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November 10, 2014

Racism. What will it take to end it?

We are pleased to announce the release of Senior Associate Cynthia Silva Parker’s TedX talk. Cynthia shares moments she’s witnessed racism, and how she thinks we can end it. We hope you share this talk with your networks.

Cynthia has spent decades helping people understand how the system of racism operates. As Senior Associate at Interaction Institute for Social Change, she designs and facilitates collaborative equity and inclusion initiatives. These initiatives make change in organizations, cities, and networks. Cynthia also trains leaders through our public workshops. Her next appearance is February 24-25, 2015 in Oakland, CA: Fundamentals of Facilitation for Racial Justice Work.

She is a life-long advocate for racial equity and social justice, and for deeper awareness of each in our systems and organizations and the wider society. She focuses her observations, personal stories and career focus on strengthening collaborative networks by building the will, skill, knowledge and strategies to undo racism together.

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October 15, 2014

Ferguson October and #BlackLivesMatter

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Photo source: Democracy Now

Last weekend, thousands of activists converged in Ferguson, Missouri for Ferguson October, a weekend of resistance including marches, panels, creative actions and civil disobedience. The purpose of the weekend was “to build momentum for a nationwide movement against police violence.” Two months ago, an unarmed Black man, Michael Brown, was killed in Ferguson by a white police officer who has not yet been arrested. While Mike Brown’s death was not an anomaly – at least two African American males are killed by law enforcement every week in the U.S. – the energy that is building in Ferguson, the organizing that is deepening there, the connections between Black activists and racial justice advocates of all races across the country that are being forged, and the new level of attention that Ferguson is bringing to this disturbing trend across the nation is new. I believe that we are in the midst of a crisis in this country. I believe that the young people and their allies who are on the front lines in Ferguson are calling all of us to action.

I believe this “movement moment” as many are calling it is about much more than Ferguson. This moment is opening up new opportunities for us to face and undo racism in all of its forms in all corners of this country. Let us finally declare that #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter, and make this our reality. Read More

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October 15, 2014

Big Data Alone Isn’t Enough to Spark City Innovation

This post was published by E Republic in the City Accelerator Blog.

Cities are complex places that can lack the infrastructure and processes to stitch together their constituencies. Today, cities are innovating, but many times that innovation is laser focused around data, big data and getting more data. This only gives us a glimpse of the reality regarding citizen experiences within a city. In short, big data by itself is insufficient for innovation.

In a guest commentary for the City Accelerator, Ceasar McDowell, President of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, argues we must bring together the public to gain a holistic picture of the problems in our cities and the solutions needed to build communities that are economically healthy.

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October 8, 2014

Networks, Sensing and Surface Area

Nerve-Cell-4

In recent work with a couple of different leadership development programs, I shared a few stories about organizations that failed to recognize the value of informal networks within and beyond their formal boundaries by choosing to see themselves primarily through the lens of the “org chart” and fixed roles/job descriptions (what I sometimes call the “stay in your lane” approach).  In these cases what was lost was the ability to access greater organizational potential and intelligence.  If we think of organizations as living entities, then our connections within and beyond those cellular walls might be thought of as vital nerves or sensors.  When we fail to acknowledge or even cut these connections within, which often represent the pathways through which work actually gets done, we may stymie or destroy critical flows and functioning.  And when we fail to see and leverage how people in all roles are connected beyond the organization, then we reduce not only the potential contribution of each individual, but the overall surface area of the organization that might otherwise attune it and help it to respond to larger systemic opportunities or threats.  Which is why increasingly people are seeing mechanistic and fixed organizational roles as “irresponsible” – they do not allow people, individually and collectively, to effectively respond to circumstances and activate around that about which they care most.  So the invitation is to think and act more like a living network.  What are you doing to build greater sensitivity and surface area in your organization or change effort?

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June 25, 2014

More Beautiful Questions

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.”

- Warren Berger

A-More-Beautiful-Question-Cover

One of my favorite reads of the past six months is Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.  It strikes me as being an important read for any social change agent.  Early on, Berger begins with the following provocative statement, that rings true to personal experience: 

“Well meaning people are often trying to solve a problem by answering the wrong question.” 

In some cases this is because they have not paused long enough, if at all, to consider the underlying question their efforts are trying to solve.  Or, as my colleague Cynthia Parker has said, they are “solving for solution,” essentially promoting and/or fighting over their own preferred approaches.  And so they continue to offer the same old, ineffective and outdated, approaches or products.  This is especially problematic in a time of such change and flux, when we can’t fall back reliably on what we already know. Read More

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June 24, 2014

Agree on Process

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You might have picked up that I’m down on too much process and too much meeting.  It’s a funny place for someone that makes a living facilitating.  It is part of a semi-conscious effort to look at the opposite of my core assumptions and seek the wisdom there.

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June 20, 2014

One for the “Righting a Wrong” File!

