Much of what I do as a mediator, consultant, trainer, and facilitator involves conflict resolution, leadership training, and organizational development. At the core of my work lies addressing the issues of racial justice, white supremacy in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. A number of employers – both for profit and non-profit as well as and educational institutions – have begun this work in earnest. They are taking steps to face the presence and impact of these issues on their staff, faculty, students, client base, and their surrounding communities.
I am pleased to be supporting a number of organizations that are taking this racial justice and equity work very much to heart. The hard work and painstaking efforts can be gratifying when we see changes on the other side of it all. Finding answers to the questions: “Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How do we get there?” is a journey as individualized as each organization involved. More and more groups are diving in with courage and, in some cases, with trepidation as they acknowledge the need for and benefit of doing this work.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, through municipal
and state mandates and, in many cases, self-imposed efforts, organizations have
wisely begun to move their core work on-line as much as possible. This has required herculean efforts since so
much community work, education, and even business initiatives, are best
accomplished face-to-face. Most employers, large and small, are making every
effort to sustain their employees through this crisis. Even our federal
government is making some efforts. (Although, I have little faith in this
administration; two trillion dollars is still going to wind up in the hands of
the corporations and very rich people in this country.)
Many employers who have seen the need and started racial justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, have decided to put these activities “on hold” until they figure out just how to sustain their core output efforts on-line during this sensitive time. All have the sincere intent of restarting these racial justice and DEI initiatives once “things are getting back to normal.” On the surface this seems like a prudent, cautious approach. First, make sure you can deliver what is at the core of your mission; then, you attend to the little things that have been getting in the way.
While this cautious approach seems reasonable, there are
aspects of it that leaders of these impacted organizations need to keep in
mind. And it is to you that I speak directly now.
First, the efforts you have made to address issues of inequity and social justice were made for a reason. Now that you are taking action to change and correct the environment and functionality of your organization and its leaders and maximize the contributions of your employees, students, or colleagues, you are expected to sustain the positive changes and continue to grow them, even in tough times. And none of your people want to see your efforts stall.
Second, maintaining emphasis on your core mission is
important and your efforts to address inequities are for valid reasons. If
everything is “put on hold” during this critical time, the cultural issues,
leadership practices, and personal biases that created the need for racial
justice work in the first place will still be in place. Our emotional traps, as
described by Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, tend to kick in. Our knee-jerk responses
are those immediate responses we know happen and we don’t mind doing them. We often find these responses to be “just who
we are” or how we respond. We often see no reason to change our behavior or
apologize for its impact. Then, we sometimes have the emotion of the “lurking
response” or the things we really try hard to suppress because they raise
feelings or actions we are not proud of. Finally, there are those responses we
don’t even notice or know are present. These are often rooted in our
unconscious biases. These are the values and behaviors we have learned through
our cultural upbringing or through our social conditioning. They are often some
of the things addressed in the racial and social justice work embedded in these
While the occasional on-line meeting is nothing new to most
people, full-time leadership practices via Zoom, Skype, or any of the other
video apps are a relatively new practice and require skill development for most
of us. In trying times like these, we often “go with what we know” since we
think that’s what got us here to our successful space in the first place. As a
result, we do what we’ve always done and multiply our efforts since we are no
longer able to be physically present. This means we also multiply the impact of
our unrecognized or unacknowledged behaviors.
During a time when corrective initiatives are “on hold”
there is a real chance that our behaviors can have an even more detrimental
impact and, instead of just holding ground until the corrective initiatives are
begun again, we can lose ground to the multiplied behaviors. So, what can we do in the meantime?
First, be quick with the praise. Seek a
reason to offer genuine praise to each individual and to each work group.
Second, breathe before you speak. A
self-pause and analysis may help you see where you may be making a wrong move.
Third, check for understanding, THEN check
for agreement. (You can do this one even in person). Once clarity and
buy-in have been established an initiative can be successfully executed.
work actively with your DEI core team, affinity groups, and/or task force to
make sure the initiatives are translated into the on-line community.
Finally, say “Thank you.” People like
I believe that if you do all these
things, you can have a smooth transition to the on-line work world with a
unified, happy workforce that feels valued and seen and recognizes your enduring
commitment and continued efforts to establish equity and justice.
Facilitative Leaders balance three essential dimensions of success: results, process, and relationship. That means not just paying attention to getting the job done successfully, but paying attention to the relationships among people along the way, and to the processes and use of resources to get it done. Most leaders tend to emphasize one of these dimensions more than the others. That it makes it important to create teams with people who are inclined to focus on different dimensions. That way the effort is more likely to experience three-dimensional success.
