Posted in Structural Transformation

September 15, 2009

Bringing Honesty Back

One of the issues with the current funding system is that it tends to invite dishonesty from organizations seeking grants.  And perhaps we should not say dishonesty, but the system certainly makes it easy to fall into the temptation of overstating the case, of presenting an aspirational goal as an established reality.  This pattern is detrimental to everyone involved.  It hurts the funders who will not be able to meet their goals even if they believe they are funding with purpose.  It hurts those being served, organized or mobilized, and it certainly hurts the organizations who get caught in the game.

Part of the problem with the normalization of this often subtle dishonesty is that it actually keeps organizations from staring their own reality in the face.  As a consultant to all kinds of organizations, from foundations to the grassroots, I experience this insidious state of non-truth as a serious obstacle to my own work.  We can’t help an organization move if the organization can not be honest about where it is.  The situation forces us to spend a lot energy surfacing the truth, but if we were starting from truth then we would be able to use that energy to hit the ground running. Read More

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September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

Eight years ago Today:

  • 8:46 am – AA Flight 11 hits the North Tower of the WTC 
  • 9:03 am – UA Flight 175 hits the South Tower
  • 9:37 am – AA Flight 77 hits the Pentagon
  • 9:59 am – South Tower falls
  • 10:03 am – UA Flight 93 crashes in Shanksville, PA  
  • 10:28 am – North Tower falls

As a nation of families, neighborhoods, communities and citizens, let’s pause to remember the lives and courage of the nearly 3,000 who lost their lives 8 years ago today, on September 11, 2001.

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August 17, 2009

Sand Dunes and Democracy

The debate about how to reform health care in the United States rages across the country in a series of town hall meetings, constant cable coverage and apparent confusion and misinformation. I have been watching all of this from the distance that you can only gain by being on vacation. And, because my family has vacationed in Wellfleet, Massachusetts on Cape Cod for the last 25 years, I have been reflecting on the messiness of democracy while walking the dunes of the national seashore and riding the waves on the protected beaches of this part of the Cape.

It is a powerful reminder of how advocacy, policy and structural change is at the heart of creating a more just and sustainable world. Had President John F. Kennedy not signed a bill in 1961 authorizing the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore, (the goal of which was “to preserve the natural and historic values of a portion of Cape Code for the inspiration and enjoyment of people all over the United States”), I could be meandering through condominiums, McMansions and strip malls. Read More

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August 4, 2009

What About You?

I was blown away by one of Adrienne Maree Brown’s blog posts last week.  In writing “consider it…” she manages to lift a veil and give us a glimpse into a way of being that is significantly more free.  I was blown away in so many ways, but I was particularly moved by the very fact that such words were coming from within our movement.  There is now a corner of movement work where you can find razor sharp analysis powerfully combined with an understanding of Self that is nothing short of illuminated, it is no longer an either/or, and this is good news for all of us.

As I spend more of my time calling out this zeitgeist, I am breathing myself into that part of the work where hope is vibrant, potentiality brews and generative forces insist on creating something new.  This is the part of paradigm shift that takes the idea of networks to another level by forcing us to contend with the unplannable and to devote more of our time to creating the conditions for emergence.  This is the part of paradigm shift that makes the highest demand of us as people – and how we think about this “us.”

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July 31, 2009

Social Entrepreneurs, Social Change, Government & You

Last week while in DC for a work assignment, I took time to connect with a brother-colleague and former professor of mine, Dr. Shaun Casey, who teaches Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, and served as Senior Advisor for Religious Affairs for the Obama Campaign.  As he is gearing up for another semester, he is also in he throes of promoting his new book,  The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960 and finds himself  well suited to speak to the transformative historical moment and opportunity that is the Obama presidency.  As we caught up, shared stories from the campaign trail, and spoke of our common passion for public theology, transformative policy making and ushering in social change informed and fueled by the grassroots,  he shared of his enthusiasm for the  White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and for the work of Senior Advisor for Social Innovation for the White House Domestic Policy Council, Michele Jolin.

