Posted in Collaboration

October 20, 2020

Making Network Working Groups Work

Just wrapping up a bit of work with a national network that we at IISC helped to get off the ground 5 years ago, which has seen incredible growth and success in its efforts, and which continues to make progress in these times. For us, what this means is that they have really been hitting on what we call the collaborative dimensions of success – results, process and relationships (see image above). That said, some parts of the network (particular working groups) are humming along more so than others.

In our latest meeting with the network, we helped incubate new working groups (now taking their total to 13!) and also held a gathering of existing working group members to come up with a list of success factors and what they wish they had known at the outset to set themselves up for success. This list will be provided to the new working groups to help them along. I was struck by how many of the items on the list below align with what we teach in Facilitative Leadership for Social Change. While there is no exact recipe for success, we have found over the past 27 years that there are certain practices that create conditions for more likely fluid collaboration. ‘

Here is a list of 27 distinct but related success factors that were identified:

  1. Diversity; people with different skills and experiences, a diversity of vantage points, ideas, and learning curves.
  2. Dividing up roles – facilitator, recorder, timekeeper, liaison, etc.
  3. Willingness to grow and change our roles; not feeling one has to be in the original role.
  4. Establish group working agreements for collective accountability and be open to changing them as needed.
  5. Strong facilitation.
  6. Understanding of the difference between a working group chair and facilitator (these may or may not be the same person).
  7. Ensure everyone feels like they are able to contribute to group conversations if they want to; check for accessibility issues of various kinds.
  8. Intervene around those who would otherwise dominate conversation and shut others down.
  9. Comfort with letting go of an idea once it has been incubated; people understand that when they generate an idea or proposal that it might be changed or critiqued by the rest of the working group, to make it better.
  10. Loosen grip on ego.
  11. Have consistent meetings and touch points – monthly or bi-weekly – to keep on track.
  12. Practice an ethic of love, generosity and forgiveness.
  13. Open up to bigger sources of inspiration and creativity.
  14. Build common language; make sure that everyone understands any acronyms or technical terms being used.
  15. Use a process guide/map for helping working groups in their overall development and work planning; they can adjust as they see fit, but having a framework can be very helpful.
  16. Have an agenda for your meetings and follow it, until it doesn’t make sense to do so.
  17. Set desired outcomes each meeting, so you can determine where any conversation or agenda item is heading and when it’s over.
  18. Make sure your meeting agendas are realistic … put on it what you can actually get to; prioritize and manage the conversation.
  19. Give people time to connect with one another.
  20. Check for agreement and/or for clarity around key points before moving on.
  21. Make sure action items/next steps are captured at the end of each meeting and restated at the top of your minutes/group memory; revisit in your next meeting.  
  22. Conduct process reviews of meetings (what worked, what could be improved); keep what’s working and make changes accordingly.
  23. Keep easy-to-digest minutes/group memories to maintain momentum; having consistent and capable support around this kind of record keeping, including key agreements and next step.
  24. Get meeting minutes/group memories out as soon as possible to everyone, including those who may have missed a meeting.
  25. Support onboarding of new members, so they can catch up easily and step into the flow – think about one-on-one conversations and mentorship.
  26. Provide easy access to/support around accessing shared documents, tools and platforms.
  27. Keep group size manageable – 10 is a nice size; if more consider sub-dividing for certain tasks (think in terms of small group ministry).
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September 27, 2020

Network Weaving in a Time of Breaking, Unraveling and Hunkering Down

For the past month I’ve been checking in with a dozen or so networks that I support and participate in in various ways, looking at how best to navigate these times when in some cases it feels there may be a need to ratchet down or right size expectations. With so much in flux and uncertain, with many new challenges and barriers to how people may have operated in the past, when the impulse might be to pull back or bunker down, what can weavers/coordinators do, what are they doing, to keep their networks and net/collective work vital?

Below is a list of some ideas and practices that I am seeing, hearing, and trying myself, in the name of maintaining baseline connectivity, alignment and coordinated momentum. No one of them is necessarily the “right answer” in every situation, everything being context-dependent and also needing to suit the particular nature and situation of specific networks. And having shared some of these with others, I’ve heard these can be helpful for anyone now working virtually or in-person in times of greater stress. Curious to know what resonates, and what you would add!

