Conferences and other large in-person convenings provide a great opportunity to launch and further develop networks for social change. As has been mentioned previously on this blog, and borrowing from the good work of Plastrik and Taylor, at IISC we see networks for change as developing in various inter-related dimensions, including connectivity, alignment, and action. Paying attention to these dimensions of success can inform a variety of approaches to support a more robust, trust-bound, commonly-oriented, self-organizing and (as needed) formally coordinated collective.
‘The effect of positive emotions on helping others is stronger and longer-lasting than self-interest.”
- Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley
At times thinking about social change can get rather complex, and rightfully so. And it can be helpful to ground ourselves in some of the simpler (though not necessarily easy) and timeless principles and practices of gratitude, kindness, and generosity. This video, from a rather surprising source, speaks truth about the power of giving, recently validated by a study conducted by Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley, who are also creators of The Reciprocity Ring. Both the study and this video remind me of an ongoing line of inquiry I have with respect to networks for social change - How can we cultivate skill, will, and structure so that the natural impulse to give (and receive) can thrive?
How are you making space for kindness? What does this look like? Feel like? Sound like? What is the impact?
Over the last few weeks I have fielded a number of calls from people who are interested in figuring out how to develop different kinds of networks. I’m always eager to have these conversations, precisely because there is no single right answer, and it really comes down to a process of discovery and experimentation based on the unique nature of the network and system in question. That said, I do like to ask people the question, “What are you doing to feed your network?”Read the rest of this entry »
A few different experiences last week reinforced my conviction that storytelling can constitute significant “action” and advancement, including work done in networks for (and as) change. The first was during a session that I co-delivered on behalf of IISC with the Graustein Memorial Fund and The Color of Words, about our work with an early childhood system change effort in Connecticut called Right From the Start. During the conference session we emphasized that one of the biggest leverage points for system change is at the level of narrative and belief systems.
Surfacing the dominant implicit and explicit stories about what is and should be, analyzing the degree to which they align with our values and intentions, and countering/reframing them if and as necessary has been part of the work of Right From the Start (RFTS). Read the rest of this entry »
At last week’s gathering of the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network, Carole Martin and I facilitated a session on network/multi-stakeholder engagement techniques. This built upon some work we’ve been doing with the cohort around “positivity” practice, and the question of how, beyond individual practice, we can spread the increased capacity that positive emotions bring to groups, organizations, and networks. To this end we explored some of the methods from Art of Hosting, and also engaged in some of the practices of Liberating Structures. Our leading question was, What about the way in which we engage with one another can facilitate the best of what we have to offer to a shared endeavor?Read the rest of this entry »
I just finished reading Mila Baker’s Peer-to-Peer Leadership: Why the Network is the Leader, which adds to the growing case for more widespread network thinking, foregrounding of human relationships, and shifting traditional conceptions (and myths) of leadership in business and beyond. Much of what Baker writes about has been expressed in the writings of others, including Clay Shirky, Carol Sanford, Nilofer Merchant, Kevin Kelly, and Harold Jarche, and I appreciate how she couches much of her writing in the evolving leadership and organizational development literature and thinking. Read the rest of this entry »
“In principle, empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”
-Frans de Waal
Photo by Vamsi Krishna
Yesterday’s post considered the importance and power of the empathic turn in networks-as-change, to ground people in deep connection with living realities, for the sake of greater imagination, justice, resilience and responsibility. Taking cues from experience and the work and studies of others, here are some thoughts for how to cultivate radical “affection” (to quote Wendell Berry) in networks:
Go beyond abstraction to interaction – go to and meet in real places, explore them, consider how life happens there (see for example Story of Place and Heart and Soul)
In “networks-as-change,” effectiveness is grounded in affectiveness.
In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of overall sanity, Wendell Berry, talks about what he calls “the turn towards affection.” Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human tendency to despoil landscapes and “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination: Read the rest of this entry »
The research on the role of gratitude in supporting social resilience and thriving is quite compelling. According to the Greater Good Science Center, those who have a higher gratitude quotient or a regular practice of listing and thinking about gratitudes have been shown to experience the most significant boosts in happiness and fewer bouts of illness, have stronger social bonds in one-on-one relationships and with communities, and tend to be more generous. Connected to a host of other related positive emotions, gratitude is also shown to boost people’s willingness to reach out and connect with others, including across lines of difference, to see possibility more expansively, and to maintain a general spirit of openness. What’s not to like about gratitude?
Now imagine gratitude for one multiplied many times over in an ecosystem of social interactions and connections – that is, in a network. Read the rest of this entry »
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 changenetworks. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
|Photo by Christian|www.flickr.com/photos/91048408@N00/322951661/lightbox/?q=vision|
For the past year, Carole Martin and I have been co-facilitating a “network leadership program” supported by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund called the Community Practitioners Network (CPN). The overall goal of CPN is to further develop a group of proven and promising leaders as individuals, as a cohort, and as “critical yeast and connectors” (my language, not the Fund’s) in support of community and economic development in a region that encompasses northern New Hampshire, northeastern Vermont, northwestern Maine, and southern Quebec. Throughout, we have been actively exploring a variety of leadership and network development practices for growing personal and interpersonal awareness, connectivity, alignment, resolve, resilience, and skillfulness.
