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: continue reading
Can three questions really change the world? Well, maybe. Let’s think about it for a minute. One thing we know about schools is that nothing stays the same for long. Each year brings the latest “best practice.” Each week brings a new procedure and its paperwork. Each day, our students pose new challenges. Each hour, the media bombards us with news about the latest crisis. What might possibly help us keep our balance as the world shifts beneath us?
“My job is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”
- Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger, singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who championed folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 94. More about his extraordinary life here and in the above video from Democracy Now!
“Life comes when you give people a chance to contribute something.”
- Coralie Winn
IISC board member Jamil Simon brought staff attention to the film The Human Scale a few weeks ago during a discussion about building the capacity of cities to collaborate amidst growing demographic complexity and other social as well as environmental challenges. The film is screening this very evening in Somerville, Massachusetts.
In our collaborative capacity and network development work at IISC, there is considerable complexity to hold. This can create quite a mental exercise for everyone involved – What is the system we are trying to develop/problem we are trying to solve? What are the contributing factors? What is our desired future state? Who should be at the table? What are the systemic leverage points and associated strategies? Etc.
This is necessary work, and it can become incomplete or rather one dimensional when it only taps some of our collective faculties. continue reading
The following post has been reblogged from our friend August Turak. Check out more of August’s amazing work!
The industrial age led to the compartmentalization of life. We turned everything into a silo. We even siloed ourselves. Here I am spiritual, here I am fun, here I work… We have been looking at personal development through that limited lens. But August Turak points us in a different direction. He invites us to make “personal development” the central purpose of our lives. When we make our own evolution a central purpose in our lives we become active contributors to the evolution of consciousness and culture as well as the material changes we want to see in the world. I hope you enjoy this post from August Turak as much as we did.
When we at IISC look at problem or an opportunity, we look at it through the lens of love. This doesn’t mean we approach the world with rose-colored glasses: it means that we focus on the transcendent possibilities that are apparent when we hold every person in unconditional high regard.
“How Not to Manage an Introvert” (by Nguyen Hung Vu)
For several months I’ve been meaning to read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking. Having completed it this past weekend, I have both a sense of validation (being one of ever-more introverted tendencies as the years pass) and being able to see with new eyes. IMHO, it is well worth the read, and if the thought of tackling the 300 pages is daunting, you might enjoy a taste via Cain’s TED Talk.
Here I wanted to reflect on some of the insights Cain’s work has to offer collaboration and “net work” for change. continue reading
Seth’s main question is: “Who is in charge of the magic?”
During my early days at IISC, Linda brought me into design and facilitation of an “Innovation Lab” for one of our biggest clients at the time. It was big break, and I took it seriously. Linda, who is quite magical herself, kept reminding me of practical things that I still tend to overlook. At one point she had to remind me that it was important to give the participants a bathroom break!
Check out this relaxed conversation between Dr. King and Merv Griffin. Dr. King reflects on the political context in Atlanta, which he called the most progressive city in the South—and the opportunities it afforded for progress for civil rights. Toward the end, Dr. King reflects on the progress to date in civil rights.
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. continue reading
|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. continue reading
When I told Ceasar about the Thrive Workshop he was excited about it. I remembered that when we interviewed him to become President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change he talked about his ongoing work at MIT. He described the university as a place that is focused on making things work in the real world. That certainly is IISC’s orientation. And it definitely is what the Thrive Workshop is all about.
Thrive is not for everyone. Thrive is for you if you are bursting with an idea and you just can’t get yourself to make it happen. Thrive is meant to get you started. Thrive is about getting you out of your head and into the real world. continue reading
At IISC, we began the year with some heavy-duty thinking. We’ll be writing about those ideas in future posts. Today, I want to tip my hat to my colleagues and to IISC’s Board of Directors. After spending a day on Board business, our Board members spent a day with the staff thinking about emerging new directions for IISC.
