“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.”
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.”
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?
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.
This past weekend’s CommonBound Conference was quite the experience. It was inspiring to be with the more than 600 participants from around North America talking about and sharing examples of what it might take to evolve a just and sustainable economy. I found the event’s closing plenary, an interview of and conversation between Adrienne Maree Brown, Gar Alperovitz, and Gopal Dayaneni, to be particularly stirring. For those who missed it, here is a smattering of what was buzzing in the Twittersphere . . . Read the rest of this entry »
In my current work with the Cancer Free Economy Network, I have the opportunity to partner with a very skilled team of consultants, including Joe Hsueh from Second Muse. Joe’s core offering to this initiative is system mapping and helping people to hold systemic complexity. The short video above, taken by another team member, Eugene Kim, features some of Joe’s thinking about what it takes to gain “strategic clarity” when striving to evolve a complex system.
One of the many things I appreciate about Joe is his holistic approach to system mapping which renders it much less mechanistic than I’ve seen from other practitioners. In fact, as this great article in The Guardian about Joe and his work illustrates, he comes from a very deep, some might call it spiritual, place. As the article quotes him, “Systems mapping, system modeling – all these scientific tools and methods – these are not ends in themselves. For me, they are tools for us to create a space where we open our minds, open our hearts and open our will.” In this sense, the (system) map is not the territory in more ways than one.
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 »
Last week I had the privilege of being part of faculty for the launch of the Presidio Institute’s Cross-Sector Leadership Program in San Francisco. My role in representing IISC was to lead conversation around core concepts and frameworks related to the design and facilitation of complex multi-stakeholder changeprocesses. The last day I partnered with Jennifer Splansky Juster from the Collective Impact Forum to do a deeper dive around collaborative process design, with Jen offering more guidance around the specifics of taking a “collective impact” approach. During this session, I invited Fellows to step back and take a deeper view of their cross-sector change work by reflecting on the framework above, the essence of which I have inherited from the thinking and work of Carol Sanford.
This framework offers that our chosen change methods are always grounded in an underlying belief system about what we hold to be true about humanity, the world and what constitutes “knowing.” Not being aware of or transparent about this can get us into difficulty when it leads to mixing and matching techniques/methods that may contradict one another, or when we are not operating from the same system of beliefs as others. Here are some questions I offered the CSL Fellows in consideration of their cross-sector work: Read the rest of this entry »
One of the roles that I’ve found to be particularly helpful in coaching collaborative initiatives and groups over the long-term is to help people understand that as a collective, they are unique. That is, like every living being, each group has its own distinct qualities and personality and for groups who have not worked together before, part of the early work is getting a better sense of who we are together and how we want to be together. We cannot simply assume that what worked with one collaborative will work with another. We have to honor history and other contextual factors as well as work to find was is real and essential about this living system. Read the rest of this entry »
A few different experiences last week reinforced my conviction that storytelling can constitute significant “action” and advancement, including work done in networks for (and as) change. The first was during a session that I co-delivered on behalf of IISC with the Graustein Memorial Fund and The Color of Words, about our work with an early childhood system change effort in Connecticut called Right From the Start. During the conference session we emphasized that one of the biggest leverage points for system change is at the level of narrative and belief systems.
