Archive for IISC:Outside

Jul/24/14//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Stepping Up to the Social Justice Plate

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The following article appeared in an email newsletter from the Vermont Farm to Plate Network (VTF2P) one of IISC’s clients in network and collaborative capacity building.  The author is Beth Cullen, co-chair of the Farm to Plate Consumer Education & Marketing Working Group and owner of Root Consulting, who attended the New England Food Summit that Cynthia Parker and I helped to design and facilitate.  It is great to see the power of that two day convening and conversation continuing to ripple out into the region.  VTF2P plans on integrating the conversation about equity into their upcoming October convening . . . 

New England Food Summit targets social justice to drive change in the food system  

The 4th Annual New England Food Summit, organized by Food Solutions New England, convened over 110 delegates in June to discuss racial equity and food justice in the region. Summit organizers unveiled the New England Food Vision, a regional aspiration to locally produce at least of 50 percent of the fresh, fair, just, and accessible food consumed by New Englanders by 2060.

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Jul/17/14//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Network Profile: FSNE

50 by 60

The following article appeared last month in the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) newsletter.  NESAWG is a 12-state network of over 500 participating organizations.  Together, they unite farm and food system practitioners and allies to build a sustainable, just and economically vibrant region.  From one network to another, the article profiles Food Solutions New England (FSNE), a network building effort now going into its third year of intentional development.  It captures where FSNE was just prior to the New England Food Summit, which advanced connectivity and commitment to both regional action/identity and work for racial equity.  NOTE: I have added links, bolded text, and pictures to the body of the article.

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Apr/03/14//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Learning Edge

Unintended Consequences

blog_unintened

Another story about what can happen when we fail to hold a broader systemic view in our social change work . . .   I was working with a food system-focused network the other day and the good news was reported that great strides have been made in reducing food waste, in large part because distributors and retailers are doing a much better job of tracking inventory and fitting it better to consumer demand.

On the other hand, it was also reported that this spells a real challenge for the “emergency food” world and food banks, which have been largely dependent upon excess food to provide for the growing number of people who are food insecure.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/24/13//IISC//IISC:Inside, IISC:Outside

9 Practice-Guiding Questions for 2014

“Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.”

- Peter Block

Three of our IISC blogger-practitioners have been in conversation about 3 questions they are each carrying with them into 2014 to guide and develop their practice to support social change.  We invite your reflections on and additions to these: Read the rest of this entry »

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

Networks and Changing the Game

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

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

Glimpses of Wholeness

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

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

Making and Feeding a Region Whole

“We are what we measure.”

- Whole Measures mantra

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

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May/31/13//IISC//Featured, IISC:Outside

Facilitating Social Change Institute

For the third consecutive year, Junxion Strategy is proudly sponsoring Social Change Institute at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, British Columbia. This is one in a series of articles about the conference.

 The upcoming Social Change Institute will bring together approximately 100 passionate change agents from across sectors, geography, issues, generations, strategies and points of view for a five-day leadership and skill-building summit.

This experiential convening is designed for high impact and emerging leaders from nonprofits, government and mission-based enterprises who are seeking practical skills and networking opportunities to take their work to the next level.

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

Our System, Our Children

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

- CT Right From the Start

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

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

New Calls to Leadership

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

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

A System for All

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

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

Coming Full Circle

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

-T. S. Eliot

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

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

Doubt is the Beacon of the Wise

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

-Alan Watts

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

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

The Measure of Our Experience

“We become what we measure.”

- Whole Measures mantra

Click here to view this video

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

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

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May/17/12//Marianne Hughes//Featured, IISC:Outside

Networking A City

We are delighted to share an article with you that was just published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review this week. The article, Networking a City, tells the story of the evolution of the Barr Fellows Network, launched by the Barr Foundation, and its impact on the City of Boston.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Being and Measuring Whole

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

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Apr/06/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

The Road to Wholeness

“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 »

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Mar/14/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

A Systems View of Opportunity

“If you don’t understand your role in contributing to the problem,

you can’t be part of the solution.”

– David Peter Stroh

This post is a slightly edited version of something I wrote for the upcoming State of Opportunity convening in Michigan.  My colleague Cynthia Parker and I have been working with the Council of Michigan Foundations staff and membership to design this gathering, the focus of which will be philanthropy’s role in increasing social equity in the state.  We are looking forward to facilitating the proceedings on March 27th. 

