In numerous social change networks that we support at IISC, racial equity has been put at the center of the work, whether or not that was the initial impetus for coming together. This is not seen as ancillary to the change effort, but now understood as foundational, in that systemic inequity around race is part and parcel of the water in which we swim. In a few of these networks where there is a majority of white participants, increasing numbers of people are asking what they can do about structural racism, and one response is that there is important work to be done around whiteness and white privilege. As Gita Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk point out, this is often a critical missing link in racial equity work. Read More
IISC works with clients to expand dimensions of success beyond results. For long-term change to take hold, we help groups understand process and relationships are key factors. In the Communications Unit, we have created a daily practice to keep track of results, process, and relationships in our work. We call this practice “Rays” and we’ve found it works in person, on video chat, over the phone, or even as text or Slack messages.
Rays / Tasks / Blocks
Rays is a 15 minute meeting each day where we briefly share a ray of light in our life, the tasks on our plate, and anything blocking production. Here’s the story of how we do it and what we’ve learned about its value.
Everything around us is designed. This stage, this auditorium fills 4,000 people and its sole design purpose is to have you focus on me. That’s how it’s structured. But there are other consequences of this design. So, for example, if you happen to be about six feet tall you’re probably hoping I’ll start talking so you can get your knees out of the front of the chair in front of you, right? Or if you happen to be, you know 4’5” or under you can’t wait to put your feet back on the ground. Those are the flaws in these designs because what we tend to do in this world is design for the middle and forget about the margins. What these new movements are saying to us is that it’s actually in the margins that we have to concentrate our design. And this feels a little counterintuitive, right, is that if you actually pay attention to the margin and design for them you actually cover the middle. It’s like a tent, right? If you take a tent and you stake it far out at the margins, well guess what, the middle is always covered. And the further out you stake it the stronger the structure you get. And why is that? Because in our systems and our social systems the people at the margins are actually living with the failures of the systems. And they are creating adaptive solutions to them. So when we design to take care of them we build stronger systems for everyone.
“Everything we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the start-up and at transitional phases of network growth it is important for participants to get real about their constraints. Otherwise, what can happen is that people can start seeing one another as “blockers,” uncooperative, not good team players, etc.
A starting place is to ask people as they come to the collaborative table to start thinking about the constraints they have (real or imagined). These could be related to time, money, mental bandwidth, awareness, political pressure, organizational policy, comfort level with going certain places in the collective work, etc. If we define “value” holistically at the outset, we quickly come to understand that everyone has limitations and everyone has something to offer.
Trust-building is critical in helping people feel comfortable expressing certain constraints, so it is helpful to state preventatively that everyone has them, that some are perhaps not so easily spoken or may be beyond current awareness, and that it is important to get and remain curious about these, in addition to the gifts people have to offer!
There is a difference between being a network by default and being one by intention. Sometimes that can be a big difference. I encounter a fair number of networks that are networks in name and in standing, at least in that they are connected entities. But that is pretty much it. Experience shows there are any number of different ways to structure a network, and name it for that matter.
And what I find is most important is the underlying intention to maximize network effects, including: speeding the spread of resources, ensuring resources reach everyone in the network, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to share resources, growing the overall pie of resources, strengthening adaptive capacity and collective intelligence, growing abundance and equity in many different ways.
What this boils down to is a set of network ethics, which I would summarize (certainly incompletely, and to which I invite additions and alterations) in the following way: Read More
Image from Taro Taylor – https://www.flickr.com/photos/tjt195/30916171
The concept of leadership has been undergoing an evolution. In this “network age” there appears to be both an expanding appreciation that leadership has always been about more than the singular heroic individual, and that going forward, leadership really must be much more of a shared endeavor.
In our collaborative consulting work at IISC, leadership (or what we often call Facilitative Leadership) is about “holding the whole,” thinking expansively about the state of a given complex system (community, economy, ecosystem, etc.) and paying attention to what will be required to ensure resiliency and/or change for more equitable and sustainable benefit. In these situations, the traditional top-down images of leadership fall far short.