The most inspiring book I read in 2013 was Across that Bridge: Life Lessons and A Vision for Change, by Congressman and Civil Rights legend, John Lewis. He built the book around several practices that are essential for social justice work: faith, patience, study, truth, peace, love and reconciliation. continue reading
Sometime around 2040 the U.S. will become a majority people of color nation, according to census projections. Already the majority of our children under the age of one are of color. These demographic shifts are underway and yet racial disparities persist in areas including educational achievement, health, and financial wealth. PolicyLink and the Center for American Progress have teamed up on a project called All-In Nation: An America that Works for All, to make the case that “strong communities of color are critical to America’s economic future.”
For those who read this blog on a somewhat regular basis, you know that we at IISC find and experience great promise in embracing network approachesto (and as) social change. So what happens when we truly see ourselves as and in networks; that is, appreciating how we are inextricably embodied through and embedded in interconnected flows of energy, material goods, ideas, intentions, etc.?
Ten thoughts, in no particular order, nor meant to be exhaustive: continue reading
The following post has been reblogged from our friend Kim Klien. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
“I would love to give to the Film Festival, but I really have to devote all my giving to my children’s public school.” This sentence, said by a long-time donor in response to a request for funding renewal from a board member at a local Film Festival, helped to start a project called “Nonprofits Talking Taxes.” Starting about 10 years ago, many of us started to hear things like this from our donors. continue reading
How do we make space for collective grief and healing in a time of great loss? By transforming public space and disrupting business-as-usual! Watch this amazing flash mob in Johannesburg to see a moving tribute to Nelson Mandela.
The Soweto Gospel Choir is performing a song written during Mandela’s imprisonment. The song is entitled Asimbonanga or “We have not seen him”.
Three of our IISC blogger-practitioners have been in conversation about 3 questions they are each carrying with them into 2014 to guide and develop their practice to support social change. We invite your reflections on and additions to these: continue reading
Or remember back in February when 50,000 people rallied in DC against the XL Pipeline? And then in October when the protests of 5,000 young people linked the pipeline, fracking, and the whole mess of fossil fuel development?
Stowe Boyd has posted a provocative and largely resonant manifesto on the future of work. Our ways of doing business are thoroughly obsolete, “only 29% [of workers] are actively engaged with work.” If this obsolescence is true for the private sector, it is even more true for those of us who work for justice.
Last Friday, Curtis posted a clip by Brene Brown. She argues that “empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.” I want to take her thinking one step further. Empathy fuels connection. Lack of empathy fuels injustice.
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: continue reading
I’ve spent time the past week reading through Networks that Work, a handy and concise resource for developing organizational networks, written by Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO of Community Partners, and Myrna Mandell, Ph.D. The book lays out some very helpful pointers for more formally constructed networks. I have highlighted 10 pointsbelow that resonate with our experiences at IISC around supporting organizational networks for social change. My comments and extensions are in italics: continue reading
“A Temporary Autonomous Zone is a liberated area of land, time or imagination where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with. Locating itself in the cracks and fault lines in the global grid of control and alienation, a T.A.Z. is an eruption of free culture where life is experienced at maximum intensity. It should feel like an exceptional party where for a brief moment our desires are made manifest and we all become the creators of the art of everyday life.”
Even before I read in the Boston Globe that trust is at an all-time low in the U.S., I was planning to write about trust. Our colleagues at Interaction Associates have been tracking the connection between leadership, trust and business performance for years. Their 2013 Trust Report reinforces earlier findings that higher levels of collaboration, trust within a company are correlated with higher performance.
We join the world in mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela; a giant of a man; the very embodiment of the intimate link between power, networks and love. His grace and humility was unrivaled, his insistence on reconciliation was an inspiration to millions. continue reading
When I take time to slow down, as I was able to do over the holiday break last week, my interest is refueled in practices that support our ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world. My line of inquiry is not simply around what can keep us energized, pull us back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but focused on how we can align our internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way and grow ourselves so we can help evolve larger systems. My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology. Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development: continue reading
“Ultimately if we are to avoid failure in the most critical work of this century, the deepest reaches of our beings must be brought to bear in honestly reevaluating and shifting the most basic structures of our society.”
The following is a textual recapturing of a Pecha Kucha-like presentation that I gave at an ARNOVA Pre-Conference Session in Hartford, CT two weeks ago. This was part of a 3-hour interactive conversation, co-designed and facilitated with Dr. Angela Frusciante of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, focusing on the power of networks for learning and social change, primarily with academic researchers and philanthropists.