The quote above comes from a systems thinking expert with whom we’ve partnered in our collaborative change work here at the IISC.  We’ve found it to be a powerful way of introducing the idea that the complex systems (education, health care) that many of us are trying to change to yield better and more equitable opportunities and outcomes are not “out there.”  Rather, to rift on the old Pogo saying, when we have truly seen systems, we understand that they are us!  Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/13/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside, Networks

If You Till It, They Will Come

On the cusp of the Martin Luther King Jr. day of remembrance and celebration, IISC is gearing up to lead a webinar on the day after the Monday holiday focused on a very relevant topic – collective leadership. Much is being made of the Occupy Movement and its potential for showing us a new way to lead (we would call it leader-full, not leader-less). Prior to this important civic groundswell, many have been looking at how to create the conditions for emergent and collaborative leadership to move us in more just and life-affirming directions.  Given the complexity of the issues we face and the diversity of perspectives in our various systems, it has been recognized that we cannot rely on individual, expert, or command-and-control leadership to move us forward. We must unleash more robust and adaptive collective intelligence. If this conversation interests you, come join Gibran Rivera and me as we explore stories of and practices for creating the conditions to unleash leader-full momentum that embodies and leads to the social change we seek. More information about this free opportunity can be found here.

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Jan/05/12//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Whole Children, Whole Communities

I have written a few times in this space (see “Right from the Start” and “The System is Us”) about our work with the Graustein Memorial Fund and stakeholders from around Connecticut to re-conceptualize and change the early childhood development system in the state so that all families and children are thriving. We are currently in the midst of a visioning process, whereby members of the System Design Team are engaging various constituents in conversations about what it would look like if the system were truly providing equitable and excellent support and opportunities to all children, regardless of race, ability, and income. In addition, we are asking what foundational beliefs, or values, would under-gird such a reality brought to life.  This phase kicked off with a series of interviews with participants in the Memorial Fund’s annual Stone Soup Conference. This included parents, child care providers, elected officials, advocates of all kinds, and the keynote speaker – Ralph Smith. Check out the series above, along with others posted on the Right from the Start site. There is an emerging picture forming here, that speaks to the power of collective visioning.  What do you see?

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Dec/28/11//Curtis Ogden//Featured, IISC:Outside

A Year of Multitudes

As 2011 comes to a close, we here at IISC can look back on a year full of multi-stakeholder change work. I think I can speak on behalf of the entire team when I say that it has been our pleasure to contribute our process design, facilitation, and collaborative capacity building skills to a range of differently scaled social change efforts, linking arms with convenors and catalysts in a variety of fields.  These have included (to name a few): Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/09/11//IISC//Featured, IISC:Outside

December Lens

Join Ashley Welch of Interaction Associates Wednesday, December 14, at 1 pm Eastern time, for a timely conversation with her colleague from the Interaction Institute for Social Change, Melinda Weekes. They will discuss Strategies for Designing Social Change, exploring ways leaders in any sector can succeed when leading change. 

Melinda is a senior consultant who works with foundations, NGO’s and community leaders. Recently she has been supporting Occupy Wall Street. As a former lawyer, gospel music theorist and ordained clergy person, Melinda brings a unique perspective to social change.

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Oct/26/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Deep Listening

The following is a post from my friend and colleague Danny Martin, that appeared on his web page on Monday, following our joint workshop at Connecting for Change, a Bioneers Conference.  Tomorrow I will extend this reflection with more details about our session and regenerative leadership practice.

So much to say this week but it all turns on the same theme of how to access the wisdom we need to move forward together into a more sustainable and just society. In a recent article about what he calls The New Economy Movement, Gar Alperovitz, a Professor of Political Economy in the University of Maryland, says that, instead of feeling confined to the binary paths of reforming the broken economic system or revolting to overthrow it, citizens are opting to create something new that will replace the current economic regime, making the old system obsolete in the process. He calls this third way ‘evolutionary reconstruction.’ Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/13/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Connecting for Change

For the third year in a row, I am looking forward to presenting at the Connecting for Change conference, also known as Bioneers by the Bay, sponsored by the Marion Institute. The community of New Bedford, Massachusetts becomes the host and scenic back-drop to some amazing speakers, well known and not so well known, as well as presentations by an incredible array of people doing important work in our New England region. Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/22/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

The System Is Us

“If you don’t see your role in contributing to the problem, then you can’t be part of the solution.”

-David Stroh

David M. Nee, Executive Director, William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund from Graustein Memorial Fund on Vimeo.

Yesterday I gave a general update on the proceedings of the Right from the Start early childhood development system change effort in Connecticut. Today I want to lift up some of the insights and wisdom that have been unearthed by the System Analysis phase. Key to this work has been the engagement of two experts in the realm of systems thinking – David Stroh of Bridgeway Partners and Keith Lawrence of the Aspen Institute’s Roundtable for Community Change.

