A couple of months ago we had a meeting of the Food Solutions New England Network’s Process Team, and we spent part of our time checking in around our perceptions of where the network is heading in its next stage of development. For the past 8 years, FSNE has moved through a series of stages that have roughly correspond with the following:
Building a foundation of trust and connectivity across the six states in the region as well as across sectors, communities and identities.
Facilitating systemic analysis of the regional food system, which resulted in the identification of four leverage areas where the network sees itself as poised to contribute most: (1) engaging and mobilizing people for action, (2) connecting and cultivating leaders who work across sectors to advance the Vision and values, (3) linking diverse knowledge and evolving a new food narrative, and (4) making the business case for an emerging food system that encompasses racial equity and food justice, healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing, and thriving communities.
Developing and beginning to implement a set of systemic strategies to encourage the continued emergence of this values-aligned regional food system, including a narrative and messaging guide; food, farm, and fisheries policy platform; set of holistic metrics to gauge the state of the regional food system; and people’s guide to the New England food system.
Cultivating a “brushfire approach” where, through greater density and diversity of connection, information and calls to action are spread in more timely ways
Making the periphery more of the norm, by moving from just bringing people into the network to making sure we support their aligned efforts “out there”
Moving from “seeding thoughts and cultivating commitments and leaders” to “managing the whole garden,” including supporting a growing team of people who are committed to creating conditions in the region for the Vision and core values to be realized
Creating “bake boxes” that can readily be used and adapted by people and organizations in the region (examples include the regional Vision, the core values, the recently endorsed HEAL policy platform, a soon to be launched narrative/messaging guide, racial equity design toolkit and discussion guide, etc.)
Calling B.S. on those who are “Vision and values washing” (saying they are aligned but acting in contrary ways) or are off point – see for example these recent letters in response to a Boston Globe editorial.
As I’ve worked with a variety of social change networks to launch or transition from one stage to another, I’ve been guided by the following formula:
Form follows function follows focus
My experience is that many groups and initiatives can get very concerned about structure – How will we make decisions? Who will be members? What is expected of them? What do they get in return? These are important questions, and they deserve a fair amount of time tending to them. What can bog many groups down at this stage, however, is that they have not sufficiently sorted out the functions of the network, how it creates value, if you will, which has important implications for form. And if the group is not clear on its focus (purpose, animating goal, mission), this can be that much more perplexing.
So I’m spending more and more time with networks sorting out their core “jobs,” with a few additional guiding mantras, including:
Do what you do best and connect to the rest.
The value proposition of change networks in my mind is that they add value to a broader landscape of activity, not that they come in and try to take over. Even if this is not the intent, groups can spend little time figuring out what already exists “out there,” what efforts are underway, what other collective efforts are operating. This lack of awareness risks creating unnecessary and unhelpful duplication and competition. Read More
The above graphic is something that I recently created, borrowing heavily from the good work of Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor, to help convey what is meant by engaging in “network strategy.” One of the challenges we’ve encountered in working with different networks is helping people to understand the difference between strategy development and network development. I try to meet this challenge, in part, by showing how they are not so different, or at least, that they are intimately connected. The diagram is also designed to help people get beyond some of the either/or thinking that we encounter. For example, it’s not that we have to choose between decentralized self-organized action and more formally coordinated collective action. It can be both!
So here’s what the graphic is meant to convey. First of all, network strategy is grounded at a fundamental level in creating (strategic) connectivity, by building linkages and trust between key stakeholders and perhaps unusual bedfellows. This can be done by convening people; sharing stories, data and other forms of information; co-creating knowledge; learning together, etc. Part of the value of this connectivity is that it can lead to orthogonal thinking and bolster individual network participants’ efforts in the shared domain where the network is focused. What also may ensue is self-organized action between those who are meeting one another for the first time or getting to know one another better (see the arrow to the left side of the triangle). This is all well and good and is something that networks should try to track. Read More
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. Read More
Conferences and other large in-person convenings provide a great opportunity to launch and further develop networks for social change. As has been mentioned previously on this blog, and borrowing from the work of Plastrik and Taylor, at IISC we see networks for change as developing in various inter-related “modes,” including connectivity, alignment, and action. Paying attention to multiple dimensions of success can inform a variety of approaches to support a more robust, trust-bound, commonly-oriented, self-organizing and (as needed) formally coordinated collective.
For those who read this blog on a somewhat regular basis, you know that we at IISC find and experience great promise in embracing network approachesto (and as) social change. So what happens when we truly see ourselves as and in networks; that is, appreciating how we are inextricably embodied through and embedded in interconnected flows of energy, material goods, ideas, intentions, etc.?
Ten thoughts, in no particular order, nor meant to be exhaustive: Read More
I’ve spent time the past week reading through Networks that Work, a handy and concise resource for developing organizational networks, written by Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO of Community Partners, and Myrna Mandell, Ph.D. The book lays out some very helpful pointers for more formally constructed networks. I have highlighted 10 pointsbelow that resonate with our experiences at IISC around supporting organizational networks for social change. My comments and extensions are in italics: Read More
“Ultimately if we are to avoid failure in the most critical work of this century, the deepest reaches of our beings must be brought to bear in honestly reevaluating and shifting the most basic structures of our society.”
The following is a textual recapturing of a Pecha Kucha-like presentation that I gave at an ARNOVA Pre-Conference Session in Hartford, CT two weeks ago. This was part of a 3-hour interactive conversation, co-designed and facilitated with Dr. Angela Frusciante of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, focusing on the power of networks for learning and social change, primarily with academic researchers and philanthropists.
At the Interaction Institute for Social Change, we are in agreement with Professor john a. powell when he points to the need to consider and make fundamental structural changes in our country and communities for the causes of greater social justice and sustainability. Read More
|Photo by Steven Depolo|http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3517189608|
There are times when I have to remind myself that it is the simple things that can have the biggest impact in our change work. For example, I have been appreciating the impact of intentionally establishing what we call “working agreements” at the outset of a single convening or ongoing work with a group. Others might refer to these as “norms” or “ground rules,” though we like placing emphasis on the fact that these are guidelines that everyone builds together, agrees to, and can amend as we discover new needs, hence “working.” Read More
|Photo by cambodia4kids.org|http://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/3987334968|
A year ago I blogged about the critical role of convening in collaborative multi-stakeholder change work, particularly as it plays out through a funder. Having been in Michigan last week working with a group of diverse foundations in a customized Facilitative Leadership session, I have additional thoughts to offer stemming from a very productive and provocative conversation about how to address and manage power dynamics when one attempts to initiate a partnership or collaborative effort and one is holding the purse strings or a significant portion thereof. Read More
“In a sense, it’s not a system until it’s working for the people on the front-line, and above all the parents who need services for their children.”
-David Nee, Executive Director, WCGMF
|Photo by jfinnirwin|http://www.flickr.com/photos/jfinnirwin/5248114004/in/photostream|
Last November I blogged about the launch of a bold and exciting initiative in Connecticut, spear-headed by the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund based in Hamden. My colleague Melinda Weekes and I were engaged to assist the Memorial Fund as it answered a community-based call to step into a convening role to bring relevant stakeholders together from around the state to re-imagine and build an early childhood system “that is accessible and effective in all settings and in all communities for Connecticut’s children and families regardless of race, abilities and income.” This initiative has since been dubbed Right from the Start, a name that has turned out to be quite prescient in light of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent comments. Right from the Start builds upon 10 years of work by the Memorial Fund in supporting community-based efforts to promote development and learning for all children. Melinda and I are proud to have been able to make a contribution over the past four years by providing Facilitative Leadership training and collaborative capacity building to more than 200 individuals from the 57 Discovery Collaboratives around the state. Read More
|Photo by Richard-G|http://www.flickr.com/photos/richard-g/3573703421|
It’s been my pleasure to partner with Beth Tener of New Directions Collaborative these past few weeks in support of the Vermont Farm-to-Plate Network as it evolves a governing structure to support its goal of boosting local food production by 5% in the next 10 years. As part of our work, Beth and I are designing and facilitating two convenings that feature stories of successful networks, tips for doing “net work,” and robust conversation about what will work best in support of Farm to Plate. One resource to which we’ve turned is the Working Wikily blog, which featured a post in May that offers additional insights into what stands behind the successes of the much lauded RE-AMP Network. In a discussion featuring convenor Jenny Curtis of the Garfield Foundation and consultants Rick Reed and Heather McLeod Grant, a number of points are made that resonate and merit consideration for leveraging the power of networks. Read More