopold Center in Iowa.  Rich has been part of very impressive work nurturing regional food networks, profiled in a report that served as pre-reading for the gathering.

Some of the highlights from the report worth mentioning here are the implications raised for other regional food networks, including: Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/22/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

New Solutions for a Connected Planet

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Jun/21/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Working With Emotional Charge

The following is a re-post from Dan Rockwell’s blog, Leadership Freak.  It is timely in that the past few weeks I have worked with a number of clients where questions about how to deal with difficult people and emotions have been on the top of people’s minds.  One of my first responses to these questions is to say that we should make sure not to leap to immediately making it all about the people.  As we like to say at IISC, often people problems are process problems in disguise.  And there is no denying that emotions can get high at times and that there are those people who seem to want to bring spice to what might seem to be the most bland of situations.  So what do you do?  Over to Dan . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/20/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Growing Response-ability

Over the past couple of years, I have learned much from Carol Sanford, organizational consultant and author of The Responsible Business.  This includes a deeper understanding of the word “responsibility.”  Often this term has a burdensome association with it, as in, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.”  Here are a couple of definitions that come up when you Google the term:

  1. The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
  2. The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/14/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Creative De-struction

“Society, community, and family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability and to prevent, or at least to slow, change. But the modern organization is a de-stabilizer. It must be organized for innovation and innovation, as the great Austro-American economist Joseph Schumpeter said, is “creative destruction.” And it must be organized for the systematic abandonment of whatever is established, customary, familiar, and comfortable, whether that is a product, service, or process; a set of skills; human and social relationships; or the organization itself. In short, it must be organized for constant change.”

-Peter Drucker, “The New Society of Organizations” (1992)


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Jun/13/12//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration

Fixing the Future

After attending the recent “Strategies for a New Economy” 2012 Conference hosted by the New Economics Institute, Cheryl King Fischer, Executive Director of the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, alerted me to this upcoming event and ongoing campaign . . . As they say, “There are places right now in America where communities are fixing the future.  Across the country, people have found new ways to work, new ways to create jobs…and new ways to be sensible about using the earth’s resources.  Fixing the Future is a journey of discovery, finding communities which are thriving in these difficult times.”

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Jun/07/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Inside

Process Design and Bridging Fear

Fresh off of an offering of Pathway to Change to a group of leaders from across sectors in southern Massachusetts, and with another 3 day workshop on the horizon in San Francisco (July 24-26), I’ve been considering how the theme of fear often comes up in discussions about impediments and challenges to effective collaborative change work – fear of failure, fear of losing something, fear of the unknown.  And I’ve been more and more convinced by how important intentional, creative, and strategic process design is in building pathways through this fear.  This notion has been validated in the writing of Chip and Dan Heath, most recently in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  In a one page summary, the Heath brothers highlight the important three steps of: (1) directing our rational selves (what exactly are we trying to accomplish?), (2) motivating our emotional selves (what’s so compelling about that future destination? why can’t the current conditions continue?), and creating a clear path between where we are now and where we want to be. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/06/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

The Whole and the Particulars

The Three Goals

The first goal is to see the thing in itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism, please.

Read the rest of this entry »




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May/31/12//Curtis Ogden//What We Are Reading

Sacred Stories

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.

-William Stafford, from “A Ritual to Read to One Another”

This is a slightly edited re-post of something I wrote a couple of years ago, and it came back to mind during conversations these past few days with a group of conservation biologists about how to create more of a compelling case for their work, and also to better understand where various stakeholders (allies and adversaries) are coming from with respect to preserving precious natural resources.  The point has been made several times and in different ways that narrative speaks louder than numbers, and that in our change work, it helps if we become acquainted with the stories of others, and work ultimately at weaving ourselves into something more collective.   Read the rest of this entry »




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May/24/12//Curtis Ogden//Technology

Recapturing the Value of Exchange

The following post was written by Adam Pattantyus, VP for Development of EASE (Environmental Accountability for a Sustainable Earth) and friend of IISC.  Adam and his colleagues are thought leaders around integrated systems for supporting and augmenting large-scale social change.  They are also purveyors of a collaborative on-line stakeholder engagement tool that incorporates financial exchange to leverage the power of purchasing to fund community initiatives. Here Adam reflects on some of the shortcomings of social change efforts with respect to integration and recapturing and reshaping the marketplace for community and civil society benefit, for which his work with EASE is meant to provide an answer.  He also speaks to the importance of engaging cross-sectoral work in the pursuit of lasting change.

As a participant and leader in change and social change over the past 20 years, here are some typical blind spots that I see as holding back social change efforts: Read the rest of this entry »


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May/23/12//Curtis Ogden//Power, Equity, Inclusion

We Are Not Ghosts

“Somebody’s gotta tell them, that we are not ghosts, that we are in this city and we are alive!”

- Jessica Care Moore

Feeling nostalgic, shaken, stirred, and inspired during my current trip to Michigan, and my first return visit to my hometown of Flint in 15 years.  So much here has changed: foreclosures – 2,000 last year alone, 40% of all property parcels in the city are vacant or abandoned, jobs have disappeared now to the point of 25% unemployment, 36% of all residents live in poverty, half of the student population in the public schools has left in the last 10 years resulting in numerous school closings including my high school, of those students that remain 81% qualify for free lunch.  And the flip side, there are anchor institutions, physical landmarks, and stalwart active citizens (thank you, Sylvester Jones and Harold Ford, among others!) that remain and provide some sense of backbone, continuity, and hope. Read the rest of this entry »

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May/17/12//Curtis Ogden//Spiritual Activism

Feed the Right Wolf

A Cherokee Legend . . .

An old man is teaching his grandson about life.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.” Read the rest of this entry »

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May/16/12//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge

Genius to Scenius

This post is a slightly edited email message from Bart Westdijk of the New England Grassroots Environment Fund (NEGEF).  NEGEF has 16 years experience resourcing the grassroots, thousands of citizen-led environmental and civic engagement initiatives around New England.  Bart spearheads some of the amazing work the Fund is doing in the virtual and social media spheres to better connect grantees, add value in new ways, and create a larger sense of movement.  Exciting new ventures include an emerging crowdfunding initative with ioby and a grassroots leadership skills building academy.  Keeping in the spirit of NEGEF’s emphasis on collaboration, networks, and partnership for social change, Bart sheds some light on the concept of scenius . . .  Read the rest of this entry »

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May/11/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Being and Measuring Whole

They say being a change agent is an inside job.  This summer, we invite you to sharpen your tools and rejuvenate your capacity for leadership through a values-based professional development opportunity in a beautiful retreat setting! Center for Whole Communities (CWC) and Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) are collaborating to offer a four-day residential Whole Measures Workshop July 10 – 13, at CWC’s retreat center at beautiful Knoll Farm in Fayston, VT. Read the rest of this entry »

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