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. continue reading
The following post has been reblogged from Seth’s Blog. He is a genius and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
One person selfishly drops a piece of litter on the ground, the other selfishly picks it up.
Everything we do is done because it’s better than not doing it. “Better” is the complicated term. Better might mean, “gives me physical pleasure right now,” for some people, while better might mean, “the story I tell myself about the contribution I just made gives me joy and satisfaction.”
Much has been written and said in the past month about President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. I think the one important gift President Kennedy gave the country was a certain hopefulness about what people could do at their best and what government could do at its best. Listen (starting at 36:30) to an excerpt from President Kennedy’s inaugural address, read by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. He enjoins the listeners to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” In these days of Washington gridlock and partisan gamesmanship, it’s a message we can stand to hear afresh!
Like Indigenous People’s Day (aka Columbus Day), Thanksgiving is fraught with historically inaccurate mythology. Check out these children’s books that tell a different story, from the point of view of Native Americans. And, if you’re in New England, consider joining United American Indians of New England for the 44th National Day of Mourning. continue reading
In the regional food system network development that IISC has been supporting, we have been making a habit of building certain rituals into our meetings. One is to invite offerings of various kinds to open and close meetings, an opportunity for people to share what matters most to them and bring more of what moves them to the conversation. The following poem has been making the rounds, and has become a favorite for some of the universals it seems to invoke. Wishing you all a deeply nourishing Thanksgiving. continue reading
Ok. That’s a bit of an over statement. But I was truly intrigued by a German town’s experiment in abolishing traffic lights and codes. Sounds like anarchy? Amazingly enough accidents are almost nonexistent.
Recently, four friends of mine lost parents and siblings. Rockwood has had a few unanticipated challenges this year. The ripples of the 2008 recession are still affecting the nonprofit sector, and many organizations are struggling. The instability of our national government in recent months has made things very difficult for many folks.
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.
One of the most important courses I took in college was Justice with Michael Sandel. (These days, anyone can “take” the whole course on video.) In a TED talk, Sandel spells out a way to think about justice and a way to improve democratic discourse. Here are a few highlights from the talk:
“Much of what we think of as ‘rules’ are really just traditions and habits and assumptions that don’t get challenged until some new kid comes along who really doesn’t see the value of dying at the office or getting punched in the head, just because everyone else has.”
Thanks to Laura Moorehead of the Institute for Civic Leadership for sharing this resource with us. Jason Clarke is the founder of Minds At Work, and has been consulting to government and industry for nearly 30 years. In this talk, Mr. Clarke raises a number of interesting points about overcoming resistance to or ambivalence about change. I especially like his approach of helping people move from what is perceived as negative about change to what is interesting to what is positive. Meet people where they are and help them find that space between what is “good” and “bad”- the space of “unusual” or “different.” This is the space of artistry and innovation.
What we now know as Veterans Day began as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, commemorating the end of “The War to End All Wars.” Sadly, World War I paved the way and was quickly followed by World War II. And countless lives have been lost in wars since. Sara Robinson’s description of the relationship between Remembrance Day and pacifism in Canada struck me as a powerful reminder on this Veteran’s Day. Here’s an excerpt from a longer post.
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: continue reading
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.”continue reading
Since my recent visit to LUPE in San Juan, Texas, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes LUPE’s community union model so different from most of our efforts (IISC’s and the social sector at large). César Chávez spelled described the core premise succinctly. “From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”
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. continue reading
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.
We work in close partnership with the Barr Foundation. I appreciated this video of my friend Rahn Dorsey, the foundation’s evaluation director, articulating three keys to breakthrough on complex public conversations. I specially like that Rahn’s understanding that even when the will for change is strong, it takes good process to make a way.
“We can’t retreat, we will win… We are winning because our revolution is one of the mind and the heart.” César E. Chávez
During a visit to LUPE, the community union founded by César E. Chávez and the United Farm Workers, Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Partner Organizations of Color explored the connections between child welfare, juvenile justice, community organizing and immigration. One participant spoke a word of caution to capacity builders and organizers who seek to engage and mobilize community residents. “We can’t be another broken promise to the people.”