  • Bring an open heart to network interactions. People are feeling a lot in these times. It can be important to allow for and acknowledge this.
  • Let people know you are thinking of and appreciate them. One of the practices out there that I’ve seen and am leaning into is people sending “love notes” to others in their networks.
  • Create more frequent, optional and informal opportunities for people to connect. I’ve been seeing and participating in “coffee chats” that happen weekly, bi-weekly and monthly for those who are interested to drop by (virtually), check-in and share gifts and needs. This includes setting up phone calls where people can walk and talk instead of being glued to a screen for videoconferencing.
  • Release your grip on certain standards of performance and accomplishment. This can often create more frustration and exhaustion. Model patience and grace with yourself and others.
  • Allow for, and maybe even celebrate, messiness, malfunctions, and “mistakes.” This is not just about cutting people slack and reducing stress, but also inviting ongoing experimentation, improvisation, creativity and playfulness.
  • Shore up the core of your network. With some coordinating teams working virtually for the first time or much more often, while juggling many other balls, it can be important to establish some basic expectations around communications and other working agreements. What minimally do people need from one another in order to function well in these times? What are they able to give?
  • Find time to disconnect and replenish. From Zoom overload to balancing needs of home and work simultaneously, it can be crucial to find time to disconnect from conversation and interaction.
  • Lean back into alignment. This can be a good time to put a network’s mission, vision and values back in front of its members, to remind people what holds them together and what might ground them more deeply amidst the tumult of the times. How can these values and larger goals provide ballast and guidance?
  • Create more slowness, stillness, spaciousness and even silence in your network interactions. Even when connected, we can practice different kinds of pacing and spacing that can help people to restore, maintain or increase their energy.
  • Stem degenerative flows. The 24 hour news cycles, social media wars, and spirals of outrage can conspire to overwhelm us and suck us dry, especially when there is an insidious fear of missing out. Other than simply disconnecting, we can ask what actually nourishes us in terms of connections and flows of information, interactions and other resources. Be mindful of what you consume, as well as what you send out and communicate with others.
  • Lead with joy and laughter. Because it feels good and can be so radical and welcomed in these times.
  • Really practice shared leadership. All the time, and especially now. Do what you do best and connect to the rest. Remember you are not indispensable and that networks benefit from redundancy of role and function. I was recently in a call with 8 other facilitators to develop both an agenda and executive memo for an important meeting, and while in the past I would have dreaded these kinds of endeavors, in this instance we really needed each other given the complexity of the situation and constrained capacity of each of us.
  • Keep an eye towards bridging. While comfort and care are important, watch the tendency to fall back into familiar patterns and relationships that can bolster bonding (birds of a feather flocking together) in your networks at the expense of bridging to those who are different in some way, shape or form, where those differences are vital to the health of the network and its work. On this front, see this resource, “On Bridging,” from the Othering and Belonging Institute.
  • Keep listening for and helping to meet needs, fill gaps, and leverage opportunities. What are the critical connections and flows that the network is asking for right now? Who can help to create and support these?
  • Ask yourself the following question and see where it takes you:

“What is something I/we can do today that our future network (and collective work) will be grateful for and benefit from?

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June 26, 2020

From Trauma to Transformative Futures: Four Dimensions

As you review the framework, would you share your responses to the questions below in the comments?

  • What does it bring up for you?
  • Where do you find yourself focusing your thinking and efforts?
  • What might you want to explore, start, continue or further develop, or stop doing in any of the stages?How does the framework help you prioritize and perhaps find empowering areas for action and partnership?


As you navigate the complex times of COVID-19 and racial uprising, consider what it would take to transition through these four dimensions, what needs to be in place, what is already in place, and what we need to reimagine and rebuild.


1 – In the Trauma Dimension: How are we responding to the impact of trauma from COVID, racism, and other shocks?

Racial Equity & Justice:

  • Are we removing racialized barriers to emergency resources? 
  • Are we using a racial equity impact analysis tool to understand and evaluate our response? Even when we feel rushed?
  • Are we recognizing deep racial harm in our organization and networks?

Collaboration:

  • Are we pausing and engaging in quick and meaningful stakeholder engagement to guide our responses and ensure less harm?
  • Are we attending to both relationships and results as we carry out our work?

Love:

  • Are we acting and responding with humility, empathy, and transparency?
  • Are we practicing presence and accountability?

Networks:

  • Are we tapping into diverse networks to gather information and foster flows to address critical needs?

2 – In the Reckoning Dimension: How are we grappling with deep distress and the reality of shifting resources? How are we embracing racial uprisings for change? How are we embracing uncertainty?

Racial Equity & Justice:

  • Are we acknowledging inequities revealed by crisis?  
  • Are we acting to undo the racialized impacts of our actions?
  • How are we recognizing the leadership of Black people and what are the lessons for our organizations?
  • Are we remembering and communicating that equity is not the same as equality
  • Are we designing from and with the margins to approach every problem and solution?

