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 »
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 »
“We must join in common cause, we need conversations of the whole.”
- David Korten
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 »
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 »
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.”
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
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?
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 »
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 »
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.”
“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 »
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.”
“This will be our reply to violence:
to make music more intensely,
more devotedly than ever before.”
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 »
“Structure is purpose expressed through design.”
- Marjorie Kelly, Owning Our Future
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 »
“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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
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.”
“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 »
“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 »
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 »
“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.”
“You want to be engaging with people whose mind is alive, whose consciousness is alive, and who are seeking to create something.” – Carol Sanford
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 »
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 »
“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 »
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 »
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.
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 »
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 »
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 »
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
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 »
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.
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.”
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 »
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:
“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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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:
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 »
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.”
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:
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 »
“It’s about redefining ‘doing.’”
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.
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.”
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 »
“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 »
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 »
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 »
“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born . . . “
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 »
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 »
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.
“There is a contradiction in wanting to be perfectly secure in a universe whose very nature is momentariness and fluidity.”
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 »
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.
“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 »
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 »
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. … In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.”
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.
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!
“Simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity.”
“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.”
“We become what we measure.”
- Whole Measures mantra
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.
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 »
“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 »
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 »
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:
- The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something.
- The state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.
“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)
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.”