In our most recent session, a two-day retreat in Pittsburg, NH, we engaged in discussion about and embodied practice of “vision.” Over the course of the two days, a robust conversation evolved about what makes vision powerful (in light of many uninspiring experiences) and its relevance in a networked world, in combination and contrasted with values. Read the rest of this entry »
For those who read this blog on a somewhat regular basis, you know that we at IISC find and experience great promise in embracing network approachesto (and as) social change. So what happens when we truly see ourselves as and in networks; that is, appreciating how we are inextricably embodied through and embedded in interconnected flows of energy, material goods, ideas, intentions, etc.?
Over the past five years or so of supporting self-declared “networks” for change, I have evolved in my understanding of what is new when we call something a network, versus a coalition or collaborative or alliance. On the surface, much can look the same, and one might also say that coalitions, collaboratives and alliances are simply different forms of networks. Yes, and . . . I believe that what can make a big difference is when participants in a network (or an organization, for that matter) embrace new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. So let me propose that network approaches at their best call on us to lead with some of the following: Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve spent time the past week reading through Networks that Work, a handy and concise resource for developing organizational networks, written by Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO of Community Partners, and Myrna Mandell, Ph.D. The book lays out some very helpful pointers for more formally constructed networks. I have highlighted 10 pointsbelow that resonate with our experiences at IISC around supporting organizational networks for social change. My comments and extensions are in italics: Read the rest of this entry »
“Ultimately if we are to avoid failure in the most critical work of this century, the deepest reaches of our beings must be brought to bear in honestly reevaluating and shifting the most basic structures of our society.”
The following is a textual recapturing of a Pecha Kucha-like presentation that I gave at an ARNOVA Pre-Conference Session in Hartford, CT two weeks ago. This was part of a 3-hour interactive conversation, co-designed and facilitated with Dr. Angela Frusciante of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, focusing on the power of networks for learning and social change, primarily with academic researchers and philanthropists.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joel Glanzberg. I had been hearing about Joel and his work from numerous trusted colleagues, including Bill Reed of Regenesis Group and Ginny McGinn of Center for Whole Communities. Joel describes himself as a builder, farmer, teacher, writer, storyteller, naturalist, and permaculturalist. And I would add to that, living systems thinker. Joel has cultivated a practice of seeing and working with patterns of life’s processes, and helps others to do this, for the sake of creating healthier and more whole communities of different kinds.
Our friends at Third Sector New England (TSNE) have released an informative report about learning networks. From 2004 to 2012, TSNE and clusters of nonprofit organizations joined in a grant program designed to further social change through building relationships and sharing insights that enabled them to better work together to achieve common goals. The resource, entitled “Funding Learning Networks for Community Impact,” includes interesting explorations of the stages in the development of learning networks and the roles and functions that are key success drivers for nonprofit networks. There are also wonderful and resonant quotes throughout from participants of the Capacity Building Fund (CBF) about the power of and key contributors to effective networks, and I wanted to share a dozen that really jumped out, while strongly suggesting you consult the entire report: Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week the Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Network held its third annual convening. This marked the move to the third year of the F2P Network’s existence, and another significant milestone.
At the first convening in 2011, there was a mix of enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, impatience, and some reticence. Many were intrigued by the notion of this new form of multi-organizational collaboration seeking to double local food production in 10 years time, boost the state economy, and address issues of food access and security. Read the rest of this entry »
Reporting live from the third annual Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Network convening, I am relishing this opportunity to work with and watch a successful network move into its third year of existence. There is much more to share about the F2P journey, which I hope to do in a follow-up post to this one, but for now, I wanted to highlight a couple of themes that continue to resonate throughout the convening and contribute to the growth and success of this network.
“Wealth and income distribution no longer resemble a familiar ‘bell curve’ in which the bulk of the wealth accrue to a large middle class. Instead, the networked economy seems to be producing a ‘power-curve’ distribution, sometimes known as a ‘winner-take-all’ economy.”
- David Bollier, from “The Power Curve Society”
As is no doubt evident from past posts on this blog, we at IISC are enthusiastic about networks and their potential to create more equitable, healthy, thriving and sustainable communities. We do not, however, subscribe to the belief that network approaches in and of themselves guarantee the kinds of just and humanizing opportunities and outcomes we seek. We do encounter people who hold up networks as a sort of panacea, hoping that in an age of more distributed technology and open source approaches to problems and solutions, we will achieve some kind of democratic ideal that has to this point eluded us. That there is promise is evident in many stories that we have heard, witnessed, and shared on this site. That there is reason to be vigilant is also illustrated in the many signs of an ever-growing and highly racialized gap between rich and poor in this country and a continued reluctance on the part of many to look at these glaring inequities or the systems that perpetuate them. Read the rest of this entry »
I had a virtual exchange the other day with Jane Wei-Skillern of Stanford University, as we discussed different ideas for going beyond case studies to help engage people in thinking in networked ways. This is what came to mind at the time, and I am eager to hear from others what you have done:
In the past I have asked people to think about network forms or topologies (hub and spoke, mesh, distributed); assign different forms to pairs/trios and have them think about what examples of that form exist in their lives. What are the strengths of that form? What are its limitations? How might they shift it to be more “effective” in terms of desired impact?