Typically, when in doubt or under stress, I default to process. I’m asking questions like: Are we including all the right people? Do we have the resources we need in place? Can we get it done on the timeline we envision? Sometimes, like recently at IISC, I’ve been defaulting to results. On a recent Monday, we began thinking through how to create some short webinars focused on bringing love, equity, and network practices to virtual meetings. The question was how to offer something that was uniquely IISC, that could be useful in this time of uncertainty and virtual working, and that wouldn’t require more than we had to invest in the effort.
I was focused on the results. We have a lot of content and enough know-how to create something that could be really useful that could be complementary to the resources we’ve seen others share recently. As for process, I thought we could put together a viable product with minimal effort, and I wanted to engage the relevant stakeholders within IISC early. As expected, bringing in a broader set of players kept making the ideas better. As for relationship, I was focused on doing this in ways that honored our different kinds of expertise. I was hoping this would also build our team spirit through an “all hands on deck” experience that didn’t create much stress.
But I was wrong … As the week progressed, it seemed that around every corner there was a new technical impediment that made the effort seem less and less simple. And, team members were feeling more and more burdened by this new effort on top of various personal and workplace challenges. So, in order not to get way out of balance in our efforts to help others get in balance, we are rethinking the project. In the meanwhile, here are a few ideas about how you can attend to results, process, and relationship as you design and facilitate your virtual meetings.
Establish clear desired outcomes. What are we trying to accomplish in this meeting?
Make sure the outcomes are can be accomplished in the time allotted. If your team is new to virtual meetings, you may need to make the outcomes even more bite-sized than usual.
Make sure the outcomes are relevant and meaningful to the participants, particularly in light of everything else they have on their minds.
Remember your best in-the-room meeting processes
Make sure you have a clear agenda. Ask for input and feedback on the agenda before the meeting.
Assign or ask for volunteers to facilitate, keep time, and take notes.
Especially for virtual meetings
Assign virtual meeting roles (e.g., people to check the chat, help with technical problems, check the energy in the virtual room, etc.).
Create multiple opportunities for engagement within each agenda item (e.g., spoken comments, chat, white board, writing in a shared document).
Use visuals (e.g., slides, shared documents).
Call on people, mix up the speaking order with each conversation.
Ask a question and have each person “toss” to another person until everyone has answered.
If you don’t have access to video conferencing, use real-time shared documents (like Google Docs) to create notes that everyone can see and contribute to while the call is in progress.
Keep audio-only participants in the loop, by updating them on anything you’re sharing visually and remembering to invite them into the conversation.
Begin and end with time to connect personally, through full-group check-ins and check outs.
Use breakout rooms to increase opportunities to connect.
If you (or some of your participants) don’t have access to video conferencing, create a visual team roster in your shared document so everyone can see a photo of everyone on the call.
While it may not always be appropriate to have other household members “pop in” to your meetings, we make a point of acknowledging and welcoming children, partners, other household members, and pets when they pop into the room. Especially in these times, far from being unwelcomed distractions, we view these moments as precious opportunities to really see our colleagues.
All the best as you balance the dimensions of success in these trying times. And stay tuned. More resources are coming – whether they are webinars or something else remains to be seen. 🙂
Yesterday I was on a call with the Food Solutions New England Network Team, meeting virtually instead of in-person, to do some checking in and also to move forward ongoing efforts focused on strengthening our collective work towards the FSNE Vision. This included talking about ways to use the current moment to strengthen resilience, even as so many in-person convenings, including the FSNE 2020 Summit, are being cancelled or postponed.
Many of us feel like there is an opportunity to take the network to another level in this time, to deepen connectivity, to ramp up exchanges, to facilitate greater alignment, to engage in much more mutual support. Evidence of this came from a round of sharing announcements, updates, requests and needs (riffing on the “network marketplace” that we have adapted from Lawrence CommunityWorks), among the nearly 20 participants on the call (representing all 6 New England states, different sectors and perspectives in the food system). I think we were all heartened to hear about the adaptations, creativity, and care happening in so many places amidst COVID19.
Examples of emerging activity, which came up during our call and in email exchanges since, include:
Various mutual aid initiatives (see Big Door Brigade for resources on this front)
Leveraging online platforms to connect people across geographies and systems to talk about taking action around systemic alternatives (see Now What? 2020)
Utilizing virtual tools creatively to advance strategic thinking under changing and challenging conditions (there was also good discussion about the importance of considering issues of inclusion and equity, given uneven access to certain tools, dependable wi-fi, and supports that allow more focus when working virtually, etc.)
