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June 30, 2009

It’s Like a Computer Model

Network Theory and Social Technology have become so tightly bound that it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about networks for social change without having one of our nonprofit-types freak out about technology, learning curves, accessibility, etc. I have been looking for ways to sift through the distinctions in a way that salvages core network lessons for movement building; here is some of what I’ve come up with:

  1. The network approach works offline as well as online (it is a logic, not a technology)
  2. We should move from an organization-centric paradigm to a network-centric paradigm (our organizational structures can evolve in this direction)
  3. Our leadership models must evolve in order to handle decentralization (deemphasize control and emphasize connection)

I have been using a “rocket building” analogy. Building a rocket is too expensive for us to just start building at random. Instead, we first build a computer model of the rocket, there we adjust for all sort of variables, the pull of gravity, energy needs, the best types of material, etc. We see how it works on the computer, and then we build it.

Similarly, we could not have dared to build an offline world that allows for as much decentralization and self-organization as the online world does. Our current organizational structures – from the state, to the corporation, to the foundation and the nonprofit – are too strongly cemented. Breaking down organizational walls and internal hierarchies would have put too much at risk.

The online world has provided an unprecedented space for large-scale experimentation in new forms of organization. It has become our own computer model and it is showing us amazing things about what is possible not only online but also offline. Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine has gone as far as calling this The New Socialism. And while I’m sure that Marx is turning in his grave, what I continue to argue is that an entirely new paradigm is finally emerging and that it is through our participation that we’ll actually have a chance to shape it.

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June 29, 2009

Our Own Triple Bottom Line

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

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

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

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June 26, 2009

Our Bodies Carry Our Histories With Us

One of the benefits I’ve experienced in our social change work as process experts and professional facilitators, is the exposure we get to have in various fields of social change work. Since last October, my colleague Andrea and I have had the pleasure of consulting with an amazing collaborative of stakeholders, the Springfield Health Equity Initiative, who have determined to build a plan to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the black and brown neighborhoods in the city of Springfield, MA. Even more boldly, these dedicated and thoughtful leaders have also chosen to take up an analysis for their work that incorporates how systemic, government sanctioned, racial discrimination has  played a direct role in creating the egregious disparities in health outcomes we see today among black and brown folk in the U.S., and regardless of class.

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June 25, 2009

This I Believe

In the 1950s journalist Edward R. Murrow hosted a radio program called This I Believe, in which he invited people from all walks of life to share their personal philosophies. Fifty years later, Dan Gediman revived the show on National Public Radio with the goal of “encouraging people to begin the . . . difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.” The result has been a growing movement of communities and schools jumping at the opportunity to invite citizens and students to articulate their core beliefs and values, and to align their lives accordingly. For a taste (actually a glimpse and/or listen), check out this link.

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June 24, 2009

Another Digital Divide? What's Your Experience?

Monday, I was working with two different clients, both of whom talked about the great potential technology holds for making their work easier, helping with engaging people and moving the work forward. At the same time, there were deep concerns expressed about what may be another digital divide – that being the divide (within those who have access to technology) between those who naturally gravitate toward the use of technology (the geeks among us) and those who either find it incredibly difficult (or even incomprehensible) and/or those who don’t like technology and find it a totally inadequate substitute for face-to-face conversations. This is on top of the other digital divide – the divide between those who have access to technology and the internet and those who don’t. At the same time, due to climate change and the economic collapse, many groups we work with are cutting back (or even eliminating) travel to meetings and re-thinking how they’re working together.

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June 24, 2009

Another Digital Divide? What’s Your Experience?

Monday, I was working with two different clients, both of whom talked about the great potential technology holds for making their work easier, helping with engaging people and moving the work forward. At the same time, there were deep concerns expressed about what may be another digital divide – that being the divide (within those who have access to technology) between those who naturally gravitate toward the use of technology (the geeks among us) and those who either find it incredibly difficult (or even incomprehensible) and/or those who don’t like technology and find it a totally inadequate substitute for face-to-face conversations. This is on top of the other digital divide – the divide between those who have access to technology and the internet and those who don’t. At the same time, due to climate change and the economic collapse, many groups we work with are cutting back (or even eliminating) travel to meetings and re-thinking how they’re working together.