David brings particular skill and experience in teaching about and mapping systemic dynamics as they play out at different levels.  In June, he gave a wonderful overview of systems thinking to the System Design Team, which included an introduction to the iceberg diagram (see below) that helps people get from more superficial and tactical questions to deeper systemic points of leverage, including awareness of one’s own unwitting contribution to dynamics that yield outcomes that are undesirable or in some sense not optimal.  Part of the shift we experienced over the course of these conversations was the understanding that “the system” is not out there, but as Yaneer Bar-Yam says, is “the way we work together.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/21/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Right from the Start

“In a sense, it’s not a system until it’s working for the people on the front-line, and above all the parents who need services for their children.”

-David Nee, Executive Director, WCGMF

Last November I blogged about the launch of a bold and exciting initiative in Connecticut, spear-headed by the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund based in Hamden.  My colleague Melinda Weekes and I were engaged to assist the Memorial Fund as it answered a community-based call to step into a convening role to bring relevant stakeholders together from around the state to re-imagine and build an early childhood system “that is accessible and effective in all settings and in all communities for Connecticut’s children and families regardless of race, abilities and income.” This initiative has since been dubbed Right from the Start, a name that has turned out to be quite prescient in light of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent comments.  Right from the Start builds upon 10 years of work by the Memorial Fund in supporting community-based efforts to promote development and learning for all children.  Melinda and I are proud to have been able to make a contribution over the past four years by providing Facilitative Leadership training and collaborative capacity building to more than 200 individuals from the 57 Discovery Collaboratives around the state. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/16/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

A Breakthrough Moment

The storming had begun.  For the first few meetings, the team had engaged in “feel good” conversations, getting to know one another, breaking bread together, laughing, and bonding around their shared desire to build a stronger local food system to ensure community food security.  They had agreed to a set of values and a vision to guide their work.  Now they were diving into more of the specifics.  What would the scope of the work be and what wouldn’t it include? Read the rest of this entry »

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May/08/11//IISC//IISC:Outside

Happy Mothers Day

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Mar/09/11//Charlie Jones//IISC:Outside

KISS or Keep It Simple, Stupid

Fender Telecaster

“The Fender Telecaster is an instrument of beautiful simplicity.” Jim Mauradian, luthier.

For you non-guitar geeks this may take a moment to explain. The electric guitar as we know it today, is a product of the 1950′s. Back in the stone ages of electric guitar making, it was an accepted practice to trick out the instrument with as many buttons, knobs and toggle switches as could be fit on a block of wood. And dang it if those guitars didn’t look sweet. Problem was, most of those guitars sounded like crap and because of the complex nature of the design, were in constant need of adjustment when not in a state of total ill-repair.

In response to this over complicating trend, a Luthier named Leo Fender set about to design and produce an electric guitar that was (1) simple to use, (2) durable, and (3) sounded great. Leo Fender’s genius was in stripping away all of the unnecessary crap, reducing the design to the barest essentials.

The product of his design was an electric guitar called the Fender Telecaster, which to this day is considered by many guitarists (myself included) to be the platinum standard of guitars. Go figure.

I wonder how it might look if we consistently applied Leo Fender’s approach to our own work and lives. Thoughts? Anyone want to put in a good word for complexity?

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Feb/25/11//IISC//IISC:Outside

“The book doesn’t matter. The conversation matters.”

Evil Plans

“Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN. Everybody needs that crazy, out-there idea that allows them to ACTUALLY start doing something they love, doing something that matters. Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN that gets them the hell out of the Rat Race, away from lousy bosses, away from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate. Life is short.”

My second book, EVIL PLANS launched today. Here are some notes:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/24/11//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Clarity Through Community

“Give me the listening ear
The eye that is willing to see.”

-Howard Thurman

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be part of a Quaker-style “clearness committee” with a few twists thrown in.  I have done a few similar sessions in the past, though it has been a while, and once again it proved to be a remarkable experience.  The impetus for the session was a friend who, acknowledging that she is at a crossroads in her life and career, reached out for help with discernment.  My wife, Emily, and I suggested convening a small group of people who know her well to lovingly listen to the core question with which she is wrestling.  Over the course of the two and a half hours we were together, there was an amazing peeling away of layers that occurred as we asked questions and watched for what either brought our friend to life or weighed her down.  By the end of the evening, she was excitedly looking at very real and enlivening opportunities in what she had previously perceived as being frivolous or “once I win the lottery” kinds of scenarios. Read the rest of this entry »


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Nov/11/10//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Ready to Launch

WCMGFTomorrow my colleague Melinda and I officially launch an exciting endeavor with the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund in Connecticut, as we meet for the first time with a Process Team that will begin designing a state-wide early childhood systems building initiative.  The Memorial Fund is stepping boldly into its leadership as a convenor, at the urging of its grantees and the many communities with whom it has cultivated deep trust.  In its sights is a process that ultimately yields a broadly shared and community-rooted vision for providing high quality and equitable care and education for all of the Connecticut’s youngest children, as well as policies and structures that support greater community-state collaboration towards this vision. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/20/10//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Outside