“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. continue reading
I saw “Gravity” last night. It was a fun thriller, relatively formulaic; and yet, also of great importance. It is significant that “Gravity” has been the top seller at the box office three weekends in a row.
With appreciations to Carole Martin for passing this along, I wanted to offer this poem as a reminder of the important role of listening in helping to create trust and grounded-ness in the work of social change . . .
Finding What You Didn’t Lose
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water. continue reading
I had a virtual exchange the other day with Jane Wei-Skillern of Stanford University, as we discussed different ideas for going beyond case studies to help engage people in thinking in networked ways. This is what came to mind at the time, and I am eager to hear from others what you have done:
In the past I have asked people to think about network forms or topologies (hub and spoke, mesh, distributed); assign different forms to pairs/trios and have them think about what examples of that form exist in their lives. What are the strengths of that form? What are its limitations? How might they shift it to be more “effective” in terms of desired impact?
“Creating a culture of trust in a network can have a big payoff. Why is this so? First, when trust is well-developed in a network, people are willing to get involved in high-risk projects where their reputation and resources are at stake. These kinds of projects usually have a lot of impact. Next, high levels of trust usually make decision making easier and less time consuming. Finally, a culture of trust enables people to accept and work with people who are quite different from them, which increases the number of people working on network activities.”
The importance and power of trust in networks for social change cannot be overstated. Time and again, and despite what might show up as initial resistance, being intentional about getting to know one another beyond titles, official positions, and transactional exchanges reaps tremendous benefit, for all the reasons June Holley mentions above and more. Taking time and making space to build trust helps people to do the important work of social change and is in many cases an embodiment of the change we are trying to make in the world – when we expand our circles of compassion and inclusion; when we create new patterns of opportunity, exchange and resource flows; when we see and validate previously unrecognized or undervalued assets.
In middle and high school, I challenged (and most likely annoyed) my teachers around this time of the year. I went to school in Plymouth, MA and wondered out loud why Native Americans would want to celebrate Columbus Day. “Shouldn’t it be a day of mourning for them?” I’d ask. I don’t recall any teacher having a good answer to my question or even being willing to engage in meaningful dialogue.
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. continue reading
“Love” is now a category on the IISC Blog. How appropriate! Love is one of the three lenses that give shape to our work. And love is at the very heart of this project of social transformation. Love is path and goal. Love is how we get there and it is where we want to go.
The origins of hospitality as a sacred and esteemed practice are rooted in providing shelter and safety to the stranger. It is the ancient art and practice of offering your very best to another, with no expectation of reward. Whether you learned this practice in your grandmother’s parlor or at an Art of Hosting workshop, you know that hospitality is the essence of facilitative leadership.
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.” continue reading
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. continue reading
I have been thinking about today’s post for days. But, with the possible shutdown of the federal government, I wanted to raise a few questions and concerns. We have a (theoretically) representative form of government, which begs the question whose interests are actually being represented by the gridlock in Washington? continue reading
During his presentation at this week’s Council of Foundations Conference for Community Foundations, the Monitor Institute’s Gabriel Kasper talked about the need for innovation in community philanthropy. This included a call to examine orthodoxy in our organizations and communities, that is, the behaviors and procedures that we often take for granted with respect to the way we go about our business. This notion of orthodoxy was developed by the innovation firm Doblin and is further outlined in an article in Rotman Magazine. Gabriel then encouraged attendees to, essentially, “steal like an artist.” So in that spirit, I wanted to share the plenary exercise he had participants go through that I am particularly interested in bringing to some of the networks with which I work: continue reading
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”: continue reading
I always describe IISC as a “Collaboration Shop.” The founder of Interaction Associates, David Strauss, authored the seminal book “How to Make Collaboration Work.” I’m all for people working together to achieve a common goal. I make a living helping them do that.
Several persistent questions keep us learning and experimenting.