“Creating a culture of trust in a network can have a big payoff. Why is this so? First, when trust is well-developed in a network, people are willing to get involved in high-risk projects where their reputation and resources are at stake. These kinds of projects usually have a lot of impact. Next, high levels of trust usually make decision making easier and less time consuming. Finally, a culture of trust enables people to accept and work with people who are quite different from them, which increases the number of people working on network activities.”
The importance and power of trust in networks for social change cannot be overstated. Time and again, and despite what might show up as initial resistance, being intentional about getting to know one another beyond titles, official positions, and transactional exchanges reaps tremendous benefit, for all the reasons June Holley mentions above and more. Taking time and making space to build trust helps people to do the important work of social change and is in many cases an embodiment of the change we are trying to make in the world – when we expand our circles of compassion and inclusion; when we create new patterns of opportunity, exchange and resource flows; when we see and validate previously unrecognized or undervalued assets.
I am increasingly interested in how networks can help to reclaim and reshape marketplaces, bringing them back down to earth and keeping them more stimulating of local economies, helping give value to what is not formally valued, as well as shifting and restructuring flows for greater equity and abundance. So I was delighted to get a number of tips on this front from Lawrence CommunityWorks during a visit there last week. Staff and residents shared a number of ways in which they help to identify and exchange assets as a part of daily operations. For example, here is an exercise called “Marketplaces” which comes from Bill Traynor. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, Carole Martin and I took the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network on a site visit/retreat to Lawrence CommunityWorks, to see first hand what a network approach to community and economic development looks like. There is much to be said about what LCW has done, learned, and is looking to do going forward, and some of this has already been captured in case studies and articles. Here I want to focus on one important lesson that staff and residents have learned over the past 15 years or so when it comes to taking a network approach. This lesson falls under the caution – “Avoid a Fetish for Structural Forms.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Our friend Jane Wei-Skillern recently co-wrote (along with Nora Silver and Eric Heitz) another valuable contribution to the growing “network building” body of literature, entitled “Cracking the Network Code: Four Principles for Grantmakers.” This piece is part of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ learning initiative, Scaling What Works. While the guide mainly addresses funders, it also has something for those outside of the philanthropic world. Its core offering is a set of principles to guide what the authors call “the network mindset”: Read the rest of this entry »
“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet
In their article, “Using Emergence to Scale Social Innovation,” Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze highlight the critical role of self-organization, spontaneous and purposeful arrangement and action without formal or “external” management, in facilitating social change. As self-organization occurs in social networks, emergent and unexpected phenomena flow through the strength and flexibility of connections between people and groups. As Wheatley and Frieze note, these emergent phenomena tend to result in “a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts.” This is part of what constitutes the “intelligence” and resilience of networks. This capacity flows naturally when conditions are ripe for individuals to freely find each other and create. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week Curtis wrote an excellent post inviting a developmental perspective on building networks for social change. It triggered all sort of ideas for me.
Our concept of “self” is not static. It has evolved over time. That’s how we end up with concepts like the “me” generation, and the flagrant narcissism that defines our culture (see example – First World Problems).
At IISC we see taking a developmental view as being critical to effective collaborative and network-based approaches to social change. This is largely because of the complexity of the issues we are striving to address with our partners and the “adaptive” nature of the work. It is also because we hold an evolutionary perspective; that is, we see change and development as being part of the underlying dynamic of reality. As scientist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once declared, “We are moving!” And so we are interested in paying attention to and working with evolution as it occurs at different levels – individual, team/group, organization/institution, community, etc. Read the rest of this entry »
Edge has its advantages. This is the finding of ecologists and other scientists looking at how peripheral spaces can provide adaptive strength. For example, where different habitats meet, there is considerable fecundity and the extent to which there is more significant overlap there is that much more richness and species able to thrive in more than one setting. Trees make interesting use of edge by maximizing the surface area of their root systems to find and take in nutrients in the soil. We also know that innovation tends to happen where different disciplinary fields meet, and therefore through a porousness and openness to new thinking on the edge. Read the rest of this entry »
We partnered with a foundation as they built a network of leaders who shared a deep passion for their city. In the beginning, many of the leaders wanted to do something together quickly. We encouraged them to pause, build deeper relationships, and see what emerged. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a gathering, convened by the Garfield Foundation, of “network building” practitioners interested in advancing this field for the sake of making more progress around fundamental social change, including greater social equity and sustainable communities. The launch point for our discussions was the successful RE-AMP network that Garfield has supported for several years now in the midwestern United States. We began by looking at a framework for change that has emerged from RE-AMP’s experience, while acknowledging that this is a data point of one. From here we talked about what we are all learning in our respective experiences, and perhaps more importantly, what we do not know. There were several themes that I heard emerging in our conversations, and I wanted to highlight one in this post, which is reflected in the title – how we begin and bound our efforts matters.Read the rest of this entry »