Something is Working

I’m the one that’s all shook up.  I’m just getting back from doing some very powerful work with Reading Village in Guatemala and I’m still processing the experience.  It is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of poverty and palpability of oppression.  I come back with images of the smiles of an incredibly resilient Mayan people and I can not understand how they have withstood five centuries of aggression.  It is in this context that we were called to do our work. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/13/10//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Outside

Reading Village

As you read this post I find myself in Guatemala, honored to be working with Reading Village, a truly inspired reading promotion organization.  I’ve been impressed by the principled stance of its founders, the serious attention they are paying to respecting local culture and being of authentic service.  Having run a successful pilot, they have asked me to come a facilitate a set of conversations towards the development of a field guide – a text that will serve replication of the success of Reading Village while remaining flexible enough for local adaptation.  Wish us luck!  We are doing something good here!

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Jul/08/10//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Nothing About Me Without Me

GEO guide

This past week marked the release of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ newest action learning guide – Do Nothing About Me Without Me: An Action Guide for Engaging Stakeholders.  IISC is pr0ud to be a co-publisher of and contributor to the publication, which builds on our work with GEO staff facilitating Engage for Results.  Essentially this seminar walks foundation staff through a series of strategic questions and tools for engaging grantees, community members, and other stakeholders in their grantmaking.  Worth highlighting here is what GEO and IISC identify as being core to the case for funders doing more to involve others in their work: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/27/10//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Outside

Practice, Practice, Practice

Facilitators

IAF Workshop

I’m just getting back from the International Association of Facilitator’s North America Conference and co-leading a workshop focused on the facilitator’s inner journey.  It was a cool set up.  The presenters included our convener, Larry Dressler as well as experienced facilitators, Erica Peng, Roger Schwarz and Beatrice Briggs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/23/10//IISC//IISC:Outside

The Praise Report

(This is a re-post from April 2009)

I write this on the eve of the 3rd day of a training session of our Facilitative Leadership course, where the last of 7 practices,“Celebrate Accomplishment”, often gets the short shrift on this last day of training. The verdict is still out in terms of whether we will give it its just due for tomorrow’s class. Yet, I find myself wrestling with a provocative body of information I became aware of through a recent tweet I received on the subject of praise.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/05/10//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Outside

The Center of the Universe

Into Chamula

Working closely with the Berkana Institute, Gibrán and Marianne had the privilege of facilitating the Barr Fellows learning journey to Chiapas, Mexico.  Here they are at the conclusion of their journey, getting ready to enter the Church of San Juan Chamula, which actually is a Mayan Temple that the people consider to be the very center of the Universe.

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Mar/12/10//Cynthia Silva Parker//IISC:Outside

Three Dimensions

This week, Melinda and I will be facilitating two workshops at the Transforming Race conference, hosted by the Kirwan Institute at The Ohio State University. Here’s a sneak preview of some of what we’ll be covering.

Facilitating discussions and dialogues about race can be tough. Lack of information and knowledge, different lived experiences, unspoken assumptions, varying definitions of key concepts and differing interpretations of problems and solutions are just a few of the things that can get in the way of groups communicating authentically and building solid agreements. I’ve found that attention to three dimensions of preparing for such conversations can make all the difference between productive engagement and destructive experiences that take years to repair.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/12/10//IISC//IISC:Outside

A Week in the Life

Its been a week of provocative, profound and promising experiences on behalf of IISC. I’ve been on the road — learning, training, networking and promoting our work.  Here’s a rundown of some of the great ideas, people and organizations I’ve had the honor of connecting with these last few days:

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Nov/30/09//IISC//Featured, IISC:Outside

Chase Community Giving

A fantastic opportunity for many across the country. Feel free to send a vote our way!

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Oct/06/09//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Outside

Developing Network Weavers

The gap between theory and practice is always larger than we tend to see.  I love my job because it consistently invites me to help groups bridge this gap.  I just had a beautiful time working with a group of network weavers who are part of the Young People’s Project.  The task is to help them understand how networks work and how to behave as weavers for their own national network.

The challenge of this work has been to take all the amazing things we are learning about the role of weavers in a network and figure out how to apply these to the day to day work of these weavers.  Instead of spending too much of our time in the fuzzy world of network theory, I grabbed directly from Jack Ricchiuto’s piece on The Power of Network Weaving and went on to adapt it to very practical exercises for the weavers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/01/09//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

Presence for Productivity . . . Plus

My colleague Linda Guinee recently forwarded a great blog post by Mark McGuinness of Lateral Action .  Mark is a consultant in the realm of personal creativity and productivity and he is the father of infant twins.  This recent development has him taking a hard look at the advice he often gives others and what holds up under the demands of two babies and sleepless nights.  Whether or not you are a parent of young children, it is well worth a read, and I couldn’t agree more with tips such as “let go of routines, focus on systems” and “you can’t please all the people all the time, prioritize the important stuff.”  Much of this is in line with Melinda’s post last week (see “Less=More: A Dare”).

