Archive for Networks

Oct/08/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks, Sensing and Surface Area

Nerve-Cell-4

In recent work with a couple of different leadership development programs, I shared a few stories about organizations that failed to recognize the value of informal networks within and beyond their formal boundaries by choosing to see themselves primarily through the lens of the “org chart” and fixed roles/job descriptions (what I sometimes call the “stay in your lane” approach).  In these cases what was lost was the ability to access greater organizational potential and intelligence.  If we think of organizations as living entities, then our connections within and beyond those cellular walls might be thought of as vital nerves or sensors.  When we fail to acknowledge or even cut these connections within, which often represent the pathways through which work actually gets done, we may stymie or destroy critical flows and functioning.  And when we fail to see and leverage how people in all roles are connected beyond the organization, then we reduce not only the potential contribution of each individual, but the overall surface area of the organization that might otherwise attune it and help it to respond to larger systemic opportunities or threats.  Which is why increasingly people are seeing mechanistic and fixed organizational roles as “irresponsible” – they do not allow people, individually and collectively, to effectively respond to circumstances and activate around that about which they care most.  So the invitation is to think and act more like a living network.  What are you doing to build greater sensitivity and surface area in your organization or change effort?

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Oct/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

How Networks Can Change Systems

network Image from Isaac Mao

 

At this point a couple of networks with which I am working have reached or are reaching the three year mark in their formalized existence. By many accounts, this is a milestone and inflection point worth noting, as these initiatives have built significant connectivity (depth and breadth) and alignment (shared sense of common identity and direction) among key and diverse actors. Furthermore, there has been a real proven capacity of these networks to meet individual self/ organizational interests in terms of learning, new partnerships, and a broader community/marketplace of support. And there is a growing appetite for and interest in how this all adds up to significant system change. Another way of framing this is people are wondering how they can activate the next level of the system to bring all of their interactions to a place where there is greater abundance, opportunity, and impact.

Three related thoughts about how these networks might achieve systemic change:

  • Change who and what matters.  As June Holley has said, “Systems change when new networks take the place of the old.”  This is not about rearranging the deck chairs, but significantly changing how value is defined, who does that defining, how that value is exchanged, and between whom. Think of local currencies, brought together by localized and more densely connected networks, that ascribe value to skills and belongings that may get overlooked by the standard market economy.  Or think about Craigslist, eBay, Freecyle, and how, through new channels of discovery and exchange, items and ideas we might otherwise throw away have found new value. These systems and tools are working because they offer more than one scale and source to assess value.
  • Build and re-channel power and wealth.  Power is held in place in part by existing patterns of connection and resource flows.  And power is not finite.  Abundance and alternatives do not necessarily dry up, but get held up, held back, held by and/or flow between and to some and not others.  Shifting and reclaiming flows through network activity can create new power arrangements and priorities.  For example, micro-finance has created a parallel banking system that has displaced much of the traditional banking and lending structures in the developing world.  These innovations are built on the logic of creating and accessing new connections and encouraging exchange, local and trans-local.
  • Embrace a diversity of systemic actors and levels of intervention. System change is less about finding the silver bullet, per se, and more about finding the silver buckshot. This will come in part from embracing a diversity of perspectives that yield orthogonal thinking and greater systemic intelligence. It is some combination of ensuing efforts addressing the system at different levels that will likely yield success, including those focused on deeper leverage points as laid out by Donella Meadows – shifting paradigms and mindsets, creating new narratives; developing and aligning around different goals for the system; and supporting self-organization.

leverage

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Sep/30/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Poetry for Collective Impact

Image by Dominic Alves

I have a practice in most of the networks and collective impact efforts I support, which is to offer poetry at the opening and closing of convenings. I’m struck by how impactful and important people have said this can be for them. In fact, just recently a very well-respected member of the public health community was compelled to say that this is exactly what is missing from the movement, more poetry and artistic expression!

“Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

-Lucille Clifton

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/24/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

The “Right” Network Form?

