Archive for Collaboration

Sep/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Learning Edge, Networks

Social Velocity

Running water Photo by Guy Renard 25


My friend Joel Glanzberg is a constant source of provocation and insight. The way he sees the world, through a living systems and pattern-seeking lens, is not only refreshing but unnerving in that it is evident how simultaneously critical and rare his perspective is. Joel is great at helping me and others to see beyond objects and structures to underlying patterns and processes, and how these are what animate living systems. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/03/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Learning Edge

Collaboration: Learning to Walk Again

Learning to Walk Photo by Tela Chhe


One mantra I have for working with groups is, “If you’ve seen one group, you’ve seen one group.”  Part of the welcome and challenging nature of collaboration is that in each instance we are dealing with a unique organism or constellation of human beings coming together to get something done.  As complex living systems, groups of people are not prone to simple “best practices” for getting them working in a prescribed way.  There certainly are some “promising practices,” including what we teach at IISC in our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change courses. Still collaboration, including the practice of group facilitation, is a heuristic undertaking – an experience-based approach to problem solving, learning, and discovery that suggests solutions which are not guaranteed to be optimal.

All this said, it appears that there are certain patterns of behavior, archetypal personalities, and common inflection points in group work and network development that tend to emerge that might suggest different kinds of preventions and interventions.  Systems therapist David Kantor has written about some of this in his book Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders as he reflects extensively on his Four Player Model.  And there is psychologist Bruce Tuckman’s classic work on stages of team formation - forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning.  See also the Drexler/Sibbet model of team performance (graphic below).


Something else I’ve been observing and thinking about is the developmental stages of “consciousness” in groups and how we might account for and work with these.  This is akin to Robert Kegan’s work on Constructive Developmental Theory (CBT) which outlines stages of mental complexity or “orders of mind.” As I mentioned in a post last month , developmental theory certainly merits vigilance so as to avoid using it in an overly prescriptive way or to perpetuate power, privilege and dominant cultural perspectives. And I personally have found that it can provide insights and possibilities when held lightly. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/11/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Networks, What We Are Reading

Structure Begets Collaboration (or Not?)

Structure Photo by Synopia

A number of readings I’ve come across lately reference the important consideration of organizational structure and how it encourages or discourages collaboration.  In a post from last week, I highlighted the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, which focuses on “evolutionary (Teal) organizations” that embrace an ethic of self-organization to facilitate more purpose-driven, holistic and responsible engagement on the part of organizational members.  In order to encourage self-organization and intrinsic motivation, these entities adopt less formally hierarchical and fixed-role structures in favor of fluidity and networked leadership.  According to Laloux, this brings more timeliness and relevance to the inner workings and responsiveness of these organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/29/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Inspiration, Social Innovation

Creative Change 2014

I just facilitated the 6th Creative Change Retreat at the Sundance Institute in Utah.  The amazing experience leaves me grateful to my friends at the Opportunity Agenda for trusting me with the design and facilitation of such a significant convening.

Today more than ever I am convinced that the change we want to see in the world is a change that demands the evolution of consciousness and culture.  As the artist and the activist come together – as they become one – we will be able to join into a different kind of intervention.

creativechangeretreat_stories Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/22/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Networks

Find Your Scenius

I recently read an opinion piece that seems to validate the work we have been doing for the last number of years.  In “The end of geniusJoshua Wolf Shenk successfully argues that “the lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. Fortunately, a more truthful model is emerging: the creative network.”

THIS! My friends, is what we have been working on.


Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/09/14//Jen Willsea//Collaboration, Facilitative Leadership, Testimonials

Living Cities Takes Facilitative Leadership to Heart


Two recent graduates of a Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop Mistinguette Smith and I led in New York, Alison Gold and Juan Sebastian Arias from Living Cities, recently wrote to us about a creative way they are bringing the frameworks and tools they learned back to their organization. So many of you ask us for advice about how to apply this stuff that we thought you’d want to know about it too! Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/24/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured, Learning Edge

Agree on Process



You might have picked up that I’m down on too much process and too much meeting.  It’s a funny place for someone that makes a living facilitating.  It is part of a semi-conscious effort to look at the opposite of my core assumptions and seek the wisdom there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/17/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, What We Are Reading

Does Collaboration Work?

I like to describe the Interaction Institute for Social Change as a collaboration shop.  I like to describe my work as helping people work better together.   Certainly any article tilted “The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results” is bound to get my attention.

I find this to be a powerful piece, and it confirms intuitions and observations from my ten years of doing this work.  It is too often that we collaborate for collaboration’s sake.  And it is too often that we fall into the tyranny of a consensus that yields subpar results.


Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco Read the rest of this entry »

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May/21/14//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Networks

Whose Party Is It?

Surprise Party Photo by Waqas Mustafeez


A question I find myself asking quite a bit of those with whom I am doing network building and collaborative change consulting is some version of, “So whose party is this?”  A change or developmental initiative may be born in the mind of a single person or small group of people.  And she/he/they invite others to that party, her/his/their party.  Then over time, the idea may arise on the part of the invitees that this isn’t just “your” party, but “ours” (collectively).  This may not come up so much as a direct statement but through questions about and behavior around power dynamics, how the effort is framed, who to engage, etc.  Now what?  Depending upon the goal, sometimes your party needs to stay your party, and sometimes it needs to shift, through the emergence of a better question or opportunity.  Of course, people may make the decision for you by taking the party with them. Or maybe there are two (or more) parties that ensue, in which case, the question becomes, if you are still welcome, “So whose party am I at right now?”  The question is not simply meant to be about ownership, but intent, transparency and equity, and how people can show up in value-adding ways.

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May/20/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Facilitative Leadership

Say Go


I’ve been thinking a lot about process.  What is the best way to get things done?  What is the most collaborative and inclusive way to move forward?  Our bias towards inclusion, towards a process that is truly democratic, can often seem at odds with the idea that “action trumps everything.” Read the rest of this entry »

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May/06/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured, Learning Edge

Learn by Doing

It’s good to plan.  It’s good to reflect.  It’s best to do.

Here at IISC we spend a fair amount of time supporting others in articulating what they want to achieve, including those who must be included, and defining a pathway to action.  When done well, this work depends on a fair amount of reflection on practice – how do you think about what you do?  What are you learning about what you do?