Collaboration:

  • Are we engaged in transparent and collaborative decision-making?
  • Are we facilitating conversations and activities to face the pain and opportunity of this crisis, our potential power together to make change, while also planning for next steps?

Love:

  • Are we embracing where people are? Their feelings, conditions, perspectives?
  • Are we modeling vulnerability as a sign of strength?
  • Are we exploring the reality through the lens of love and possibility?

Networks:

  • Are we setting strategic direction with critical partners? 
  • Are we listening for and following the ideas of BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, people of color)?

3 – In the Healing Dimension: How are we creating the conditions for healing and well-being?

Racial Equity & Justice:

  • Are we supporting BIPOC people and communities to move through trauma, grief and anger toward joy?
  • Are white people leaning into discomfort, trauma and pain, and working that through with other white allies?

Collaboration:

  • Are we generating and living into community care guidelines to support self-care and collective well-being?
  • Are we designing and facilitating in ways that allow people to process holistically – intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually?

Love:

  • Are we convening grounding conversations that allow for brave space, emotions, and truth sharing?
  • Are we offering resources for healing modalities?
  • Are we acknowledging all paths to healing?
  • Are we meeting pain with action and redistributing power and resources?

Networks:

  • Are we deepening networks and attending to flows of resources that create healing and well-being for people?
  • Are we setting up more distributive structures focusing on regenerative flows of resources of many kinds?

4 – In the Transformative Futures Dimension: How are we envisioning and living into equitable and resilient futures?

Racial Equity & Justice:

  • Are we pivoting from supremacist and extractive practices to what is liberating and life-honoring?

Collaboration:

  • Are we facilitating leaders to envision and invest in equitable and resilient futures?

Love:

  • Are we encouraging building futures from the lessons of love, possibility, and shared humanity?

Networks:

  • Are we fostering a new level of learning, sustainability, innovation and radical collaboration with people and our planet?
  • Are we focusing on systems change and building long-term movement?

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May 13, 2020

From Emergency Response to Resilient Futures: Moving Towards Transformation

Note: This blog was authored as a framework to assist leaders moving people and organizations through COVID-19. Shortly after it was written, the racial uprisings of 2020 began after the many deaths of Black people in the United States. We have since updated this framework to bridge the approaches we believe are necessary for navigating both COVID-19 and racial injustice. Please view this blog and new resource.

As we find ourselves rowing in uncharted, uncertain, and scary waters, feeling like we’re up against waves of deep tension and crisis, we know that we need to row together in new and deeply collaborative ways. Yet under current conditions, many leaders are overwhelmed with concern about their own organizations; their staff, volunteers, Board, constituencies, and networks. We are all problem solving minute-to-minute and facing many critical decisions – decisions which could determine if people have a source of income, if they will receive essential services, and, indeed, even if they will remain healthy and alive.

We need to support leaders at all levels – individually, organizationally, and at the level of the ecosystem of networks around them – to work strategically and collaboratively in this critical moment. We are using IISC’s Collaborative Change Lens, to harness the power of collaboration by focusing on love, racial equity, and networks. We are supporting leaders online, and will eventually support them in-person (yes, that day will come), to plan and move through the stages of transformation offered in this framework during the pandemic and beyond.

Organizations, communities, networks, and even individuals may experience these stages in linear ways. Or, they may dip in and out of the stages at different times as they move through challenges and opportunities. We are supporting them to shift from emergency responses to creating conditions for resilient futures that create regenerative and equitable systems that are sustainable for the longer-term. This includes helping individuals and groups “do what they do best and connect to the rest,” and to act in networked ways to strengthen response and movement.

As you review the framework, would you share your responses to the questions below in the comments?

  • What does it bring up for you?
  • Where do you find yourself focusing your thinking and efforts?
  • What might you want to explore, start, continue or further develop, or stop doing in any of the stages?How does the framework help you prioritize and perhaps find empowering areas for action and partnership?

Facilitate rapid problem-solving and decision-making in the face of immediate needs, heightened risk, chaos, and/or uncertainty.

_____

Collaboration Priorities:

  • Focus on relationships and results for rapid decision-making and crisis management
  • Engage in quick and meaningful stakeholder engagement of those impacted by critical and consequential decisions to generate effective responses.
  • Ground all decisions in what is best for our shared humanity and fate.