Network Photo by Jenny Downing

 

Every now and then we get the question about what is the best way to structure a social change network, to which the most frequent response is, “It depends.” Case in point, in a past post, I offered examples of three different network forms growing out of the same region (New England) in a similar field (food systems). These forms that have evolved in three states have largely depended upon the initial framing question for the change effort (how to tackle food insecurity vs. how to grow the agricultural economy vs. how to achieve food justice), contextual factors (political dynamics, what already exists, who is engaged), and resources (not just funding, but certainly funding) available. And since the writing of that post, each has evolved, more or less significantly, in line with new challenges and opportunities. Some of the take-aways from this align with the lessons of moving from a more mechanistic to a regenerative outlook -

  • start where you are with what actually is,
  • avoid buying into “best practices,” and
  • expect and even desire it to change as you go.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Networks and Regenerative Thinking

“Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found…. Local life may be as much endangered by those who would ‘save the planet’ as by those who would ‘conquer the world.’ For ‘saving the planet’ calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know and thus will destroy the integrity of local nature and local community…”

Wendell Berry

Spiral Fern

I’m grateful to the mentors I’ve had who have introduced me to regenerative thinking, an approach that aligns with a living systems view of life and a network way of working, as opposed to one that is more mechanical in orientation.  To be clear, mechanical thinking has its place, but less so it seems in the unpredictable and complex world of social change and working with social systems, including networks.  Yet there still seems to be a fair amount of it out there, underlying various change tactics and wholesale approaches that may be otherwise well-intended.  The problem is that few seem willing to slow down to examine the roots of their chosen efforts, to lift up for closer inspection how their thinking may or may not be in alignment with what they are really after. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Social Velocity

Running water Photo by Guy Renard 25

 

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

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

Structure Begets Collaboration (or Not?)

Structure Photo by Synopia

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

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Jul/30/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Social Innovation, What We Are Reading

Reinventing Our Collective Selves

“Re-examine all that you have been told . . . dismiss that which insults your soul.”

- Walt Whitman

Butterfly

Developmental theory is the source of some good healthy discussion within the Interaction Institute for Social Change.  On the one hand, some point out that the notion of “stages of development” has been used to classify and oppress people, especially when theories come from privileged and powerful purveyors, are overly deterministic and linear, and do not account for cultural location and variation. On the other hand, some point to the “empowering” notion of evolution and development that can help liberate people from fixed and mechanistic views of the world and humanity.  I had this all very much in mind as I read Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.  Laloux brings developmental and so-called “integral theory,” including the work of Ken Wilber, into the palpable realm of organizational practice and through his research, posits an evolutionary trajectory from aggressive (Red) to bureaucratic (Amber) to achievement-oriented (Orange) to culture/empowerment-oriented (Green) to self-actualizing/authentic (Teal) organizations.

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/23/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks as Responsible Structures

freedom-and-responsibilityThere is growing awareness that current organizational structures can breed irresponsibility.  That is, arrangements are created where people are less able to be responsive in helpful ways.  This happens, for example, when accountability is bottlenecked in hierarchies and decision-making is distanced from where the action is most timely and relevant. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Find Your Scenius

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

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

scenius

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jul/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

An Introduction to Self-Organization

“The ideas of self-organization are very important to understand the autonomy, the authenticity and basic humanity of people.”

-Fritjof Capra

One principle of “thinking like a network” that I like to highlight is the notion of moving from permission and perfection (looking for the one right answer) to self-organization and emergence.  Self-organization is a defining characteristic of living systems and connected to their adaptive capacity and development. I like this short video as an introduction to self-organization and how it highlights the importance of diversity, connectivity and “local interactions.”  NOTE: It starts to get into “network effects” and social organizations around 2:30.  The significance of understanding self-organization is essentially that we develop a better understanding of how life, including social systems, actually works and are able to work better with systemic potential, rather than trying to command and control what is much too complex.

“I think self-organization and the newer understanding of life and complexity, when it is applied to the social realm and human organizations, can help people to find their authenticity as human beings.”

- Fritjof Capra

8752450625_3661a18c6f_z Photo by Jun Seita

self-organization

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Jul/15/14//Curtis Ogden//Facilitative Leadership, Networks

Leadership as Network Weaving

Thanks to Deborah McLaren for putting this slide show together that references the good work of June Holley, Chris Brogan, and Beth Kanter.  I find that there are many people out there who naturally get the concept of “network weaving” and many others still who are still learning to understand its value, and to see it as a function of leadership in a networked world.

At IISC, we like to talk about “Facilitative Leadership” as a practice of “creating and inspiring conditions” that deliver on the promise of collaboration (innovation, rapid diffusion, equity, resilience, adaptation, etc.).  In this vein, I particularly like what Chris Brogan suggests as the following leadership practice related to network weaving:

  • Spend 20 minutes every day thinking about your network
  • Spend 10 minutes every day cultivating your network
  • Deliver 2 or 3 times as much value as you ask from your network

leadership

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Jul/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

Principles for Network Leadership Development

“In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time.  It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible.”

-Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze (2006)

 

birdflock

 

For the past two years, I’ve had the fortune of partnering with Carole Martin to create and deliver a network leadership development program for regional and economic development in “the north country” (northern NH, southern Quebec, eastern VT). This opportunity was made possible by funding from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Foundation and took the form of something we called the Community Practitioners Network (CPN). Subsequently, some of the members of the first cohort have taken to calling it the “Community Placemakers Network” (more on that another time).

One of the first steps Carole and I took in creating the program was to begin with a set of principles, which, in good network fashion, evolved over time. These principles guided our design and facilitation of the program as it emerged, and we offered them to and co-evolved them with the cohort as they considered how to bring them to their own leadership in their organizations, communities, and beyond. Here is a condensed version of the lastest iteration of the principles:

  • Look for what is beyond the immediate sight lines and intersections – Part of the power of networks is emergence; expect and delight in the unexpected that comes from the meeting of different minds and perspectives.
  • Design for serendipity - Don’t try to control and account for all outcomes.  First of all, it’s impossible.  Secondly, as Andrew Goldsworthy once said, “Too much control can kill a work.”
  • Periphery, not (just) center – Network action is not simply about what is happening “in the room” but what transpires “after the meeting,” not what goes on at a “steering group” level, but what happens in two-sies and three-sies that form/partner/innovate “out there.”
  • Process sometimes counts as actionCreating stronger connections and building alignment among network members/participants can be significant progress.
  • We move at the speed of trustMake time and space for trust to be built.
  • Contribution before credential – Contributions are what count, and can come from anyone.
  • Feed the network through questions so that it has a life of its ownUsing inquiry can help to unlock network potential in the pursuit of unique and context-specific answers.

Always eager to hear others and how you have put them to use . . .

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Jul/08/14//Curtis Ogden//Love, LoveLiberates, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Networks: A Love Story

4641338811_3cb14b7719_z Photo by Leland Francisco

 

Over the past 8 years at IISC I have seen and experienced some interesting progressions. When I first joined the organization, in our Facilitative Leadership trainings, we talked about the “interior condition” of effective collaborative leaders. At the core we mentioned that these leaders and change agents embraced an ethic of “service, authenticity and respect.” Then we made the bold move of changing “respect,” which came across to many as a bit weak, to LOVE. For the first couple of years after making this switch, when I asked “What’s love got to do with it?” with respect to effective leadership and work for social change, there were often uncomfortable silences. Some participants would ultimately want to reframe love as “respect” or “passion.”

Then in 2009 I started noticing a change. More heads nodded in rooms when I mentioned the “L-word.” Less nervous laughter and shifting in seats. In one particularly striking instance, during a training with health care professionals in Maine, a senior and very respected physician responded,

“What’s love got to do with it? Everything! Beyond my technical skills, I am effective in so far as I am able to really see my patients, students, and colleagues, to make them feel seen for who they are.”

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Jul/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks, Sustainability

Mind the Lines in the Mind

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The other day I was working with an emerging inter-institutional collaboration of universities looking to move the needle on “transitioning to sustainability.”  Like so many other conversations that I am a part of these days, there were bold visions tempered by structural realities, including robust conversation about internal constraints to the kind of progress people are striving to realize.  These constraints are not simply internal to our organizations in the form of protocols and politics, but also to our thinking.  As David Bohm once wrote,

“Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally.”

And so there is a call to constantly “mind the lines” that are not simply “out there,” but that are conscious and unconscious projections of our thoughts, and that do not serve our intensions. Perhaps no one says it better than the late Donella Meadows in a piece from which I read the other day and have pulled extracts below.  For the entire essay, visit the Donella Meadows Institute.

From “Lines in the Mind, Not in the World” by Donella Meadows (December 24, 1987)

The earth was formed whole and continuous in the universe, without lines.

The human mind arose in the universe needing lines, boundaries, distinctions. Here and not there. This and not that. Mine and not yours.

That is sea and this is land, the mind thinks, and here is the line between them. See? It’s very clear on the map.

But, as the linguists say, the map is not the territory. The line on the map is not to be found at the edge of the sea. . . .

Between me and not-me there is surely a line, a clear distinction, or so it seems. But, now that I look, where is that line?