There are others that I’m sure we did not hear. That said, beyond the warmth of the personal connection time during our call, which we always make time for, and the emails of mutual support since, there is a hopeful sense that in what we are sharing are the seeds of systemic alternatives to the system that is failing some more than others and all of us in the long run. All of this needs more tending, more care, more connecting, more inclusion, always more considerations of equity, and more coordination. And more time and space for wisdom and innovations to emerge …
Please share with us what else you are seeing emerge and adapt for the good and the better in these times!
Leadership is intrinsic in
every role in an organization and now with a public health crisis on our hands
we understand this even more clearly. With shared leadership, each role is
viewed as an important connector to all other roles, and all roles weave
together to accomplish more in dedicated collaboration. Roles are additive,
with all roles functioning as essential parts of the greater whole of an
As IISC we talk about the
importance of facilitative leaders as leaders that have both the mindset
and heartset to inspire these roles to work together through a common vision
and shared power. A facilitative leader sees their organization as a
network, with distributed leadership and decentralized roles so more can be
done with greater autonomy and impact.
In the backdrop of our
national state of emergency, we have so many social problems to solve, and they
are much more complex. We need collaborative practices of shared leadership to
handle the sheer volume of extraordinary challenges and the many
decision-points that are coming our way.
We need to liberate systems
to solve problems through shared leadership.
How can we practice shared
leadership on a day-to-day basis? Consider these core principles:
EQUITY & SHARED POWER
Foster equitable leadership and radical power-sharing by ensuring that people historically blocked from or denied power (people of color and younger staff, for example) in the organization are meaningfully leading work (and you), without mistrust and paternalism, and with resources and authority.
Operate in ways that foster “power with” instead of “power over”. If you are a central leader in the organization, operate with others in a cycle of mutual respect, learning, and action, knowing that your role is just one in the whole system. To the degree that you are holding leadership back, blocking innovation, or asserting unnecessary authority, release control and shift decisions to others.
ROLE RECIPROCITY &
Understand that each role in an organization or system is of equal value and is contributing to the whole of the organization. Recognize the value of each role and the person in it, and how they help the work and culture to flow.
Distribute roles and decentralize decisions and actions as much as possible. Help people share the burden and the success.
Create and dissolve teams of work as needed rather than relying on static committees or departments to foster innovation and bring in new voices. When work is complete or things shift, close down the team and rebirth a new one.
Consider the different ways to make decisions. We no longer have only two choices for making decisions: doing so alone or delegating it to others. At IISC, we offer a framework (see below) for understanding the levels and approaches to decision-making with a range of choices to arrive at decisions based on the unique context in which each decision needs to be made.
Engage stakeholders in the decisions that most impact them. Test new ideas and potential decisions with great consequences with your stakeholders and, better yet, ask them to come up with the ideas in the first place. If the decisions are not working, undo them, and get input to come up with new solutions.
In the end, we have more vibrant, productive, and resilient organizations when we share leadership at every level. There may be one person who has ultimate responsibility for the organization, but they are not the sole guardians of the organization. That is the job of everyone in the organization – in their respective roles – pulling together, working for the mission, protecting its fundamental beliefs, and making sure that it ultimately flourishes, even in times of crisis. In this period of uncertainty, we may not have a choice other than to try shared leadership. It may be the very strategy that sees us through.
At IISC, we are guided by a Collaborative Change Lens of Love, Equity, & Networks. During these unsettling and challenging times, what are you thinking about how we can live into love, equity, and networks? Please share what you’re doing and learning in the conversation that is unfolding below.
It’s deeply important right now to be gentle on each other and show compassion in your actions and policies. Ask people when you talk to them how they are doing, look them in the eye, and smile into their humanness. Be kind and patient with your co-workers, your boss, your partner, children, mothers and fathers, and customer service representatives. Be good to the people you live with, including your roommates and family members. You will be stressed. You will want to fight each other. Give grace and learn to work through conflicts. Breathe and love.
Be creative and resourceful and, above all, share resources. Remember that some people, families, and organizations already have less access to resources such as money and food. Listen to the ideas coming from people who need resources. They know what they need and can teach us best. Design strategies to ensure your actions, policies, and protocols design for the margins, are non-discriminatory, and have no undesirable impacts on specific groups. Equality assumes that everyone needs the same thing right now. People don’t necessarily need the same things; some may need different things, and some may need more of some things than others.