Love:

  • Act and respond with love, humility, empathy, and transparency.
  • Let those in critical need know they are not alone.
  • Show up with and model presence and focus.

Racial Equity:

  • Avoid “savior syndrome” and respect the dignity and voice of those most in need in the moment.
  • Recommit to racial equity practices and approaches from the organization’s past that can build resiliency.
  • Anticipate and remove racialized barriers to accessing emergency resources and uniquely tailor responses to account for historic inequities to eliminate disparities in the emergency response.

Networks:

  • Foster connectivity and flows between leaders in various sectors and ecosystems to gather and share information, understand the current reality, and respond to complex problems.
  • Tap into diverse networks to address critical needs and discover new possibilities.
  • Eliminate bottlenecks and liberate the flow of critical resources.

Grapple with the reality of fewer resources and more distress within the organization/community.

_____

Collaboration Priorities:

Love:

  • Shape conversations, cultures, and approaches to exploring the current reality through the lens of love and possibility.
  • Embrace the full complexity of where people are and how they are experiencing current reality.
  • Model vulnerability as strength.
  • Encourage people to reach for connection to experience belonging and avoid isolation.

Racial Equity:

  • Acknowledge and address the reality of stark racial disparities in our social systems that the emergency reveals. Remember and communicate that equity is not the same as equality.
  • Collect and examine data on who has been impacted by your and others’ decisions and how; determine new paths and approaches to root out inequities.
  • Design from and with the margins to approach every problem and solution that can move you toward stability.

Networks:

  • Foster deeper trust and network connections by continuing to exchange ideas and resources.
  • Build a gift culture where people offer what they can for the good of the whole.
  • Set strategic direction with critical stakeholders and partners. Join forces, align, or merge.

Create the conditions for healing and well-being for people in groups, networks, and sectors in which we live and work.

_____

Collaboration Priorities:

  • Model communication and consistent practices of support, cooperation, and coordination.
  • Generate and live into community care and mutual aid guidelines to support healing, refreshment, self-care, and improved physical and emotional well-being of oneself and others.

Love:

  • Convene healing conversations that allow for brave space, nourishment, emotions, truth, and care.
  • Leave channels of communication open for how people are feeling and experiencing things.
  • Remind everyone that individuals will be in different places at different times, and that is okay.

Racial Equity:

  • Make space for people with shared racial identities or a shared purpose to come together to move through and release trauma collectively, and to experience liberation.
  • Design and facilitate in ways that allow people to process holistically – intellectually, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Networks:

  • Generate new connections or deepen older ones to refresh and heal on individual, interpersonal, organizational, and network levels.
  • Attend to flows of resources that create healing and well-being for people.

Envision, live into, and develop capacities for new and better futures

_____

Collaboration Priorities:

  • Facilitate leaders, organizations, and networks to envision and generate elements of a new future that is different from what was imagined before the emergency.
  • Create emergent learning spaces for people to share what they are experimenting with and learning.

Love:

  • Imagine a future from the lessons and examples of love, possibility, mutual aid, and collective care.
  • Build systems, processes, and practices that begin to manifest the future that you envision.

Racial Equity:

  • Design your vision and future practices by grounding them in the value of transformative equitable well-being and thriving.
  • Pivot from supremacist, extractive practices to what is fundamentally liberatory and life-honoring.
  • Design around the principle of belonging (not othering).

Networks:

  • Foster a new level of equity, sustainability, and radical collaboration with people and our planet.
  • Work in expansive, equitable, free-flowing, and liberated networks for abundance and regeneration.
  • Encourage social learning, experimentation, freedom to fail, and sharing what works and has promise.

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April 20, 2020

Bringing a Network Theory Perspective to These Times, Part 2

Image by Alexander Baxevanis, “Flow,” shared under provision of the Creative Commons Attribution LIcense 2.0.

New paths of flow are needed for new patterns of organization that are resilient.”

– Sally J. Goerner, Robert G. Dyck, Dorothy Lagerroos, The New Science of Sustainability

This post builds on a post from a couple of weeks ago, looking at how in a time of pandemic, with viruses revealing other viruses (racism, othering, oligarchy, mechanical thinking run amok), and triggering viral responses of various kinds, this is prime time to cultivate network literacy and strength. In this post I want to highlight the importance of “flow network science” or the “energy network sciences.” These fields stretch across disciplines and look at how nutrients, information and other vital sources of energy move through the structures of living networks.