We also train people.  We help them become better facilitative leaders.  We introduce specific practices – specific things people can do.

Without the practice the lessons are lost.  We learn by doing.

I was just talking about this in our office kitchen with Danielle Coates-Connor, one of our colleagues, and she compared it to meditation.

It is quite hip to talk about meditation these days.  Mindfulness is in.  At least in theory.  People have a sense that stillness of the mind and present moment awareness are powerful ways to live and thrive.  But there is a huge gap between knowing this and practicing this.  Too many of us still believe that thinking about meditation is a lot like meditation.   But it’s not.


The same is true for our projects and our dreams.  We can get the right stakeholders together.  We can talk about what we want to do.  We can visualize it.  We can plot it out.  But the learning doesn’t begin until we start.  The change does not begin until we do.

Do you wonder:

How to integrate more “doing” in your “planning?”

How to integrate more “doing” in your “reflecting?”

How to start experimenting as soon as possible?

How to start learning?

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Apr/22/14//Gibrán Rivera//Cities, Collaboration

Activate the Question Campaign

Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT brings the concept of a “Question Campaign” to our emerging work on Cities.


The question campaign is anchored by the premise that  “asking questions invites people into conversation, rather than shutting down discussion by giving only answers.”  Question campaigns “generate dialogue as a crucial first step in creating actual change on the ground.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/14/14//Cynthia Silva Parker//Cities, Collaboration, Love

Love is a Process

Picking up where Gibrán’s post about our interior condition left us last week and my recent viewing of César Chávez, I wanted to lift up a description of love offered by staff of LUPE on a visit I took there last fall. “Love is a process, not a destination. Love is a set of actions that arise from an emotional state or a cognitive commitment.” Recently, I wrote about the power of strong emotions to create the space for breakthroughs. Today, I want to focus on the processes and commitments rather than the emotional states related to love.

When I read and listen to the reflections of people who are deeply committed to social justice, I am struck by their commitment to engaging with people and engaging the struggle in ways that proceeds from a powerful internal compass, even in the face of strong resistance. Think of the standard bearers of nonviolence during the Civil Rights Movement, who practiced non-retaliation in the face of attacks. Think of the painstaking and beautiful reconciliation process in the wake of Sierre Leon’s civil war, where the restoring right relationship between perpetrators and victims began with a public expression of remorse and a request for forgiveness.

In these cases and many others, there was as much attention to the interior condition of the people involved as there was to designing the processes by which they would catalyze change.

How are you attending to your own interior condition as you work for justice? How are you encouraging others to attend to theirs? How does that translate into processes that embody your commitments to love?


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Apr/01/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Social Innovation, Uncategorized

Brainswarm Instead of Brainstorm


The recent barrage against the effectiveness of brainstorming has been a bit hard for those of us who are grounded in the Interaction Method. But evidence matters, doesn’t it? I know that Curtis has talked about the limits of brainstorming a couple of times in this blog. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Building Will Around Collaboration

Tulip in Snow greenblueglobe blogspot

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

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

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

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

Collaboration and Cultivating Collective Will


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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does It Take to Learn to Collaborate?

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

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

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

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

Networks for Change: Collaboration & Cooperation

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

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


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

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

Networks for Change: Conditions for Success

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

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

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Jan/21/14//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

Make Magic

Make Magic

Seth’s blog this morning reminded me of an ongoing joke that I have with Linda Guinee, my colleague here at IISC.

Seth’s main question is: “Who is in charge of the magic?”

During my early days at IISC, Linda brought me into design and facilitation of an “Innovation Lab” for one of our biggest clients at the time.  It was big break, and I took it seriously.  Linda, who is quite magical herself, kept reminding me of practical things that I still tend to overlook.  At one point she had to remind me that it was important to give the participants a bathroom break!

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Complete (Social) Capital

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

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

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Sep/24/13//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

Collaboration, Cooperation and Do-ocracy

I always describe IISC as a “Collaboration Shop.” The founder of Interaction Associates, David Strauss, authored the seminal book “How to Make Collaboration Work.”  I’m all for people working together to achieve a common goal.  I make a living helping them do that.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/24/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Collaboration, Featured

Racial Healing

Shout out to our colleagues at Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center for their Youth Racial Healing Project—making the connections between health, social determinants of health and racism; making the connections between what folks know, see and feel; and making the deep connections between young people across racial differences.

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

Deepening Collective Impact

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

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

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

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Dec/26/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

GenFlux Leadership

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!

Fast Company’s has a recent cover story on the new and chaotic frontier of business.

 Despite recession, currency crises, and tremors of financial instability, the pace of disruption is roaring ahead. The frictionless spread of information and the expansion of personal, corporate, and global networks have plenty of room to run. And here’s the conundrum: When businesspeople search for the right forecast–the road map and model that will define the next era–no credible long-term picture emerges. There is one certainty, however. The next decade or two will be defined more by fluidity than by any new, settled paradigm; if there is a pattern to all this, it is that there is no pattern. The most valuable insight is that we are, in a critical sense, in a time of chaos.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/21/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured

Creative Change

I’ve been meaning to tell you about Creative Change; the powerful intersection of artists and activists that has been taking place for the last four years.  The Opportunity Agenda convenes the retreat, and I have had the privilege of designing and facilitating since its inception.  This last retreat was the best one yet.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Collaboration by Difference

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

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Jul/30/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Collaboration, Featured

Economic justice equals economic prosperity

We have had the privilege of working with Year Up since 2008, when they launched a diversity and inclusion process. That learning journey has built a broad-based understanding and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as central to achieving Year Up’s mission of bridging and closing the “opportunity divide” that prevents so many urban young people from connecting to educational and economic opportunities.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/23/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Collaboration

Differential Impact

The following post was re-blogged from Working Wikily written by Dana O’Donovan.  We hope that you find it as inspiring and enriching as we did.  

The key themes of the 2012 Social Impact Exchange were all about collaboration. Collective intelligence. Community solutions. Needle-moving collaborations. Collective impact. Much has been made of this new brand of collaboration and it was clear at SIEX12 that many of us who spend our days (and nights) looking for ways to scale solutions to our most vexing social problems see enormous potential in this approach.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Planning vs. Doing?

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/19/12//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

To What End?