This fresh apple, still cold and crisp from the morning dew, is not-me only until I eat it. When I eat, I eat the soil that nourished the apple. When I drink, the waters of the earth become me. With every breath I take in I draw in not-me and make it me. With every breath out I exhale me into not-me. . . .

Between you and me, now there is a line. No other line feels more certain than that one. Sometimes it seems not a line but a canyon, a yawning empty space, across which I cannot reach.

Yet you keep reappearing in my awareness. Even when you are far away, something of you surfaces constantly in my wandering thoughts. When you are nearby, I feel your presence, I sense your mood. Even when I try not to. Especially when I try not to. . . .

I have to work hard not to pay attention to you. When I succeed, when I have closed my mind to you with walls of indifference, then the presence of those walls, which constrain my own aliveness, are reminders of you.

And when I do pay attention, very close attention, when I open myself fully to your humanity, your complexity, your reality, then I find, always, under every other feeling and judgment and emotion, that I love you.

Even between you and me, even there, the lines are only of our own making.

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Jun/26/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

Network-Inspired Questions for Change

networked inquiry

Picking up on the spirit of yesterday’s post about asking “beautiful questions” and inspired by a staff challenge to articulate lines of inquiry stemming from IISC’s core lenses, I offer this post.  It distills some of the underlying questions that adopting a “network lens” inspires for social change work.  Please add, adjust, edit, and rift!

  • How does your organization/network/change initiative strive to add value to (rather than duplicate) existing efforts?  What do you do best, and how might you then connect to the rest?
  • What are you doing to support and strengthen connections and alignment within and beyond your organization/network/change initiative?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/18/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Expand (and Deepen) the Frame

6c891-ninedotsexercise

You probably know this challenge.  Start with 3 rows of 3 dots in the form of a square.  Now using only three or four straight lines, connect all of the dots without lifting your pen or pencil from the paper (see answers above).  I was reminded of this exercise by some of the participants in the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network (CPN).  They used it as a metaphor during a presentation about a multi-functional collaborative platform they are proposing to connect a rather vast and disparate region of New Hampshire’s northern most county, including parts of western Vermont, southern Quebec, and eastern Maine.  The vision for the platform is that it would help to build connectivity and alignment around a core set of regional values that would also inspire action for community and economic development. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jun/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Structural Transformation, Your Experiences

Re-Claiming and Re-Purposing Space

0256-cpp-8314b_SM

Last week’s New England Food Summit was a unique opportunity to bring a conversation that had begun in the northern more production-oriented parts of the region to a place where access, equity and urban ag are leading edges of the conversation.  Food Solutions New England (FSNE) is leading a charge that challenges the imagination of people in six states to see and work together for a day in 2060 when we are able to produce (farm and fish) at least 50% of what is consumed here.  This challenge takes on unique dimensions in different parts and communities of the region. In Rhode Island, where this year’s Summit was held, this means working with the highest unemployment rate in the country, an ever more diverse population and the reality of very limited space in which to place new food operations.

But as Ken Payne, member of the Rhode Island delegation and chair of the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, reminded Summit attendees, a central call is to creatively go about the work of “repurposing space” – physical, moral and economic.

Read the rest of this entry »

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May/28/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

A Different Take on Scale

community

I will admit to being a bit dubious when I read articles about “scaling social impact.”  A fair number of these pieces come from rather privileged places and can smack top-down solutions that perpetuate existing and problematic power dynamics and largely ignore the specifics of local realities.  I am also concerned that many continue to hold an industrial/mechanistic/extractive view that renders “scaling up” simply more of the same old damaging same old.

So I have been heartened to hear different takes on scale this past month in a few conversations about evolving a more regenerative, “human scale”, and equitable economy. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Whose Party Is It?

Surprise Party Photo by Waqas Mustafeez

 

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

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May/14/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Do-acracy vs. Democracy?

In a number of the social change networks that I am supporting there is very active and interesting conversation, and experimentation, going on around what I would call the process-action tension.  As I have written elsewhere, I see this as a bit of a false and often unhelpful dichotomy, and I have certainly seen and been part of networks that have gotten bogged down in some version of analysis paralysis and never-ending consensus building. Increasingly there is a leaning towards getting out there sooner than later and trying things, learning from experiments and actions, readjusting, etc., which is all well and good.  At the same time, I see it as part of my role to raise questions about how the embrace of “do-acracy” might have unintended consequences around long-term alignment as well as sustained and truly systemic impact. Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/24/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Networks and Narrative

“Narratives can create a very different world, one where pressure evolves from a source of stress to a source of excitement, calling us to achieve even more of our potential, both as individuals and collectively.”