How do we avoid re-traumatizing people of color in this work? Often, people of color in racially mixed learning spaces bear the burden of teaching through telling their own stories. While sometimes liberating, this can also re-open wounds and create resentment at having to prove one’s reality to people who may be reluctant to accept what they have not experienced. And, over time, it can be disheartening to keep extending grace to different people in different spaces for the same mistakes. Racially homogeneous caucuses are one useful antidote. How else can we avoid these dynamics, particularly working in mixed-race settings?
We’ve been in the process of setting our direction here at Rockwood. We’re looking at our purpose, our vision, and how we will fulfill our commitments to the world. It’s been an enlivening and satisfying exploration, and as a result, it has become clear that I need to radically shift my role from one of internal management to external relationship building.
“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. continue reading
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).
We are compelled by a quote from Theory U, attributed to William O’Brien “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Collaborative tools and strategies are only truly useful in the hands of practitioners whose hearts are big enough to hold the complexities, struggles, hopes and fears that accompany the work of transforming racism. continue reading
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. continue reading
I’m proud to call Billy Parish a friend; he is an incredibly sweet person. I am a fan of his commitment and imagination. I’ve been hearing about his company, Mosaic, since it was but an idea. I was blown away to see it featured in today’s New York Times – A Bet on the Environment. continue reading
The following post is part 1 of a 2 part series on some collaborative tools and strategies to help us change our selves, change our organizations and change the world. We hope you find it helpful. We encourage you to join the conversation!
We are compelled by a quote from Theory U, attributed to William O’Brien “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” Collaborative tools and strategies are only truly useful in the hands of practitioners whose hearts are big enough to hold the complexities, struggles, hopes and fears that accompany the work of transforming racism. continue reading
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. continue reading
Appreciating this reflection by my friend Augusto Cuginotti. In the context of the USA I can already the resistance, “I came to work, not to be vulnerable.” In fact, we spend a lot of time designing spaces that protect us from vulnerability. But then, how will we ever sail towards what we do not yet know?
”Love comes when manipulation stops; when you think more about the other person than about his or her reactions to you. When you dare to reveal yourself fully. When you dare to be vulnerable” -Joyce Brothers
The way Maya Wiley quickly and effectively names the problem that we have in how we deal with racism is truly remarkable. It takes her two minutes to get across a point that can seem quite complex. Her Center for Social Inclusion is my client and I couldn’t be prouder of the association. continue reading
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. continue reading
About three years ago, I noticed a stick growing in my neighborhood a few doors down from my house. It was right at the edge of the curb, angling out into the street. I didn’t pay too much attention to it.
Last summer I realized it was a fig tree. There were little bitty figs clinging to the branches. I was sure someone from the city would come by and cut it down. Clearly, it was a volunteer fig tree. No one in their right mind would have planted it so close to the street and at such an angle.
As we enter into the last weeks of summer (yes, it’s true), I find myself becoming more reflective, slowing down a bit in anticipation of a seasonal transition. What comes to mind is this poem from Marge Piercy, for all that it has to offer in terms of thinking about harvesting, about reaping what we’ve sown through our care-full efforts, about going slow to go fast, and what it takes to do social change work well.
The following pst has been reblogged from our dear friend Adrienne Maree. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Adrienne Maree Brown outlines core principles to live by. I find these powerfully resonant and I continue to invite us into greater intentionality in our practices for creating a new world. continue reading
Transforming racism is hard work! The complexity doesn’t automatically mean current efforts aren’t working. Still, many are searching for new ways to deepen their effectiveness. At IISC, we see focusing both on content (what can we do about racism) and process (how we engage with one another) as a powerful way forward. Consider a few examples that flow from our practice.
We worked with a national network of mostly white social change activists. We supported members of the network to increase the number of people of color at their annual gathering from 5% to 40% in a single year. continue reading
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.continue reading
How to predict the future? It’s a bit like the alchemist’s dream, ever-seductive wishful thinking. We can’t predict the future, not with master plans and not with meta-data. Too many of the problems within organizations have to do with our frustrated wish for someone – ideally “the leader” – to be able to predict the future and to create stability for us. continue reading
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. continue reading
It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of the world.
For we can do nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small imperfect stones to the pile.
From Alice Walker’s “Anything we love can be saved”