Now is the time to create a resilient network in your community. Create channels of communication and share resources, whether that’s food, community gardens, or technology. Networks are also helpful with finding those trusted sources that can give you good reliable information amidst all the noise and confusion. In the case of organizations and social justice organizations, now is the time to create resilient networks of your stakeholders and partners so that you can easily collaborate for change.
Constitutionally, I tend toward
remaining calm and seeing possibilities. This might not be true for everyone. I
do know, however, that there is clear evidence that what we talk about
influences our moods.
With that in mind, I am sharing a list of
things I have seen amplified in the last week – things that contribute to
social health and well-being and long-term survival, even as we adjust to a
world that feels topsy turvy.
Some people are taking this moment to
recognize that the Coronavirus, like all things, affects us differentially.
There is some attention to the fact that those who are already burdened because
of chronic health issues, or because fewer resources are invested in their
communities, or those who experience racism day in/day out, are experiencing
this moment on top of these existing inequities. And it is important to see the
resources and resilience that these highly impacted communities do have!
We are reminded that, in fact, there are
people who have lived through similar times of epidemics and uncertainty and
lack of attention. How can we turn toward those who lived through and created
through the start of HIV/AIDS? What can we learn from disability rights
activists and people living with chronic illness? How can we use this moment to
honor the wisdom of those who have related life experience….and pay them for
Many of us experienced an extra busy week—our regular work and then we’re being called to use our personal or work leadership to think well about others, to plan for drastically different economic models, and to attend to family and colleagues. Amidst that, I also experienced a sense of radical slowing as I realized that my current pace of life is changing. I had a long business trip planned for March that would have allowed for slowing and I know I was craving that. I am going to ask myself how I can get that need met while staying put. This weekend, I let myself wake when I needed to wake rather than setting an alarm, and I then settled into each day at a slower pace.
There are people who are able and willing
to lead with generosity. I spoke with a stranger yesterday who said she had
purchased two rolls of paper towels so that she might share one with someone
who needs one, even though she had been laid off recently. I’ve asked a family
member if he would be willing to help parents working at home with baby sitting
if doing so can be done safely for all.
What are the ways that we can continue to
connect even if we are not in proximity? What are the ways that we can look at
those maps of disease spread and vectors and use it not to become fearful but
to see how we are connected globally?
Within a work sphere, we are connecting
with others in similar work to share best thinking and talk about everything
from joint responses to pooled resources. We are looking at networks that we
support and seeing how they are activating for mutual support and for the
sharing of ideas. We are asking how we can support one another as colleagues in
an increasingly virtual workplace. More on this as it emerges.
Care for our planet
Is there a way to live through this public
health moment and not be more aware that our planet needs our attention and
love? We should all know about the climate crisis and that shifts in behavior
on a massive and structural scale are needed to heal. And, I believe that this
global pandemic is a concrete example of what climate crisis in an
interconnected world looks like.
Laughter is curative! I have been relaxed
and relieved this week with humor, from hilarious memes about bras as masks and
lesbians with lanyards solving the world’s crisis to silly jokes about farting
in public as a way to mask a cough. And laughter on the phone with friends and
colleagues about the absurdity of the moment. It is helpful that I live with a
very funny human being (thank you,son!).
There is a lot we do know and yet COVID-19
is surely a reminder that so much is emergent and not known. We are reminded
that knowing can only happen collectively—from decisions about whether and when
to close an office to determining how best to support an organization through
challenging times and how best to support hourly workers, many of whom
have no access to benefits. We must think together, more than ever, during
these challenging times. I’ve experienced the power of this all week at work as we navigate in this
moment, asking what individuals need, how we can support networks of leaders to
think together, and – all along the way – as we remember to admit what we don’t
Here at IISC we have been interacting
virtually more and more over the last two years, facilitating meetings and
connection through video applications. Colleagues are generating a lot of ideas
and willingness to share knowledge with one another and more broadly with the
world. Let’s be creative and equitable, thinking well about how to connect and
how to support those most vulnerable in this moment.
And, given that words matter so much, I am
adopting a rephrase that I heard this morning from my daughter: Let’s practice physical
distancing. Socially, let’s work, think, laugh and slow down together,
albeit remotely! Let’s be hyper-connected, spending time with one or two
people in our households or our apartment buildings or neighborhoods,
connecting by phone and text, with video when possible, and by taking walks and
smiling at others along the way
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath— the most sacred of times? Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful. (You could hardly deny it now.) Know that our lives are in one another’s hands. (Surely, that has come clear.) Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words. Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love– for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, so long as we all shall live.