 - John Hagel

local

Today’s post gives a big tip of the hat and bow of gratitude to John Hagel for his work on narrative, which I believe has much to offer networks for social change.  First a little story . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/23/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Falling is Not Failing

Kate Tempest and this video were brought to my attention by Tom Kelly of the Sustainability Institute at UNH when he presented Tempest’s work as an “offering,” a ritual opening and closing we use in our meetings of the Food Solutions New England Network Team meetings.  It was certainly apt as we were talking about what it means to “put ourselves out there” on various fronts, to enter new territory with one another as we collectively push forward the conversation about New England creating a more just and sustainable regional food system.

I appreciate Tempest putting herself out there in general as a young artist, and this particular poetic rendering of the Icarus tale that suggests the young ambitious man’s “fall” provides lessons for the collective advancement of those whose feet have not “kicked the clouds.”  Celebrating boldness and reaching new heights . . .

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Apr/16/14//Curtis Ogden//Learning Edge, Networks

Network Development Through Convening

8562448300_2a5c7b1e59_z (1) Photo by Kevin Doyle. Some rights reserved.

 

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.

Here are some methods to consider for convenings to help feed and grow networks for change: Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr/10/14//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Making Space for Kindness

‘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?

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Mar/26/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Feed Your Network

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 »

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Mar/19/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks, Your Experiences

Storytelling as Action

storytelling here

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 »

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Mar/13/14//Curtis Ogden//Liberation, Networks

Networks and Articulating Needs

yourneedsAt 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 »

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Mar/05/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Network is the Leader

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 »

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Feb/28/14//Curtis Ogden//Love, Networks

Networks-as-Change: Expanding Empathy

“In principle, empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”

-Frans de Waal

empathy 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)

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb/27/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Love, Networks

Networks-as-Change: The Empathic Turn

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 »

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Feb/12/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks for Change: Growing Gratitude

“Grateful living brings in place of greed: sharing; in place of oppression: respect; in place of violence: peace. Who does not long for a world of sharing, mutual respect, and peace?”

-Brother David Steindl Rast

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 »

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

Networks for Change: Collaboration & Cooperation

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

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

success

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

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

Networks for Change: Conditions for Success

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

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

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Jan/15/14//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks for Change: Values Before Vision?

vision |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 »

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Jan/02/14//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Seeing and Being Through Networks

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 approaches to (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.?

Ten thoughts, in no particular order, nor meant to be exhaustive: Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/18/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks, What We Are Reading

Networks and Cultures of Giving

Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of Business whose research focuses on “motivation, prosocial giving and helping behaviors, initiative and proactivity.”  His work and writing, including his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, seem to have something to offer those interested in and engaged in developing networks for social change, as much of it points to data showing that organizations of all kinds benefit from fostering cultures of giving. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dec/12/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Thinking Like a Network

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 »

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Dec/11/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks, What We Are Reading

Networks That Work

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 points below 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 »

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Dec/04/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks and Structural Change

“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.” 

- john a. powell

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.

At the Interaction Institute for Social Change, we are in agreement with Professor john a. powell when he points to the need to consider and make fundamental structural changes in our country and communities for the causes of greater social justice and sustainability. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks and Living Systems Patterns

“The major problems of the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way people think.”

— Gregory Bateson

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.

I was especially interested to hear more from Joel about some of the living systems principles that guide his work, and to think about how these apply to what we at IISC do around network development for social change and focusing on networks as human environments.  What appears in quotes and italics below is pulled directly from Joel’s website; the comments in regular text are my own:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov/07/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Connectivity is a Result: Learning in Networks

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 »

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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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Oct/31/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

VTF2P Network: Leading With Values

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 »

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Oct/30/13//Curtis Ogden//Inspiration, Networks

Network Mantras: Show Up, Contribute, Repeat

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/24/13//Curtis Ogden//Love, Networks, Power, Equity, Inclusion

Net Work Does Not Justice Make

“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 »

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Oct/17/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Bringing Networks Home

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?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/16/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks: Trust, Drive Time and Other Offerings

“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.”

- June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct/11/13//IISC//Networks, Technology

The Innovation of Loneliness

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Oct/09/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Leveraging Networks as Marketplaces

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 »

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Oct/03/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks as Human Environments

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 »

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

Complete (Social) Capital

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

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

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Sep/25/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

More Cracks in the Network Code


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 »


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Sep/18/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks for Change: Inquiry and Emergence

“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 »

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Sep/17/13//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

New Ways of Being-With

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sep/12/13//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Networks for Social Change: A Developmental View

“If what we change does not change us we are playing with blocks.”