Mentioning her work as Vice President of Ashoka, and with the Center for American Progress, Casey shared how he was hopeful that office’s ability to appreciate the role of  harnessing the thinking and experience of community-based,  faith-based, and other grassroots located  change agents to build policy and enact solutions for  some of our most intractable national issues. He recommended that I contact her directly (which I will, so stay locked in to this blog site), and also that I check out a book she co-edited, Change for America. In the book, Casey makes this claim in an article he authored, and which collectively sets forth a blue print of recommendations to the Obama Administration for real…change.  I recommend you check it out as well, so that we may continue our blog conversations with it in mind. Read More

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July 31, 2009

Social Entrepreneurs, Social Change, Government & You

Last week while in DC for a work assignment, I took time to connect with a brother-colleague and former professor of mine, Dr. Shaun Casey, who teaches Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, and served as Senior Advisor for Religious Affairs for the Obama Campaign.  As he is gearing up for another semester, he is also in he throes of promoting his new book,  The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960 and finds himself  well suited to speak to the transformative historical moment and opportunity that is the Obama presidency.  As we caught up, shared stories from the campaign trail, and spoke of our common passion for public theology, transformative policy making and ushering in social change informed and fueled by the grassroots,  he shared of his enthusiasm for the  White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and for the work of Senior Advisor for Social Innovation for the White House Domestic Policy Council, Michele Jolin.

Mentioning her work as Vice President of Ashoka, and with the Center for American Progress, Casey shared how he was hopeful that office’s ability to appreciate the role of  harnessing the thinking and experience of community-based,  faith-based, and other grassroots located  change agents to build policy and enact solutions for  some of our most intractable national issues. He recommended that I contact her directly (which I will, so stay locked in to this blog site), and also that I check out a book she co-edited, Change for America. In the book, Casey makes this claim in an article he authored, and which collectively sets forth a blue print of recommendations to the Obama Administration for real…change.  I recommend you check it out as well, so that we may continue our blog conversations with it in mind. Read More

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July 13, 2009

Intersections and Social Innovation

You can hardly turn a corner around here without bumping into another example of emergence and transformational change! There is a very interesting convergence playing out between the launch of the administration’s new Office of Social Innovation and what is becoming known as the Fourth Sector.

An aspiration articulated by the new Office of Social Innovation is to challenge the long held assumption that social innovation is the purview of the nonprofit sector only and to look for creative solutions in those organizations and collaborative initiatives that transcend the boundaries of the three sectors. It is exactly these new forms that are maturing finally into what is being called the Fourth Sector made up of organizations that are being described as For-Benefit organizations.

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July 10, 2009

Copyright or Copyfight?

“We have handed over the tools of creation.”

“We have democratized creativity to an extent that would have been unthinkable years ago.”

–James Boyle

Duke Law Professor and founder of Creative Commons, James Boyle, gives a talk at Google Zeitgeist 2008 on the subject of “Copyright and Openness”.

Boyle advocates that, given our penchant for closed, centralized, ways of handling content, we need re-wire ourselves towards open, decentralized forms and norms when dealing with creative content.

Gend Leonard takes this theoretical framework and makes it practical it in his talk, “Getting Attention 2.0”. Presented to the Scottish Audience Development Forum in October 2008, Leonard outlines several savvy tactics artists [and all content creators] can use to share their content for free, while cultivating big numbers of loyal listeners/followers and still make money. Read More

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July 7, 2009

Cancer Grants and Social Change

The thing with paradigms is that they inform EVERYTHING we look at, a paradigm is a lens with which we make sense of the world. This is why a paradigm has an uncanny ability to replicate itself in system after system. I recently read a fascinating article in the New York Times, Grant System Leads Cancer Researchers to Play It Safe, and while it focused on the world of science, it described conditions that are easily identified throughout the social sector. I identified more than 15 such similarities, here are just four of them:

  • The grant system has become a sort of jobs program, a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with a focus on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer.
  • It has become lore among cancer researchers that some game-changing discoveries involved projects deemed too unlikely to succeed and were therefore denied grants, forcing researchers to struggle mightily to continue.
  • “There is no conversation that I have ever had about the grant system that doesn’t have an incredible sense of consensus that it is not working. That is a terrible wasted opportunity for the scientists, patients, the nation and the world.”
  • Some experienced scientists have found a way to offset the problem somewhat. They do chancy experiments by siphoning money from their grants. “In a way, the system is encrypted,” Dr. Yamamoto said, allowing those in the know to wink and do their own thing on the side.