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?
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Apr/18/12//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Working Agreements

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 »

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Mar/27/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured


Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing

-T. S. Eliot, Introduction to Dante’s Inferno.


Our friend and colleague Roberto Cremonini recently shared the above quote with a budding community of practice coming together around networks. It is the epigraph to Imagine, Jonah Lehrer’s latest book on creativity.  It seems to make more sense today than ever before.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are social animals.  Makes me think of the definition of Ubuntu – I am because we are.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/24/12//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured

Collective Leadership: Doing and Being

Last Tuesday, Curtis Ogden and I had the privilege of hosting an LLC webinar on collective leadership.  Much of what we did was point to observable patterns in ways of working together and how these tend to open up possibilities for shared leadership.  The metaphor of tilling the soil is most appropriate precisely because we have run up against the limitations of industrial implementation.  The appropriate response to increasing complexity is one that can get beyond linear causality and into a mindset of ecosystems.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/11/12//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Engage for Results . . .

. . . and much more! Melinda Weekes and I are currently partnering with the good people at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations to facilitate another offering of “Engage for Results,” a workshop that builds on our work together 5 years ago through the Change Agent Project. During this initial work convening grantmakers and nonprofits around the country, we heard loud and clear that addressing power dynamics and engaging in authentic relationships would be key to ensuring that grantmaking is more relevant and impactful with respect to the work of nonprofits and outcomes for communities. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fair Chance America

The following post is from Founding Board Chair, Thomas J. Rice.  It is a little longer than we  post, however, we hope that you will find it is rich in content and helps continue to challenge the way we think about various systems and movements.

Historian James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream when he coined the term at the depths of the Great Depression. What we seek is “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.” If there’s one thing we could all agree on, we have lost our way in this quest. And there’s no GPS to find our True North, or the way home.

Enter the Occupy Movement, a spontaneous cri de coeur from a millennial generation that feels betrayed and abandoned by the people and institutions they believed in. No American Dream for them. Their prospects are bleak, in no way better or richer or fuller than their parents. In spite of great effort and expense to move up and out, the millenniums are back in the nest, in serious debt from college  loans and working at some menial or dead end job with no health benefits.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/30/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Evergreen Collaboration

I have been very excited to hear about what is going on in Cleveland, not to mention how it is serving as a model and inspiration for other cities in this post-industrial age, including Springfield, Massachusetts and various communities in my native Michigan. What do you take and make of this? How might the efforts and aspirations of Evergreen inform your collaborations?

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Nov/16/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Community Pride and Flash Mobs

I’m feeling some Michigan pride, in the midst of some important work with the Council of Michigan Foundations and the ongoing economic struggles of my home state. And I’m even more impressed after seeing this video, which was produced by the community of Grand Rapids after it was named earlier this year as one of America’s cities in greatest decline by Newsweek magazine. A local visionary, artist, and rabble rouser pulled the community together to film this show of solidarity in ONE TAKE! There is a story here, about collaboration, about collective leadership, about what it takes to galvanize people. Check it out, and watch the whole thing if you can. It gets better and better.

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Nov/02/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

The Special Sauce

“I just wanted to tell all of you that I feel truly honored to have played even a small part in what transpired today. In fact, I would go so far as to say you are the best, most fun, most highly evolved group of humans I have ever worked with.”

This is not the kind of email you get everyday.  It comes from one of the participants in the process design group of a state-wide food system building effort with which I have been involved for the past year and for which I am the lead designer and facilitator.  To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to blow my own horn.  It would be outrageous for me to take credit for something the size and complexity of which goes well beyond my individual talents and contributions.  Rather, I am very eager to explore what stands behind this comment, as it reflects a commonly held feeling that something special has been going on with this initiative and group since it was initiated and led up to the launch of a Food Policy Council last week. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/25/11//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

The LIONetwork and #Occupy

I have the privilege of being part of the team that support the Rockwood’s Leading from the Inside Out Leadership Network (LIONetwork).  I share our latest communication for two reasons:  first, it serves as a brief survey of how the professionalized social sector is responding to #occupywallstreet.  Second, it serves as an example of our team’s effort to increase the network’s self-awareness by reflecting it back to itself while also offering an opportunity for deeper connection and discussion.  The e-mail follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/08/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Collaboration for Life

My wife and I have been enjoying spending some of our evenings reading to one another from Julia Whitty’s book Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean.  Whitty, a scientist, documentary filmmaker and correspondent, writes about her years of exploration and discovery of the World Ocean, the three dimensional current circling the globe that profoundly controls the planet’s climate and has a tremendous impact on all life.   In one chapter, Whitty references the Census of Marine Life, an amazing 10 year collaboration of over 2,700 scientists from more than 80 nations to assess the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life.

As awe-inspiring as the undertaking itself has been, the results are simply mind-blowing and speak to the insights and intelligence available through thoughtful collaboration, including a deepening understanding of our own place in the larger scheme and a nudge to get us off center stage.  Here is how Whitty captures some of it: Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/22/11//Cynthia Silva Parker//Collaboration

Hell Yeah or No

Shivers advises: “When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say ‘hell, yeah!’ ” Sounds a lot easier to me than it actually is. What’s your experience?

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Jul/28/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Featured

Negativity and Self-Limiting Advocacy

“When the only tool you have is a hammer,

every problem begins to resemble a nail.”

-Maslow’s Maxim

Someone once said, “Advocates can be hell to work with, but they make good ancestors.”  Agreed.  And . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/21/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Building Power Through Collaborative Change

In this week’s public Pathway to Change workshop in San Francisco, participants engaged in a practice meeting facilitated by some of their colleagues that focused on effective means of building power in collaborative change efforts to enhance their overall effectiveness to realize more just ends.  The assumptions going into the conversation were that power is defined as the capacity to influence people and one’s environment, create change, address needs, pursue desires, and/or protect interests.  Furthermore we suggested that power is not a fixed asset that people possess. Rather, it is socially constructed, understood, and legitimized through social relationships among individuals and groups of people. Given that it is not fixed, it can also grow or be grown.

So here is the list of ideas that surfaced for ways to build power and we certainly invite your reactions and additions (items in bold ended up being given higher priority by the group): Read the rest of this entry »

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May/09/11//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

As Inside so Outside

Here at IISC we are fond of quoting Bill O’Brien’s adage that “the success of an intervention is directly proportional to the interior condition of the intervener.”  Personally, I strive to turn this quote into a way of life.

