Tag Archive: connections

October 12, 2016

Connections Change What is Connected

image_22

I can’t remember exactly where I saw the phrase recently, but I latched onto it. “Connections change what is connected.” So true. And this is a reason to seriously consider the power and promise of building networks for social change.

In our mainstream culture it seems that many people tend to look at things in isolation, without appreciating that context and relationship have so much to say about the nature of … well, everything. Think about the following examples: Read More

3 Comments
April 21, 2016

Strengthening the Network Within

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.

Read More

6 Comments
December 15, 2015

Network Impact: Hidden in Plain Sight?

“Networks are present everywhere. All we need is an eye for them.”

Albert-László Barabási

2006-06-f_159
You may have heard a version of this story before:

There was a man who had worked at a factory for twenty years. Every night when he left the plant, he would push a wheelbarrow full of straw to the guard at the gate. The guard would look through the straw, and find nothing and pass the man through.

On the day of his retirement the man came to the guard as usual but without the wheelbarrow. Having become friends over the years, the guard asked him, “I’ve seen you walk out of here every night for twenty years. I know you’ve been stealing something. Now that you’re retired, please tell me what it is. It’s driving me crazy.”

The man smiled and replied, “Okay, wheelbarrows.”

This tale about not seeing something in plain sight reminds me of a dynamic that can ensue in network gatherings where at some point anxiety is expressed about not getting to “concrete” outcomes. This happened recently at a large convening of a national network attempting to set systemic change strategies. Read More

1 Comment
May 7, 2015

“Mapping” Questions to Enrich Networks

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to facilitate some of Farm to Institution New England‘s (or FINE’s) Summit at UMass-Amherst. Specifically I was asked to offer a bit of thinking, a few prompts and guide conversation here and there around the potential of further developing the Farm to College network, as represented in the room that day by students, faculty, college administrators, community organizers, institutional procurement professionals, farmers, funders and others from the so-called “value chain.”

I told the story that has been passed on to me by Beth Tener about her work with the Barr Foundation around the Green and Healthy Buildings Network in Boston. This is a well documented example of the power of mapping and connecting agents in related but otherwise separate fields for mutual benefit and greater impact. We used this as a jumping off point at the Summit to encourage people to be more curious about existing and potential connectivity in the room.

As we invited people to consider their connections and close triangles throughout the day, I offered the following questions for reflection that I find useful when helping participants in networks become more aware and intentional regarding their potential:

Who is here and who is not here and how does that matter?

Read More

4 Comments
February 26, 2015

Connectivity Creates Value

One of my mantras around network building and social change is that creating greater (and new forms of) connectivity is not simply a “so that” or a “nice to have” but is really an “as” and critical to the work of systems and structural change. This is echoed is some way, shape or form in many of the posts that appear in this space, and I think it bears repeating. Consider the following:

“Whether we learn how to love ourselves and others will depend on the presence of a loving environment. Self-love cannot flourish in isolation.”

bell hooks

  • Isolation can kill. Science shows how loneliness and social isolation can ravage the body and brain. As noted in an article in The New Rebublic – “A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer.” And who are the lonely? In many cases the poor, the bullied and oppressed, the “different.” When we consider how isolation can impact genes, we see how the cycles of poverty and oppression can play out at a fundamental psychobiological level. What this calls for, in part, is work that reconnects those who are currently in isolation and on the margins from/of myriad social goods including emotional support, tangible services and other critical resources.
  • Disconnection breeds irresponsible behavior and prejudice. Science is helping us to understand the role of implicit bias in all of our lives and in society. Furthermore, the work of people like Paul Piff shows how those with considerable privilege who isolate from the rest of society (and keep to their own) tend to lose touch with empathy and any sense of egalitarianism. As my colleague Cynthia Parker notes, “Engaging with people unlike ourselves in situations that involve meaningful activity [and] counter-stereotypic experiences” helps to eliminate biases. In other words keeping and strengthening direct connection is a key part of the work for equity and democracy.

Read More

3 Comments
July 10, 2014

Principles for Network Leadership Development

“In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time.  It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what’s possible.”

-Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze (2006)

 

birdflock

 

For the past two years, I’ve had the fortune of partnering with Carole Martin to create and deliver a network leadership development program for regional and economic development in “the north country” (northern NH, southern Quebec, eastern VT). This opportunity was made possible by funding from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Foundation and took the form of something we called the Community Practitioners Network (CPN). Subsequently, some of the members of the first cohort have taken to calling it the “Community Placemakers Network” (more on that another time).