Marge Piercy

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 »

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Sep/04/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks for Social Change: Life on the Edge

“Look to the growing edge!”

- Howard Thurman

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 »

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Aug/26/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Networks

Nurture Networks

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 »

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Aug/14/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Building: Beginnings and Boundaries

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 »

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Aug/07/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Building AS Strategy

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 »

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Jul/31/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Why Networks for Social Change?

“Thinking in terms of networks can enable us see with new eyes.”

- Harold Jarche

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 »

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Jul/09/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

A New Paradigm for Leadership Development

Regular readers know that facilitating for the Barr Fellows Network has been among the most rewarding work I have ever gotten to do – here is why, part 2

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Jul/03/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Network Story of Change

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 »

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Jul/02/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

A New Paradigm for Leadership Development

Regular readers know that facilitating for the Barr Fellows Network has been among the most rewarding work I have ever gotten to do – here is why, part 1

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Jun/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Organize for Complexity

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 »

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Jun/19/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networking the Divide

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 »

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Jun/12/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks: Redefining Who and What Matters

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 »


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Jun/07/13//Jen Willsea//Featured, Networks

Social Justice Funders Network

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 »

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May/30/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Jarche on Networks

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 »

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May/22/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks and Power

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 »

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May/21/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

OPEN Summit US

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 »

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May/06/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Great Leaders Great Networks

IISC has had the privilege to working with the Barr Foundation to design and facilitate the Barr Network’s learning activities. See what we’ve been up to!

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May/01/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network ROI and Co-Creation

“The most robust and resilient networks are those that create additional value for each participant while strengthening a community or ecosystem as a whole.”

- Adam Pattantyus

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 »

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Apr/24/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks Building: No Small Change

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 »


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Apr/01/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

Great Leaders Great Network

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.

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Mar/27/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Protection

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 »

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Mar/20/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Gardening

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 »

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Mar/13/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

A Plan is Not a Plan is Not a Plan

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 »

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Mar/07/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Design for Collective Impact

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 »

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Feb/28/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Balancing Acts

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.”

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Feb/18/13//Cynthia Silva Parker//Networks

Network Organizing

Our colleague Bill Traynor describes essential inputs and outcomes of network organizing. See what you think!

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.

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Feb/14/13//Curtis Ogden//Networks

New Forms for Our Better Selves

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 »

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Feb/12/13//Gibrán Rivera//Liberation, Networks

Conditions for Emergence

The following comments was posted by Gibran as a response to Curtis Ogden‘s Collective Impact and Emergence blog post.  In it we are challenged to think beyond our institutions and think about how to truly impact the communities we work with. 

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.

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Feb/06/13//Curtis Ogden//Liberation, Networks

Collective Impact and Emergence

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.

So I am heartened that in their most recent installment, “Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity,” the authors recognize that Collective Impact is not simply a recipe to be followed and that its unique unfolding is part of its power.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan/22/13//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

Clinton on Creative Networks

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.

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Jan/14/13//Gibrán Rivera//Featured, Networks

OPEN Summit

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!

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Dec/28/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Power of Networks

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

 

Thanks to Harold Jarche turning me on to this video, which appeared in his recent post “It’s All About Networks.”

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Dec/05/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

The Turn Towards Affection

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 »

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Dec/03/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Featured, Networks

All our Grievances are Connected

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).

 

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Oct/25/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

A Network Speaks . . . of Value

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:

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Oct/16/12//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

More Resonance than Persuasion

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.

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Oct/11/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Networks Simplified

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.”

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Oct/10/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network Tipping Points

Image from |Isaac Mao||http://www.flickr.com/photos/isaacmao/78734579|

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:

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Oct/03/12//Curtis Ogden//Networks

Network “Doing”

“It’s about redefining ‘doing.’”

- Carole Martin

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.

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Sep/28/12//Gibrán Rivera//Networks

The Ego and the Hub

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.

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Sep/19/12//Curtis Ogden//Featured, Networks

Dimensions of Network Success

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 »

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Sep/17/12//Cynthia Silva Parker//Networks

Change your map, change your world?

Beth O’Neill, of Interaction Associates recently led a session on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). It’s the only 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.

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