The Founding of IISC: A Summary


In the fall of 1992, Interaction Associates’ partners—Peter Gibb, Thomas Rice, Barry Rosen, and David Straus—embraced the idea of starting a not-for-profit wing of the company.  Their commitment to collaborative action was well established in the private sector, and they felt the time was right to make a similar commitment to the social sector—a unique move for a firm of this kind at the time.

Toward that end, they created a 501(c)(3) and named it the Interaction Institute for Social Change. Its mission was to work for social justice and sustainability in underserved communities and organizations.

The IA partners made tangible commitments in founding the Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) that included 10% of IA’s pretax profits; 5% of employees’ time; unlimited access to IA’s intellectual property; and in-kind resources in the form of office space, information technology, human resources, and other infrastructure support.

IISC was officially launched when Marianne Hughes was hired as the first executive director with a mandate to bring IISC’s mission to life. Marianne came to IISC with years of experience working for social justice through community organizing, public policy, and advocacy. This experience was put to good use as during her tenure IISC adapted IA’s methodologies and created new and innovative approaches to working with and meeting the needs of social change leaders. Over the years, the organization grew from a start-up with a staff of two to an organization with offices in Boston and Belfast and over 50 staff and affiliate consultants and trainers serving hundreds of clients annually across the country and world. IISC worked with change makers in their social transformation efforts by providing consulting in strategy development and organizational change; the design and facilitation of multi-stakeholder systems change and network building initiatives, and capacity building trainings in the skills and tools of collaboration.

Over time, the foundation for IISC’s work in the world came to be best described as rooted in “the love that does justice,” a commitment to equity and inclusion, and a belief in networks as important units of change.

In 2012, IISC experienced its first major leadership transition when Marianne Hughes stepped aside in favor of focusing on consulting to both IISC and her own clients. Ceasar McDowell joined us that same year as president and led IISC forward with a commitment to building on the core strengths of IISC while also advancing an expanded commitment to designing new democratic practices of public engagement to provide communities with the skills and tools needed to solve complex problems. A key legacy of Ceasar’s four years with IISC was the explicit focus on our Collaborative Change Lens – the lens through which we facilitate social change and that we bring it to every engagement. IISC invites groups and leaders to shift power dynamics, focus on building networks, and magnify love as a force for social change. Using this collaborative change lens, we see leaders overcome challenges and have astounding impact.

Kelly Bates, then IISC’s chief of staff, was hired as our new president in June 2017. Under her leadership, members of our board and staff – along with our amazing community of clients, colleagues, and friends – we have honored and celebrated our twenty-five year history and are now anticipating the next chapter in IISC’s future.

See 25 years of IISC history and watch us dream about the next 25.


We asked the Interaction Associates (IA) partners why they decided to found IISC.

Peter Gibb
“I could never decide who needed collaboration most: top leaders of Fortune companies or the common boy and girl in the street. After years of research, I figured it out. The answer is: BOTH! EQUALLY! Collaboration is right for everybody, with or without a stock portfolio.”

Thomas Rice
“In the long, hot summer of 1992, Martin Luther King’s ‘fierce urgency of now’ struck home for me as I read with horror the daily accounts of African American teens and children, caught in the crossfire of gang warfare. For them, social justice was clearly missing in action. In IA at the time, it became clear to many of us that our social justice ideals would always be a casualty of bottom line pressure. The solution called for a bold, explicit commitment to social justice. After a prolonged, value-driven conversation among the four partners, we’d crafted our answer, and IISC was born.”

Barry Rosen
“Years before the IISC, IA had another sibling: The Center for Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS), created to teach CPS and group facilitation to change agents and to promote the use of CPS with the stakeholders of multi-sector disputes and challenges. As energies went to building IA into a sustainable business, the Center was put [on hold] until 1992 when it was re-imagined with a more focused mission – to advance community-based democracy and a ‘fair chance’ for all people by teaching practical skills for civic engagement and demonstrating the power of collaborative action. With some seed money and a commitment to nurture the new entity to adulthood, the IA partners launched the Interaction Institute for Social Change.”

David Straus
“Given Interaction Associates’ commitment to community service and social justice, we needed a vehicle to deliver our consulting and training services in multi-party, collaborative problem solving to nonprofits, communities, cities, and school systems at rates they could afford and by culturally-sensitive staff experienced in the public sector.”