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Sep/16/09//Linda Guinee//IISC:Outside

Scooter Reflections on Social Media, Again…

OK, to be totally honest, I wasn’t reflecting on this while I was on the scooter, but that’s often where I am reflecting…

I had an incredible conversation with Susan Shaer, the Executive Director of WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions), the other day.? We were talking about creating a longer term vision and strategy given all that’s happened recently for those working on peace, security and foreign policy issues. We were reflecting on the amazing changes that have happened – and then Susan started talking about changes in what she was calling “new media” – and how that affects organizing strategies. At one point she said, “if we had known ten years ago how much time we would now spend reading and responding to email, think about how differently we would have organized ourselves.” And so I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

How should we be organizing for the new technologies that are ahead of us (instead of what is)? What are the new strategies for engaging people in our issues — not thinking just about what’s available now, but what’s coming? How will these changes affect how we work? Any ideas?

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Sep/08/09//Gibrán Rivera//IISC:Outside

Creative Change

Last weekend I was honored to facilitate “Creative Change 2009“, a retreat convening for the Opportunity Agenda in Telluride Colorado.  I was awe struck by the beauty of the Rockies as well as by the way retreat participants demonstrated a willingness to grapple with questions at the intersection of arts, media and social change.  The Opportunity Agenda team did a phenomenal job of bringing the right people into the space while also planning an agenda that lent itself to generative thought, rejuvenation and relationship building.

I was particularly appreciative of the resistance and reaction to any wording that forced a separation between artist and activist.  Now let me be clear, some of the conversations that we had would not have made as much progress if we had made no effort to sift through the differences – while most artists present also considered themselves activists, not every activist is ready to consider herself an artist.  However, even when the distinction was practical, many participants reacted negatively to having to make that choice.  It is my opinion that this bodes well for movement. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/29/09//IISC//IISC:Outside

Our Own Triple Bottom Line

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Enterprise 2.0 Conference. It was a fantastic event full of wisdom regarding collaboration in a world where technology is king and we humans are the serfs still struggling with literacy. Though I think when it was all devised, it was supposed to be the other way around. (My analogy, not that of Enterprise 2.0).

Attendees included the CIA, WorldBank, Microsoft, IBM, General Mills, Blue State Digital, and many other companies that work directly with collaborative technology programs. One of the focal points in the four day conference was how to maximize online communities. Accompanied with this topic was the question of whether internal Facebook-like programs to connect employees on projects are an aid to productivity or a distraction. A bigger question however was, can online meetings replace face to face meetings, and if they can, should they? At what point do we need to be face to face? Can a foundation be built and trust gained in the cyber world? By entering more meetings online are we forgoing genuine relationships in the work world? Are genuine relationships dependent on proximity?

Now there is no denying that a lot can be accomplished online and that working online can be very cost efficient. Though in a time when we need to focus on sustaining the world, we must also remember our need to sustain ourselves, and the genuine relationships which make us human. If we can find that balance with techonolgy, then we will really find a strong profit.

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May/15/09//IISC//IISC:Outside

Without Form, and Void

During my first year of seminary, I took a Practice of Ministry class in which a series of guest lecturers came to share of their practical experiences from several years in the pastorate. One speaker, whose words I will never forget, was the Rev. Conly Hughes, Jr. of Boston’s Concord Baptist Church. His words of wisdom for a group of neophytes were to illuminate the importance of the pastor’s “ministry of presence”, coupled with her “ministry of absence”. He shared that while it is vital for any conscientious pastor to shepherd in such a way as to be visibly attentive to the day to day, mundane, core issues affecting a community of faith, it is also key that the pastor keeps watch so that her consistency of “presence” does not overwhelm, overpower, nor overbear in a way that stifles the leadership of others, hampers the community’s exercise of agency or which, frankly, allows her to be taken for granted by the people. (At least that’s how I recall the insights I gleaned from his very wise words).

Fast forward: a few years ago, when upon familiarizing myself with Interaction Associates’/Institute’s facilitation methodology, I came across the principle of “Balancing Form and Void”: Creating “Form” is providing participants with a framework or approach for moving toward achieving the desired outcomes. Creating “Void” means stepping back and allowing for open space in the room, both verbally and physically. I immediately noticed the reference to the Biblical text, which comes from the first Creation narrative in the Book of Genesis:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (NKJV)

As is often the case for me with what I believe to be a Living Text, I gleaned a new insight into its meaning, informed by these pastoral and facilitation contexts: Void – or open space, if you will – as a precursor for even God’s most creative, most productive, most awesome works to…(yep, the “E”-word): emerge.