By the time you see this post, you will no
doubt have read a lot of reflections on this time of uncertainty. In a recent
IISC staff check-in, we lifted up several principles and practices to support
our community as we, like so many other organizations, move to largely virtual
work. We hope these ideas will provide some comfort and guidance to you, as
Lean into relationships.
The COVID19 crisis brings into stark relief an
awareness that we’ve long held dear. We are all connected and the well-being of
each of us is important to the well-being of all of us. So, first and foremost,
we want to lean into our relationships, engaging with our colleagues, clients,
and partners as people first. If ever there was a time for people to know how
much you care, it’s now. You can
demonstrate that care in very practical ways.
Pause and connect. Whether it’s a one-on-one
conversation or a meeting, make space to find out how folks are doing before diving into what they are (or should/shouldn’t be) doing.
Think respect. Knowing what we know about
human differences and structural inequities, expect that people will have
different perspectives and experiences of these uncertain times. Respect will
look different for different people. So, upgrade your Golden Rule (do to others
as you’d have them do to you) with the Platinum Rule (do to others as they’d
have you do to them). Find out what respect and support look like from their
point of view.
If in doubt, communicate. Connect with people
more, not less. Be as clear as you can about actions, risks, policies, and open
questions. Be clear about how decisions are being made and when/how contingency
plans might go into effect.
Pick up the phone to handle tough or emotional
conversations. Enhance that with video conferencing whenever possible so folks
can see one another.
Minimize unnecessary emails to leave room for
Be a spirit, not a ghost. In other words, let
folks know that you’re available. Don’t let virtual work turn into a
disappearing act. Reach out to colleagues through whatever communications
mechanisms you have at your disposal.
Now is a time for us to deepen our trust in
both people and the process. When we know who’s around us and what they are
about, and when we have confidence that they operate with integrity,
transparency, and skillfulness, it’s much easier to trust leaders and the
processes that they facilitate.
Continue to tap into one another’s strengths as
individuals and as a collective. Remind yourself of what you and others are
good at. Connect to folks within your network who are good at different things
Trust the process. This is often easier said
than done. It’s easier to do work in community when we trust our leaders and
have experienced their commitment to transparency and to our core values. Here
are some of IISC’s core values:
Shared power: People have a right to be
involved in the decisions that affect them so they have influence over the
quality of their lives
Love: We believe in the dignity of all human
beings and in taking care of each other and of our planet. Love is a force for
Accountability: We align our work with
frontline and grassroots communities of color most impacted by racism in
general and this crisis in particular.
Take appropriate actions.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of people around you. If ever there were a time to “put on your own mask before helping others,” as the airlines advise in an emergency, it’s now. Everything we can do to stay healthy makes us able to resist the virus, reduce the likelihood of spreading it, and be in a position to support others at work, at home, and in our communities.
Take risks for what we might do. As a small organization, we face economic and other risks, just like every other nonprofit, foundation, and small company. We may need to take some financial or other risks in order to support our colleagues and serve our clients in these times.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. While it’s important to be prudent and thorough, we don’t want to be immobilized by a false expectation that we can act with perfection. In fact, that expectation is a marker of white supremacy culture that we’d do well to abandon in general, and especially in these times. Let’s figure out what “good” looks like and move forward.
An addendum: Given the specific conversation we were having as a staff, we didn’t discuss several very common sense and justice-oriented actions beyond our work community. Here are a few other important actions that we can take as individuals and as a society.
Keep yourself informed about how to avoid spreading the virus. The CDC’s guidance for individuals and businesses is a good place to start. If you see something in social media that’s hard to believe (or if it’s new, outrageous, and too easy to believe), be sure to fact-check it before heading the advice or sharing it with others. Start with the World Health Organization’s Myth Busters page and sites like Snopes.com.
Support the hourly workers in your life and community. “Tip outrageously if you are out. Say, ‘This is for the tips I know you’re missing right now.’ Call your hair stylist if you’re not coming in like usual. Ask how they are doing. Send your tip or the cost of your haircut via Venmo.*
Advocate for government action. Remember that our government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people. Let your local, state, and national representatives know what you and your community need. Advocate for school districts to keep feeding children even if schools are closed. Insist that evictions be halted during the emergency and help people find support if they face eviction. Insist that water and utility shut-offs be halted during the emergency. Help people connect with legal aid if needed in these situations. Support efforts to provide economic relief to hourly workers and small businesses. Insist that everyone needs access to health care and all workers needpaid sick leave. “Call and … talk as long as you want. Tell whoever answers the phone that you think healthcare should be for everyone. Now more than ever.”* See this list of demands from organizers for even more concrete things to demand from the government to protect the public and especially the most vulnerable members of our communities in these times.**
** Thanks to our friends at Change Elemental for this. See more ideas in their message, With Care.
Cultivate a strategic, collaborative mindset.