One of the first steps Carole and I took in creating the program was to begin with a set of principles, which, in good network fashion, evolved over time. These principles guided our design and facilitation of the program as it emerged, and we offered them to and co-evolved them with the cohort as they considered how to bring them to their own leadership in their organizations, communities, and beyond. Here is a condensed version of the lastest iteration of the principles:

  • Look for what is beyond the immediate sight lines and intersections – Part of the power of networks is emergence; expect and delight in the unexpected that comes from the meeting of different minds and perspectives.
  • Design for serendipity – Don’t try to control and account for all outcomes.  First of all, it’s impossible.  Secondly, as Andrew Goldsworthy once said, “Too much control can kill a work.”
  • Periphery, not (just) center – Network action is not simply about what is happening “in the room” but what transpires “after the meeting,” not what goes on at a “steering group” level, but what happens in two-sies and three-sies that form/partner/innovate “out there.”
  • Process sometimes counts as actionCreating stronger connections and building alignment among network members/participants can be significant progress.
  • We move at the speed of trustMake time and space for trust to be built.
  • Contribution before credential – Contributions are what count, and can come from anyone.
  • Feed the network through questions so that it has a life of its ownUsing inquiry can help to unlock network potential in the pursuit of unique and context-specific answers.

Always eager to hear others and how you have put them to use . . .

2 Comments
June 26, 2014

Network-Inspired Questions for Change

networked inquiry

Picking up on the spirit of yesterday’s post about asking “beautiful questions” and inspired by a staff challenge to articulate lines of inquiry stemming from IISC’s core lenses, I offer this post.  It distills some of the underlying questions that adopting a “network lens” inspires for social change work.  Please add, adjust, edit, and rift!

  • How does your organization/network/change initiative strive to add value to (rather than duplicate) existing efforts?  What do you do best, and how might you then connect to the rest?
  • What are you doing to support and strengthen connections and alignment within and beyond your organization/network/change initiative?

Read More

1 Comment
December 5, 2013

Practices for Resilience and Development

resilience

|Photo by Manuela de Pretis|http://www.flickr.com/photos/24141546@N06/8559396140/in/photolist-e3n9gw-cTpPPN-d1dvTd-d1dvC9-d1dvto-d1dvjW-d1dvbm-cZuvob-cZunHN-9zX8Sz-ax3pnQ-e4wUZj-eaf1p3-bEqAP4-9zJw2f-brvfdL-bEqguP-brvtTs-bEqo76-8Eev3a-bdwXog-9kfqCB-9HgmuC-7L5k6b-ax9ASs-9Nt9k5-c62iqA-bEqygR-f5eTyJ-f4ZDuv-bEqzcZ-bEqoDB-brvFWY-brvpph-83RYMt-bEqrup-fCnaiV-bEqfpi-bEqkhM-bEqpCK-bEqnBe-bEqkVM-bEqdpz-e46RkD-e46RGP-e4cw9J-e4cwju-e46Sxk-e46Rqx-e4cubU-bEqzCR|

When I take time to slow down, as I was able to do over the holiday break last week, my interest is refueled in practices that support our ability to maintain perspective and a sense of effective agency in the world.  My line of inquiry is not simply around what can keep us energized, pull us back from the edge, or deal with burn-out, but focused on how we can align our internal state with external aspirations in an integrated way and grow ourselves so we can help evolve larger systems.  My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology.  Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development: Read More

6 Comments
September 18, 2013

Networks for Change: Inquiry and Emergence

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

-Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 in Letters to a Young Poet

emergence

|Photo by muffinn|http://www.flickr.com/photos/26445715@N00/3092761353/in/photolist-5HidcB-7fk9W4-7fk9YM-7fp2H9-7fp3vd-7ueieU-fhxQiW-8Vb4qT-8Vb3LB-8Ve8tA-8Ve8Cf-8Ve8dS-9ifHmE-9icD5Z-defTUR-d8TvrY-d8TDNN-8RZpMu-d8ToLu-daa2HF-8RAUDQ-7FG4oc-d8SYJo-da9Uxx-da9WRc|

In their article, “Using Emergence to Scale Social Innovation,” Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze highlight the critical role of self-organization, spontaneous and purposeful arrangement and action without formal or “external” management,  in facilitating social change.  As self-organization occurs in social networks, emergent and unexpected phenomena flow through the strength and flexibility of connections between people and groups.  As Wheatley and Frieze note, these emergent phenomena tend to result in “a powerful system that has many more capacities than could ever be predicted by analyzing the individual parts.”  This is part of what constitutes the “intelligence” and resilience of networks.  This capacity flows naturally when conditions are ripe for individuals to freely find each other and create. Read More

4 Comments
September 4, 2013

Networks for Social Change: Life on the Edge

“Look to the growing edge!”

