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January 22, 2015

Democracy, Equity and the Pursuit of Data

“If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization and community.”

David Chrislip

Image from r2hox

In our work at IISC, we occasionally reference David Chrislip’s “collaborative premise” (see above) as a way of orienting people to some of the key components of effective collective and net work. Given our emphasis on effective stakeholder engagement and process design, we generally focus on the first two elements more so than the last around good information, which does not mean we think it doesn’t matter. In fact, recently I’ve been observing some interesting dynamics around the data conversation in various network building and collective impact projects that we support.

Invariably, it seems that there are those who are quite concerned about ensuring that a given collective effort has the “right data” and that people are being “rigorous” in their approach to problem/opportunity analysis and solution generation. While understanding the need to have and use good data, we also think that it’s important to ask the question – Data for what? People often say they want data to ensure that they are not making uninformed and overly subjective judgments. Understandable. Furthermore it is sensible to want to seek out a baseline to be able to measure progress as a change effort moves forward. This said, I see a number of pitfalls in what can sometimes become the drumbeat for data.

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January 19, 2015

Building Beloved Community for Racial Justice

“Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. we must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution”

Recently I have been blown away by the ability of people, in the midst of racialized tension and harsh accusations, to move through insults and injuries, listen deeply to one another, account for the hurtful impacts of their behaviors, and recommit to a new level of partnership and trust. I have witnessed this kind of healing among a multiracial group of people including government employees and grassroots community leaders I am working with in a U.S. city. These folks are coming up against the same big barriers I believe all of us doing racial justice work are coming up against: people acting from unspoken and deep-seated sets of cultural values that are seemingly at odds and a lack of common language to understand how racism is playing out in our communities. Without addressing these barriers, it is too easy for us to take things personally, become defensive, and continue believing that folks who don’t think exactly like us are wrong or inferior. We can go along collaborating and making surface-level reforms, but I think it is time for us to do the deeper work.

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Image from TransformativeSpaces.org”On the Eve of Reclaim MLK” Read More

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January 19, 2015

Movement Messiness

On this day of remembering the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many will engage in service projects – a good thing, to be sure. But rarely do service projects change the social arrangements that produce such great needs. This year, there will be real efforts to “reclaim MLK Day” by engaging in protest and other acts to highlight the systemic injustices and call for systemic change.

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January 16, 2015

Not Just “Right Foods,” Right Access

Marilyn
 For the past three years, IISC has been privileged to partner with Food Solutions New England, under the convening of the Sustainability Institute at UNH, to develop a regional network to support a more just and sustainable food system. As part of this effort, we have pulled together a remarkable and dedicated Network Team, the members of which have taken it upon themselves to be champions, connectors, and strategists for this effort. Having released an ambitious Food Vision, FSNE is now reaching out to diverse partners across New England to make it a reality. The post below originally appeared on the FSNE blog, and is written by Network Team member and CEO of the Witness Project of Connecticut, Marilyn Moore. Marilyn is a strong advocate for racial and health equity and lives in Bridgeport, CT.  She was recently elected to the Connecticut State Senate where she is Chair of the Human Services Committee and Vice Chair of the Environment Committee. Her message and ongoing work speak to the importance of putting equity at the center of our efforts to create sustainable systems for food, health, and economy. 

More than 15 years ago I began educating women about breast cancer mortality and early detection.  Most of my outreach centered around African American women who suffer the highest mortality even though the incidence is higher in white women than black women.

As a lay person, I find that what I don’t know allows me to look at issues from a common sense approach and ask those dumb questions.  If every woman gets screened early why are their outcomes so bad?  Sometimes the reason is the state of their health and when it is poor, they have poorer outcomes.

After educating over 15,000 women and witnessing first-hand how much they suffer through cancer and sometimes die, I learned that many of their outcomes were poor due to their overall general health.  African Americans suffer from high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  Some of these women are battling more than one disease at a time.  When a friend, who had her first chemo treatment, died at age 42 from a heart attack, I learned she was also diabetic and her diet lacked fresh fruits and vegetables.

We are surrounded by food deserts, the bodegas where most inner city people without transportation shop, don’t offer many healthy choices.  Fresh fish, vegetables, and fruits are not available, cost prohibitive, and in the corner stores, unattractive.  Urban communities need more local, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods.