At IISC we like to define the success of collaborative change efforts in multi-dimensional ways. In particular, we make reference to results, process, and relationship elements. Results are what we typically think of as the “measurable” outcomes of a change undertaking – policy change, livable wage, job creation, healthier communities, etc. Process has everything to do with the how of the work – how we approach our change efforts, the steps we take, how work is shared and by whom, and with what spirit. Relationship is about both the quality of interpersonal connections as well as how people relate to the work itself. From what one might call an “old school” mindset, there is an assumption that process and relationship are only important insofar as they help to achieve results. Read the rest of this entry »
The biological sciences have revealed that all living things in an ecosystem are interconnected through networks of relationship; that is, they literally depend upon a web of life to survive and to thrive. On the social science front, we are also beginning to appreciate that groups, organizations, and communities depend upon and function in distributed networks of relationship that go beyond contrived boundaries, formal roles, communications, or decision-making protocols. After all, we are a part of life! Read the rest of this entry »
A couple of weeks ago there was an intriguing article in Next City entitled “The Post-Hero Economy: Learning to Lead Through Networks.” In it, Jennifer Bradley and Bruce Katz tell the story of some extraordinary attempts to boost a region in the midwestern United States. The focus is not on a leader or leaders, but on a network. As the authors state, “When telling stories of transformation and turnaround, it is tempting to shape them into personal stories about heroes. One charismatic visionary — a mayor, school superintendent, entrepreneur, outraged citizen — steps up and, with unrelenting vigor and inspirational leadership, starts an irreversible cascade of change. But there is a growing body of research suggesting that, as a system or problem becomes more complex, arriving at a solution requires multiple minds from multiple sectors or perspectives.” Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to Harold Jarche for turning me on to this beta codex network presentation about seeing and designing organizations as networks. It captures much of the learning that has been coming out of our work at IISC with different kinds and scales of networks for social change. Below is a list of ten key points from the presentation: Read the rest of this entry »
I recently had an email exchange with someone who was reflecting on the difficulty of bridging the divides in a nascent network in the southern United States that is trying to tackle the local food system. Trying to reconcile differences (owing to diversity in functional lens, experience, generational perspective, social location, etc.) around a topic this vast can be very challenging. And I think this is precisely why networks are especially good mechanisms, and why adopting the “network mindset” is an excellent approach, moving forward, especially when borrowing from the framework above (adapted from Plastrik and Taylor’s work, 20o6). Read the rest of this entry »
Part of what excites me about taking a network approach to social and system change is the notion that we lead with contribution before credential. This means being open to the idea, for example, that a 15-year-old high schooler or home schooler might have as much to offer a given conversation as someone with a PhD, that lived experience can be as valuable if not more so than formal education, that those on the so-called margins often have a clearer view of what’s going on than those who sit at the center. Read the rest of this entry »
Andrea Nagel and I have been facilitating retreats for the Social Justice Funders Network (SJFN) of Massachusetts for the last year and a half or so. What an honor! Network members include individuals who work at foundations both small and large across the state and who have intentionally created a space for learning and relationship-building across roles, institutions, and issues. Read the rest of this entry »
A few of us here at IISC are avid readers of Harold Jarche’s blog, Life in Perpetual Beta. IMHO, he is a fount of wisdom and helpful information about the connected age and economy in which we find ourselves. The past couple of weeks, I’ve gleaned the following gems from his writings, which I take with me into the network building work we do at IISC: Read the rest of this entry »
I am just coming from a convening of the Northern New England Networks Community of Practice in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. The theme of the gathering was “Power and Networks,” and very timely in that a few network building initiatives with which I am working are reaching a fever pitch in terms of working out issues of power and privilege. Borrowing from something my IISC colleague Cynthia Silva Parker has said in the past, while power is always at the table, now it’s on the table! And I wanted to share some of the gleanings from the overall session. Read the rest of this entry »
In January of this year I was privileged to design and facilitate the first ever International OPEN Summit. Today I’m on my way to facilitate the first ever OPEN Summit US. The leadership of our nation’s “Online Progressive Engagement Networks” are coming together to support the development of an informal network by strengthening relationships among the people doing this work. Read the rest of this entry »
Taking another cue from Carol Sanford, I wanted to explore the notion of return on investment (ROI) for networks. In the words of Sanford, return on investment refers to “the future increase in value that is expected when the initial capital contribution is made.” Capital can take many forms, and for network participants, or “co-creators,” this is often knowledge, creativity, wisdom, and connections. Why would co-creators take the time and risk to make such an investment? What is the expected ROI? Presumably, when we are talking about networks for social change, the principle driver is the desire to make a meaningful difference for people and the purposes we care about. And, to rift a bit on Sanford, co-creators are kept in the game if the net work enhances their capabilities, grows their connections, and gives them increased opportunities to be innovative. Read the rest of this entry »
In the past few weeks, I have heard some interesting and divergent comments about networks as they relate to social change. In one case, someone in philanthropy declared that the “network experiment” was over and it was “back to funding individual organizations.” In another case, I heard tremendous enthusiasm expressed relating to the “paramount importance of building trust and relationships” for change to happen. To the first – “No!” To the second – “Yes, and . . .”. We are still in the midst to waking up to the reality and potential of networks in our lives, present company very much included. Here is some of what we are seeing and hearing with respect to where network approaches and tools, at their best and very much with our intention, can take us. Read the rest of this entry »
Being part of the design and facilitation team for the Barr Fellows Network has been some of the most rewarding work I get to do. It is rewarding because it is beautiful and because it works. I have witnessed lives change, approaches to leadership transformed. And I am getting to witness the effect of this work upon the city that I love. I hope you have the 90 seconds it will take for you to enjoy this video. You can read the original post here.
