April 21, 2016
Image by Steve Jurvetson
Much of the work we do at IISC includes some element of helping to develop networks for social change. This entails working with diverse groups of individuals and/or organizations to come together and create a common vision and clear pathway to collective action and impact. I’ve been reflecting on how important it can be to not simply focus on creating or developing networks “out there” and across traditional boundaries, but also “in here,” within different recognized borders.
“When a living system is suffering from ill health, the remedy is found by connecting with more of itself.”
– Francisco Varela
The notion that part of the process of healing living systems entails connecting them to more of themselves is derived, in part, from the work of Francisco Varela, the Chilean biologist, philosopher and neuroscientist. As Varela and others have surmised, living systems are networks, including individual people, groups, organizations, and larger social systems. Furthermore, they have noted that when a living system is faltering, the solution will likely be discovered from within it if more and better connections are created. In other words, as Margaret Wheatley puts it,
“A failing system [or network] needs to start talking to itself, especially to those it didn’t know were even part of itself.”
I find it interesting in the context of social change work to consider how the process of re-connecting at and within different systemic levels can be beneficial to those levels and initiatives as wholes.
February 25, 2016
Ikeda Center Podcast Episode 5: Ceasar McDowell – On the Evolving Nature of Community
Here is Part 3 of The Ikeda Center Podcast’s interview series with Ceasar McDowell.
In this final segment of our three part interview, Dr. Ceasar McDowell introduces some early experiences that have inspired his work in community development. He also discusses the evolution of how we organize ourselves as human beings in community. He comments that while in the past we were born into specific communities or chose communities that were local and familiar, now “all of that has changed.” He adds that “we often find ourselves in places where we can’t then build an integrated community, so we look at how do we then take care of that other part of ourselves, which we can say is spiritual, relational, whatever it may be…For some people, they start to do it around work, or they do it around their habits, or they do it around church…All of that still keeps us separate, because now you’re holding this multiplicity of the places where you’re finding your identity and yourself and your connection, and it ends up being fragmented in some ways.” Dr. McDowell continues by exploring this new space that we find ourselves in, one of transition and change.
February 3, 2016
Here is Part 2 of The Ikeda Center Podcast’s interview series with Ceasar McDowell.
In the second of this three part interview, Dr. Ceasar McDowell details his vision for democracy as an ongoing process of interaction and engagement. He shares that the work of democracy is “how people come to know and understand both each other, the issues that are important to them, and how they want to make meaning together.” He adds that his current work is focused on the idea of Big democracy which he describes as, “an aspiration. And at the core of this aspiration is the belief that the public is fully capable of working together to create sustainable, just, and equitable communities. But to do so the public must have ongoing, peaceful ways to interact around traditions that bind them, and interests that separate them, so they can realize a future that is an equitable improvement on the past.”
October 22, 2015
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Last week I attended a gathering of network funders and practitioners in Oakland, CA hosted by Leadership Learning Community. Surrounded by so many bright lights, it was hard to get enough of any given individual or conversation. That said, one interaction that continues to stick out for me occurred with Allen Kwabena Frimpong and June Holley of Movement Netlab. Allen, June and I share an interest in supporting collaborative platforms (virtual and in-person) that can help to facilitate resource movement and exchanges of all kinds among diverse actors for the benefit of structural change. Read More
October 6, 2015
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
May 5, 2015
We’ve heard this call and response chant echo down boulevards from St Louis to Baltimore as the #BlackLivesMatter movement takes to the streets. This is what democracy looks like, when the people most affected by a situation organize for change. They call out to us from the streets to remind us that democracy is not about the mechanics for voting for representation.
We don’t all have to march in the streets to use our power and privilege to push for a more just society. I received a copy of a wonderful letter last night. A friend who lives in Baltimore was deeply disturbed by a video that appears to show a Baltimore city police officer violently assaulting a man from behind, even though his hands are raised in surrender. Read More
March 26, 2015
Just returning from the Champions for Change gathering in Washington, DC hosted by the Tamarack Institute and the Collective Impact Forum. I was in attendance with a couple of others from the Food Solutions New England Network Team to learn more about people’s experiences with creating and developing a “backbone” function in their “collective impact” efforts, and also had the opportunity to do a couple of skills sessions around IISC’s “Dimensions of Collaborative Success” framework from Facilitative Leadership for Social Change. Read More
January 22, 2015
“If you bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information, they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns of the organization and community.”
In our work at IISC, we occasionally reference David Chrislip’s “collaborative premise” (see above) as a way of orienting people to some of the key components of effective collective and net work. Given our emphasis on effective stakeholder engagement and process design, we generally focus on the first two elements more so than the last around good information, which does not mean we think it doesn’t matter. In fact, recently I’ve been observing some interesting dynamics around the data conversation in various network building and collective impact projects that we support.
Invariably, it seems that there are those who are quite concerned about ensuring that a given collective effort has the “right data” and that people are being “rigorous” in their approach to problem/opportunity analysis and solution generation. While understanding the need to have and use good data, we also think that it’s important to ask the question – Data for what? People often say they want data to ensure that they are not making uninformed and overly subjective judgments. Understandable. Furthermore it is sensible to want to seek out a baseline to be able to measure progress as a change effort moves forward. This said, I see a number of pitfalls in what can sometimes become the drumbeat for data.
December 18, 2014
“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.”
– Greg McKeown
I’m currently reading Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which I’ll admit I had been tempted to look at earlier in the year and then decided not to for a couple of reasons. First of all, to me the sub-title smacked of a certain level of privilege, given that there are so many people who need more not less – more resources in the face of poverty, more fundamental regard for their humanity and rights in the face of injustice. In addition and seemingly validating of my initial wariness, the book’s opening stories focus on Silicon Valley executives and other corporate players. And yet at the same time I was pulled in by this notion of “essentialism,” embodied in one of the opening quotes attributed to writer, linguist and inventor Lin Yutang:
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.