Dr. Sally J. Goerner and her colleagues (Dan Fiscus, Brian Fath, Robert Ulanowicz, and others) have looked at how certain features of systems-as-networks (communities, ecosystems, economies) contribute to their long-term health and thriving, including diversity, intricacy, adaptability and robustness. A key is to focus on those dynamics that support the self-renewing (regenerative) and saluto-genic (health promoting) capacities of living systems as and so that they evolve and adapt to disturbances in their environment (which is really an extension of their being!). A big part of this is not just focusing on the pattern of network connections, but what is moving through those connections, including quality and velocity of those flows, from whom and to whom.

At IISC, we are fielding lots of questions right now about what networks are doing or should do to not only to respond to the COVID19 emergency and achieve some semblance of stability, but also to build pathways to better, more resilient and equitable systems. Taking a cue from what we are observing and what we are learning from energy network sciences/flow networks, some of the things networks can do and are doing include:

  • Weaving and convening diversity to foster systemic intelligence and resilience
  • Distributing power and intelligence to enable rapid and timely responses in different parts of “the body”
  • Circulating accurate and accessible (curated) information in various forms (text, visual, audio) throughout “the whole” to support diverse learning and adaptation
  • Facilitating effective (clear, concise, well-timed and spaced) communication and conversation to help people stay grounded, focused and moving on what matters
  • Disseminating elements of opportunity- and abudance-based narratives that encourage people to lean into these times and not flee from or freeze in the midst of them
  • Identifying and circulating a variety of nourishment (multiple forms of “capital”) widely (especially to those who are otherwise undernourished) in the form of money, ideas, in kind support, and other resources
  • Promoting robust exchange to support innovation, learning and systemic vitality at different levels
  • Creating safe and brave spaces for people to share their challenges and successes, get peer-assists, give and receive emotional support that encourages risk-taking and further venturing into uncharted terrain
  • Designing and carrying out network activity and engagement with an ethic of love (“seeing others as a legitimate others”), care, generosity, abundance, common cause, mutualism, transparency, inclusion, equity, and our full humanity (minds, bodies, hearts, spirits)

And we can “double click” on each of the above to delve deeper into the “who” (roles and relationships), “how” (processes), which we are actively doing with a variety of groups, and will share more of what we are learning in future posts and webinars.

And in that spirit of learning, please share what you are learning and would add with respect to what networks can do and are doing to create pathways to the new and the better.

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March 20, 2020

Network(ed) Adaptations: A Regional Food System Network Responds to COVID19

Image from K. Kendall, “Fragile Resilience,” used under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

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.

Image by sagesolar, “Mesmerized by murmuration,” used under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

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)
  • A coordinated call for stimulus funds to invest in communities to build out critical infrastructure between local and regional food producers and families in need of healthy food
  • More robust activity around the upcoming 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge to advance equity considerations and actions especially in these times (see and register here)
  • Advancing research and work on regenerative food and economic hubs in western Massachusetts and in Connecticut (see Regenerative Communities Network)
  • Rapid response grassroots funding (see The New England Grassroots Environment Fund and opportunities to donate)
  • Farmers opening up farm stands, home delivery, etc.
  • Food delivery route adjustments to ensure people who are most vulnerable have food
  • Rapid responses around work visas for farm workers to keep farms working
  • Work to reimburse private childcare centers for caring for the children of essential workers, including grocery store workers
  • Just and sustainable food organizers digitizing campaigns (see Migrant Justice and Real Food Challenge)
  • Efforts to meet current needs amidst COVID19 with needs to address climate change (see some reflections from Otto Scharmer on this front, which have been making their way through the network)
  • Food funders revising guidelines and getting money out the door quickly and for general operations
  • Innovations around education in food system programs through universities
  • Rallying support for small food-related businesses
  • Re-galvanized food policy council activity
  • Getting food to children who are now out of school and otherwise depend on schools for breakfast and lunch
  • Open forums on institutional needs around providing food during COVID19 (see Farm to Institution New England)
  • Collecting COVID related resources and reporting on impacts on the food system (see this Google doc started by FSNE Network Leadership Institute alum Vanessa García Polanco)
  • Free virtual/video cooking demonstrations
  • 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!

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October 28, 2019

A Taste of “Team Human”

I just finished reading Douglas Ruskoff’s Team Human and found it very provocative and timely. As I find myself in more spaces where it feels like there is a tendency towards breaking as opposed to bridging, I and others with whom I work are asking, (1) What is really going on here? and (2) What we can do to better hold things together, while respecting diversity and difference? Team Human offers some insights by lifting up how the digital-age technologies in which many of us are engaged are making dangerously simplistic abstractions of our world (and of people) and appealing to the worst of our humanity.

