July 1, 2015
Photo by NASA Goddard
Last week I had an interesting conversation with an evaluator who was curious about some of the networks for food system development we’ve been supporting through IISC. We got to talking about “metrics,” which led into consideration of the role of story in not simply gauging network effectiveness, but also in stimulating network evolution. Communication and social learning are part of the life-blood of human networks. This is something that we’re coming to understand at a more profound level amidst the complexity of food system transformation work at all levels.
As we try to identify “leverage points” to shift regional food system dynamics in New England in the direction of increased local production, food security, economic development, resiliency and equity across the board, we are realizing that more robust connectivity and sharing across boundaries of many kinds is a significant strategy and form of structural change that can allow for critical self-organization and adaptation. Stories become one of the critical nutrients in this work.
For example, as much as we have begun to share data, and importantly disaggregated data, across the region, we have found that stories often have more stickiness and staying power. The stories that were shared at last year’s Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Food Summit about racial equity and white privilege have been referenced for their impact in creating an environment of genuineness, that have spurred others to speak up and take up the conversation about the reality of structural racism in our food system. This has in turn brought more trust and diversity to the network, which has helped to create a more comprehensive understanding of the food system and possibilities for decentralized and more formally coordinated network action.
Furthermore, we have begun to solicit stories of success and innovation around embracing the FSNE Vision (of 50% self-sufficiency with regards to regional food production by the year 2060) and racial equity commitment. And coming out of this year’s Summit, there is interest in sharing stories of how people are working towards “fair price” across the food chain, in such a way that food workers, producers of varying scales, distributers and consumers have living wages and access to health-promoting and culturally diverse food. The curation of these stories we see as beginning to change the underlying economic narrative.
Stories then become fuel in many ways, providing different points of access, connection, inspiration, education, and meaning-making. Stories are like enriched compost that can be fed back into the network to nurture new growth. Our work as a Network Team, as network gardeners, is to “close the resource loop,” encourage and support more equitable channels for expression, more cross-fertilization, more interest in diverse (and concealed) stories and “processing venues” for these (virtual and in-person).
How are you using story to feed your net work forward?
February 28, 2013
While doing some research on network evaluation techniques, I stumbled on a very helpful and interesting resource entitled “Network Evaluation: Cultivating Healthy Networks for Social Change” by Eli Malinsky and Chad Lubelsky (respectively for the Centre for Social Innovation and the Canada Millenium Scholarship Foundation). While it dates back to 2008 (5 years seeming like eons these days), the paper does a nice job of raising some of the inherent and necessary tensions and balancing acts of engaging in “net work.” I lifted a number of quotes from the paper as a preface to some thoughts about network value, which I laid out according to a framework that I developed (see above) using the work of Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor in their seminal “Net Gains: A Handbook for Network Builders Seeking Social Change.”
July 20, 2011
|Photo by umjanedoan|http://www.flickr.com/photos/umjanedoan/497411169/#|
In our Whole Measures workshop, we come to a point when participants realize that the promise of learning how to “measure what matters most” is not a case of digesting “best practices.” This is often a difficult moment, one fraught with frustration, but also the beginnings of insight (or a reminder) that we are each part of a gradual unfolding that is unique depending upon our particular context, and that to simply embrace some kind of cookie-cutter method of measuring health and wholeness is futile. This is so, in part, because before we measure what matters most, we must determine what matters most, and this changes from system to system. Furthermore, it is no easy task of discernment. Often people are good at setting goals, or talking abstractly about “values,” but this does not always equate with getting to heart of what is most meaningful to us, as demonstrated by the lives we actually live or our hearts’ deepest desires. One of the best processes we’ve found for doing this is to embrace storytelling. Read More
October 28, 2010
What do you look for up front to suggest that a collaborative endeavor is on the right track? This is the question that former IISC colleague and current VP of Programs at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Courtney Bourns, and I are charged with answering today. Our audience and partners in this endeavor are a group of community grantmaking committee members convened by the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The attendees want to know what to look for in applications and out in the field (‘beyond the grant”) as hints of future success.
This is an intriguing and challenging question, especially given the fact that the signs of success are often in places we do not think to look and of course there are never any guarantees. I certainly look forward to an engaging conversation with this group, and these are the thoughts I am prepared to share with folk at this point: Read More
October 27, 2010
|Photo by marcomagrini|http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcomagrini/698692268|
“We don’t talk about what we see,
we see only what we can talk about.”
– Fred Kofman
This week I’ve been rereading Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems and really savoring it. Each time I look at it, I pick up something new, not just about systems thinking but about life in general. I’ve been focused primarily on Meadows’ chapter “Living in a World of Systems,” which considers how we can work with complex systems while acknowledging that even when we understand them better, we cannot predict or control them. One of her suggestions is that we learn to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable. This is not a question of throwing out what we can quantify as being somehow overly reductionist. Rather, it is a matter of not giving up on what we cannot measure and making quantity more important than quality. How important this is for our social change work! Read More
April 16, 2010
Just back from the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) Conference, the theme of which was “Unleashing Philanthropy’s Potential.” Marianne and I were in attendance in part to facilitate a session on “Leveraging Philanthropy’s Best Intentions for Collaborative Change.” We came away inspired, impressed, and heartened by the overall conference conversation, which included explorations of whether there is a need for greater empathy in philanthropy, how funders can support and evaluate the impact of networks, strategies for foundations to embrace innovation in their grantmaking practice, and what we might all learn from the Obama Administration’s emphasis on supporting “what works” (via such mechanisms as the Social Innovation Fund).
March 18, 2010
|Photo by MontyPython|http://www.flickr.com/photos/montypython/3853109452/|
Last week a few of us here at IISC had the privilege of reconnecting with Peter Forbes and Ginny McGinn of the Center for Whole Communities. The focus of our two day summit was the development of a training to help people implement Whole Measures, CWC’s holistic framework for thinking about social, community, and organizational change. Rooted in narrative, Whole Measures has its own interesting story.