And so, whether it’s the virtues and vices of “presence”/“absence” in ministry, or the balancing act of any good facilitator vis a vis the “form” and “void” of group processes, I am thinking a lot these days about what this has to do with leadership effectiveness, blind spots (i.e., our ability to discern between what the moment/season/organizational growth cycle calls for), and its connection to organizational possibility, potential, and re-creation.

Co-creators, please — enLighten my world.



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May/08/09//IISC//IISC:Outside

Approach Matters

Last week or so, Curtis tweeted a link to an outstanding book-in-the-making by author-practicioner Peggy Holman. If I follow it correctly, Holman is blogging pieces of her book as she is writing it and inviting folks to comment and give upgrades along the way. She is truly practicing what she is preaching, in that as she writes about emergence, collaboration and innovation— she does it. Pretty neat.

I loved her writing style and am fascinated by her content, so I thought it fitting to bring it forward into this space for our collective grazing. She frames the work of emergence as a way to navigate change – whether on the personal, organizational or global level. Through noticing “patterns of change” through the stories we tell ourselves, Holman calls for a shift in our frames of reference for understanding and engaging Change:

In fact, terms like “bottom up” or “top down” cease to have meaning as we start working from a perspective that looks far more like a network of connections among diverse interacting individuals. As our frame of reference shifts, consider some illustrations of that new story of change. It is not that our traditional story disappears, rather it is integrated into a larger context:

preface-tableSo to riff on Curtis’ most recent blog, Im thinking that part of the what is wild about The Wild of Vermont is that it is a space that incites the engagement of mystery, uncertainty, vulnerability, creativity and humility. It is an approach. Holman’s table above, I think, is his way of making the same case for a re-orientation of approach. Like our 1:1 ratio around planning time to meeting time…I hear a sound that emphasizes Approach as vital to Emergence. As I stated to the participants in last week’s FL, quoting my sister-friend and she-ro journalist Charlayne Hunter Gault, its about when you enter a community, “coming correct”. Its not so much that you’ve arrived, its more about how you enter. Approach matters.

Share! My ears, mind and heart are wide open to musings on how we create spaces for emergence in our work, bring wildness to Cambridge, and/or “come correct” with our clients so that transformation, breakthroughs, innovation….really does happen. And this, not only as “deliverables” for our clients, but frankly, for our own sakes as well. Whats your sense? What do you make of Holman’s “patterns of change” above?

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May/01/09//IISC//IISC:Outside

Zone Is Where the Heart Is (or, More Light On the Golden Hour)

I loved this blog post entitled, “Overthinking Is the Enemy of Creatives”, because of its practicality and its resonance with my inner conversation these days. I hope you find it as valuable. I wanted to share it, as well as vibe on it, as a testimony to the truth of its conceptual premise. Check it out!

It’s a wonderful feeling to be in your zone….and, to personalize: I feel wonderful when I’m in my Zone. Last week’s co-training experience, so eloquently described in Curtis’s post, was certainly a Zone experience for me. Its when mind matters, but does not overbear – she is in collaboration with so many other parts of Me. It feels beauty-full, freeing, effortless, magical, transformational. It is an unusually special phenomenon, not only for me, but for those around me who are observing, flowing, engaging, vibing with me as a result of it. The twinkles in the eyes, a spiritual knowing, and testimonies on the impact: that my being and doing what I am doing indeed helps – inspires – lifts – changes – another. I, too, am changed.

This is not a boast. This is a plea. My declarations here are themselves helping me give way to an emerging wisdom inside me. It nudges me to recognize the Zone, revere Her, and focus more intentionally there, so that I may live…and give life with as much meaning and power as possible.

So its true – I am often in my head about things. And it is also true –- that I not as often experience being in the spaces and places where I am out of my head (usually not out of my mind!) and into my heart, soul and body…with my mind doing its part as well. There, I find purpose, pleasure, power and promise.

I think it might be the essence of living itself.

As a personal goal in what is a transitional season for me, I am intrigued by the idea of taking this gift of Zone, and orienting my life goals and resources (time, talent, treasure, energy, time left, giftings, etc.) to build, re-design Self, from this place. I am assessing whether I have the courage enough to utilize Zone as a reference point for personal possibility. I hope this public confession entreats you to hold me accountable to this aspiration, provokes you to consider Zone, and to celebrate aloud the feeling, the reality, and availability of such, I believe, in each human life.

I can get down with philosophically complex, sociologically deep, analysis of intractable social justice concerns another time – but for this week, in this space, I owed it to Self to vibe it out, flow it out, and pay homage to The Zone…The Golden Hour. Light it up, folks! Light it up!