This post is not exactly about an insurance policy, at least not in the traditional sense. Picking up on the metaphor of last week’s piece on “Network Gardening,” today we bring focus to how we can protect the early growth of networks for social change. Protect them from what? The temptation to jump to action too quickly, leapfrogging the “problem conversation,” the tendency to want to institutionalize everything (what a friend calls “incorporation fever”), naysayers, exclusionist practices, and the heavy hitters who are used to getting their way. Read the rest of this entry »
An interesting innovation I’ve seen recently in the realm of network building for social change is the creation of what is being called, in one particular system with which I am working, the “Network Support Team.” In the context of what has emerged to this point as an “alignment network” focused on state-wide food system development and addressing community food insecurity, this volunteer team has stepped forward to help “tend to the whole.” It functions much as a good gardener would in her attempts to nurture abundance and flourishing. As this network considers movement into a more action/production-oriented mode, here is how the NST is helping the garden to grow: Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I posted an entry on this blog about the myriad ways that people and organizations are engaged in “net work” for social change, by profiling three different initiatives focused on strengthening local food systems and food security. Not only is there a difference in the process, but there is also variation in terms of so-called ends or outcomes. The topic of “planning” has come up quite a bit in these networks and many questions asked about what “a plan” looks like in the context of multi-stakeholder/organizational initiatives tackling complex issues. Once again, the answer is that it depends. In both direct experiences at IISC and in additional research about other initiatives, there is a wide variety around what constitutes a plan for social change. Read the rest of this entry »
In a fascinating article in Fast Company, entitled “The Secrets of Generation Flux,” Robert Safian acknowledges that in these uncertain economic times, there is no single recipe for success. Safian profiles a number of leaders who have been relatively successful at riding the waves in different ways, and notes that they are all comfortable with chaos, trying a variety of approaches, and to a certain degree letting go of top-down control. This resonates with our experiences at IISC helping people to design multi-stakeholder networks for social change. For example, even in a common field (food systems) and geography (New England) we witness different forms emerge that suit themselves to micro-contexts, and at the same time there are certain commonalities underlying all of them. Read the rest of this entry »
While doing some research on network evaluation techniques, I stumbled on a very helpful and interesting resource entitled “Network Evaluation: Cultivating Healthy Networks for Social Change” by Eli Malinsky and Chad Lubelsky (respectively for the Centre for Social Innovation and the Canada Millenium Scholarship Foundation). While it dates back to 2008 (5 years seeming like eons these days), the paper does a nice job of raising some of the inherent and necessary tensions and balancing acts of engaging in “net work.” I lifted a number of quotes from the paper as a preface to some thoughts about network value, which I laid out according to a framework that I developed (see above) using the work of Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor in their seminal “Net Gains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change.”
In a recent presentation to the Ways and Means Staff of The Community Builders, we discussed the primary inputs and resulting added value that the Network Organizing practice can bring to a service environment. This slide captures the essence of this.
The following post is taken from a message I recently posted on the Community Food Security Coalition listserv. I have already heard from a few people and am setting up conversations with them to hear more about what they are doing process and form-wise to advance the work, and look forward to sharing what I learn from them in this space. While the topic of this blog is networks focused on just and sustainable food system development, reactions are welcome from those working on new structures to address other social change issues . . .
IISC currently works with a number of food system-related initiatives around the country, providing process/structure design and facilitation support to collaborative multi-stakeholder approaches to change. As we strive for more healthy, just, sustainable, and community-enriching food systems, part of our role is to hold the stake for the “how” of the work, to ensure that it aligns with the multi-dimensional ends we seek, and to fine-tune this to the essence of the particular geographic and social locale (municipality, state, region). Read the rest of this entry »
This is excellent Curtis. It brings me back to one of our most important inquiries – how do you nurture the conditions for emergence? With this inquiry, we are not just saying that emergence happens; we are saying that our best approach is to nurture it. It is a significant shift from a more top-down technical approach.
I have appreciated the growing literature around what has been called “collective impact.” These writings from staff at FSG have certainly helped people around the country engaged or aspiring to engage in collaborative multi-organizational change work to develop shared language around some of the important underpinnings of walking this path. I have also voiced some concerns about what is NOT mentioned in these writings, including some of the critical process elements and experiences that are core to this work.
I keep making references to Steven Johnson’s book, Future Perfect. That’s because I find it to be one of the best articulations of what has become possible in this networked world. I am seduced by the idea of peer progressivism.
I have long held the hypothesis that those of us who have committed our lives to social transformation should be able to find a significant competitive advantage in a world of networks. Our ethos should be one of sharing, one of working together, one of catalyzing our collective power. Our values resonate with what is possible today. But the time to step into this opportunity is right now – right as it is emerging.
I’ve been on a whirlwind. And it began with my facilitation of OPEN Summit. The first ever leadership gathering of the world’s leading Online Progressive Engagement Networks. Think MoveOn.org as replicated in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Germany and Papua New Guinea. The great (and unbelievably sweet) Ben Brandzel had been dreaming this up for years!
I think it could be said that so much of what ails us in this day and age stems from a severe case of fragmentation. The combination of silos, specialization, segregation, industrialization, derivation (think processed food and “derivative” investment instruments), and abstraction has rendered us strangers and adversaries to one another, the larger systems that sustain us, and perhaps even to ourselves. Hence the call that you see often in this blog for a more holistic view and picture, one rooted in an understanding of the systemic nature of reality. It is also what drives our approach at IISC in terms of being more network-centric in bringing about progressive social change for healthy whole people, communities, and ecosystems. This is fundamentally about work that reconnects us to what matters most. And to be clear, this is not simply heady work, which keeps our minds separate from our bodies and emotional selves. Perhaps no one says it better than farmer, poet, and land activist Wendell Berry, who in his recent Jefferson Lecture framed the solution to our current situation with the title – “It Turns on Affection.” Below you will find an excerpt, that I shared this very morning with the Food Systems New England Network Design Team: Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to Beth Tener for pointing me in the direction of this graphic from Occupy NYC. The headline reads: “Let’s acknowledge the reality: The future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members. Our increasingly interconnected world obscures the underlying truth that all of our grievances are connected.” What connections do you see between economic inequality, ecological irresponsibility, concentrations of political and economic power, racism, sexism, and more? How are you making those connections real in your life and your work? (P.S. Click on this hyperlink if you want to see the article that follows the graphic).
At the second Vermont Farm to Plate Network Convening two weeks ago, my colleague Beth Tener and I facilitated a conversation about the value the nearly 200 people in attendance see the network adding to the food system. From where they sit, what do they see net work enabling that they have not been able to accomplish in the “old way”? Here’s a taste:
I came up as an organizer. I approached that work by working hard to persuade others that change was possible. I then proceeded to illustrate the type of change that we could work on. It is important and dignified work.
But as I came to understand networks I found myself doing a lot less persuading. I’m not just seeking to build a critical mass. I’m seeking to make critical connections. Emergence bursts forth from these connections.
Having spent significant time on this blog and in the field focusing on the complexity of network building, I thought I might bring it back to something much more basic and intuitive. Fundamentally, building networks is about building relationships. I am reminded of Nicholas Christakis’ research on the spread of physical and mental health in social networks. Here is something he found – if we are happy, those one step removed tend to be 15% happier. Those two steps removed are likely to be 10% happier. And those three steps removed are about 6% happier. Beyond that, there is much less impact. But the point is clear, how we are matters, not just for ourselves, but for others. To whom and how we are connected also matters.
Be the change you want to see. Connect for that change to go beyond “me.”
A couple of weeks ago I put the following question out into the Twittersphere – “What leads to tipping points in networks for social change?” While I did not get any direct responses, I had a number of people say they were curious to hear what answers came back, and then my own brain was activated to look for movement towards greater impact in the networks with which I am involved in various ways. I also have been in touch with other network capacity builders about their observations. Clearly there is no silver bullet for rendering networks more effective, but there are some key ingredients and rites of passage that seem to come up in most. Here is what I’ve seen and heard:
A question that has come up across a lot of the network building and advancement work with which I’ve been involved lately is one form of “What constitutes ‘doing’?” I would say that it is a fairly predictable pattern that people come together to launch the network, eager to take action to increase local food production and/or food access, to restructure the education system for more equitable outcomes, etc., and they pretty quickly discover that there is some foundation building they need to do first. This work includes building trust and relationships and establishing some common expectations, goals, processes, and indicators for their collaborative efforts. After a while, another pretty predictable dynamic occurs when people who often identify themselves as “activists” and “doers” start to ask, “When are we actually going to DO something?!” And then we see the classic tension emerge between what often gets labelled as “talking vs. doing” or process vs. action.
I’m into networks. It takes a significant shift in perspective to get into networks. We develop aptitudes and ways of being-with that allow us to contend with grater complexity.
I’m so into networks that I had the privilege of participating in a community of practice on networks and decentralized organizing. Networks thrive on trust and relationship and it was with this knowledge that we dove in. We became friends, we grew to love, appreciate and trust each other.
Currently engaged in a number of state-wide and regional network-building initiatives focused on food, health and education system change, I am beginning to see some interesting patterns across efforts to build connectivity-based and more fluid movements for change. Watching these dynamics unfold, I can’t help but come back to one of our foundational frameworks at IISC, what we call the R-P-R Triangle, for all that it has to offer our thinking about network strategy and success. This framework (see below) makes the point that any kind of collaborative endeavor is a multi-dimensional affair when it comes to the core determinants and definitions of success. Of course, we often come to the network or collaborative table eager to see results, to work in new ways to have greater impact on the issues that we care most about. Without concrete results or wins, it is hard to justify continued net work. But results are just a part of the story, and the big results may take some time in coming. Read the rest of this entry »
Beth O’Neill, of Interaction Associates recently led a session on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).It’s theonly thing she has seen in her many years as a coach and consultant that actually helps people change beliefs. NLP gets at the deep structure of what we’re trying to communicate, rather than focusing on what comes out at surface structure of our communication. It explores how our thoughts, actions and feelings work together right now to produce our experience. It’s a practical way to get at the unconscious, looking at what’s running our patterns, and creating opportunities for us to make conscious changes that bring forth the outcomes we seek.
