September 13, 2016
Think like a network, act like a node.
At IISC, we continue to emphasize that networks, not organizations, are the unit of social change. Part of the reason for this is that networks at their best are able to leverage what are known as “network effects.” These effects, as described by Madeleine Taylor and Peter Plastrik, include the following:
Rapid Growth and Diffusion
Through its myriad nodes and links, as well as the ongoing addition of participants and new pathways, a dense and intricate network can expand quickly and broadly. This can be critical for spreading information and other resources and mobilizing actors in ways that organizations simply cannot achieve.
August 30, 2016
“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”
– Wendell Berry
An essay that I return to now and then, including over these past summer months, 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 in more sustained and multiply beneficial ways.
Solving for pattern, according to Berry, 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. Real-life examples include:
August 26, 2016
IISC is proud to announce the release of the Code Switch Listening Party Kit, produced by NPR’s Generation Listen.
So many great podcasts, so little time to talk about them with friends. Have a listening party!
Generation Listen invited IISC’s Senior Associate Cynthia Silva Parker to share some facilitation tips for conversations about racism and racial identity. The activities are tailored to help listeners unpack episodes of the cutting-edge podcast Code Switch. Right now, people across the country are hosting “listening parties” where the podcast is paired with a conversation.
August 23, 2016
“Processes aimed at racial equity change can overlook the privileged side of inequity.”
August 17, 2016
In numerous social change networks that we support at IISC, racial equity has been put at the center of the work, whether or not that was the initial impetus for coming together. This is not seen as ancillary to the change effort, but now understood as foundational, in that systemic inequity around race is part and parcel of the water in which we swim. In a few of these networks where there is a majority of white participants, increasing numbers of people are asking what they can do about structural racism, and one response is that there is important work to be done around whiteness and white privilege. As Gita Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk point out, this is often a critical missing link in racial equity work. Read More
Networks, or webs, are core to living systems. Thinking and looking through a network lens can help people to understand the patterns and quality of connection that either make life possible and enable liveliness or threaten life and livelihood.
Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, in their work on “cognition” in living systems, propose that there is no knowing outside of connecting or relating.
“The world as we know it emerges out of the way we relate to each other and the wider natural process.”
In other words, according to Maturana and Varela, it is through connecting and relating that “a world is brought forward.” The quality and qualities of that world depend, in large part, upon how people and other elements of living systems connect and relate to one another. Read More
August 9, 2016
Social change networks are complex, compared with other human organizational forms; they are not so easily controlled, directed or predicted. And that is as it should be, especially when dealing with real life diversity and uncertainty. This can cause some anxiety on the part of those who would like to be able to better control for outcome and process and may not be very comfortable with emergence and self-organization. But these are the life blood of complex networks, part of their intelligence and effectiveness, even as people may struggle to wrap their heads around the full picture of what is happening. That’s the way life works.
That said, experience suggests that there is an important effort to be made and role to be played in tracking (even if imperfectly and incompletely) the unfolding story of a social change network over time. This is especially important for those in pursuit of hard evidence of effectiveness and/or some kind of guarantee that there is return on one’s investment of time and other resources. I have noted previously and continue to be struck by the fact that seeing signs of network impact can indeed be difficult, perhaps because of a kind of conditioning around what constitutes “action” and “success.” Furthermore, the pace of life can cut against an appreciation for what is moving right before one’s eyes in fairly nuanced and perhaps more measured ways. Read More
August 1, 2016
Watching intermittent coverage of the Democratic National Convention my heart softened when I heard New Jersey Senator Corey Booker remind those listening that “Patriotism is the love of country, but you can’t love your country if you don’t love your countrymen.” He went on to define love as ‘being there for each other…empowering each other…finding common ground…and building bridges across differences…’ in pursuit of a common goal. He articulated a beautiful and hopeful vision of a nation of love as a free people, living interdependently. Later on during the convention, Broadway stars gathered on stage to sing the American classic, “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
It gave me a feeling of hope, not necessarily in the Party per se, but in the power of love to captivate the collective imaginations of millions of people who believe that another world is possible, and we can make it a better one for all of us.
