December 10, 2018
What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible. …
simply because the space is there,
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.
– “Fire,” Judy Sorum Brown
Change does not tend to happen through piling on, through simply adding to what we are already doing or whatever heap we have in front of us.
Change happens, say scientists and sages, through some kind of release, through letting go. Not of everything, but of something. Something that will create enough space for creativity (something else!) to happen.
Changing the way we do work, behave, and treat one another and the planet doesn’t mean dumping new techniques on top of old ways of working. It means carving out creative niches that are given space for the breath of life to reach them. So they can grow. So that they can find their way.
Change does not tend to happen in isolation (the proof of re-treat is ultimately in re-engagement). It happens through connection, through webs (no one is an island). It happens through collective care and nurturing. Too much space – distance, disconnection – can kill the spark of change.
Sharon Salzberg and Ethan Nichtern ask an important question –
“What are we holding onto about this system [ways of doing and being] that, if we trusted the other people around us, we actually could practice letting go of?”
Connection, deep connection, also helps us to let go. … And to let something else come.
Connect. Let go. Create space. Connect. Let come.
How are you connecting (and to what and to whom) in order to let go of what no longer serves?
What are you letting go of in order to create spaces for the new and desperately needed?
What new connections (and old) are you making to fuel the fires of possibility?
December 3, 2018
“Scarcity alters how we look at things; it makes us choose differently; … our single-mindedness leads us to neglect things we actually value.”
-Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives
Image by geckzilla, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
A few weeks ago, the inimitable Seth Godin wrote a blog post about “the magnetic generosity of the network effect.” In the post, he talks about how a “scarcity mindset” can impact our willingness to share ideas. This can happen, says Seth, when we treat ideas as if we were sharing a pizza. But ideas are not pizza slices. Ideas can grow, inspire, flourish. Ideas when offered freely can give birth to innovation; in dialogue they can create even better ideas. The exchange of ideas can grow energy and enthusiasm among sharers and recipients. This is central to the notion of “network effect” – as a network grows, so does the potential of the network. It’s potential grows. Having connections is only as good as what gets shared through those connections, and in which directions. In other words, networks are made valuable not just through connectivity, but through generosity and mutuality.
I work with some groups, aspiring to be networks for change, that struggle with what I would call an “organizational mindset” in their work. Their tendency is to want to immediately put structure and boundaries on what they are doing – who is in, who is out; how we will make decisions; what committees need to be formed, who has what kind of power, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, except when it is driven by a scarcity mindset, an overly protectionist stance that can result in the hoarding and unwillingness to share things that are not scarce – ideas, appreciation, a skill, gratitude, love, an image, a tune – and whose sharing can create the richness of emergence and greater abundance. Read More
November 6, 2018
“Community exists when people who are interdependent struggle with the traditions that bind them and the interests that separate them so they can realize a future that is an equitable improvement on the past.”
-Carl Moore (quoted by Dr. Ceasar McDowell)
A couple of weeks ago I attended a gathering of network thinkers and doers pulled together by Steve Waddell and Diane J. Johnson, on behalf of the Emerging Network Governance Initiative. Our time together was designed for us to (1) get to know one another better and our respective work (because that’s what network weavers do) and (2) explore possibilities for collaboration to bring different network processes and forms of governance to bear at various scales in the face of the struggle/failure of traditional government to hold and do justice to demographic complexity and address a variety of social and environmental issues.
We spent some time early on unpacking the words “emergent,” “network” and “governance.” While we did not come to final agreement on set definitions, here is some of what I took from those conversations.
Emergent and emergence refer to the dynamic in networks and in life in general through which novelty arises in seemingly unexpected ways.
What is emergent is not planned per se, but rather surfaces through complex interactions between parts of or participants in systems.
October 9, 2018
The following post originally appeared on the IISC site four years ago. It has been slightly revised and is offered here to help those focused on leveraging “network efforts” with their change efforts to consider how they might shift and align their thinking and actions.
This post builds on another focused on the power of asking “beautiful questions” and inspired by a staff challenge to articulate lines of inquiry stemming from IISC’s collaborative change lens, It distills some of the underlying questions that adopting a “network lens” inspires for social change work. Please add, adjust, edit, and rift!
October 2, 2018
- How does your organization/network/change initiative strive to add value to (rather than duplicate) existing efforts? What do you do best, and how might you then connect to the rest?
- What are you doing to support and strengthen connections and alignment within and beyond your organization/network/change initiative?
- What current patterns of connection characterize your organization/network/change effort? How do these further or inhibit the change that you are trying to be and to bring about?