Human actions are driven by a complex set of
factors, including how we are thinking, how we are feeling, and the
relationship between the two. In times of uncertainty, we want to lean into a
few essential aspects of the collaborative mindset.
Assume the best. Without overlooking the
difference between intent and impact, we also want to make the generous
assumption that everyone is doing their best to show up and contribute.
Offer and receive grace. If people make
mistakes, offend, cause harm, or miss opportunities to do good, we want to
offer grace and forgiveness. This isn’t an effort to erase the harm or error.
Rather, it’s an offer to see the whole person and support them as they correct
or repair. If we are the ones making the mistakes or causing harm, we invite
ourselves to be gentle with ourselves, avoid self-shaming, and graciously
receive grace that is offered by our colleagues.
See challenges as opportunities and growth.Like “trust the process,” this is not
new advice. And yet, in these times, it’s especially important to look for
opportunities as we survey the landscape. We’re asking questions like: How can
we move important work forward without face-to-face gatherings? How can we
share our particular strengths in this moment? How can we repurpose “found
time” that will no longer be used for workshops or convenings so that we can
advance projects that have been waiting for time and attention? How can we
improve our communications and deepen our relationships?
When we introduce IISC’s Dimensions of Success framework, we point out that the goal is for leaders to balance their attention on results, process, and relationship over time. The corollary is that sometimes, as collaborative leaders, we need to focus more heavily on one dimension than the others. In these times, it’s hard to overdo the focus on relationships. And, if we’re going to achieve the results we are seeking to manifest in the world, it’s essential that we build or strengthen our processes so that they are sturdy enough to carry us through these tough times.
So, as you go about your day-to-day work, and even as that work is interrupted and transformed, we hope that you’ll hold tight to the people around you, stand firm on your values, and take the actions you can to mitigate the crisis. Let’s all strive to water seeds of hope and nurture the seedlings of possibility, wherever we find them.
“Thinking in terms of networks can enable us to see with new eyes.”
– Harold Jarche
A couple of years ago I teamed up with Bruce Hoppe, a very skillful and savvy network mapper, to do a network capacity building and analysis engagement with a national education organization comprised of a growing number of member schools. While the organization referred to itself as a “network,” leadership recognized that it did not necessarily intentionally leverage itself as such, or do so with great consistency. Furthermore, there was reported unevenness of understanding among member schools of what it meant to be a member of this network. So Bruce and I were invited in to work with the leadership team to see what might be done to grow network awareness, intention and activity.
In addition to doing some “thinking like a network” training and coaching with the core leadership team, we put together a network survey that yielded some interesting results. The survey was intended to surface how people in the network currently took advantage of the network, what they valued about it, and what other value they would like to see come from their membership and participation.
In analyzing both the pattern of responses and the network map that Bruce constructed, we were interested to see stories emerge of mediated and self-organized collaborations between schools. This included reports of information sharing, staff exchanges, and coordinated learning. This raised a few questions – Was network leadership aware of these collaborations? Were others in the network familiar with them? The answer was that there was some awareness, but this was not at all widespread. The hypothesis emerged that if examples of collaboration were more widely shared and celebrated, this might become both license and motivation for others to do so.
Something else that emerged from the network map were signs of various geographic clusters of schoolswhere there was relatively robust and/or growing communication and coordination. At the same time, there were schools that were in relatively close geographic proximity (in a state or sub-region of a state) where there was little if any interaction and exchange. Clusters in a network can become very powerful engines of collaboration, innovation and influence, both for members of the cluster and also the rest of the network. Leadership was invited to look more closely at the conditions that might be supporting interactivity in some clusters as opposed to others, and also to share examples of robust cluster activity with the rest of the network to inspire curiosity and connectivity.
Another take-away from the survey analysis was that there were clear (what we called) “champions” in the network, individuals who participated in many different virtual and in-person network activities at a relatively high degree of frequency. These super-users were identified as an asset to be further engaged to the extent that they might be ambassadors for the network as a whole, given their apparent enthusiasm. In addition, we raised the idea of creating a cluster of the champions, or a community of practice, that might exchange and prototype promising practices for network engagement.
