“Everything we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the start-up and at transitional phases of network growth it is important for participants to get real about their constraints. Otherwise, what can happen is that people can start seeing one another as “blockers,” uncooperative, not good team players, etc.
A starting place is to ask people as they come to the collaborative table to start thinking about the constraints they have (real or imagined). These could be related to time, money, mental bandwidth, awareness, political pressure, organizational policy, comfort level with going certain places in the collective work, etc. If we define “value” holistically at the outset, we quickly come to understand that everyone has limitations and everyone has something to offer.
Trust-building is critical in helping people feel comfortable expressing certain constraints, so it is helpful to state preventatively that everyone has them, that some are perhaps not so easily spoken or may be beyond current awareness, and that it is important to get and remain curious about these, in addition to the gifts people have to offer!
On April 10, 2016, Food Solutions New England (FSNE) launches the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge with more than 600 participants who want to normalize the conversation about race and racism. IISC is a co-sponsor because we agree that skill building and conversations are key for collective capacity to identify and address the different manifestations of racism, whether internalized, interpersonal, institutional, or structural.
IISC Senior Associate Curtis Ogden has been helping to weave FSNE’s network for over five years. He is a member of this year’s Racial Equity Habit Building team, which will include blogging about racial equity and promoting the conversation on social media. Additionally, IISC’s communications team, Lawrence Barriner II and Danielle Coates-Connor, have been supporting this year’s Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge with communications and engagement strategy.
In late 2015, Danielle and I collaborated with our friend and colleague, Angus Maguire, to produce the above adaptation of an old favorite (original blog post here). In the wake of the virality of the graphic on our social media channels, the three of us wanted to share a little of what we’ve been thinking since we released it into the wilds of the Internet a little over a month ago. – Lawrence
Lawrence: In all honesty, frustration was a primary driver of my interest in this project. I have seen this graphic in 15+ presentations and yet every time it seemed to be more pixelated than the last. I wanted our practitioners (and the world) to have a higher quality tool.
Angus: Collaborating with IISC on this little project was great. It wasn’t a complex project brief: essentially we set out to improve on the presentation of an internet classic. For me, it started as a great chance to experiment with a new illustration workflow – this is the first time I’ve done a cartoon like this digitally, start-to-finish. Software and hardware tools are now at a point where that’s possible for me, and I’m just getting started on the possibilities for experimentation and iteration.
Danielle: This image is popular because it creates an opening for more conversation. What works about it is that there are multiple points of entry. For the person who has never thought about equality or equity, they can see there is a difference, and begin to shift their thinking. Read More
Image by Tom May (www.flickr.com/photos/sleepyhammer/13877245315/sizes/c/)
The following is a slightly edited re-post of something I wrote in early 2014. Since writing this, I continue to see the need to be vigilant around not privileging extroversion in groups, to provide more opportunities to tap a range of cognitive styles to leverage fuller potential in networks.
Here I want to reflect on some of the insights Cain’s work has to offer collaboration and “net work” for change. Essentially, Cain reminds us of an important element of diversity that we should not overlook in our change efforts –different cognitive processing styles and ways of responding to social stimulation. Read More
Last week, we held an internal learning session for staff and affiliates entitled “Advancing Equitable Networks.” IISC Affiliate Kiara Nagel and I presented some thoughts about our ever evolving practice of supporting network development for social change, including situating our current approach in IISC’s mission and vision, and our collaborative change lens (see above), which lifts up the importance of understanding and shifting power dynamics for equitable outcomes, embracing love as a force for social transformation and seeing networks as the underlying infrastructure of change.
We then elicited and shared some questions that are at the growing edge of our network consulting practice, including these three: Read More
Lesson 4: Lead boldly, collaboratively, authentically
Finally, working in this kind of collaborative partnership is unfamiliar for many planners and also for many community residents. It requires everyone to do their best to embrace the discomfort and awkwardness that comes with learning and develop both attitudes and habits that support collaboration. IISC has found that several key values and attributes are important for collaborative change agents to be well-positioned to support this way of working. The attributes include demonstrating a collaborative mindset, strategic thinking and a receptive and flexible skillset for facilitating collaboration. Core values include mutuality and service, authenticity, and love – a deep regard for the well-being of others. Read More
Lesson 3. Build the capacity and culture within public planning institutions to focus on equity and to facilitate broad-based public engagement.
Most planning agencies, regulators, and planning consultants are not well equipped to take on the challenge of seriously engaging communities that chronically experience social inequities. As a planning agency prepares to launch a planning process, it needs to build both a culture and capacity that welcomes and supports engaging community members. This often begins with acknowledging the expertise that comes from lived experience, and the awareness that the agency may not have all the knowledge and skill it needs to take equity seriously. Read More
Lesson 2. Design the process for maximum and meaningful involvement, particularly of those who are most directly affected by the inequities, and build the community’s capacity and infrastructure to participate in the process.
Last week I had an interesting conversation with an evaluator who was curious about some of the networks for food system development we’ve been supporting through IISC. We got to talking about “metrics,” which led into consideration of the role of story in not simply gauging network effectiveness, but also in stimulating network evolution. Communication and social learning are part of the life-blood of human networks. This is something that we’re coming to understand at a more profound level amidst the complexity of food system transformation work at all levels.
As we try to identify “leverage points” to shift regional food system dynamics in New England in the direction of increased local production, food security, economic development, resiliency and equity across the board, we are realizing that more robust connectivity and sharing across boundaries of many kinds is a significant strategy and form of structural change that can allow for critical self-organization and adaptation. Stories become one of the critical nutrients in this work.
Furthermore, we have begun to solicit stories of success and innovation around embracing the FSNE Vision (of 50% self-sufficiency with regards to regional food production by the year 2060) and racial equity commitment. And coming out of this year’s Summit, there is interest in sharing stories of how people are working towards “fair price” across the food chain, in such a way that food workers, producers of varying scales, distributers and consumers have living wages and access to health-promoting and culturally diverse food. The curation of these stories we see as beginning to change the underlying economic narrative.
Stories then become fuel in many ways, providing different points of access, connection, inspiration, education, and meaning-making. Stories are like enriched compost that can be fed back into the network to nurture new growth. Our work as a Network Team, as network gardeners, is to “close the resource loop,” encourage and support more equitable channels for expression, more cross-fertilization, more interest in diverse (and concealed) stories and “processing venues” for these (virtual and in-person).
How are you using story to feed your net work forward?
“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 (risking “active laziness” which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago). Or, as my colleague Cynthia Silva 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
My friend Adam Pattantyus recently reminded me of the concept of “active laziness”, attributed specifically to the writings of Sogyal Rinpoche. This reminder came at a very opportune moment. It is no secret that there is, at least in a number of circles in which we at IISC operate, a burgeoning culture of busy-ness. Many people seem increasingly pressed for time, and move between the temporal equivalent of sound bites throughout their days. The ensuing “frenzy” and exhaustion, while perhaps seen as necessary (or by some as a status symbol), is also being called out for its dysfunctional nature, including how it detracts from efforts to create positive and lasting social change. This is what Rinpoche calls “active laziness,” the compulsive cramming of our lives with activity that leaves no time to confront “real issues.”Read More