I believe that this also holds true at other levels, that the success of an organization, its effectiveness in the world, is directly proportional to that organization’s interior condition.  This Monday and Tuesday, the Interaction Institute for Social Change will be tending to its own interior condition.

I am proud to say that all of our staff will be working with Gita Gulati-Partee of Open Source Leadership and with Maggie Potapchuk of MP Associates on Power, Privilege and how these play out in our organization.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Apr/27/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Taking Stakeholders Seriously

“Stakeholder” is a big word in our practice at IISC. When it comes to our collaborative change work, we take  stakeholder analysis very seriously, in certain situations spending a few days to complete this critical task. The aim is generally to surface the names of those groups and individuals who as a sum total will help to ensure that we have the system represented in the room. What this means is pushing people, at times, into uncomfortable places to consider typically unheard voices and those they have outright resisted inviting to the table but without whom they could not hope to make the kind of change to which they aspire.

Typically we engage in a conversation with our clients and partners that asks them identify, in the context of some given change effort, those whose stakes are defined in the following ways: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/21/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Multi-Sensory Engagement

We are big believers here, at IISC, in pulling on all of the senses and our full selves to create engaging experiences that bring out the best that people individually and collectively have to offer for the sake of social change.  Often meetings and convenings only scratch the surface of our many sensibilities, as if we were simply brains on sticks, without bodies, without hearts.  Subsequently much is lost that we may not even be aware of.  As Kare Anderson writes,  “Even apparently small physical experiences make a big emotional and even learning difference.”

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Apr/06/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Featured

Collaborating by Numbers

While designing a board retreat with a client a number of weeks ago, I got some push-back when I suggested that we break into smaller groups at a certain point in the agenda.  “That seems a bit contrived,” was the comment.  I responded that having a group of more than 15 people discuss matters as a large group for several hours was not going to be an enjoyable or productive experience for everyone.  “Plus,” I added, “people will get a chance to know one another better.”  My rationale was accepted, but how I wished I had a much more snappy and scientific response at that moment in time.  I know intuitively when it makes sense to keep people together or break them up, and of course there are myriad options for organizing people.  So what are some practical guidelines for choosing how to segment wholes? Read the rest of this entry »

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

Dance Lightly

Photo by: Munana

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Design Teams for Success

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

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

AMP-ing Up Our Work


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

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Feb/15/11//Cynthia Silva Parker//Collaboration

Social Transformation – Inside and Out!


Photo by: John Baez

As we continue to explore the inner side of collaboration and social change, I wanted to share a few highlights from a recent conversation with my colleague Roy Martin. I met Roy in my role as a faculty member of the Massachusetts Institute for Community Health Leaders program sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts. He spends his days (and nights!) intervening in the lives of young people who are caught up in the drug trade and gang-related violence. He knows them intimately, loves them deeply, and puts himself out there personally to guide them towards a positive future.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/03/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Lessons of Collaboration Gone Bad


“It’s hard to make a difference when everyone is tangled up in the rigging of procedural formality and blanketed in fog.”

-Roberta’s Rules of Order

With all of the snow days we’ve had so far in 2011, you’ll understand if I begin this post from a “when things don’t go according to plan” mindset. We’ve all taken our lumps in doing collaborative work, even with the best laid plans and best intentions in place. I’ve had the opportunity to do a little reflecting (in between tours of duty shoveling) on what has made for more successful and less successful collaborative endeavors, and here are some of the important lessons I’ve learned when things have not gone as well as had been hoped for: Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/30/11//Linda Guinee//Collaboration

Getting It Wrong

A very interesting thing has been going on in the Development Community.  They’re getting it wrong.  And while the norm is to hide failures away out of fear and embarrassment – and concern about funding being affected, they’re doing something different.  A group of people working in development have just started a new website, called “Admitting Failure” – sharing their failures and trying to build transparency, collaboration and innovation into the development sector.  They’re building a shared resource, saying that “the only ‘bad’ failure is one that’s repeated.” Take a look!

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Jan/26/11//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Featured

Roles of Collaborative “Leadership”

Last week it was my humble privilege to be part of an august team of network thinkers and consultants as we delivered on our contract of working with community-based organizations that are involved in the pioneering Renew Boston initiative.  My teammates included Steve Waddell, Madeleine Taylor, Beth Tener, Tom Cosgrove, Nick Jehlen, Noelle Thurlow, Carl Sussman, and Bruce Hoppe.  Our deliverable ultimately emerged in the form of an action learning forum focused on best practices and challenges around enrolling community members in an exciting money-saving program that promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy. As part of the forum, we collectively offered and demonstrated net work tools and strategies for enhancing overall success.

At one point a comment was made by one of the participants about the importance of leadership, which spurred some break-time conversation between a few of us on the consulting team.  Truth be told, we never came to full agreement as a consulting team on what we mean by “networks” (I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to avoid conversations about orthodoxy and instead focus on the practical implications of what is otherwise a shared felt sense or essence) but I think we all agreed that leadership is a tricky concept when applied to new distributed ways of working. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/03/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

More Hints of Collaborative Success

Last week, in preparation for a session with Ontario-based community grantmaking board members, I blogged about what to look for in the proposed and early stages of a collaborative change initiative to suggest that it was on the right track.  The ensuing session was incredibly rich, filled with two robust and impressive case studies featuring the YSI Collaborative, which focuses on strengthening youth social infrastructure in the region,

youth success

and an environmental collaborative focused on minimizing corporate polluting in the Hamilton area.  Both presentations and subsequent dialogue in the room were filled with great tips regarding what makes for successful collaboration based on practice.  Here is some of the wisdom that was shared by those in the room: Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/28/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Hints of Collaborative Success

OT1What do you look for up front to suggest that a collaborative endeavor is on the right track?  This is the question that former IISC colleague and current VP of Programs at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Courtney Bourns, and I are charged with answering today.  Our audience and partners in this endeavor are a group of community grantmaking committee members convened by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.  The attendees want to know what to look for in applications and out in the field (‘beyond the grant”) as hints of future success.