Also related to this notion of champions was the discovery that the formal school coaching role that existed within the network could play a potentially powerful weaving function within the network. That is, coaches worked with multiple school leaders and often saw opportunities to make connections for the sake of peer exchange. However, this was not a formally condoned aspect of the coaching role. Leadership was invited to consider what it might look like to move coaches out of the role of highly customized support for individual schools and to do more generalized workshops and connecting of peers to ramp up interactivity, and support capacity, in the network.
Collaborations, clusters, champions and coaches-as-weavers – helpful isights from a network survey and map that we look forward to continuing to build upon and learn from, including how to leverage both virtual and in-person convenings to energize the network.
“I believe that the struggle for racial and social justice provides an unparalleled lens through which to visualize – and achieve – more honest, just, and positive interrelationships in all aspects of our lives together.”
The FSNE Challenge is a remixed and more sector-specific form of an exercise created by Dr. Eddie Moore (founder of the Privilege Institute), Debbie Irving (author of Waking Up White), and Dr. Marguerite W. Penick-Parks (Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh). After FSNE formalized its commitment to racial equity in its sustainable food system work about 7 years ago (more on our journey in this article), a small design team saw the potential of using the Challenge to invite more widespread (networked!) conversation about the connection between race, racism and food systems and ultimately greater action for racial and food justice.
We also see the on-line version of the Challenge as a way of creating “network effects” around the justice work that many are already doing in our region and beyond through small world reach, rapid dissemination, adaptation, etc. Participation in and the complexity of the Challenge continue to grow – in 2015 we had 200 participants, mainly from the six state region of “New England,” and in 2019 we had some 5,000 people participate from all 50 states in the US, Canada, Mexico and other countries outside of North America.
The point of the Racial Equity Challenge is not simply to spread but also deepen the commitment to racial equity and food justice. So we hope that participants return each year, and many do, and also continue the work in between. Because of this, we make sure that the Challenge continues to evolve in content and format, increasingly with a bias towards action. A couple of years ago, seeing how things were developing, we created the “ladder of engagement” below to think about how to continue to move people along a continuum from “not paying attention” to “organizing.”
It has been inspiring to see numerous organizations self-organize to take the Challenge in-house, convening colleagues, fellow congregants, community members and classmates to reflect together on learning and making commitments to action. This has included groups such as Health Care Without Harm; the Wallace Center at Winrock International; Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems; Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University; Southside Community Land Trust (Providence, RI); Agricultural Sustainability Institute at University of California-Davis, Georgia Organics and many others who have convened around the Challenge.
Last year we responded to these organic efforts and some specific requests by creating a discussion guide for facilitators to design and steward conversations in their organizations/communities. In 2019, the Challenge also went deep in the home institution of Food Solutions New England, the University of New Hampshire (the Sustainability Institute serves as the network’s “backbone”). With the support of a Professorship that I shared with Karen Spiller, we did considerable “in-reach” to staff, faculty and students, including a launch event and campus presentations, which resulted in more than 500 people participating in the Challenge from UNH. We also turned the Challenge into workshops that we offered at gatherings such as the White Privilege Conference.
Last year, we heard for months after the Challenge many appreciations from different parts of the country and how participation is moving people from learning to action –
to create a community equity summit
to bring equity centrally into organizational strategy
to shift one’s job so that they can focus more centrally on issues of injustice
to bolster people’s courage to have courageous conversations
to bring an equity focus to food policy work
We hope these ripples will continue to be amplified this year!
So what exactly is the Challenge?
It is a self-guided learning journey examining the history and impacts of racism how it is connected to our food systems, examples and tools on how to undo racism and build racial equity and food justice.
How does the Challenge work?
People sign up (YOU can register here) and then starting March 30th, they receive daily email prompts focused on a different theme along with links to related resources (readings, video, audio) that take about 10-15 minutes each day. In addition, there is a robust Resource List for people to look through and continue their learning. Those who register also have access to an online discussion forum for those who want to talk and think out loud about the daily prompts and other learning along the way.
How is the Challenge evolving in 2020?
To meet the growing demands of participants and the expressed desire for many to go deeper and to replicate and extend the Challenge in different ways, we have developed a variety of additional supports.
We will also offer a one day in-person training for people who are interested in facilitating groups to prepare themselves for that undertaking.
Another feature this year is a more robust Outreach Kit that has been pulled together by FSNE Communications Director, Lisa Fernandes. The Kit includes sample communications that can be used to recruit others to participate in the Challenge through email, social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook), as an outreach flyer.