Network leadership is at best a dynamic, diverse, more decentralized and multi-dimensional phenomenon. Many of those with whom we partner at IISC understand this implicitly, and we have found it important to help them be more explicit about this by clearly delineating the roles that leadership can embody in a collaborative/networked change endeavor. Read More
As we consider the changing socio-economic context in Europe and further afield, as the complexity of multi-faceted issues becomes ever more apparent and foundations try to figure out what to do to make change happen, one thing is certain. Conversations need to be started, understanding needs to be reached, agreements need to be built. This is where facilitation comes in. Facilitation creates the kind of safe spaces for people to discuss the most difficult and controversial issues. Our local work in Northern Ireland is a reminder of the need to engage in building peace and nurturing shared societies at local levels, group by group, community by community. At the core of this work is creating the conditions whereby people can begin to hear each other and be, to quote J P Lederach, ‘paradoxically curious’. Curious about each other, about how we see the world and about what drives us to hold – and defend – the positions we adopt.
Our eyes met and locked a split second after we noticed the feet of two young men sitting next to each other in the circle – both had a pant leg rolled up to show an ankle monitor. In the same circle, sat two sheriffs with guns and tasers strapped to their hips and covered by their untucked shirts. It was day three of our training, Moving Forward in Addressing Race, Power and Privilege, and we were now harvesting the fruits of many hours of challenging mental, emotional and spiritual work.
“I have learned to see that not all police officers are rude and mean,” shared a 14 year-old Latina girl. “I have learned that some officers care about me and want to be fair; this is the first time I’ve been in a space where I felt heard by adults (in the system).”
Having law enforcement at the table with an openness to change is important. Systems are made up of individuals. Individuals centered on equity values and skilled in moving policy forward, in partnership with multi-sector networks towards common goals, can create long term change.
“I have gained sight and vision where before I was blind,” shared a white male law enforcement officer, “and I am willing to give what ever it takes personally and professionally to our cause.” Read More
A recent report out of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University highlights a number of food systems change efforts that have adopted a collective impact approach. Two of these are initiatives that IISC supports – Food Solutions New England and Vermont Farm to Plate Network. The report distills common and helpful lessons across eight state-wide and regional efforts. Here I want to summarize and elaborate on some of the article’s core points, which I believe have applicability to virtually all collaborative networks for social change. Read More
Just coming off of co-delivering a 2 day Pathway to Change public workshop at IISC with Maanav Thakore, and I’m continuing to think about how important context is to the work of social change. In particular, I’m thinking about how seeing the foundation of all change efforts as being fundamentally networked can yield new possibilities throughout the work. There is the change we plan for, and the change that we don’t plan for and perhaps cannot even imagine – emergence. This is the stuff of networks, of living systems, of decentralized and self-organized activity, which can be encouraged and supported but not often predicted or controlled. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The following is a slightly modified post from a little over a year ago. In recent months, the notion of puttingcare at the center of “net work” – to ground it, make it real and people accountable – has surfaced a number of times and strengthened. The original post included the phrase “the empathic turn.” Since that time I’ve come to see “caring” as a more appropriate word, rather than “empathy,” as it evokes for me not simply feeling but action. This re-post is inspired by the activists and thought leaders who are about to gather in Oakland, CA for the “Othering and Belonging” Conference, hosted by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
In an essay that I continue to revisit, the poet/essayist/novelist/farmer/ conservationist and champion of sanity, Wendell Berry, talks about what he calls “the turn towards affection.” Having spent many years reflecting on and pushing back against the unfortunate demonstrated human capacity to despoil landscapes and demonize “the other,” he takes a strong stand for both deep rooted connection and . . . imagination:
“For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.”
In other words, by his assessment, imagination thrives on contact, on an intimate form of knowing that is not simply intellectual, but intimate and holistic. For Berry it is only this kind of knowing that can lead to truly “responsible” action.
Others, past and present, hold the truth and power of this kind of fuller bodied knowing to be self-evident, in environmental conservation and social justice efforts and in what it means to be a responsible human. Professor john a. powell writes in his book Racing to Justice:
“There is a need for an alternative vision, a beloved community where being connected to the other is seen as the foundation of a healthy self, not its destruction, and where the racial other is seen not as the infinite other, but rather as the other that is always and already a part of us.”