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May 7, 2009

Where Is the Wildness?

“Shhh!  What was that?!”  I barely heard my wife over my concentrated efforts to keep my marshmallow from falling into the fire.  “Curtis!  Did you hear that?  Something’s out there!”  I looked in Em’s silhouetted direction and saw that she, my daughter Annabel, and my mother-in-law were all peering into the darkness and at the bushes on the edge of the pond.  “What is it, Daddy?” Annabel asked.  I got to my feet, grabbed a flashlight and slowly walked towards the now clearly audible rustling, my daughter right behind me.  “There it is!” I heard someone say.  I saw it too.  I gradually moved the light onto the shadow moving across our line of view, and had the glint of two beady eyes return the beam.  Annabel’s hands clenched my calf.  “A porcupine!”  A very big slow moving porcupine.  After a few seconds’ stare-down, the creature turned and went lumbering into the woods and out of view. “That was cool!” cried Annabel, still clutching my leg.

Cool indeed.  An adrenaline rush, a mystery uncovered, a dramatic stand-off.  Everything any child, or adult, might want on an excursion to the woods.  Our weekend in Vermont was filled with moments of exciting encounter like that, from having tussling and territorial woodpeckers dart over our heads, to finding crayfish under rocks, to hearing and deciphering the distant whistle of a black bear; much of this done in bare feet (or sandals), with dirt under our fingernails.  I find our forays into the wilderness to be liberating and invigorating, and as much about wildness as wilderness.  In the North Country I feel certain veils drop, inhibitions lift, and an inner aliveness bubble up.  I see this palpably in my daughter, and it makes me long for more of this in my life overall.

Wildness is something that often seems to get cast as chaotic and “uncultured”.  And yet I know from experience that it can be a gateway to something wonderful and powerful.  I think about those times when, as a trainer or speaker, I have been unleashed, more uncontrolled and less measured, when unbridled passion took hold.  I think about the impact that this has had on me and those around me.  As scary as it can be to let go, these moments have given me a glimpse of something profound and true that may be overlooked in a more buttoned up existence.  And so I’ve been thinking about bringing more Vermont to Cambridge.

What would it mean to be wild in the work we do?  What would this look like and what might it achieve?  For a humorous peek at a possible answer, check out professor and nature writer David Gessner’s “transformative” performance . . .

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May 5, 2009

Change You Can Believe In

“Change you can believe in”, “Be the change”, “Yes we can”…words to live by but what about the how? As I work with so many diverse groups across so many issues I’ m struck by the similarity of the struggles. It all centers around trying to bring their system into more coherence for greater impact. Whether it’s bridging the so-called divide between grassroots and advocacy organizations, public and private foundations or the larger more recalcitrant divide across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. And, what kind of change are we seeking? Let’s start there.

In an article written by Don Beck, founder of the Spiral Dynamics Group, he articulates the many dimensions of change in the following way

First Order Change has several variations: make minor adjustments or tweak the system; re-align the elements within the system; upgrade the givens within the present modis operandi; adjust by hunkering down and going back to basics; push the envelope.

Second Order Change: attack the barriers, remove the status quo (revolutionary rather than evolutionary); transform to the next level of complexity (subsume the old into the new); quantum shifts of epochal proportions i.e. modern to post-modern -integral, change across the entire landscape.

Important, it seems, for all of us working for transformational change to locate the specific change efforts with which we’re involved to be clear on the kind of change they are seeking. Assuming there is no right way, but what is right at this time is for this system to move forward toward greater health and wholeness.

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