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 »
“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.”
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.
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.
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 »
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 »
“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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
It’s been my pleasure over the last few years to have been of service to and learned from Antioch New England students and staff. The video above is the product of Antioch graduate student Emily Read Daniels, who has been in some of our discussions about networks.
As I prepare to do a couple of trainings for leadership in multi-stakeholder networks in the New England region (focus being on the skills of facilitation, process design, and managing decision-making), I intend to frame our conversations with some exploration of the differences between traditional organizational leadership and what is required to steward networks towards positive impact. I begin with the presumption that network form and function are chosen strategically for the ability to accomplish something that could not be done at all or as well through other approaches. Whether trying to develop a food system to eliminate food insecurity or change an educational system to yield more equitable opportunities and outcomes, the attraction to a network approach is likely due to a desire for some combination of the following: Read the rest of this entry »
I am so proud of my colleague, Gibran Rivera, for the due recognition that he has received lately in various quarters for his deep thinking and transformative work. And I am grateful for how eloquently he captures the nature and intention of our collective work the Interaction Institute for Social Change in a recent interview:
“IISC seeks to make the invisible visible. When we are successful, people find themselves working in ways that are life-giving, generative, and unlike most of their experiences of working together. We achieve this by paying close attention to process. Process works best when everyone knows what it is and where we are [in] it. But process is not enough. We seek to create spaces and conditions that foster connectivity at the level of authentic relationship. When we are working in authentic relationship with one another, when we learn to connect to each other in the place where our shared purpose meets, then it can feel like the work is happening all by itself. But these spaces have to be designed; they have to be held and they have to be tended to. This is where we come in. And this is how interconnectedness becomes palpable.”
Another offering here in the spirit of simplicity and how we can get a lot from doing little things differently. Yesterday I blogged about “working agreements” to set groups and collaborative efforts up for success. Today, I want to lift up the power of planning meetings, convenings, and longer term collaborative endeavors with the end in mind. Often we find that people have the tendency to jump into doing and talking about doing without working backwards from the intended outcomes. There is an art and science to crafting “desired outcomes statements,” which we teach in our workshops (see Facilitative Leadership and Essential Facilitation), and a starting point is to imagine your stakeholders leaving said meeting or collaborative process and asking yourself:
- What shared understanding is it important/imperative for us to have achieved?
- What agreements is it important/imperative for us to have built?
- What commitments do we want people to have made?
- What products do we want/need to have generated?
- What feeling/spirit do we want to carried forward out of this experience?
There are times when I have to remind myself that it is the simple things that can have the biggest impact in our change work. For example, I have been appreciating the impact of intentionally establishing what we call “working agreements” at the outset of a single convening or ongoing work with a group. Others might refer to these as “norms” or “ground rules,” though we like placing emphasis on the fact that these are guidelines that everyone builds together, agrees to, and can amend as we discover new needs, hence “working.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Life is irresistably organizing. Life opens to more possibilities through new patterns of connection.”
M. Wheatley & M. Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way
The late David Bohm pointed out the lost potential of quantum physics as he saw it being assimilated by a traditional and very mechanical mindset that wanted to make it another instrument of control, prediction, and quantification. For him the power of the field was much more subtle, qualitative, and lay in the understanding that there is an “implicate order” to reality from which form emerges via our thoughts and efforts to make meaning. From Bohm’s perspective, much of what ails us stems from disorganized thought that has us attaching to form, regurgitating and defending our prejudices, as opposed to thinking that embraces the more creative flow of life. As he once expressed it, “Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.” Read the rest of this entry »
“The most sustainable impact comes from our deriving meaning and then connecting that meaning to our purpose, to what we stand for, and to the contributions we make.”
-Dr. Monica Sharma
There is something about the invitation to health and wholeness and to talking about how to measure it that seems to be a real draw to our Whole Measures workshop, which we offer jointly with the Center for Whole Communities. I can see it in the eyes of many participants as they walk into the room – “Tell us how!” And there is a bit of a disruptive experience that occurs when we let people know it is not so formulaic. One of my favorite quotes comes from my mentor Carol Sanford who has said, “Best practice obliterates essence,” and I think it really applies to what we are talking about here. Read the rest of this entry »
This past weekend, I attended our local Eco-Festival in Arlington, MA and connected with members of the nascent Transition Town group. They, and now we, are evidence of a growing movement of people interested in grounding solutions to climate change and natural resource depletion in local community. The above trailer is for a film from the Transition Network that captures inspiring stories of Transition initiatives around the world, “responding to uncertain times with creativity, solutions and ‘engaged optimism’.”
This post comes courtesy of staff from the Center for Arab American Philanthropy who attended the convening in Michigan that Cynthia and I facilitated last week. As the post mentions, youth played a key role in the proceedings, offering up moving testimonials and powerful elements of a vision for moving the state forward to a place of opportunity for all . . .
Concerned with issues of youth opportunity and racial equity in Michigan, the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) hosted State of Opportunity? The Road Ahead for Michigan on March 27. The Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP) was in attendance, representing the Arab American community while the convening tackled structural racism in philanthropy and “cradle to career” grantmaking. Read the rest of this entry »
“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
~ David Bohm
The great theoretical physicist David Bohm was known for his explorations at the intersections of science and mysticism. His writings on the nature of thinking have helped to inform some of the current conversations about deeper sources of innovation that transcend individuals and what typically passes for creativity. His question to all of us is whether we are truly thinking, creating “new sensory orders and structures that form into new perceptions,” or simply recycling old, dysfunctional patterns that are then reflected in the world we physically inhabit.