August 1, 2016
I recently re-read portions of Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows. This second update to the original 1972 report from the Club of Rome affirms that current business-as-usual resource usage globally has our socioeconomic systems headed toward collapse shortly after the year 2050. The update reiterates the necessity of taking the impending crisis seriously and mobilizing quickly to adopt strategies such as:
While all of this serves as a strong wake-up (or stay awake) call, what most caught my attention was the concluding chapter, where the authors move from discussion of the technical fixes required to get us on the right track to a serious appeal to more adaptive approaches. Read More
July 21, 2016
The tagline of the Black Lives Matter movement is “Free from violence. Free from oppression. Free to be our full selves. Free to love. Freedom Now.” Their rallying cry is a powerful quote from Assata Shakur. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The past few weeks have reminded me that loving and supporting each other requires us not only to fight but also to mourn together. There are opportunities around us every single day. The recent shootings of police, alongside the seemingly endless list of black and brown civilians shot by police, seem to have awakened the nation in a new way. That is good, as long as we can “stay woke” long enough to do something meaningful. Still, I can’t help but wonder what hushed and gentle conversations we’d be having on television and in communities, workplaces, and houses of worship without the deaths of the police officers. Isn’t the almost daily murder of black and brown people enough to cause somber reflection? Aren’t the calls for action coming from grieving families, activists, celebrities, athletes, and everyday folks enough to make and sustain meaningful change?
July 12, 2016
This weekend I attended CommonBound 2016, the bi-annual conference of the New Economy Coalition (NEC), “…a [160-member] network of organizations imagining and building a future where people, communities, and ecosystems thrive. Together, we are creating deep change in our economy and politics—placing power in the hands of people and uprooting legacies of harm—so that a fundamentally new system can take root.”
As one might imagine given the mission, the conference was attended by people working on a wide range of projects from public engagement, participatory budgeting, and environmental sustainability to cooperatives, reparations, community land trusts, fossil fuel divestment and more. The 900 attendees were all in some way engaged in doing the very important work of organizing, shifting culture, developing alternative institutions and creative solutions, writing, resisting, and fundraising. All towards a goal of a society that is more just, more democratic, and more sustainable. NEC itself is fast becoming a network of networks engaging groups in the cooperative movement, movement for black lives, labor movement, student divestment network, environmental movement and more. Held in Buffalo, NY, the conference had all the makings of a pivotal moment in movement history, where a true intersectional approach to changing society for the better could be nurtured. The opportunities for significant connections and collaborations to develop were endless.
July 11, 2016
If you watch the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s murders (which I do not encourage if it will be triggering for you, but I DO encourage if you are not Black and you have been feeling numb to and overwhelmed by the most recent violence as I have been), you will see White or light skinned police officers shooting two different Black men in two different cities in the arm and stomach from less than six inches away. How do you pull the trigger on someone whose face you are looking at while your body is pinning theirs down on concrete (for selling CDs on a sidewalk) or while they reach for their driver’s license (after being pulled over for a busted tail light) as you asked them to?!? Seriously. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN. I mean I can answer it intellectually, with structural racism and implicit bias reasons. But it is a deeply spiritual human question as well. I hear panicked fear in both of these White or light skinned cop’s voices after they have pulled the trigger in these videos; as if they did something they had no control over, or they surprised themselves, or they know their career is in jeopardy, or what, I can’t know for sure. My stomach turns. You will also see Philando’s fiancee being a stronger woman than I could ever imagine myself being in the same situation (and her daughter too…), dealing with the unspeakable, handcuffed right after the shooting and kept that way in the back of a car before an ambulance even arrived, and while her fiancee died. That fear I heard in the police officers’s voices makes me so sick and sad. It is pathetic. It is deep White rage and White fragility and White supremacy twisting our souls into ugly fractions of what they could be. We White people have got to get our shit together. This is too much, too long, too sick, too inhumane. #BlackLivesMatter
NOTE: I have made some minor edits to this post as of 7/8 because it seems that one of these cops may not be White, but a light skinned man whose ethnicity I do not know yet. Anti-Black racism is a persistent problem in all non-Black groups, and White rage and supremacy do not plague only White people.
July 11, 2016
(Above: Video of a Boston #BlackLivesMatter protest)
In times of anger and grief and sadness, it is easy for me to retreat or to read endlessly or, worse, to tune out as if lives are not at stake.
There is much to depress us this week and, if we are awake, most weeks. I remembered this week that it is also possible to have joy during these hard times. In fact, as a colleague said to me, perhaps it is not just possible but necessary. We need to connect and celebrate because of all the craziness, not in spite of it. Perhaps it is a way of creating the world we want for ourselves and our children while in the midst of the world we need to drastically change.
Here are some moments of connectivity that brought me comfort or joy this horrible and regular US/global week: