Expand (and Deepen) the Frame

June 18, 2014 1 Comment


You probably know this challenge.  Start with 3 rows of 3 dots in the form of a square.  Now using only three or four straight lines, connect all of the dots without lifting your pen or pencil from the paper (see answers above).  I was reminded of this exercise by some of the participants in the Tillotson Fund Community Practitioners Network (CPN).  They used it as a metaphor during a presentation about a multi-functional collaborative platform they are proposing to connect a rather vast and disparate region of New Hampshire’s northern most county, including parts of western Vermont, southern Quebec, and eastern Maine.  The vision for the platform is that it would help to build connectivity and alignment around a core set of regional values that would also inspire action for community and economic development.

The point the presenters were making with the dot exercise is that in the name of rural development in an economically challenged region, people really need to expand their frames (as one must do to successfully solve the puzzle).  Unless we stretch and push across boundaries, which are often self-imposed, it is difficult to imagine much fundamentally changing. Unless we change our perspective, we may simply replicate what is.  This is part of the case for a collaborative platform that helps more people “think as a region” and also to tune in to specific stories.

This has been on my mind recently as I have facilitated a number of network convenings of diverse agents trying to shift complex systems (economic, food, health).  What I have discovered is that where there is grist and conflict owing to differing perspectives on and within the system, it can be helpful to do two things – zoom out on the bigger picture and zoom in on specific stories.  By inviting people to individually and collectively imagine the future they are trying to create 10-20 years out, there is often much common ground that emerges.  Certainly not every detail lines up, but people in these networks often realize that they are more aligned than they may have otherwise thought.  And when people are invited to share stories of their experiences within the system and why they do the work they do, there is more room to connect dots than simply advocating for tactics and approaches.

Expanding and deepening the frame can make room for more people and more of those people, including different stories and approaches heading in the same generalized direction.  What have you done to connect the dots and expand and deepen the frame for change?

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