As we look towards producing 50% of our food in the New England states by 2060 we must be mindful that if we are going to be inclusive, we must consider those who suffer the greatest health disparities. It’s not only about the right foods being available, but that we all have access.

Witness Project

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January 13, 2015

Abundance Thinking for Change

7 ways

About 20 years ago I was introduced to the field of ecological design called permaculture, not in any great depth mind you, but from what I learned at the time, I was struck by how refreshing, sensible, and vital the practitioners’ perspective and approach were. Since then, and especially in recent years, interest in permaculture seems to have significantly grown (including my own) and its principles stretched beyond sustainable agriculture to human communities. Looby MacNamara is one of the teachers and practitioners who is helping with the more widespread application of permaculture principles. I just finished reading her short book, 7 Ways to Think Differently, which I recommend. In it she unites different ways of thinking (such as systems thinking and solutions thinking) with the underlying philosophical and methodological elements of “regenerative design.” 

For me, one particularly fertile area is “abundance thinking.” I have to offer a bit of a pre-qualification that the word “abundance” can be used in certain contexts that I find off-putting, especially when there is little demonstrated understanding of existing structural inequities in society. That said, I think that “leading with abundance” as a mental exercise can provide valuable insights and approaches to social change. Here are a few thoughts, and I invite additions, reactions and push back: Read More

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January 6, 2015

Problem-Solving to Pattern Creation

“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”

Wendell Berry

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An essay that I return to every now and then, including over the recent break, is Wendell Berry‘s “Solving for Pattern.” Published in 1981, the piece essentially considers systemic approaches to more “sustainable “agriculture, though the concept alluded to in the title has wider application. The phrase “solving for pattern” is an invitation to take a larger and longer view of “problem-solving,” to think about interventions that serve a bigger picture. Solving for pattern runs counter to reductionist and mechanical solutions, which lend themselves to more predictable and relatively contained situations. When reductionist solutions are applied to more complex and systemic situations, they are more prone to failure and to exacerbating negative aspects. An example is certain irrigation schemes that channel water in such a way that the larger water cycle is disrupted and nutrients lost to key places in the ecosystem.

“A bad solution is bad . . . because it acts destructively upon the larger pattern in which it is contained.”

A better approach in these situations is to get a sense of the larger systemic picture and pattern at play (which takes more time) and to look for interventions that support overall healthier dynamics in the system. Read More

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December 22, 2014

Making the Invisible Visible

“As long as it remains invisible, it is guaranteed to remain insoluble.”

Margaret Heffernan, from Willful Blindness

Photo by Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux

As I look back on 2014 through the lens of the work we have done at IISC supporting networks and movements for social justice and system change, one of the most significant themes that I’ve distilled is the value of “making the invisible visible.” This month I’ve facilitated a number of reflection sessions with diverse groups to gauge the development and impact they have felt and observed from our work over the course of the year. I tend to ask people how they see change happening at different levels: self, group, larger systems (organization, neighborhood, community, state, region, etc.). I also like to ask them to reflect via the use of stories, which I find often help to capture and convey developmental processes.

What has come from this sharing is that even though some of the big goals around equity and sustainability remain elusive, there has been movement and a significant part of this development comes down to seeing what had previously been unseen. While the methods for getting to this recognition have varied – from system mapping and analysis to network mapping to structural and power analysis to learning journeys to dialogue and tackling difficult conversations - by creating ample space to see, share and suppose, there has been significant deepening of relationships (to self, other, the work), change processes, and potential impact.

So what is being made visible? Read More

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December 18, 2014

Essentialism, Equity and Democracy

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.”

– Greg McKeown

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I’m currently reading Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which I’ll admit I had been tempted to look at earlier in the year and then decided not to for a couple of reasons. First of all, to me the sub-title smacked of a certain level of privilege, given that there are so many people who need more not less – more resources in the face of poverty, more fundamental regard for their humanity and rights in the face of injustice. In addition and seemingly validating of my initial wariness, the book’s opening stories focus on Silicon Valley executives and other corporate players. And yet at the same time I was pulled in by this notion of “essentialism,” embodied in one of the opening quotes attributed to writer, linguist and inventor Lin Yutang:

The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.