- What current resource flows characterize your organization/network/change effort? How do these further or inhibit the change that you are trying to be and to bring about?
- What current definitions of value (determinations of what and who matters) characterize your organization/network/change effort? How do these align with the change that you are trying to bring about?
- Who sits at the core of (decision-making, communication, coordination) in your network/ change initiative? Who is more peripheral? How does this arrangement help to bring about (or not) the kind of change you hope to see?
- What would happen if you drew in or out to those currently on the periphery? How might this happen?
- How do you currently engage with one another in your organization/network/change initiative? What constitutes “legitimate” modes of knowing, sharing, and interacting? What does this make possible? What does prevent?
- How might you engage with one another in your organization/network/change initiative to facilitate the best of what everyone has to offer?
- How are you balancing collaboration and cooperation in your organization/network/ change initiative? When is it most strategic for all or most participants to coordinate (collaborate) around a given action? When and around what is it best to keep things diffuse and self-directed (sometimes defined as cooperation)?
- How have you created opportunities for mutual and continuous exchange in your organization/network/change initiative?
- What is the role of empathy in your organization/network/change initiative? What are you doing to nurture deeper understanding, connection, and trust?
- What is the role of gratitude and generosity in your work? What are you doing to nurture and encourage greater appreciation and abundance?
- How are you creating space for people to articulate requests and offers and to match these?
- What structures (governance, decision-making, communication) support the focus and functions of your network/change initiative?
I have been working with a national environmental health and justice network for the past few years, and at a recent retreat, the core leadership team wrestled with a set of criteria for guiding the creation of equity-grounded, whole network-mobilizing and systems-shifting strategies. This is where we landed:
- If successful, the strategy will move us towards our long-term systemic goal.
- The strategy is fundamentally collaborative in nature.
- The strategy is consistent with network’s values.
- The strategy does not advance the network at the expense of other key constituencies, partners, or social justice movements.
- The strategy is worth the expenditure of time, resources and opportunity costs of pursuing it.
- The strategy aligns with the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing.
- The strategy connects to a clear pathway on our systems map.
- The strategy plays to the strengths and capacities of current network members.
- The strategy broadens and deepens connections with impacted communities and constituencies.
- The strategy will build leadership within the network, with a particular emphasis on building leadership among the most directly impacted communities and constituencies.
- The strategy is likely to bring new funding and capacity around the network’s goals.
- The strategy will increase our learning and understanding of promising practices for systems-based collaborative networks.
- The strategy is likely to attract media attention to network members and/or advance our network narrative.
- The strategy would leave the network better positioned to move forward future initiatives.
- The strategy will increase the network’s reputation for innovation and/or effectiveness.
- The strategy will increase the network’s standing with key thought leaders and/or policymakers.
- The strategy presents an opportunity to collaborate with desirable new partners.
What resonates? What would you add that you have used as criteria for determining systemic strategies for collaborative networks?
September 12, 2018
Image from Sharon Mollerus, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
As I’ve worked with a variety of social change networks to launch or transition from one stage to another, I’ve been guided by the following formula:
Form follows function follows focus
My experience is that many groups and initiatives can get very concerned about structure – How will we make decisions? Who will be members? What is expected of them? What do they get in return? These are important questions, and they deserve a fair amount of time tending to them. What can bog many groups down at this stage, however, is that they have not sufficiently sorted out the functions of the network, how it creates value, if you will, which has important implications for form. And if the group is not clear on its focus (purpose, animating goal, mission), this can be that much more perplexing.
So I’m spending more and more time with networks sorting out their core “jobs,” with a few additional guiding mantras, including:
Do what you do best and connect to the rest.
The value proposition of change networks in my mind is that they add value to a broader landscape of activity, not that they come in and try to take over. Even if this is not the intent, groups can spend little time figuring out what already exists “out there,” what efforts are underway, what other collective efforts are operating. This lack of awareness risks creating unnecessary and unhelpful duplication and competition. Read More
August 24, 2018
This post originally appeared on the Health and Environmental Funders Network website. It was co-authored by Fred Brown, The Forbes Funds, President & CEO; Debra Erenberg, Cancer Free Economy Network, Strategic Director; and Ruth Rominger, Garfield Foundation, Director, Collaborative Networks Program. IISC was centrally involved with the launch of the Cancer Free Economy Network, serving as lead process designer, facilitator and network coach from 2014-2017. IISC is currently supporting the development of CFEN’s network strategy.
We can do this! Within the philanthropy sector, there are so many solutions emerging around the world from people coming together to tackle the social, economic and environmental problems challenging humanity right now. We are in a time when connecting solutions together to align and reinforce each others’ progress is the most critical strategy across issue silos.