Surfacing the dominant implicit and explicit stories about what is and should be, analyzing the degree to which they align with our values and intentions, and countering/reframing them if and as necessary has been part of the work of Right From the Start (RFTS). Read the rest of this entry »
The above quote caught my attention in light of much thinking about and work around the importance of being more fully embodied in social change efforts. This year I have personally made some commitments to more intentionally acknowledge and care for my own body, including investing in a rather basic standing desk, and recommitting to a morning workout (this post on the lasting benefits of just a 20 minute exercise routine served as an extra-added push). And I’ve been carrying this commitment directly into my work with clients, not just in terms of focusing on the importance of caring for themselves, but also grounding aspirations they have for their work. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently had a lively and illuminating conversation with an unexpected teacher. He came in the form of a well-spoken and measured man who works in the field of emergency food. We were talking at a state-wide food system convening about the causes of and solutions for hunger and he mentioned the idea of the “two footprints.” Read the rest of this entry »
It was a privilege to see and hear Newark, New Jersey Mayor and possible Senatorial candidate Cory Booker speak this week. His topic was education, which is near and dear to his heart, and he began by telling a remarkable story about his parents. Booker’s mother and father were both born into relative poverty in the south, and both benefitted tremendously from other people looking out for them, extended family and community members. His father, who was raised by a single mother, was able to attend college in North Carolina because neighbors came together and took up a collection for his tuition. Ultimately both of his parents received a college education and went on to become successful executives at IBM. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been playing with different reflection questions lately to try and help various networks and multi-stakeholder collaborative change efforts put a clearer and more aligned frame around the kinds of systems (food, education, health, etc.) that would yield more equitable, sustainable, and enriching results. This is not to pretend that they can take control of the systems and command them to be different, but rather to create an image toward which they can nudge these systems via various leverage points. In one recent convening, I borrowed a page from critical systems heuristics, which asks us to identify and play with the existing systemic boundaries, including motivation, power, expertise and legitimacy. Read the rest of this entry »
At this point in my tenure at IISC, I get the opportunity to return to certain systems and programs that I have been serving for a number of years. This includes a few organizations and leadership development initiatives to which I’ve been contributing for a half-dozen years now, through two presidential elections, the Great Recession, the Arab Spring, the explosion of social media, and some stormy knocks over the head about the reality of climate change. Through all of this I’ve been interested to see how the conversation has changed, where it has in fact changed, within these institutions and programs and among the participants. Read the rest of this entry »
On Sunday, Gibran Rivera and I facilitated a workshop at Connecting for Change/Bioneers by the Bay about change practices for a networked world. Another way of thinking about what we were exploring was to put it in terms of “practices for wholeness.” Part of our premise was and is that we are suffering from a worldview that leads with and to fragmentation and fixity. This is part of our inheritance from the industrial age that strives to understand through division and an associated mindset that believes we can make a separation between observer and observed with no associated impact. For certain tasks, of course, it makes sense and is possible to divide, diagnose and put back together. But this does not make sense, nor is it possible, in the case of complex living systems. Furthermore, we have gotten ourselves in a bind because our habits of thought have led us to thinking that the divisions and categories we have created are in some sense primordial. And so we are hard pressed to believe, or remember, that what we do to our “environment” or “others” we do to ourselves! Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier this year I co-facilitated a learning session on collaborative social change process design and stakeholder engagement approaches for a group of foundation employees from around the country. As we got deeper into the conversation, some of the participants began to speak to their own doubts about the effectiveness of grantmaking, especially when it only focuses on grantmaking. “In the larger scope of things,” said one program officer, “our money is just a drop in the bucket.” “Frankly,” said another, “there are other ways we can add value, but we limit our own validation of these efforts by calling ourselves ‘grantmakers.’” Interesting. As we explored other avenues for change agency, it was as if we were tapping into the work going on here in Michigan through the Council of Michigan Foundations. Read the rest of this entry »
Blogging this morning from the Building Energy Conference, New England’s most established cross-disciplinary renewable energy and green building gathering. If you are here, come visit us at our IISC booth! One of the big topics of this year’s conference and trade show is thinking in terms of systems. In this spirit, the following post draws from an email that I recently sent to the convenor of a state-wide system change initiative that is poised to identify strategic points of leverage within the system and its component systems to nudge it in the direction of serving all people equitably in the state and ensuring community food security. Related to this goal is the desire to support a more robust local economy and to work synergistically with ecosystems. I believe the questions listed pertain to any complex dynamic system change effort, whether one is talking about food, education, or community energy use and production, and I welcome your thoughts . . . Read the rest of this entry »
I offer this post in memory of my father, John D. Ogden Jr. (1942-2012), who passed away much too young this past Saturday after a two year fight with cancer. Known to all of his friends and family as a good and kind man, my father was also the inspiration for much of my interest in conscious evolution and the fight for justice. From his time as one of the first Peace Corps volunteers in Liberia, he spent his career promoting inter-cultural understanding, most recently as director of international programs at SUNY Cortland. My dad once told me the older he got, the more radical he became. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s my birthday today and a few nights ago my friend Malia asked me to reflect on a lesson I’ve learned over the last year. It was a BIG year for me! I got married and had a son! Lots and lots of lessons.