During a recent planning session for an upcoming conference on community food security, we had a rich discussion about ensuring that the gathering embody some of the future we are trying to realize. This included breaking down silos and encouraging boundary crossing of different kinds. To punctuate the value of this, Rachel Greenberger of Food Sol invoked the words of Cheryl Kiser – “It’s not about breakthrough ideas, it’s about breakthrough interactions.” Read the rest of this entry »
If you are a frequent reader of our blog you know that I am privileged to be one of the facilitators of the Barr Fellows Network, one of the best network building efforts that I know of. The following is a blog post from the Social Capital Blog, it is written by Pat Brandes, President of the Barr Foundation and the one who conceived the idea.
No. It’s not a typo! I know you are used to hearing us talk about the importance of network weavers. But June Holly’s recent post on Network Beavers spoke directly to the heart of what we do here at IISC.
“Network beavers create gatherings that pool network assets, relationships, and energy in a space of dynamic and complex adaptive interaction.”
Yes! IISC is a Network Beaver, this is what we do and what we help you do. We work with you to facilitate and design the spaces that bring networks to life.
“Agriculture can serve life only if it is regarded as a culture of healthy relationships, both in the field—among soil organisms, insects, animals, plants, water, sun—and in the human communities it supports.”
-France Moore Lappe
Reporting in from the Food Solutions New England convening in Burlington, Vermont. Exciting and challenging conversation happening here about how to knit individual state food planning efforts into a robust regional network that ensures greater availability of and access to “local” food. As part of the proceedings, we have heard a very informative and inspiring presentation by Rich Pirog, now of Michigan State University and previously of the Leopold Center in Iowa. Rich has been part of very impressive work nurturing regional food networks, profiled in a report that served as pre-reading for the gathering.
Some of the highlights from the report worth mentioning here are the implications raised for other regional food networks, including: Read the rest of this entry »
Itis early Easter Sunday morning before the ham and scalloped potatoes go in the oven but after sunrise and meditation. This particular holy day/holiday brims with meaning and metaphor about death and resurrection: the suffering and darkness that always precedes awareness and light, the old giving way to the new, the biblical nature of the times within which we live.
I’m just coming out of a mind bending, heart expanding retreat with Orland Bishop, Rachel Bagby and the Barr Fellows Network. It was one of those experiences that is hard to put into words. For lack of a better word, and I hope Orland doesn’t mind this, it was more like being with a shaman than with a facilitator.
Orland led us in an exploration of intention and attention as he invited us to question how we relate to reality itself. He led with the idea that our relationships – and therefore our human experience – can be radically redefined if we make it our purpose to truly understand the other; and to do it with radical acceptance.
Two things reminded me of the power of design and physical space this week. First, in a workshop for Juvenile Justice leaders, the 12 participants were seated at three tables. It was a cozy arrangement and the tables were useful for handling the volume of materials they were using. After a morning focused on race, class and culture dialogue skills, we brought the chairs together in a circle in the front of the room to close a segment of the conversation. I asked folks how that arrangement felt and they say “Good!!” There’s nothing like removing physical barriers and enabling everyone to see everyone else easily to foster relational and conversational intimacy!
As I prepare to do a couple of trainings for leadership in multi-stakeholder networks in the New England region (focus being on the skills of facilitation, process design, and managing decision-making), I intend to frame our conversations with some exploration of the differences between traditional organizational leadership and what is required to steward networks towards positive impact. I begin with the presumption that network form and function are chosen strategically for the ability to accomplish something that could not be done at all or as well through other approaches. Whether trying to develop a food system to eliminate food insecurity or change an educational system to yield more equitable opportunities and outcomes, the attraction to a network approach is likely due to a desire for some combination of the following: Read the rest of this entry »
Compared to my post from yesterday, this certainly feels like a big shift, going from the sublime to the tactical. At a recent gathering that I facilitated, members of the steering committee of a food system change initiative, local and regional funders, and members of other organizational networks came together to discuss ideas for ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of the committee’s work around ensuring community food security. We came at this from a few different angles, including a conversation about actual and perceived constraints and challenges to supporting this kind of net work. Here is a taste of what came up, which resonates with what I am hearing in other networks as well: Read the rest of this entry »
The late David Bohm pointed out the lost potential of quantum physics as he saw it being assimilated by a traditional and very mechanical mindset that wanted to make it another instrument of control, prediction, and quantification. For him the power of the field was much more subtle, qualitative, and lay in the understanding that there is an “implicate order” to reality from which form emerges via our thoughts and efforts to make meaning. From Bohm’s perspective, much of what ails us stems from disorganized thought that has us attaching to form, regurgitating and defending our prejudices, as opposed to thinking that embraces the more creative flow of life. As he once expressed it, “Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.” Read the rest of this entry »
“From honeybee swarms we’ve learned that groups can reliably make good decisions in a timely matter as long as they seek diversity of knowledge. By studying termite mounds we’ve seen how even small contributions to a shared project can create something useful. Finally, flocks of starlings have shown us how, without direction from a single leader, members of a group can coordinate their behavior with amazing precision simply by paying attention to their nearest neighbor.”