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Apr/30/09//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

The Golden Hour

Last week Melinda and I had one of those experiences where everything seemed to come together. We were in Farmington, Connecticut with grantees of the Graustein Memorial Fund’s Discovery Initiative, training them in collaborative leadership techniques for their community-based work around improving early childhood education and care. For starters, the group was remarkable. The chemistry of those that came together from around the state was what any trainer or participant dreams of, and the shared passion for and commitment to their work was nothing short of inspiring. Beyond that, Melinda and I just seemed to be on our game, pulling from a wide range of tools with a well-coordinated readiness to go as deep as the group seemed willing to go. Collectively we created a space that filled gradually with rich learning, self-revelation, strong connection, and things that are still difficult to articulate. It was the kind of session that people left saying, quite literally, “I am different than when I arrived.”

Later as Melinda and I were driving back home on Friday evening, still savoring those three days, we turned a corner on the Mass Pike, and the city of Boston leapt up to greet us. It was around 7:30, the end of a beautiful clear spring day, and the sun was in such a position that it illuminated everything in a rosy hue and accentuated every nook and cranny, making buildings seem almost more than three dimensional. I have always loved that time of day, when the world becomes softer and more vibrant. Come to find out from Melinda that there is actually a name for this in photographic circles – “the golden hour” – the first and last hour of sunlight during which the sun’s rays travel obliquely through the atmosphere, lending indirect radiance and enhanced color to whatever they touch. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/24/09//IISC//IISC:Outside

The Praise Report

I write this on the eve of the 3rd day of a training session of our Facilitative Leadership course, where the last of 7 practices,“Celebrate Accomplishment”, often gets the short shrift on this last day of training. The verdict is still out in terms of whether we will give it its just due for tomorrow’s class. Yet, I find myself wrestling with a provocative body of information I became aware of through a recent tweet I received on the subject of praise.

According to a study performed by the National Institute for Physiological Sciences:

Our findings indicate that the social reward of a good reputation in the eyes of others is processed in an anatomically and functionally similar manner to monetary rewards, and these results represent an essential step toward a complete neural understanding of human social behaviors.

In other words, those of us who made a conscious decision some time ago that we would not be, as the hip hop heads say, “paper chasers”, may instead just be chasers of a different kind: the currency of good reputation. Yea, even Solomon in all his wisdom suggests the NIPS report understates the reality: “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1). For this wise king, the pay off of a good reputation is not equal to money as the scientists suggest, it is better. Whoa. News flash: As far as this neurological stimulus package goes, we, in all of our do-gooding, may just be as excessive, greedy, and self-serving as the Wall Street titans and capitalist fat cats we are quick to condemn. At the end of the day, it may be, that we all, in a Pavlovian sense, seek the sensation of reward – and whether money or praise, its all about us/our feelings.

What, then, might be the implications of such a phenomenon for the non-profit and social change sector that we live, work and eh….strive, in? On one hand, it confirms what we already know: that for a job actually well done, where a million dollar bonus or even a competitive salary isn’t on the way, we ought to lavish folk with what author and psychologist Gary Chapman calls, “words of affirmation” – verbal appreciation, simple verbal compliments (Chapman, Five Love Languages)

But not so fast! Hold back on the flowery words, my friends, for just a sec!

Consider the words of Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards

“[The key factor] in a positive judgment is not that it is positive, but that it is a judgment.

Kohn makes the case that praise actually lowers confidence and heightens pressure to live up to the compliment in order to receive future compliments – setting in motion a “rat race”, or the “praise maze” if you will (explaining some folks’ negative reaction to verbal affirmation).

Not sure what all this means for outcomes, evaluation methods, organizational culture, American pragmatism, parenting or how to break the power of negative words/images over groups of people who have been systematically targeted with such, but I’m sure some of you have ideas. What of it? Anyone others who may be cash poor and reputation rich want to weigh in? (No worries if you want to say something, well, nice….;-)

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Apr/23/09//Curtis Ogden//IISC:Outside

When Theory Met Practice

A colleague and I recently met with staff of a client organization to discuss their interest in crafting a regional “partnership” strategy.  Leading up to the meeting there had been some discussion with folk about what it would mean to bring a network lens to their work, to perhaps approach this as a “network building” opportunity.  Needless to say we were excited and came ready to dive deeply into the conversation.

My colleague and I decided it would be best to “start where the people are” and hear what their interest was in a partnership approach, how this had come about, and how they saw it as different than what they had been doing up until now.  There was some very interesting discussion about the need and desire to break out of silos, change from being project-focused to creating more of a coordinated continuum of services, and develop stronger relationships among stakeholders in each of the regions in question.