The post below is a repost of a piece by Kathia Laszlo on the “Rethinking Complexity” blog from Saybrook University. It captures a lot of what I am exploring these days about systems thinking as an intellectual exercise to greater embodiment of doing systemically. Enjoy!
A system is a set of interconnected elements which form a whole and show properties which are properties of the whole rather than of the individual elements. This definition is valid for a cell, an organism, a society, or a galaxy. Joanna Macy says that a system is less a thing than a pattern—a pattern of organization. Read the rest of this entry »
“Ontology transcends interest.”
-john a. powell
At last week’s Transforming Race conference, Kirwan Institute founder john a. powell gave a powerful and compelling presentation about some of the false binaries that he says we have embraced in this country, to our own collective detriment. This includes pitting “whiteness” against “blackness” and “public” vs. “private” spaces in such a way as to lose sight of the larger game that is happening around us. Read the rest of this entry »
“We will never let the pain have the last word. We’re bigger than the things that happened to us and held us back. Our parents had a bigger vision… We will win this century in the name of liberty and justice for all!”
Reporting in from Columbus, Ohio, where we spent Thursday helping to kick off the Transforming Race 2012 Conference, hosted by the Kirwan Institute. This year’s theme is “Visions of Change,” and the tone was set by this evening’s keynote from Van Jones. His call to was to embrace a “deeper patriotism” where “diversity is the solution to pretty much every problem we face in the new century.”
Melinda (pictured above on the left), Cynthia (right), and I (middle) made our first conference contribution by way of yesterday afternoon’s session on “Facilitation Skills for Racial Justice Work,” a fuller experience of which is available in our upcoming 2 day workshop in Boston in early May, Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work. Follow more of the discussion today and tomorrow via Twitter through hashtag #TR2012 or #TransformingRace.
The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to Whole Measures for Community Food Systems, a resource that “is designed to give organizations and communities a collaborative process for defining and expressing their complex stories and the multiple outcomes that emerge from their work.” The guide is an example of what is possible coming out of the training that we jointly offer with the Center for Whole Communities called Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most. This year we will offer the workshop in San Francisco (May), at Knoll Farm in Vermont (July), and in Boston (December). In addition, the Community Food Security Coalition will offer a workshop on Whole Measures specifically focused on community food security work this April in Lexington, KY.
The spectrum of those working towards community food security is culturally and geographically diverse, spanning a broad range of people, places and activities. Organizations and individuals working in the food system and building food secure communities create complex relationships and inter-related activities. Read the rest of this entry »
Blogging this morning from the Building Energy Conference, New England’s most established cross-disciplinary renewable energy and green building gathering. If you are here, come visit us at our IISC booth! One of the big topics of this year’s conference and trade show is thinking in terms of systems. In this spirit, the following post draws from an email that I recently sent to the convenor of a state-wide system change initiative that is poised to identify strategic points of leverage within the system and its component systems to nudge it in the direction of serving all people equitably in the state and ensuring community food security. Related to this goal is the desire to support a more robust local economy and to work synergistically with ecosystems. I believe the questions listed pertain to any complex dynamic system change effort, whether one is talking about food, education, or community energy use and production, and I welcome your thoughts . . . Read the rest of this entry »
IISC Senior Associate, Cynthia Parker, answers the question asked in a staff learning session, “What do we know from our years of doing collaborative capacity building and social change work?” Recorded at Space With a Soul on February 6, 2012.
Last weekend, while on school vacation with my family, my wife Emily and I went to hear Richard Louv speak at McKee Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida. If you don’t know him, Louv wrote the books The Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle and is a big advocate for getting kids and adults outdoors to overcome what we calls “nature deficit disorder.” I have heard him speak in the past, and very much appreciate his work. That said, I was a bit troubled by the public comment session and conversation after his talk. Read the rest of this entry »
I offer this post in memory of my father, John D. Ogden Jr. (1942-2012), who passed away much too young this past Saturday after a two year fight with cancer. Known to all of his friends and family as a good and kind man, my father was also the inspiration for much of my interest in conscious evolution and the fight for justice. From his time as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia, he spent his career promoting inter-cultural understanding, most recently as director of international programs at SUNY Cortland. My dad once told me the older he got, the more radical he became. Read the rest of this entry »
Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy PhD, is a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. She is a respected voice in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology, and interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a ground-breaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application. The Great Turning, to which she refers in this clip, is a name for the “adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.”
This post comes via our friend and colleague Danny Martin, with whom I have recently had the pleasure to present at the Bioneers by the Bay Conference. Another of Danny’s posts appeared here last fall on deep listening. As you will see, he is an old soul, a wise man in the best sense of the word, and his words a beacon for our collective future.
I am privileged to be one of four conveners of The Berry Forum for an Ecological Dialogue at Iona College, NY. Thomas Berry who died a couple of years ago was the prophet of a new era that he called ‘The Ecozoic’ which he described as an era founded on mutually enhancing human-earth relations. Read the rest of this entry »
IISC Senior Associate, Melinda Weekes, answers the question entertained at a staff learning session, “What do we know from years of doing collaborative capacity building and social change work?” Recorded on February 6, 2012 at Space With a Soul.