It has been a heartening return to my home state these past couple of days while delivering a two-day Facilitative Leadership workshop with members of Michigan’s philanthropic community. Yesterday, we spent some time in the afternoon talking about power and how it plays out in different kinds of change initiatives. The point was made a number of times that those who are most impacted by the issues we are trying to solve must be in on the solutions, including the design and carrying out of the processes of problem-analysis, opportunity identification, and vision creation. Read the rest of this entry »
Let me start by saying that I am well aware of the inherent irony of posting a piece with this title in the blogosphere and furthermore tweeting about it to my “followers.” That said, I offer this in the same spirit of the saying, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha.” In other words, thanks in advance for reading/sharing, and then let’s get back to the work of being our own lights.
As I turn thoughts to this week’s holiday, I am thankful for so much: for health, for family, for friends, for the opportunity to do the work I do, where and with whom I get to do it. And I am also grateful to be living in these uncertain, trying, and exciting times. If we would believe history and the views of certain amateur and professional philosophers, we might see our current circumstances as the makings of a great age and evolutionary leap forward. Read the rest of this entry »
I spent last week alternately avoiding and arguing out loud with the wall-to-wall media coverage of the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001. I started to hear—mostly through the silences and omissions—many lessons that seem still to be unlearned.
Labor Day weekend took on a new twist this year in the state of Vermont where people came together to clean up, comfort one another, and rebuild after Tropical Storm Irene’s devastation. I was visiting my in-laws in Chester, VT when the storm hit last Sunday. Chester, as it turned out, made national headlines as a few local residents’ homes were swept away. This is how The New York Times painted the scene the day after: “With roughly 250 roads and several bridges closed off, many residents remained stranded in their neighborhoods; others could not get to grocery stores, hospitals or work.” Other parts of the state suffered as well, including Waterbury, where state offices were washed out, even forcing the state’s Emergency Management command post to evacuate. Three people are known to have lost their lives as a result of the storm. Read the rest of this entry »
Writing this post from beautiful Knoll Farm in Vermont’s Mad River Valley where we are offering Whole Measures for the first time with the Center for Whole Communities as host. Knoll Farm is something to experience, a 400 acre working organic farm and retreat center with stunning views that speaks to the power of place as a foundation for our agency in the world. Much of what the Center for Whole Communities stands for is the bridging of boundaries, between people and the rest of the natural world, between cultures, between experiences and perspectives. And this site bespeaks a profound love for the diversity of land and community that sustains us all. We hope that this is just the first of many offerings at this unique and mundane (very much of the world) spot.
In a little book that is on the table in my yurt entitled Entering the Land: A History of Knoll Farm, co-founder Peter Forbes writes, “We are lucky have such a place as a teacher. In spite of all the pressures that might have made its history obscure and irretrievable, Knoll Farm remains a testament to the story of the past. Similarly, it sets a promising stage for the story of the future. How will this story read? What role will humans play in it? . . . The answers to these questions are in the land, for the land is the root of our well being. It is time to listen, to sink our hearts in the soil and make it familiar again.”
The more I do our collaborative consulting work here at IISC, the more interested I become in the role of the convenor in complex multi-stakeholder change efforts. This role, typically held in our work by a funder or someone else with convening power (local/state government, school district, a well-connected community-based agency) has much to say about the success and nature of a social change effort, and yet from my perspective remains under-appreciated and/or poorly misunderstood. Over the next few months I’ll spend some time in this space reflecting on what we and others are learning about this critical role and soliciting your thoughts, reactions, and experiences.
This past week I’ve been in Florida for our family’s annual pilgrimage and a desperately needed reprieve from what has certainly been a challenging New England winter. And as in years past, I’ve had the fortune to be able to attend a speaker’s series that my father-in-law has been instrumental in putting together down here. Last Friday I got to hear from Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Carter and counsel to numerous other American heads of state, both Democrat and Republican, on matters of foreign policy. Brzezinski had only 45 minutes to present what ended up being a dizzying tour of his perspective on the current state of geopolitics and suggestions for US strategy going forward. As grand (and certainly opinionated) as this undertaking was, I was most struck by how he began his talk, and the ensuing response. Read the rest of this entry »
Ever since the mid-term elections, I’ve taken to choosing a politically-oriented question for the practice meetings I do with participants in our collaborative skills workshops. Specifically, in helping people to more firmly grasp the difference between content (an egg) and process (how you prepare the egg), I’ve invited participants to consider “process-oriented” changes they would like to see in our public leadership. It’s been interesting to see some of the common themes and requests emerge across the political spectrum. Below are some of the ideas that have come up for federal, state, and municipal/town levels: Read the rest of this entry »
“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
Life and work certainly have been burning of late, and while I have been thankful for the opportunity across the board for full engagement of mind, body, and spirit, I am also missing some of my reflection and writing time. And now I hear the voice of Mr. Cohen again - “Forget your perfect offering, there’s a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.” So here is my little offering of light as the seasonal darkness grows, in the form of a few questions that continue to smoulder throughout my work.