Rushkoff uses 100 aphoristic statements in what amounts to a manifesto that speaks to how forces for human connection have turned into ones of isolation and repression. This includes algorithms that constantly direct our attention to what outrages us and sound bite biased social media undermining democracy by encouraging people to spread incendiary partial and untruths (because they outrage us!).

The book is certainly a wake up call to understand the manipulation behind digital media and to go beyond false appearances and reductionist reactivity to embrace prosocial behavior and make contributions towards regenerative patterns and flows. I highly recommend the book and have pulled some of my favorite quotes, which you will find below:

“Whoever controls media controls society. … Social control is based on thwarting social contact and exploding the resulting disorientation and despair.

“Engineers at our leading tech firms and universities tend to see human beings as the problem and technology as the solution.”

[Under capitalism] “people are at best an asset to be exploited, and at worst a cost to be endured.”

“We’ve got a greater part of humanity working on making our social media feeds more persuasive than we have on making clean water more accessible.”

“The internet reinforces its core element : the binary. It makes us take sides.”

“Memetic warfare, regardless of the content, discourages cooperation, consensus, or empathy.”

“If we don’t truly know what something is programmed to do, chances are it is programming us. Once that happens, we may as well be machines ourselves.”

“There is no ‘resistance’ in a digital environment/ only on or off.”

“We reduced ideas to weaponized memes, and humankind to human resources. We got carried away with our utilitarian capabilities, and lost touch with the reasons to exercise those capabilities in the first place.”

“The long-term danger is not that we will lose our jobs to robots. … The real threat is that we lose our humanity to the value system we embed in our robots, and that they in turn impose on us.”

“We must learn that technology’s problems can’t always be solved with more technology.”

“Might the apparent calamity and dismay around us be less the symptoms of a society on the verge of collapse than those of one about to give birth?”

“The first step toward reversing our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport.”

“Happiness is not a function of one’s individual experience or choice, but a property of groups of people.”

“Evolution may have less to do with rising above one’s peers than learning to get along with more of them.”

“Challenging the overt methods of separation is straightforward: reject that hate speech of racists, zero some economics of oppression, and the war mongering of both tyrants and neoliberal hawks.”

“We can be utterly in charge of the choice not to be utterly in charge. We can be fully human without being in complete control of our world.”

“It’s neither resistance nor passivity, but active participation: working in concert with what’s happening to make it down river in one piece.”

“New experiments have revealed that after just a few moments of awe, people behave with increased altruism, cooperation and self-sacrifice.”

“True awe is timeless, limitless, and without division. It suggests there is a unifying whole to which we all belong – if only we could hold onto that awareness.”

“If we are not going to follow the commands of a king, a CEO, or an algorithm, then we need unifying values in order to work together as a team to work toward mutually beneficial goals.”

“Unless we consciously retrieve the power inherent in our collective nature, we will remain unable to defend ourselves against those who continue to use our misguided quest for individuality against us.”

“The future is not a discontinuity or some scenario we plan for so much as the reality we are creating through our choices right now. We just need to observe the flows, recognize the patterns, and apply them everywhere we can.”

“Find the others. Restore the social connections that make us fully functioning humans, and oppose all conventions, institutions, technologies, and mindsets that keep us apart.”

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December 17, 2018

Weaving Webs of Possibility: The Moral Imagination in Social Change

Image by Graylight, used under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

As I was just starting work at IISC, back in 2005, our founding Executive Director Marianne Hughes, introduced the staff to the work of John Paul Lederach, and specifically his book The Moral Imagination. As I recall, she did this as a result of a sabbatical during which she explored the power of networks and of art in social change. These two things show up centrally in Lederach’s work. Lederach has spent years doing peace and reconciliation work in some of the most intense and entrenched conflicts in the world. And he writes not really as a master technician, but as a poet, which is very much by intention.

I thought of The Moral Imagination a couple of months ago, when I began to realize how starved many people I meet seem to be for alternatives to what we currently have as mainstream systems in this country. Many are speaking up against and resisting what is not working, has long been unjust, and is fundamentally sustainable, which is crucial. And in the absence of clear alternatives (see “reimagine” and “recreate” in Spirit in Action’s image below), what can ensue is … conflict. Entrenched conflict, with no creative point of release.

I also thought of Lederach’s book, because he writes how central networks, human webs, and authentic human connection is to the work of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Up until recently I had thought about peacebuilding as a field as having more to do with what goes on in “other places” like Ireland, Sudan, Colombia, Tajikistan. If nothing else, these past couple of years have provided a need to adjust that understanding – peacebuilding is needed at home.