The Cancer Free Economy Network (CFEN) is one such example, where people with solutions — good ideas, strategies, initiatives, expertise, models, products and passion — are collaborating to build an economy that supports health and well being for all. These types of social change networks are held together with universal core values. In CFEN, the values are framed as simply as:
The water we drink, the air we breathe, and the products we use every day shouldn’t make us sick, cause cancer or any other disease.
The network is an open and flexible way to connect to an extended community of people who are building power together to phase out all toxic chemicals manufactured and put into industrial and consumer products that are making us sick and damaging our environment. Collectively, we know of many solutions that are readily available for moving the economy in that direction.
Like many social change networks that take a holistic, collaborative approach, people come together to connect and multiply actions aimed at shifting mindsets, structures and behaviors in many different aspects of the complex problem.
In the case of CFEN, this means there are teams from many organizations coordinating a variety of actions around toxics that together will:
July 18, 2018
Change the Story to show how we can prevent many cancers by addressing the toxic chemicals that are currently accepted as part of our environment.
Advance the science supporting health and preventing illness.
Shift the market from toxic chemicals to a market producing safe, healthy, and affordable materials.
Build the power to implement system changes across diverse constituencies.
This is a repost of a fourth in a series of postings written by former IISC Senior Associate Linda Guinee about power and group facilitation processes, based on research she completed a number of years ago. Today’s post is about how power is built into group narrative. Also check out these other posts on power: “What is Power Anyway?” “Power Dynamics: The Hidden Element to Effective Meetings“
As I was doing research, I came across a batch of work about narrative theory by Sara Cobb and Janet Rifkin (cited below). Cobb and Rifkin researched how a narrative is constructed and what impact it has on the ultimate outcome of mediation sessions. They found that the first story told tends to be privileged and “colonize” later stories told. By framing the discussion to come, this initial story tends to narrow and define the direction of the ensuing conversation. Later versions are generally tied to the initial story and thus are unable to be fully developed. And the outcome of mediation is generally tied to the initial story.
This can also play a role in group facilitation. If the first version told in a group becomes the frame under which all other discussion happens, a facilitator must pay attention to who tells the first story – or to how to reinforce different versions. Read More
July 12, 2018
Building on the theme of our recent blog post, Power Dynamics: The Hidden Element to Effective Meetings, we are reposting a series of posts written by our former IISC colleague Linda Guinee. Linda wrote a masters’ thesis on addressing power dynamics in collaborative process design and facilitation. She did this study based on questions raised over the years by another former IISC colleague, Cyndi Suarez (current Senior Editor at NonProfit Quarterly and author of The Power Manual: How to Master Complex Power Dynamics) – and as she put it, “with the belief that if power dynamics are not well understood and addressed, group process facilitators are likely to unknowingly reinforce the status quo – a scary thought for those of us working on social justice and social change!”
As Linda wrote in her opening post in 2010:
“One thing that woke me up at two in the morning – one of those notorious ‘aha’ moments – was that when doing an extensive literature review of group facilitation literature and conflict resolution literature at that time (2005), I found that conflict resolution/engagement literature is packed full of discussions about addressing power dynamics – while group facilitation literature rarely (if ever) talks about power I only found a very small handful of references to power (as in two or three) anywhere in the very extensive group facilitation literature – and only in reference to people with positional power. There is, in fact, an assumption built into group facilitation methodology that collaboration on its own somehow balances power dynamics.”
Here is her second post in the series …
One of the first questions you might ask when thinking about looking at power dynamics in group facilitation is what IS power anyway? This seemingly simple question, of course, is not really all so simple after all. What do you think? How would you describe power?
When I first started trying to answer this question for myself, I found that I was overwhelmed with material – literally hundreds and hundreds of books about what power is, where it comes from, how it operates, etc. For many, a definition of power has to do with the ability to force something to do something they wouldn’t have done otherwise – a coercive definition of power. Feminist psychologist Jean Baker Miller described power as “the capacity to produce a change.” Others (and in fact, our common terminology) talks about power as a “thing” that can be divided, shared, owned, and transferred.
June 18, 2018
“Words are how we think, stories are how we link.”
– Christina Baldwin
Last week I had the privilege of facilitating a two-day Network Learning Lab for a remarkable group of conservation leaders and network weavers. I co-designed the session with Olivia Millard and Amanda Wrona of The Nature Conservancy (and at the instigation of Lynn Decker of the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network) to connect and strengthen the capacity of those working at the intersection of ecosystem health and human/community development while building networks at local, state, regional, national and global levels. Our design was informed by input given by the participating network weavers themselves about their core challenges and learning objectives, while leaving room for the unexpected – enough spaciousness for the network magic of emergence to happen.