– Howard Thurman

Comoros: coral reef

|Photo by Derek Keats|http://www.flickr.com/photos/93242958@N00/5975110268/in/photolist-a7117y-emRe8S-dQqpqM-9php24-dQvZtC-8YMYMv-7zavYz-e1zkdz-aLCNuz-9MeCHk-9MfzYB-9MekHF-9Mho3b-89vnnr-9MfG9c-9Mhaow-9D8j3o-9Mehua-9Mh72m-aykWRY-cCSWHs-8MqWXJ-9LFCBt-9MiH7w-9Mh12x-93HasG-azHpQX-aXCs8V-ejaBn1-byQPHp-bkVXyG-byQQ5x-byQPJv-bkVXGC-bkVXGo-a6ZZM9-a6ZZzU-a6ZZqY-8NyJ6R-8NywQV-8NBWXy-8NysTX-8NBpXW-8NC1BU-8Nz18e-a6X98i-a6ZZ7U-8NyEJB-bkVXoL-bkVXwG-byQPMZ|

Edge has its advantages.  This is the finding of ecologists and other scientists looking at how peripheral spaces can provide adaptive strength.  For example, where different habitats meet, there is considerable fecundity and the extent to which there is more significant overlap there is that much more richness and species able to thrive in more than one setting.  Trees make interesting use of edge by maximizing the surface area of their root systems to find and take in nutrients in the soil.  We also know that innovation tends to happen where different disciplinary fields meet, and therefore through a porousness and openness to new thinking on the edge. Read More

Leave a comment
July 4, 2013

The Roots of Our Interdependence

red wood

|Photo by Dave F|http://www.flickr.com/photos/92163630@N00/4025069261/in/photolist-78FwRT-7eEdPY-7rjYoy-7uNgmF-7vfzgW-7S6HqS-ahxM9M-bLxMq2-bLxG9H-bxD6L3-bxD6gw-bLxFGB-bwN9uq-8kt9LS-cTQhiL-bxD1Cb-acnUyb-ack4wz-9Hw99M-8JYow6-8V696G-7Zduf2-dKgycj-9C6fhQ-9HyZKY-bvGe6y-98DdGq-8sEggt-drjdQF-acnRFq-acnRBf-ack1tM-ack1DR-ack1Ag-acnRM3-acnRRY-ack1Qx-acnRrw-acnRP9-aBxDYM-bLxKtB-bLxK5c-bxD3eE-aoY5QL-aD4XFc-ctuFgG-ctuJyu-ctuFK3-ctuGww-ctuJDE-ctuFM3|

I recently was reminded of a truth about resilience.  It came in the form of a story told by someone about the root system of red wood trees.  These giant and venerable beings, some standing as high as 350 feet and as old as 1000 years, are not so deeply rooted in the soil.  Their roots tend to only go to a depth of about 4 to 5 feet, which is extraordinary when you consider how far up they reach.  So how do red woods remain vertical amidst storms and the ravages of time?  The answer is that they reach out to one another.  Below the surface, they stretch their roots out horizontally where they become entwined with those of their neighbors.  This becomes the source of the forest’s strength – vast networks of interconnections.

On a day when we like to focus on independence, I like how this story reminds us of the extent to which our ability to survive and flourish is caught up in our common roots and interrelationships.

Leave a comment
February 20, 2013

Mischief-Making for Change

“The trickster is anybody who’s a bit of an outsider. They’re the ones who make change. They’re not thinking about making change; they’re almost doing it in a selfish way. But because they’re working outside the rules, they change the rules. Everything around them is always new, everything is an opportunity.”

Angela Cheng

Over the long weekend, my wife and I spent some time looking through the archives of old TED talks and stumbled upon a great one from humorist-philosopher Emily Levine where she talks about the important role of the trickster in facilitating change. Read More

Leave a comment