When was the last time a public engagement process failed because of too much participation?
Can anyone be process-averse? (Kind of like being allergic to the air we breathe?)
Has one ever really gotten it done?
Is there really such a thing as certainty?
What isn’t a work in progress?
If we know what we are doing isn’t working, what will it take to try something different?
How are we going to thrive if we don’t get at least a little crazy?
“How do you do that? How do you step back and get perspective?” The question came from a table mate in an Art of Hosting workshop at this week’s Systems Thinking in Action conference. The earnest and wide-eyed inquisitor silently suggested the qualifier, “And how do you do this when there is so little time?” The question hung in the air in the midst of our World Cafe-inspired conversation about the kinds of change that are being called for in our respective communities, however we choose to define them.
My first response was to laugh. How indeed? As parents of three small children under the age of five, my wife and I often scratch our heads at how we can create more breathing space in general. Frankly, the notion of stepping back often feels like a luxury we can’t afford. And I know there are others in the same space with a variety of unremitting demands. My laugh was surely an acknowledgment of this seemingly impossible situation. And in the context of this rich albeit brief cafe conversation it also became something else, thanks to the careful attending of my colleagues. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently did work with an organization that had approached us with an interest in designing a retreat during which staff would consider options for embracing climate action and environmental organizing strategies as part of their efforts moving forward. In one of our early planning calls, I asked how this new direction made sense given where the organization had historically focused its resources (affordable housing, open space advocacy, community beautification), and the response was a very thoughtful, “That’s a good question.” Furthermore, I asked if there was anything they were planning on letting go of. Again, pregnant pause and . . . “That’s a good question.” And so began a very fruitful conversation, the upshot of which was an opening segment of the retreat that focused on developing a coherent frame for the organization that could more easily and sensibly integrate climate and environmental work. Read the rest of this entry »
“The process of coming to terms with vulnerability is one that necessarily shifts a person’s values focus to one that emphasizes self-transformation and interdependence.”
The word “vulnerability” seems to be up in many parts of my life. On the home front, there is a lot of discussion about vulnerability as being key to building stronger relationships with my wife and daughters. What this generally means is being more in touch with feelings of not being in control, of concern for those most dear to me, and of desiring greater closeness. At times I seem to be good at ignoring these either because I perceive them as painful or inconvenient, and subsequently create a buffer to my ultimate aim which is depth and richness of connection. Read the rest of this entry »
A couple of weeks ago I worked with a special group of special education facilitators who will be helping to coordinate key players in their school district to provide services to students with different learning needs. This work will put these people in some difficult circumstances when it comes to occasionally not being able to provide exactly what parents want for their children. For this reason, we spent a fair amount of time talking about how one can be of service when faced with irreconcilable differences. Much of this came down to staying grounded in one’s values, continuing to regard the humanity of those of others, and standing firm for what the district could reasonably provide.
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.
Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.
So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.
Had you visited the IISC Cambridge offices a couple of weeks ago, prior to our staff putting all of our belongings in boxes and pink (yes pink) crates in preparation for our move, you would have seen a piece of paper on my computer stand with the following word in bold letters:
This has been my mantra for the past year, and there is is increased urgency around it these days, not simply because that paper is now sealed in some box on its way to Boston’s Seaport. With so much in flux (including our move), with so many possibilities and so much to be done out there, with so much information flowing through the various channels into which I am tuned, I can easily find myself getting distracted – “Oh Look, A Squirrel!”. And I know I am not alone.
Blogging on a weekly basis and trying to stay on my social change game generally speaking, requires a steady flow of inspiration and creativity. Of course, there are times when both can feel in short supply, and so I’ve been interested in how to keep this vital stream clear and moving. Bronson and Merryman’s recent Newsweek article highlights both the importance and possibility of ratcheting up generative capacity. Turning to a few sources, including my artistic brother, creativity guru Michael Michalko, Venessa Miemis, and The Innovator’s Toolkit, here are a few of my favorite ways for keeping the old noodle limber: Read the rest of this entry »
With Father’s Day around the corner, my thoughts are focused on what it means to be a good father and a good man in this world. For those who have not yet heard, The Good Men Project has created a rich forum for these questions and has just launched a magazine delving into issues such as men’s health, relationships, sexuality, ethics, and boys/adolescence. From what I’ve seen so far, I appreciate the initiative’s willingness to go broad in eliciting a diversity of stories and perspectives. Furthermore, The Good Men Foundation has dedicated itself to helping organizations and efforts that provide educational, social, financial, and legal support to men and boys at risk.