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June 23, 2009

The Barr Fellows

I knew a few Barr Fellows before I started doing the kind of work I do today. I knew a few of them before they were Barr Fellows, and so I also knew them after. It was in this nonscientific way that I was able to observe some of the subtle and not so subtle shifts that were happening among my friends – the fellowship had an effect on them and on their work. Conceptually, the idea behind the fellowship was something that I could understand, network theory and the power of relationships already made intuitive sense to me.

Check out the Barr Fellows Program for a formal description of the effort. But to risk oversimplification, the fellowship is about taking a diverse group of amazing leaders in Boston’s social sector, rewarding them with a sabbatical, connecting them to one another and exposing them to social innovation in other parts of the world.

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June 22, 2009

Timeless

Almost forty years ago this month Robert Kennedy was assassinated. His vision and his voice is seared into the hearts and lives of a generation. In this you-tube video listen to his description of the gross domestic product where he talks about how the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worth living. It is timeless and powerful.

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June 19, 2009

At Least I Have A Glass

You know what they say—the glass is either half full or half empty, depending on your perspective. Well, I say it’s both! And the empty part has a residue, splashed up from the full part of the glass, so it’s not completely empty after all. All of this comes to mind as I mark the 10th anniversary since I was in a car accident that left me with permanent, chronic pain. This is the first time I’ve thought about how to mark the occasion. On one hand, there’s cause for great celebration. I’m alive and so are the two of my three sons who were with me that day. My husband has not spent the last ten years raising our youngest son alone. Hallelujah! The accident paved the way for us to buy a home and move our kids from three school systems into one. That’s been good for us all! And, I’ve had to adjust my understanding of what I’m physically capable of doing. That’s where the half-empty part starts to matter.

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June 18, 2009

Daddy’s Back

Next week I return to work after three blissful weeks of parental leave. Well, perhaps I should say three very full weeks (I’m not sure that nights with little sleep and days filled with constantly changing diapers constitute bliss). I am forever grateful to the Interaction Institute for Social Change for having such a humane parental leave policy, for a father no less. This is certainly not the standard in this country.

The flip side of my gratitude is the sadness that comes from needing to leave my two infant girls, and to leave my wife with her hands full. It is certainly much more than a full time job to raise three children, and considerably more to do it well. And I am sad to think of all the parents in this country who do not have anything approaching the kind of benefit we have at IISC, and hopeful that efforts to enact some kind of federal legislation will be successful.

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June 18, 2009

Daddy's Back

Next week I return to work after three blissful weeks of parental leave. Well, perhaps I should say three very full weeks (I’m not sure that nights with little sleep and days filled with constantly changing diapers constitute bliss). I am forever grateful to the Interaction Institute for Social Change for having such a humane parental leave policy, for a father no less. This is certainly not the standard in this country.

The flip side of my gratitude is the sadness that comes from needing to leave my two infant girls, and to leave my wife with her hands full. It is certainly much more than a full time job to raise three children, and considerably more to do it well. And I am sad to think of all the parents in this country who do not have anything approaching the kind of benefit we have at IISC, and hopeful that efforts to enact some kind of federal legislation will be successful.

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June 17, 2009

Scooter Reflections on Social Media Plus – the Sequel

First things first! We learned last night that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved the nominations of Bonnie Jenkins as State Department Coordinator of Threat Reduction Programs (an Ambassador level position) and Eric Schwartz as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration. IISC has worked closely with both Bonnie (currently at the Ford Foundation) and Eric (currently at Connect US) for a number of years and send our congratulations! Both are highly qualified and deeply connected to the community of nonprofits working on foreign policy and peace and security. Very good news. Now, onto the full Senate for confirmation!

As for reflections on social media, there’s a new Clay Shirky TED video describing the shifts based on the new forms of media – the ways that new media allows for a whole new many-to-many communication. He gives examples of the ways the Chinese government has tried to maintain control (in new ways). He also talks about the Obama campaign demonstrating a new way of operating – encouraging and allowing for participation on its website even when the views and organizing were going against Obama’s position. Take a look:

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