Related to outreach, and a late-breaking development, a US Representative in our region (whose name we cannot reveal yet) has agreed to tweet out daily prompts to her constituents via social media. How about inviting your elected officials to do the same!
New this year – in collaboration with the New England Grassroots Environment Fund and the Garfield Foundation, we are excited to offer mini-grants up to $1,000 to organizations and groups based in any of the six New England states who need some financial support to meaningfully convene discussions or group conversations around this year’s Racial Equity Challenge. Funding can be used to cover expenses such as printing, room rental, refreshments, childcare and travel reimbursements for attendees of session(s), language translation/interpretation, etc. More information is available here.
Also new this year, organizations (such as non-profits, agencies, schools, businesses and other groups) can register to be listed as “organizational participants” of the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge! Each individual should still register with their own email address in order to receive the daily prompts during the Challenge, but organizations can now indicate to the world their support for the work of building equity and dismantling racism in our food system! Contact FSNE with any questions about this.
All of this is in line with how FSNE sees itself evolving as a network into its next decade, creating accessible and supportive resources that might be shared and easily adapted through aligned, diverse and robust connections in the region and beyond.
Please join us, and spread the word, the invitation, the conversation and the commitment to others!
At IISC we believe that collaboration is possible if we focus on results, process, and relationships. We also understand that it’s hard to collaborate and do the work of racial equity if we pressure ourselves to work and “do” at a pace that depletes us and keeps us from experiencing our humanness and connection with each other. I offer this poem in that spirit to all our friends and visitors.
Be gentle on yourself
Like lapping waters drifting to your toes
A kitten’s cuddle at your calves
The nestled warmth of glowing ember
We are stretching too hard
Northeast dwellers haunted by those that arrived at Plymouth rock
Who created an epicenter of work til you drop
And colonize til you drop
And enslave until you profit
Working working working themselves
Working working working stolen people
on stolen land
This we have inherited
A ceaseless mantra in our head that
More needs more
More needs to be created
And more needs to be sustained
And we get sick
And we yell at each other
And train our kids and workers to emulate the same
Hurting our hearts
And our births
We need not look far for models to reclaim our humanity
The way we treated earth as wondrous toddlers
The circles of the Wampanoags and First Nations
Rituals and spirituals of Africans
Buddhists and indigenous religions
To simply breathe
Walk slowly with intention
Hold each other in times of conflict in circle
Sing songs of cherishment and liberation
Listen until someone is truly finished
Share meals and libations
Till and protect our earth together
And fearlessly love
We are enough
To silence the frenetic finger on the text and keyboard
To engage in single task to explore our natural focus
excels at many things, but one of the things we don’t do as often as we might
is to share our accomplishments and toot our own horn. In the spirit of
collaboration, we rarely take credit; however, I do want to elevate and
celebrate the special contributions IISC has made this year.
challenging as it was, 2019 was a successful year at IISC. We served over 70
client organizations and networks and trained over 700 leaders in the skills of
collaboration and racial equity. We published sixteen blogs to influence our field and share
learnings on the deep importance of empathy, equity, daring leadership, and
have shaped the field of racial equity and justice by combining our knowledge,
experience, and skills with the likes of great organizations working for change
like Race Forward, Building Movement Project, and Change Elemental.
built tool kits for racial equity for United Way Worldwide and campaigns such
as the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge used by networks all over
the world! We started building a workshop curriculum for the breakthrough book Decolonizing Wealth by author Edgar
Villanueva, which is shaking the philanthropic field to its core. We offered
two well-attended webinars for current and aspiring IISC staff and affiliates
on network practice and racial equity consulting at IISC.
celebrated our 25th anniversary with over 200 old and new
friends and raised over $170,000 to fund our work, innovations to our products,
and a video that displays IISC’s rich
team has been on the move upgrading the Facilitative
Leadership for Social Change curriculum with a racial equity lens and
frameworks. Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations (ARJ), our signature workshop to
help leaders implement racial justice in day-to-day organizational life, will
now be offered to cohorts of leaders seeking deep change for
racial justice. Due to its popularity, we have also piloted an advanced ARJ
workshop to take learning to the next level. We are developing a new concept
for a workshop designed for people of color to support their leadership as they
traverse the challenges of change in deeply racialized contexts. Freedom is
speaking, IISC ended 2019 in the positive. That’s IISC’s third year in a row of
sustaining a healthy financial surplus; an accomplishment never seen in our 25
years. We are starting a reserve fund to help us through future difficult times
and unanticipated needs.
has been a remarkable year with impact, learning, and growth all the way