So I’ve been scouring Lederach’s writings, and there is a lot that resonates. Lederach was recently featured on a powerful program of On Being with actress and activist America Ferrera (no doubt another reason he has been on my mind). There is much to say about The Moral Imagination, but for now I am offering some passages and quotes that struck a chord and I’m curious to hear what reactions those reading have … Read More

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December 10, 2018

Change Is About Letting Go, Creating Space … and Connecting

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
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
 
When we are able to build
open spaces
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. …
A fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
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?”

Image by Orchids love rainwater, shared under provisions for Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.

 

Connection, deep connection, also helps us to let go. … And to let something else come.

Connect. Let go. Create space. Connect. Let come.

Like breathing.

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?

 

Image from Daniel Christian Wahl, The adaptive cycle (adapted & expanded from Gunderson & Holling 2001)

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October 2, 2018

Strategic Criteria for a Systems-Focused Collaborative Network

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:

Required

  • 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.

Strongly preferred

  • 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.

Bonus points

  • 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?

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September 5, 2018

Confront or Collaborate

IISC exists to bring the best of collaborative practice to the work of social justice and sustainability. In the early years, some of our detractors felt we were too apolitical, that our call to “get the whole system in the room” was naïve at best and dangerous at worst. Without a power analysis, collaboration across traditional lines of authority, role and identity was of limited interest to some of the organizers and activists we knew. Collaboration might be a good idea for the allies, they thought, but it was silly to think that bringing the power brokers or counterproductive actors in the system into the room with those most affected would lead to meaningful results. That was the early and mid 1990s.

In some ways, our critics were right and we knew it. By the late 1990s, we began to bring diversity and cultural competency explicitly into our framework. After all, collaboration is about working together, and working together across race, class, culture, and role are part and parcel of that kind of work. We stretched our core methodology. We expanded the boundaries of cultural competency to include understanding historic and present-day structural dynamics of oppression and taking action to address structural factors. By the early 2000s we were crystalizing an understanding of power, network theory, and love as critical dimensions of collaboration. Since the late 2000s, we’ve been building tools and methods to bring power, equity, and inclusion into the center of our practice. The next stage of this evolving practice has been an increasingly sharp focus on racial justice in particular, to the point where the pursuit of racial equity is part of our stated mission. And, I’m excited to see how many people see the value of bringing that enriched understanding of collaborative practice to their work for racial justice. At the same time, I’m struck by the continuing importance of protest and civil disobedience to the pursuit of justice.

In this particular moment brings a question into sharp relief in this particular moment. When is it necessary to completely disrupt life or business as usual in order to shine a light on injustices and pursue justice? Can that kind of disruption be done in a collaborative way? What’s the role for confrontation?

I am indebted to Linda Stout and her colleagues at Spirit in Action for their 4Rs approach to social change. They recognize that there are times for Resisting violations of shared values and human rights; Reforming existing systems; Reimagining alternative futures; and Reinventing communities, organizations, and societies from the ground up to reflect the kinds of values we hold dear. If ever there was a time to resist, it’s now. And those who are resisting courageously in ways large and small need spaces of refuge and restoration. It’s exhausting and dangerous work. Reimagining is often led by artists, and the movie Black Panther highlighted the power of reimagining alternative futures. I think that much of our work centers on reforming existing systems, supporting people who are working to transform their institutions from the inside out. And, in a few cases, there are genuine efforts to focus energy and attention on recreating ways of being and doing together that bring the imagined future into reality.

I’ve been sensing a growing desire for a lot more reimagining and recreating. What’s the mix in your work and your world?

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July 11, 2018

Power Dynamics: The Hidden Element to Effective Meetings

Many articles have been devoted to running effective meetings that build collaboration among teams, yet many fail to discuss the hidden element that can destroy a meeting almost without fail.

Power dynamics – the ways in which power works in a setting – can either sink a meeting and negatively impact relationships for years, or produce more shared power and capacity to get things done. A lot of the difference comes down to how we attend to power dynamics in meetings, how well we plan our meetings, how well we determine what happens within and outside of meetings, and how well we facilitate in the moment.

In every organization, there are people who hold formal power and informal power. Formal power is attributed to someone by virtue of their title or position in the organization. People carry informal power if they have influence over others or their organization, either because of their experience, force of personality or persuasion, unearned privilege, or because they have strong relationships with decision-makers and peers. Power is also deeply influenced by diversity and equity dynamics. In most Western societies today, many decisions in organizations are still controlled by people with certain backgrounds: over 40, male, white/European, heterosexual, and middle class and wealthy people. Many feel empowered to lead, speak, and make decisions by virtue of the standing society gives to them on the basis of their background. They get a lot of practice leading and people are acculturated to following and respecting them.