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December 10, 2014

“What’s most systemic is personal”

“What’s most systemic is personal . . . and interpersonal.”

- rift on a Peter Senge quote

what's your story?

At IISC, one of the three core lenses that we bring to our collaborative capacity building for social change work is love as a force for social transformation. How this lens impacts what we do as practitioners depends on context, though often it comes down to ensuring that there is time for people in the collaborative change efforts we support to connect on a personal and interpersonal level. One way to do this is to invite people to share stories and do this beyond the parameters for their professionally defined roles. I did this recently with a group and as is often the case, there were a few areas of resistance in the collective body. “Why are we doing this?” asked someone with a hint of consternation. That became my opening. Here is what I offer as a response to discomfort around what some people call “touchy feely” exercises.

Why are we doing this?

  1. In general terms, to expand collective potential.
  2. To help each of us to be more fully seen and appreciated for who we are, beyond abstractions and implicit assumptions. When people do not feel seen or appreciated they can disengage, or “act out” to get the attention they want.
  3. To deepen connection, build trust and increase social velocity.
  4. To test and stretch the boundaries of “appropriate” and “legitimate” ways of knowing and being with one another. Otherwise people can default to ways that privilege those most comfortable with certain ways of being (often strictly professional and cerebral).
  5. To grow “positivity” – that is, to expand the overall collectively felt sense of positive emotions (which includes pride related to the demonstrated ability to have and hold difficult conversations). Positivity has been scientifically linked with greater physical and psychological capacity to see and take in more (of systems and one another).

I offer these, like a yoga teacher, with compassion for any expressed discomfort or tightness felt in different parts of the collective body. And the invitation is to breathe through this and to see what might be loosened up for the benefit of the whole. For another take on this, I highly recommend my friend Joe Hsueh’s piece “Why the Human Touch is Key to Unlocking Systems Change.”

Curious to hear your own experiences connecting what is most personal and interpersonal with systemic change.

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December 4, 2014

You Can Help Stop the Violence Against Young Black Men

In a recent TEDx talk, attorney and diversity consultant Verna Myers shares powerful stories and three concrete ways we can all intervene on our own and others’ biases and help stop the violence against young black men:

  1. “Get out of denial!” Acknowledge unconscious bias; “stare at awesome black people!” and look for data that discomfirms stereotypes.
  1. “Move toward young black men instead of away from them. Go away from your comfort into a bigger, brighter thing.”
  1. “When see something, we have to have the courage to say something, even to the people we love … and not shelter our children from the ugliness of racism. We have an amazing country with incredible ideals … but we are not done yet …

 

 

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December 3, 2014

Creating Equitable Abundance

“We need to reach out to one another from a perspective that makes group membership less determinative of opportunity and more related to enhancement of self and community. We need to increase our sense of abundance and improve our sense of well-being, as individuals and in relation to one another. “

- john a. powell, Racing to Justice

Photo by Udey Ismail

I’ve had a number of conversations lately about mindsets and how they relate to effective collective and net work, especially work for justice. Most recently I had the opportunity to talk to Jim Ritchie-Dunham of the Institute for Strategic Clarity about his research into “thriving” organizations and communities in a number of diverse settings – sectors and countries. What he has noted as a shared and distinct (though surely not entirely sufficient) difference-maker for these groups is an orientation towards abundance.

Jim has recently published a book entitled Ecosynomics, which is also the name of a field he has helped to found, which looks at “the principles of collaboration” and more specifically, “the principles of abundance.” Research from Jim and his colleagues shows that even amidst what may appear to be a scarcity of resources and hope, some groups thrive in large part through the conscious construction of “agreements” that can create more opportunity.

I have questions and look forward to further conversation with Jim about the starting point of these groups and the degree to which dynamics of power and privilege come into play with respect to their respective successes and who ultimately benefits. At the same time, I have been aware in my work how much of a difference it can make for groups to be conscious of their ability to choose how to be with one another, and how this can help get beyond otherwise self- and collective-limiting behavior. Read More

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November 26, 2014

#IndictAmerica

JailIt is hopefully a sign of things to come. Last night, a multiracial, multigenerational crowd of 3,000 – 5,000 took to the streets of Boston, shutting down parts of the city as part of a protest organized by #BlackLivesMatter Boston (@BLM_Boston). Read More

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