Then the time came to pop the question – “What about networks?  How do these fit into your work?”  I was invited to say a few general comments about network theory and network building and how this might be different than general collaboration/partnerships/coalition building.   On the heels of my brief presentation, there ensued commentary that is coming to be a bit of a refrain.  “I still don’t understand how network building is different than what we are trying to do in terms of partnering.”  “I’m not sure how we fit our work into that theory.”  In some instances, there was palpable consternation expressed along with these comments – “Frankly, that just makes it all the more confusing for me.”

Okay, I said, let’s stop right there.  If we are working too hard to fit our efforts into network theory or bending our brains too much to understand how networks are different than other kinds of collaboration, then we may not be headed in a very productive direction.  I decided to add simply that partnerships have a lot in common with networks, that they may in fact be networks of a sort.  The only caution is that partnerships can be overly deterministic in terms of who is in and who is out and how things get done, which might not move the needle as much as we hoped.  If network theory can offer anything, it is the suggestion that we not make our partnerships too much like business as usual with the usual suspects.  It might be of some benefit to hold space open for new ideas to emerge and make efforts to reach out to those to whom we might not otherwise engage.

To these comments, all heads around the table nodded.  Brows unfurrowed.  And we moved on.  With each of these kinds of conversations I realize that we are all truly where we are.  I am also reminded that practice often makes a more powerful lead than theory.  The two must, of course, dance together, but the real star is what we make happen in the world.  So I say, let’s not wait until we get it right, because there is no such thing.  Let’s just remain open as we go, because there’s life in that.

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Apr/21/09//Marianne Hughes//IISC:Outside

Changing the Unstated

I am currently working with a client who is focusing on an issue that illuminates all of our recent blogs about this great moment of transition. They are seeking to influence the international community to make the issue of fragile states, a first order root cause in creating an unjust and disordered world. And, here’s the problem…the U.S is still working out of its cold war script i.e. that “most transnational problems like terrorism or piracy can be linked back to an enemy state with an irredeemable ideology” though most recently there are signs that a new understanding is beginning to emerge. The Obama administration is talking about “smart power” and the need for multilateral action. And, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently testified to Congress that ‘In recent years, it seems that we’ve had more security problems from states that have been in trouble than we have from strong states that have been an adversary to us in the traditional way” And, hello…we’re making friends with Cuba!

In Donella’s Meadows book, “Thinking in Systems”, she talks about the greatest leverage point, or place to intervene in a system to make change is at the level of paradigm, the mind-set. She describes this as the shared idea in the minds of society, the great big unstated assumptions about how the world works. So, here we are with a front row seat as so many of these great big unstated assumptions are being examined opening the door for real change. Let’s be aware and awake and contribute where we can!

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Apr/17/09//IISC//IISC:Outside

Anticipation

I suppose it’s the overlooked companion of Change: Anticipation. It’s the silent provocateur that causes us to peer into the distance, squint past the horizon, turn the proverbial corner, stand on the brink, gear up for the jump off, and on and on. It is the automatic reflex within us that kicks into gear once we have a cognitive or instinctual knowing, that things are about to…shift.

That Change is afoot, we well know: Sam Cooke crooned it; Grandma prayed for it; Obama touted it; analysts predicted it; planners plan for it. My thoughts here turn to unpacking a hunch that what we are missing out on, quite unbeknownst to us, is the wisdom, creativity and knowledge available to ( through?) us/clients in that (anticipatory space of) calm before the storm (of Change). Scharmer’s naming and exploration of pre-sencing gets at it; Gibran’s queries around testing for “readiness” in groups is along the same lines; prototyping as a way into solving complex problems is yet another expression within this same sphere. Rather than an anxious, fear-based, controlling energy wherein we brace for change, I’m suggesting that there is a playful, curious, self- and Other-awareness we can decide to adopt that enables us to learn from Change, and how to navigate it, perhaps even before it occurs.

Although it sounds pretty ethereal and intangible, I am convinced that there are skills and practices that individuals/groups can employ and imbibe that strengthens abilities to anticipate Change in a fruitful, strategic, edifying way. What those skills and practices are, Im not entirely sure (ability to reflect, trust, sensing, spiritual sensitivity, emotional healthiness, confidence, calmness – whether as individuals or among groups — are some things that come to mind).

At a time when families, institutions, neighborhoods, our nation and indeed the World seem to be in a cosmic holding pattern as we await what unfolds with the economy, the planet, the political arena, and within our own neighborhoods, the words of the great mystic Howard Thurman remind us of what is available to us in challenging times, where Change is imminent and the Hope that Curtis speaks of is so desperately needed:

“The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges, and to kindle a hope that inspires.” ~ Howard Thurman, Footprints of a Dream, 1959

Help me along. What do folks think this notion of a sphere/realm of practices of anticipation when change is imminent?

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