Power — the capacity to get things done — is neither positive nor negative in and of itself. It’s all about how we construct, reconstruct, and practice power. Individuals can exercise their power in healthy ways if they stay focused on making space for others and growing power to achieve positive outcomes by building “power with” others. Individuals and groups can exercise their power in unhealthy ways if they are focused on establishing “power over” others or concentrating power in a few.

At IISC we have made some key observations about power in meetings:

  1. Power dynamics are always present in meetings whether we see them or not.
  2. Every meeting is a chance to build a group’s power and transform power dynamics. It’s important to design and facilitate meetings to create opportunities for power to be shared and openly discussed.
  3. Meeting designers and facilitators must attend to formal and informal power and the dynamics that come along with it.
  4. Meeting facilitators should be mindful of and acknowledge their own power and enact it in a way that builds the power of the group.
  5. Every element of meetings needs preparation to make power and decision-making transparent. Consider questions like: Who is at the meeting and who is not? Why or why not? What’s on the agenda and what’s not on the table for discussion that should be? Who will be making the decisions that flow from what will be discussed (both in the room and beyond)? Who plays which roles and why? What work will happen outside of the meeting? What information from the meeting should be shared and with whom?

So, what are some ways to attend to power dynamics in meetings?

  • Assume power dynamics are always present in meetings. Design your meeting agenda to include multiple voices and perspectives. Lightly encourage people to step forward to lead and participate, especially if they have less power in the organization either because of role, positional status, race, gender, or other factors. Encourage people with traditional forms of formal power to do more listening than speaking.
  • Build a culture of collaboration in meetings. Think of meetings as an opportunity for a team to build relationships, learn leadership, design good processes, and counteract unhealthy uses of power.  Design your meetings for relationships, joy, and creativity. Good things will follow! Always build an agenda that allows people to first interact on a human basis, such as starting with opportunities for people to do a “check-in” to share how their day or week is going or to learn more about each other on a personal level. Ask people a question that surfaces their personal and professional purpose. Encourage honesty, vulnerability, and calling people “in”, instead of calling people “out”. Spread a little business love around the room, creating openings for people to feel heard and noticed, and to experience a sense of belonging and interconnectedness.
  • Openly discuss power in meetings. Discuss openly with your team the question, what would be the benefits to our group if we shared power? Remind them that power is not a finite pie; rather, it can be infinite, expanded, and shared among people and leaders. Prompt them to explore how they can share “power with” each other instead of “power over.” Make a list of meeting agreements the group will use to share power. Ask people to monitor the agreements and be brave enough to intervene if people are not practicing them. Make a list of “power over” moves, so people learn the behaviors that reinforce dominant voices and power and exclude others. Have people take mental note of who is speaking the most and who is not. Make sure your discussions of power go beyond yourselves as colleagues to the people or communities you serve. How are they “at the table?” How are their priorities, assets, and skills driving the discussion?
  • Remember that power is a social construct. We can design spaces where individuals and groups experience their own and others’ power differently. Be proactive about ways to amplify the power of people who are typically at the margins of the conversation. Challenge the group to pay at least as much attention to the expertise that comes from lived experience (say, of poverty) as from formal theories and data. Flip questions on their head by asking “why not do things differently?” instead of “how can we work within given boundaries?” Ensure that people who are affected by the issues you’re working on are at the center of the conversation and have meaningful roles in the work over time (inside meetings and beyond).
  • Use your role intentionally and thoughtfully if you’re the meeting facilitator. Don’t dominate the discussion. Don’t come up with all the ideas. Stay as impartial as possible, even though you can never truly be completely neutral. If you want to contribute an idea or experience, tell the group you are switching from facilitator role to express your view as an individual and then step back into your facilitator role. Examine who gets to facilitate meetings and who doesn’t. Meeting facilitators can change the outcome of the meeting just by how they design and run it. Rotating facilitation and supporting people to learn how to facilitate and run meetings distributes power and makes meetings more dynamic.

The skills of meeting facilitation with a lens to share power are teachable and replicable. At IISC, we share some of those skills through training and consulting. We have learned that meetings that are both well facilitated and that attend to power dynamics can transform groups into highly functioning teams with deeper purpose and intention for social change.

 

 

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