As with other network leadership institutes that we at IISC have had a hand in designing and facilitating, the experience last week had as its foundation plenty of opportunities for the cohort to authentically connect, to get to know one another on both professional and personal levels. And as with both leadership development sessions and ongoing network development initiatives that we support, we turned to storytelling as a way to create bonds and understanding. This included time for the participants to tell brief stories about their networks, doing so in 5 minute informal bursts sprinkled throughout the two days (which could also have been done as Pecha Kucha or Ignite presentations). The intent was to create a bit more understanding of what might make each network unique in its aspirations, attributes and accomplishments and to whet people’s appetites for further conversation at breaks, meals and into the evening.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou
We also set up a couple of exercises within the first hour of the lab for people to hear more about one another’s paths to the work they currently do, not by ticking off their resumes, but by telling stories about what happened to and moved them to be where they are now. Time and again, when I facilitate this kind of exercise, it shifts the tone of the gathering in the direction of greater openness and trust. And as we touched on in our debrief of those exercises, inviting that kind of storytelling into our work can send a signal about what is validated with respect to forms of knowing, expression and parts of ourselves to bring to the table. Along these lines, we also drew from poetry and other forms of creative expression, including a stanza from a favorite William Stafford piece, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” which, to me, gets at the heart of network building … Read More
May 24, 2018
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”
Grace Lee Boggs
As referenced in a previous post, the Food Solutions New England 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge wrapped up about a month ago. This was the fourth offering of the Challenge, which was a remixed and enhanced virtual network form of an exercise created by Dr. Eddie Moore (founder of the Privilege Institute) and Debbie Irving (author of Waking Up White). A small design team of which I am a part originally saw the potential of using the Challenge to invite more widespread conversation about the connection between race, racism and sustainable food systems and ultimately greater action for racial justice. No one presumed that the Challenge in and of itself would be sufficient, but rather saw it as a way of creating “network effects” around the work that many are already doing in our region.
And there is evidence that there have been impacts happening as a result. Participation in the Challenge has grown from 200 to 3,000 from 2015 to 2018. This year the Challenge was launched, in a sense, at the Wallace Center’s National Good Food Network Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico (gratitude to the Center’s staff for the invitation to do so!). We have heard stories since the beginning that various groups in the region and increasingly around the country have participated in the Challenge and invited others to do so, including Farm to Institution New England, Iowa State University Extension, The Interdependence Project, and The Fellowship of Intentional Community. Read More
May 22, 2018
Connection is a social determinant of health.
Last week I participated in the Network Leadership Training Academy hosted by the University of Colorado at Denver’s Center on Network Science. It was wonderful to meet fellow network geeks and enthusiasts from around the country and Canada and to hear about diverse applications of network theory and practice, from public health to public transportation, from early childhood education to after-school programming, from housing to firefighting.
I was invited to share some of what we at the Interaction Institute for Social Change are learning as we work at the intersection of networks and equity, which included telling the evolving story of Food Solutions New England. There seemed to be resonance with and appetite for going deeper to unpack how networks can be forces for truly equitable liberation from dysfunctional and damaging systems.
And there were many other presenters over the course of the couple of days I was able to attend. Here are some of my take-aways.
- In networks, less is often more with respect to personal connections. Given that people can only manage a certain number of social connections, a good question to ask is “How can we cultivate and maintain the fewest number of connections that are valuable?”
- Closed networks do not lend themselves to novelty. For innovation (and presumably for both resilience and adaptability) it is important to pay attention to “structural holes” in networks.
- Effective engagement rests on authentic listening, informal exchanges and meetings (lunch, coffee), identifying and honoring strengths and assets, thinking of people as people and not projects, constantly showing up and closing loops.
- In order to activate a network you have to have established sufficient trust and reciprocity.
- Effective networks for individual “leaders” are open (distributed), diverse and deep.
From conversation and reflection with participants:
- Connection is a social determinant of health.
- Increasingly healing needs to be viewed as a foundational goal of developing networks.
- Effective networks for individuals are not necessarily effective networks for collectives and social change. We have to be clear about what our scale and intentions are. (ON this front, check out this wonderful post by Christine Capra – “Networking Does Not Equal Network WEAVING“)
Additional resources to consult:
- The Partner Tool, a social network analysis tool designed to measure and monitor collaboration among people/organizations.
- Person-Centered Network App, for use by a provider to first screen a person to assess their gaps and strengths in their personal support systems and then, based on the results, link them to available community resources.