Last week I was privileged to attend a gathering of practitioners from across sectors to discuss the successes and challenges of working in networked ways. The Northern New England Network Community of Practice met in Portsmouth, NH for a full day of conversations facilitated by members of Maine Network Partners. Throughout the day many critical questions were raised about and stemming from net work. No one pretended to necessarily have all of the answers to these, or to imagine that what works in one case will necessarily work in another. Nonetheless, we look forward to exploring any patterns that do show up across experiences in our respective network efforts, whether we are talking small or large scale, local or regional, within a sector or across sectors . . . Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Last week, I had the opportunity to work with a cross-sectoral group of emerging and established leaders from around southern Maine through the Institute for Civic Leadership, an initiative IISC had a hand in establishing some 18 years ago. For the past six years I’ve offered three days of collaborative capacity building entitled “Facilitative Leadership and Teams” to each successive cohort, and it’s been interesting to see how the offering has evolved over time. Throughout there has been an interest in looking at how to leverage what is now an incredible base of 500 + individuals who have been through this leadership program. And so this year we dived formally into network building strategies. Read the rest of this entry »
If you read this blog regularly, you’ve heard me talk about the Networks and Decentralized Organizing Community of Practice that I’m a part of. I’m continually buzzing with inspiration from this very special node in the network.
Part of our process includes a “daily practice” that is offered each day by a different member of the community. Jenny Lee, of the Allied Media Projects, recently offered this practice – she titled it “Murmuration.” I invite you to share your reflections.
Even if you’ve seen it before, watch it again and think about the questions:
If another species was observing and analyzing the shape, rhythm, contours of our movements what would they look like?
What is the most breathtaking structure and form of movement that you can imagine our networks taking? What would be the most inner-working mechanics that structure?
“While conventional views of power and authority seem to indicate that you should co-opt and capture other tribes, you can often achieve more by freeing your own people to maximize their vision alongside yours.”
- Seth Godin
In today’s world of mergers and acquisitions and nonprofit consolidations, I was struck by the conclusion of Seth Godin’s recent blog post. I read it as yet another argument for the power of networks and decentralization. There is so much good work to be done in this messy world of ours – why do we wish we could consolidate it under a single leader or strategy?
“Networks are not just about sharing the pie. They are about growing the pie.”
- Ellen Kahler, VSJF
It has been a privilege and an inspiration to spend the past two days working with my colleague Beth Tener and the amazing team at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) to help launch the Farm to Plate Network. Over 150 people came together to connect and take the conversation deeper around how they want to work together to double local food production in the state over the next 10 years, as a way of boosting economic development, increasing jobs, and ensuring that every resident has access to healthy food. A big rallying cry has been the devastation that Tropical Storm Irene wrought on the farming community. And as we learned from former Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee during a very enlightening presentation about the Great Flood of 1927, once again Vermonters responded in ways that have impressed those (including the American Red Cross) who came to help, with their self-organizing and neighborly efforts to get one another back on track.
In an encouraging speech to launch the proceedings, Governor Shumlin highlighted the challenges and opportunities that stem from the changing climate that is predicted to increase precipitation 20% in the state in years to come. “Our best days are ahead of us if we can pull together,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »
Building on yesterday’s post of the video about sociocracy, and inspired by the work of John Buck and Sharon Villines that I mentioned there, I’ve been pulling together a list of ways that leaders at all levels in organizations and networks might encourage more collective self-organizing, self-correcting, resilient and adaptive behavior. Here’s a start and I invite readers to please add: Read the rest of this entry »
Three years ago I had the privilege of helping to design and facilitate a convening of people in Maine interested in the power of networks for social change. The day featured many interesting presenters, including Michael Edwards who gave a provocative concluding talk entitled “Love and Networking.” His words have been coming back to mind of late, as I do work in different systems where networks are all the rage and we struggle to balance the more formal structural elements with the animating consciousness and connectivity that are the transformational juice. During this Labor Day holiday, I invite you to consider Michael’s inspiring words, excerpted from the fuller presentation, and add your own thoughts and reactions:Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been my pleasure to partner with Beth Tener of New Directions Collaborative these past few weeks in support of the Vermont Farm-to-Plate Network as it evolves a governing structure to support its goal of boosting local food production by 5% in the next 10 years. As part of our work, Beth and I are designing and facilitating two convenings that feature stories of successful networks, tips for doing “net work,” and robust conversation about what will work best in support of Farm to Plate. One resource to which we’ve turned is the Working Wikily blog, which featured a post in May that offers additional insights into what stands behind the successes of the much lauded RE-AMP Network. In a discussion featuring convenor Jenny Curtis of the Garfield Foundation and consultants Rick Reed and Heather McLeod Grant, a number of points are made that resonate and merit consideration for leveraging the power of networks. Read the rest of this entry »
I am part of a community of practice organized around networks and decentralized organizing. Some of us have been pondering the relationship between scale and relationship. We want to nurture movements that can bring social transformation to scale, and we know that authentic relationships are at the heart of real transformation.
For the past couple of years I have been involved in varying degrees and for varying lengths of time with a number of efforts around the New England region to build city and state-wide movement and infrastructure to achieve greater impact around a number of different issue areas. Whether or not these efforts have expressly used the word “network,” (all embrace the core concept of multi-stakeholder collaboration), they are all trying to create, develop, or reinforce more inclusive, distributed, and efficient means of achieving significant systemic change.
Ultimately each of these efforts has steered clear of adopting an exact replica of a network structure that is working elsewhere, implicitly understanding my friend and mentor Carol Sanford’s mantra that “best practice obliterates essence.” Instead, within and across these efforts they have been articulating some common “design principles” that guide their emergent and evolving structure. Among these are some form of the following: Read the rest of this entry »