I suppose it’s the overlooked companion of Change: Anticipation. It’s the silent provocateur that causes us to peer into the distance, squint past the horizon, turn the proverbial corner, stand on the brink, gear up for the jump off, and on and on. It is the automatic reflex within us that kicks into gear once we have a cognitive or instinctual knowing, that things are about to…shift.
That Change is afoot, we well know: Sam Cooke crooned it; Grandma prayed for it; Obama touted it; analysts predicted it; planners plan for it. My thoughts here turn to unpacking a hunch that what we are missing out on, quite unbeknownst to us, is the wisdom, creativity and knowledge available to ( through?) us/clients in that (anticipatory space of) calm before the storm (of Change). Scharmer’s naming and exploration of pre-sencing gets at it; Gibran’s queries around testing for “readiness” in groups is along the same lines; prototyping as a way into solving complex problems is yet another expression within this same sphere. Rather than an anxious, fear-based, controlling energy wherein we brace for change, I’m suggesting that there is a playful, curious, self- and Other-awareness we can decide to adopt that enables us to learn from Change, and how to navigate it, perhaps even before it occurs.
Just back from the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) Conference, the theme of which was “Unleashing Philanthropy’s Potential.” Marianne and I were in attendance in part to facilitate a session on “Leveraging Philanthropy’s Best Intentions for Collaborative Change.” We came away inspired, impressed, and heartened by the overall conference conversation, which included explorations of whether there is a need for greater empathy in philanthropy, how funders can support and evaluate the impact of networks, strategies for foundations to embrace innovation in their grantmaking practice, and what we might all learn from the Obama Administration’s emphasis on supporting “what works” (via such mechanisms as the Social Innovation Fund).
Why will I be selected to be a part of Seth Godin’s nano-MBA? Because it was made for me! Because the very essence of my job is to produce interactions that organizations care deeply about and because this is how change happens – there is a reason we are called the Interaction Institute for Social Change.
I’m doing this because my job is to help organizational leaders understand how to transcend organizational constraints. Because we are experimenting with ways to liberate the passion and the energy that are over-abundant in the social sector. Because the sector’s infrastructure has calcified and has become a constraint – and we are here to unlock it, and to set that energy free. Read the rest of this entry »
My wife and I are wrapping up our annual winter vacation to visit family in Florida. Each year this proves to be something of a spiritual practice for me, and this trip has been no different. As wonderful as it is to slow down, un-hunch shoulders, and wear fewer layers, the focus of my practice tends not to be the natural surroundings and climate so much as what I find to be the challenging social environment.
|Photo by nathanborror|http://www.flickr.com/photos/sketch22/3054286601/
With the dust now fairly settled from President Obama’s first State of the Union Address, I feel like it’s safe to offer a few comments here without being labeled an aspiring pundit. IISC friend and fellow network-phile Bill Traynor of Lawrence CommunityWorks captured some of my own feelings initially – impressed by the speech, on board . . . for now. Coming into that evening I was concerned about what I had been picking up as a big push of the “Obama brand”, leading me to ask along with Naomi Klein whether the man in the Oval Office is more about symbolic gesture than substantive change. Suffice to say that I don’t have the behind-the-scenes knowledge to confidently declare how much is actually getting done. But to the extent that anything in front of the curtain matters, and we know at least some of it does, I came away with some real adaptive leadership lessons from the SOTU Address.
Adrienne calls herself a “facilitation evangelist,” because she believes that the world would be transformed if we all practiced facilitation intentionally and were prepared with the tools to do so. I agree with her. And this reminded me of something so basic – facilitation isn’t just for meetings! I hadn’t thought about practicing facilitation in tense conversations with family members, for example, but Adrienne pointed out that facilitation in these and other everyday situations, whether the role is explicit or practiced silently within oneself, can have a profound impact on peoples’ experiences – turning what could be explosive into something more productive.