The settlement of the case of the Central Park 5 is a great day for the five individuals, add a great day for the cause of racial justice. The case of Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise is a textbook case of structural racism: implicit bias, coupled with strong-arm institutional police practices used against young men of color, and a media too eager to believe the hype, leading to the conviction of five innocent young black men for a horrendous crime. The documentary about these young men, by Ken Burns, captures the intense impact of the wrongful accusation and imprisonment on the lives of the five young men and their families.  Read More

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May 14, 2014

Do-acracy vs. Democracy?

In a number of the social change networks that I am supporting there is very active and interesting conversation, and experimentation, going on around what I would call the process-action tension.  As I have written elsewhere, I see this as a bit of a false and often unhelpful dichotomy, and I have certainly seen and been part of networks that have gotten bogged down in some version of analysis paralysis and never-ending consensus building. Increasingly there is a leaning towards getting out there sooner than later and trying things, learning from experiments and actions, readjusting, etc., which is all well and good.  At the same time, I see it as part of my role to raise questions about how the embrace of “do-acracy” might have unintended consequences around long-term alignment as well as sustained and truly systemic impact. Read More

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May 12, 2014

Be Color Brave

Mellody Hobson, President of Ariel Investments and chair of the board for DreamWorks Animation challenges us to be “color brave” instead of “color blind.” Here are a few snippets from her TED talk. Well worth listening to in its entirety.

“[R]esearchers have coined this term “color blindness” to describe a learned behavior where we pretend that we don’t notice race. If you happen to be surrounded by a bunch of people who look like you, that’s purely accidental. Now, color blindness, in my view, doesn’t mean that there’s no racial discrimination, and there’s fairness. It doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t ensure it. In my view, color blindness is very dangerous because it means we’re ignoring the problem… this subject matter can be hard, awkward, uncomfortable — but that’s kind of the point… If we can learn to deal with our discomfort, and just relax into it, we’ll have a better life.

“So I think it’s time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, male, female, all of us, if we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, I think we have to have real conversations about this issue. We cannot afford to be color blind. We have to be color brave. We have to be willing, as teachers and parents and entrepreneurs and scientists, we have to be willing to have proactive conversations about race with honesty and understanding and courage, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do, because our businesses and our products and our science, our research, all of that will be better with greater diversity…

“I’m actually asking you to do something really simple: observe your environment, at work, at school, at home. I’m asking you to look at the people around you purposefully and intentionally. Invite people into your life who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t act like you, don’t come from where you come from, and you might find that they will challenge your assumptions and make you grow as a person…

“I’m asking you to show courage. I’m asking you to be bold. As business leaders, I’m asking you not to leave anything on the table. As citizens, I’m asking you not to leave any child behind. I’m asking you not to be color blind, but to be color brave, so that every child knows that their future matters and their dreams are possible.”

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May 6, 2014

Learn by Doing

It’s good to plan.  It’s good to reflect.  It’s best to do.

Here at IISC we spend a fair amount of time supporting others in articulating what they want to achieve, including those who must be included, and defining a pathway to action.  When done well, this work depends on a fair amount of reflection on practice – how do you think about what you do?  What are you learning about what you do?

We also train people.  We help them become better facilitative leaders.  We introduce specific practices – specific things people can do.

Without the practice the lessons are lost.  We learn by doing.

I was just talking about this in our office kitchen with Danielle Coates-Connor, one of our colleagues, and she compared it to meditation.

It is quite hip to talk about meditation these days.  Mindfulness is in.  At least in theory.  People have a sense that stillness of the mind and present moment awareness are powerful ways to live and thrive.  But there is a huge gap between knowing this and practicing this.  Too many of us still believe that thinking about meditation is a lot like meditation.   But it’s not.

knowing_practicing

The same is true for our projects and our dreams.  We can get the right stakeholders together.  We can talk about what we want to do.  We can visualize it.  We can plot it out.  But the learning doesn’t begin until we start.  The change does not begin until we do.

Do you wonder:

How to integrate more “doing” in your “planning?”

How to integrate more “doing” in your “reflecting?”

How to start experimenting as soon as possible?

How to start learning?

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March 26, 2014

Feed Your Network

Over the last few weeks I have fielded a number of calls from people who are interested in figuring out how to develop different kinds of networks.  I’m always eager to have these conversations, precisely because there is no single right answer, and it really comes down to a process of discovery and experimentation based on the unique nature of the network and system in question.  That said, I do like to ask people the question, “What are you doing to feed your network?” Read More

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March 14, 2014

Liberation Planning

Liberation

Last week Darren Walker opened the Resilient Cities lunch reminding us that not only do we need to work to make cities resilient and sustainable, we must also work to make them just. As I listened to Xav Briggs, Joan Clos, Toni Griffin and others speak, I thought about my work at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning and what working to make just cities means for planning and planners. How does one attend to the myriad issues facing cities: poverty, crumbling infrastructure, environmental sustainability and economic collapse? Read More

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