This is an intriguing and challenging question, especially given the fact that the signs of success are often in places we do not think to look and of course there are never any guarantees.  I certainly look forward to an engaging conversation with this group, and these are the thoughts I am prepared to share with folk at this point: Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/21/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Dimensions of Social Space

This post first appeared back in March of this year, and I am re-posting as I prepare to co-present a session tomorrow at the Bioneers by the Bay gathering in New Bedford, MA.  In our session, “Transformative Leadership for Sustainability” we will experience each of the dimensions below . .

As process designers, facilitators, and change agents, we are called upon to help create conditions in which amazing things can happen between people, whether alignment, agreement building, innovation, etc.  At times this can be a tall order. Thankfully we are supported by an array of tools and techniques at our disposal. Knowing which of the social architect’s tools to turn to in any given situation is a core challenge. Something I’ve recently found useful as a guide is consideration of the different dimensions of social space and how these can be leveraged so that collective work can bring about the very best.

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Oct/14/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Featured

Power and Emergent Change

Peggy Holman is the co-author of a book that I consider to be one of the bibles for my work here at IISC - The Change Handbook.  This wonderful resource was also required reading for a graduate course I taught on organizational and community change models at Antioch New England.  Building on this essential tome, Peggy has recently authored another book that I look forward to diving into more deeply – Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval Into Opportunity.  Her exploration of how to engage chaos in social systems and bring about greater coherence is certainly timely and in line with much of the conversation you see on this blog.

In a recent post of her own, Peggy highlights an interesting comment that appeared in a review of her newest work.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/16/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Lessons from a Collaborative Partnership

Last month I was asked to present to the Children and Nature Network’s Grassroots Gathering in Princeton, New Jersey, along with Ginny McGinn of the Center for Whole Communities.  We were invited by a common acquaintance who knows both our respective organizational work and our recent collaborative endeavor in developing and offering a training entitled Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most (the next public workshop will be in Boston from November 16-18).  Both IISC and CWC work to build the collaborative capacity of social change endeavors, albeit in slightly different and complementary ways.  The topic of our presentation was “Collaborative Leadership,” and what became core to our joint plenary address was the story of our own partnership. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/10/10//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured

The Power of Conversation

In this 10 minute video, Jack Ricchiuto, a friend of IISC’s, successfully distills the four conversations that build community and gives us a glimpse into the shadow conversations that keep us from success.  Evidently influenced by Peter Block, Ricchiuto is part of a wave of organization and community builders that have been inviting us to look at our work from a different lens.

Jack names the following four conversations with power: Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/22/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Make It Easy, Make It More

I have been blessed these past few months to have been in steady conversation with Adam Pattantyus of Merrimack Management Associates.  Adam’s background is a fascinating blend of military, industrial engineering, management, and clean technology professional experiences.  He is deeply thoughtful and committed to helping bring about the transition to more sustainable ways of being.  And he is the co-purveyor of a promising product and service in the form of an on-line operational infrastructure for collaborative action.  I learn so much from each of our interactions, and our meeting last week left me thinking about how to make much needed collaboration both easier and more ambitious for those interested in realizing deep social change.

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Jun/24/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Collaboration for Innovation

“Collaboration drives creativity because innovation emerges from a series of sparks – not a single flash of insight.”

- Keith Sawyer, Group Genius

Having last week blogged about when we might want to de-emphasize innovation and think about the small steps we can take towards change, today I embrace the “i word.”  In doing so, I tip my hat to Keith Sawyer and to my Interaction colleague Andy Atkins for helping to clarify my thinking around the connection between collaboration and innovation for social change.  Both are obviously quite popular concepts at the moment, and there is some discussion about how well they go together.  For example, one of my colleagues had a conversation with a corporate leader last week during which this leader shared his deep belief that collaboration inhibits creativity and that flashes of insight occur in the individual’s mind.  While the last part of that statement may be true, what leads to that flash and where one goes with it would seem to have everything to do with interaction with others.

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May/24/10//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

The Power of Conversation

In a recent post, Janice Molloy of the Pegasus Blog had an insightful way to illustrate the “Power of Conversation,” Janice says:

Where are new ideas born? While some develop through formal processes and innovation think tanks, throughout history, many of the most transformative notions have arisen from informal conversations over a glass of wine or cup of coffee in a café, living room, or neighborhood pub. In this way, sewing circles and “committees of correspondence” played a role in the birth of the American Republic, and debates that took place in cafés and salons helped spawn the French Revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/01/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Humor for Our Humanity

(In the spirit of April Fool’s)

A town is hit by a fire that catches in the church district one evening.  As the fire spreads, so does word among the members of the neighboring congregations.  Before long, people have assembled in front of their respective houses of worship and are deciding what to rescue from inside.  A roving reporter goes from group to group to see how they’re responding.  She notes that the Catholics have already salvaged the communion cup.  Moving to the Episcopal Church, she witnesses a man emerging from smoke to cheers as he hoists the Book of Common Prayer.  The reporter heads next to the Unitarians, and as she approaches cannot see a particular object among the group assembled in the street.  Observing the expressions on peoples’ faces, she becomes alarmed that someone may still be inside the church, which is on the verge of collapsing.  As she gets closer she hears the group in heated debate about who should be on the ad hoc committee to make the final decision about what to rescue . . .

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Mar/25/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Getting Over Our Selves

“How do we help people move toward authentic inquiry when their default is aggressive inquisition?”  This question was offered up in a tweet by Larry Dressler a week ago and presaged my planned post today.  My departure was going to be a return to the work of Marcial Losada mentioned in a previous post, which shows that optimal group performance is attributed in part to members striking a balance between asking questions and promoting their own points of view.  Low performing groups tend to get caught up in self-absorbed advocacy.  “Aggressive inquisition” can simply be a form of advocacy, intended to attack and tear down other ideas.  This is not the spirit Losada is talking about.  And yet, it can be challenging for some to avoid simply campaigning for their own proposals.

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Feb/22/10//Marianne Hughes//Collaboration

Freedom and Structure

In the upcoming edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, IISC gets a mention for our work with both Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and their Change Agent Project as well as the work we did with our client The Davis Foundation and their project Cherish Every Child. In each instance IISC partnered with our client by providing them a collaborative approach and architecture that scaffolded them in their pursuit of their collaborative goals.

P2C Diagram Blog

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Jan/27/10//Linda Guinee//Collaboration

Collaboration as Art

I’ve recently seen a few videos that have made me think about whether collaboration is a “natural” thing. (I tend to run from this kind of thinking – usually finding discussions of what is “natural” or what is “human nature” ways of making room for all kinds of human constructs.) My brother recently shared this video of Bottlenose Dolphins working together in what’s called “mud ring” feeding:

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Jan/21/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Alignment vs. Innovation?

As it turns out, the practice of brainstorming has something of a bad reputation, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from its prevalence in many well meaning groups and organizations. Research has shown that bringing people together to start brainstorming ideas yields fewer ideas overall, and fewer novel ideas, than having individuals first go off and think on their own and later compile their lists. The reason is that group think and social pressure can tend to tip and narrow group brainstorms in certain directions that rule out “out of the box” thinking. Furthermore, there is a tendency for many groups to want to come to agreement about certain ideas, preferring a sense of group cohesion and victory, over pushing one another and risking conflict and hurt feelings.

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Jan/14/10//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Changing the Conversation


The photo above was sent to me by my father, who is also the photographer.  In fact, he is also the sign maker.  This statement currently sits by the roadside in front of my parents’ house in upstate New York.  When I asked what sparked this action, he wrote:

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Jan/13/10//Linda Guinee//Collaboration

Introverts in Meetings

I recently read an interesting New York Times article by Nancy Ancowitz that a friend sent me about the ways that extroverts are privileged in meeting processes and work environments.  It’s something we talk about at IISC as well. What are the ways that we can design and facilitate meetings so as not to privilege extroverts over introverts – or people with different learning styles – or people with different abilities or aptitudes?

There’s a lot known. And there’s a lot still to discover. Much of generic group process (if not attending to these kinds of things) favors those who freely express ideas in groups. Day-long or multi-day meetings can be great for extroverts, who get energy being in groups – and challenging for introverts, who need alone time to recharge and process internally. Introverts will participate more fully if given time to consider material ahead of time.  Extroverts tend to be exactly the opposite – or can quickly scan something in the room and go. Brainstorming is a natural thing for extroverts (who are comfortable putting forth ideas without necessarily knowing how fully “cooked” they are), but not so much for introverts (who tend to want to spend internal time thinking through an idea before putting it out).

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Dec/22/09//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

Love and Collaboration

Part 4 of  Three Lenses for Collaboration

The work of social change takes place in history, we are not the first ones doing this work, nor will we be the last.  We are part of that noble arch bending itself towards justice.  In the United States the history of social change is punctuated by the prophetic voice of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King called us to beloved community and at the Interaction Institute we look at collaboration as a way to meet his call.  I like to call this the lens of love.

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Dec/10/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

To Love Is To See

In the abyss I saw how love held bound

Into one volume all the lives whose flight

Is scattered through the universe around.

-Dante Alighieri, from The Divine Comedy

“What’s love got to do with it?”  This is a question that gets raised with increasing frequency in our work at IISC.  Recently, while training a group of health care reformers from around the state of Maine, I presented what we call our “Profile of a Collaborative Change Agent,” which outlines the core attributes of those who, in our experience, are able to maintain a win-win outlook even in the most trying of circumstances.  Sitting conspicuously at the heart of the Profile (see below) is “the L word.”  Nodding heads and knowing smiles, in Maine and elsewhere, are an indication of the growing willingness to seriously consider the role of love in social change work. Profile Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/01/09//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration, Featured

Three Lenses for Collaboration

The Interaction Institute for Social Change is a vibrant place, a real learning community; we are always seeking to be on our learning edge.  Our internal strategic process has led us to wonder how to define ourselves for this new era without necessarily losing our 16 years of experience and the power of our proven collaborative methodology.  A couple of things have become even more clear through this process.  It is clear to us, to our clients and partners in the work of social transformation that collaboration is what we do.

We might be working with a single organization or a group of organizations, we may be designing a learning event, a high level facilitation or a citywide change process, but whatever it is that we are doing – collaboration is at its core.  We help people come together and work together.

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Nov/23/09//Marianne Hughes//Collaboration

Collaboration and Merger are Not Synonymous

There is a dangerous and ultimately very confusing trend emerging in our sector. In the wake of the financial meltdown and its impact on funding, foundations and others are proposing organizational mergers and strategic alliances as a solution to the problem. The danger is that they are calling this “collaboration” and giving collaboration a really, really bad name!

For many years at IISC we have been trying to overcome what is often the very bad taste left in people’s mouths after some horrendous experience that they have had in a poorly executed and therefore failed collaboration. In many cases these were marriages forced by foundation funding or coalitions of individual organizations coming together but unable to detach from their own identities and agendas.

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Nov/18/09//Linda Guinee//Collaboration

Art for Social Change

I’ve been hearing a lot about collaborative art projects, including some that are happening right now in Boston (the location of one of IISC’s two offices). So wanted to write about one amazing project happening right now. Thanks to my neighbor Judith Leemann, I heard about a collaborative art project Mel Chin and Operation Paydirt have been creating to make safe lead-contaminated soil in the US.

Upon hearing that 86,000 properties in New Orleans are estimated to have unsafe lead contamination – and at least 30% of inner city children are affected with lead poisoning, Mel Chin started working. He learned that it would take $300 million to remediate the soil in New Orleans. Thinking he couldn’t raise that kind of money, he decided to make $300 million through a collaborative art project called Fundred, take it to the US Congress and ask for funding to remediate the soil. And so he has created Fundred, through which Operation Paydirt created blank templates for Fundred dollar bills. People are designing their own Fundred Dollar Bills, mailing them to Collection Centers to be counted and securely held – and they are then being taken by a special armored car to Congress, who is being asked to do an even exchange for funding to remediate the soil in New Orleans.

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Nov/16/09//Marianne Hughes//Collaboration

Collaboration R Us

Recently I was asked for a quote about the messiness of collaboration. In response to the request, I noted that because at IISC we are “Collaboration R Us” we tend not to think about the messiness of collaboration (though we do view messiness as part of any emergent and creative process).  Rather we focus on the elegant design and facilitation that will ensure success. The quote that I submitted is the following:

“Collaboration takes more than well-meaning people with good intentions coming together to determine a set of outcomes. Successful collaboration requires solid process design and skillful facilitation. This is what builds the scaffolding for multiple and diverse stakeholders to create a shared vision of impact, agreement on goals and strategies for achieving that impact and a plan for collective action. The process itself is what catalyzes the critical shift of mind and heart from believing that the right answers and expertise are held by a few to an understanding that it is the collective wisdom of the group that determines right action and greater impact.”

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Nov/05/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration, Featured

Means and Ends

One of the core models of IISC’s practice (for both our training and consulting work) is something we call the R-P-R Triangle, which basically makes the case that success in collaborative efforts is a multi-dimensional affair, not solely defined by “results” (goal or task accomplished), but also by “process” (the way or spirit in which work is carried out) and “relationship” (the quality of the connections between the people engaged in the work).  Our Executive Director, Marianne Hughes, has called this “the spine of collaboration,” suggesting that if we are not thinking in terms of all dimensions, we are not really serious about seeking win-win solutions with others.  And indeed experience really proves that these dimensions are intimately linked and dependent upon one another when diverse stakeholders come together to realize a shared vision.

RPR chart

A twist was given to this triangle the other day when a Facilitative Leadership workshop participant said he was struggling, not because he did not find value in this notion of “multiple dimensions of success,” but because of his concern that even in this model, process and relationships might appear to be subservient, or the “so that,” to results.  He went on to say that he is part of an organization/community in which relationships are really paramount.  They are an end in and of themselves and in a way synonymous with results.  How then, do we account for this in this model he wondered. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/29/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

The Design of Experience: Fun

Thanks first of all to Margaret Benefiel of Executive Soul for turning me on to this video.  It times beautifully with a lot of thinking, writing, and experimenting we’ve been doing here at IISC about/with the power of design, and specifically the design of experiences that can change behavior and bring out the best in individuals and groups.  Check out this clip from The Fun Theory, an initiative of Volkswagen, that aims to show that fun is one of the best ways to change behavior for the better.

In the collaborative leadership trainings we do, inevitably we get to a point where people talk about the dry, frustrating, “deadening” and even pointless meetings and gatherings they often attend.  Many are at a loss for what to do.  One response on my part is to ask, “What has brought you to life at meetings that have been particularly engaging?”  And when the answer comes, to say, “Do that!”  If it brings us to life, there is a good chance it will do the same for others.  To paraphrase innovation guru Marty Neumeier, in order to “focus minds and intoxicate hearts” many more of us will need to think and act like (process and experience) designers.  So what are you doing to throw a little fun into the mix?

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Oct/22/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Accentuate the Positivity

Been looking for the answer to unlocking your group’s/team’s potential?  Look no further than a complex chaotic attractor!  According to researcher Marcial Losada, this is what underlies the dynamics of high performing groups and produces novel and outstanding results.  Integral to chaos theory, a complex chaotic attractor, when it emerges in a group, is what leads to innovation, bringing a system to new levels of insight and possibility.  The question is how can we create the conditions for the attractor to emerge?

Losada has an answer, based on intense observation and statistical analysis of high and low functioning groups.  What he has to say has an interesting parallel to what we at IISC have been pointing to as essential elements of the facilitative leader or collaborative change agent who is able to effectively tap into the participation of others.  The core elements we have listed in our “Profile of a Facilitative Leader” include being:

  • collaborative (interested in working with others, seeking win-win solutions)
  • strategic (keeping one’s eyes on the big picture and different possible paths of action)
  • receptive and flexible (actively soliciting others’ ideas, changing course when necessary)

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Oct/20/09//Gibrán Rivera//Collaboration

The Unconference

I’m writing from the Opportunity Collaboration, and anti-poverty convening in Ixtapa, Mexico.  It has been quite an experience and while we are working with powerful content, I want to write about process.  This has not been a conference!  About 260 delegates have been convened in a beautiful resort to tackle the problem of poverty from a relatively diverse set of approaches and outlooks, ranging from philanthropy to micro-finance, nonprofits and other social ventures.

Groups of 20 delegates come together 2 hours each morning in what has been titled the Colloquium for the Common Good.  This is the common conversation we are having throughout the convening as we are invited to reflect on our values and why we do this work.  I have been honored to serve as facilitator for one of these groups and I am quite impressed by the depth of our conversations.

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Sep/24/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Putting “The People” in Philanthropy


We had an interesting conversation during last week’s Engage for Results session at the Donors Forum in Chicago.  IISC has been partnering with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) to offer this two day skill-building session to foundations interested in strategies for engaging stakeholders in their grantmaking.  This offering grew out of GEO’s Change Agent Project, which revealed the strong interest on the part of nonprofits to be in deeper relationship with funders in order to achieve greater impact.

On the first morning, I shared some striking results from a 2008 GEO survey of attitudes and practices of foundations in the United States.  Specifically, less than half (49%) of those foundations surveyed indicated that it was important for their organization to seek external input.  Among GEO membership the number was higher, coming in at 78%.  However, the survey also showed that overall only 36% of respondents actively solicited feedback from their grantees.  That strikes as quite a discrepancy between stated beliefs and actual practice.  So I turned to the workshop participants for reactions.

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The Rat Trap in the Farm House

A few months ago, while attending the 95th session of the Hampton University Minister’s Conference, I heard my most favorite preacher of all times, the Rev. Dr. Claudette Copeland use a brilliant illustration that got me thinking about systems thinking, networks and collaboration. I will surely integrate this illustration into my consulting and training practice, and recount it herewith for your enjoyment and cogitation: Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/17/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

“Maximum Contemplation, Minimum Action”

I am always interested to see parallel worldviews evolving across different fields.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the connections between the burgeoning enthusiasm about networks in social science and social change efforts and the growing interest I’ve been noticing in Permaculture, partly owing to the Transition Town movement and conversations about mitigating and adapting to impending climate change.

Permaculture was developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren during the 1970s as an answer to unsustainable industrial agricultural practices.  It entails creating robust, flexible, living systems that integrate ecology, landscape, organic gardening, architecture and agroforestry.  The focus of Permaculture is not on the individual elements in a garden, but rather on the relationships between them (just as networks are all about the links).  For example, with the Permaculture lens, one is always thinking about how one plant relates to others (could it cast shade or serve as a natural pesticide for others) and how different “zones” might serve one another (a pond stocked with fish can cut down on mosquitoes, eaves on a house can catch rain water that is siphoned into a garden, etc.). Read the rest of this entry »

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Aug/27/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Collaboration Past, Present, and Future

Today I recognize the shoulders that we stand upon as willing and enthusiastic collaborators!  Click here to listen to an interview with David Straus in recognition of the 40th anniversary of his founding Interaction Associates and officially launching his pioneering collaborative methods, of which the Interaction Institute for Social Change is a grateful inheritor.

David remarks the changes he has witnessed over the last four decades, including an overall movement from resistance to embrace of collaboration as an effective and often necessary approach to solving problems and leveraging opportunities in organizations and communities.  And what does the future hold?  For David, it comes down to seeing and using collaboration as a means of deeply shifting culture.

And what about you?  What and who would you raise up as part of the collaboration canon?  And what are the next frontiers?

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Jul/29/09//Linda Guinee//Collaboration

We Don’t Have a Lot of Time Here

scott1Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of my friend Scott Lago’s death.? Scott was as much a brother to me as a friend and we worked together bringing the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt around the country in the late 1980s, setting up and managing displays of the quilt, a memorial for those who’ve died of AIDS. He affected my life in many ways, many of them very funny – but the one I’m remembering today is that when we’d be working with a group of people on setting up a display of the quilt, if someone started getting into what seemed like endless details about things he felt were unnecessary, preventing the group from moving forward, you’d notice Scott quietly tapping his watch face with his index finger. He was saying to those of us who knew him, “Can’t we get on with it? We don’t have a lot of time here.” While Scott knew on a cellular level that he didn’t have a lot of time here, I find myself sometimes looking around to see whether anyone else might be tapping their watch face.

And so it is this fine balance we seek to find in social change work – between not wasting what is, truly, precious time with endless details and at the same time, “going slow to go fast” – making sure we build solid agreements and cover enough to set things up for success. Might we sometimes spend a little too much time planning? None of us really have a lot of time here – the world is waiting!

And wherever Scott is, he’s watching what’s happening in the world and quietly tapping the face of his watch.

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Jul/23/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Order Matters

“Beware of the stories you read and tell.They are shaping your world.”-Ben Okri

I’ve been very interested to read more about the research of social psychologists focused on the impact of the order of thoughts when it comes to making changes in behavior.  David Hardisty has conducted experiments in which people considering whether or not they would agree to a carbon tax to offset their air travel were asked to jot down the sequence of their thinking as they went about making their decision.

What showed up was that in constructing their preferences, the order of participants’ thoughts really mattered, with early thoughts significantly biasing subsequent ones.  For example, people who ultimately rejected a carbon tax had negative first thoughts along the lines of, “I will be dead by the time the world is in an energy crisis,” whereas those who ultimately supported the tax had more positive first thoughts about the welfare of their children or subsequent generations.  More intriguing, in a follow-up study, when Hardisty asked people to first make a list of the benefits of a carbon tax and then make a list of cons, this affected their preference in a more supportive direction no matter their political inclinations.


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Knowledge is Half the Power

Many of us in the United States have been assured from an early age that knowledge is power. While this is true, it is incomplete. Knowledge is half the power. (And if not exactly half, some percentage of power). There are a number of other factors which make up power including but not limited to, race, class, age, sexual orientation, finances, who one knows, societal norms of one’s environment and most importantly, action. Knowledge means little, if it is not acted upon.

We learn every day. Every now and then, we learn of an injustice in the world which hits us just right, to the point that we want it to change it. Often however, we are far removed from the injustice, so either we forget it or become overwhelmed by the task of taking action. As a result, we may fall into a cycle where we simply read more about the issue, or keep telling others of the injustice, but never get around to concrete action. And while action may be hard part, it also seems to be the most rewarding. How do we make that leap to act when the injustice seems insurmountable? How do we harness the energy of those who came before us, who know what tactics work for each issue?

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May/28/09//Curtis Ogden//Collaboration

Heart and Soul

“The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in.”

—Harold Goddard

As current President and CEO of the Orton Family Foundation Bill Roper tells the story, a couple of decades ago Lyman Orton, proprietor of the Vermont Country Store, was involved in local town planning efforts in Weston, Vermont. In the 1980s, at a time when the state was experiencing a building boom due to the rise of second home ownership, Weston and other small towns found themselves struggling to preserve their unique character while continuing to grow and embrace change. The local town planning commission in Weston, of which Orton was a member, discovered that it was ill equipped to address existing zoning restrictions and bylaws, which left town members powerless around policies that affected land use in their community. The frustration of this experience spurred the creation of the Orton Family Foundation, which began supporting small towns by providing resources, including user-friendly GIS mapping and visualization tools, to citizens to help them envision and ultimately have a say in their communities’ future.

Under Bill Roper’s leadership, the Orton Family Foundation places a particular emphasis on helping towns identify and protect the essence of their community through the collection of shared stories. Like all of the work of the Foundation, efforts have been made to make planning accessible to non-planner types. To this end, language is everything. Roper and his staff avoid jargon by asking residents simply (but profoundly) to identify the “heart and soul” of their community. As they say on their website, “Traditional quantitative approaches use important data about demographic and economic shifts, traffic counts and infrastructure needs, but frequently fail to account for the particular ways people relate to their physical surroundings and ignore or discount the intangibles—shared values, beliefs and quirky customs—that make community. . . . Furthermore, a collection of quantifiable attributes without an understanding of shared values and a sense of purpose does not motivate citizens to show up and make tough, consistent decisions.” In other words, when it comes downs to it, it’s about people.

Time and again, this revelation comes up in various policy debates where experts come together and more often than not leave out the people who are most impacted by (and who have much to offer) their decisions. We know the devastating impact this can have, and yet it continues. In a recent blog post, Dave Snowden rails against obsessions with outcomes measurement when it comes to reforming social services, saying that we continue to look for fail safe, quantifiable, and expert-driven solutions to problems that are much too complex to lend themselves to expertly engineered solutions. He makes a case for greater involvement of the system (including everyday citizens) and the use of narrative to understand the dynamics of and ways of working with the system. With the Orton Foundation example, we might add the importance of using language that invites broader and deeper engagement. This is about creating space for people to share their own experiences and perspectives, allowing not only for the relevance of these stories, but their power to shape something new.

How might we do more of this in our work, to make room not just for the sharing of facts and figures, but stories? And what are the stories we are telling ourselves that are shaping our worlds?

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