Last week I had the privilege of co-leading a three day Facilitative Leadership for Social Change training for a group of health equity advocates in Springfield, Massachusetts. It had been a while since I had done a training of that length, and it was a nice opportunity to not only cover more material, but to deepen the conversation and practice. Along the way there were many good questions about what to do around various challenges when one is co-leading a collaborative change effort. And a common response was, “It depends.”
Every group is different, every circumstance is different, and while it might make sense to take some cues from what has been successful in other situations, the caution is not to assume that it will work, or work in the same way, in other situations. This is one reason that I personally do not like the phrase “best practice” when talking about collaborative and facilitative change work. Given the complexity of people and social systems, I find it more helpful to think about “promising practices.”
That said, a promising practice that came up time and time again in our three day training, was the practice or practicing, of ongoing devotion to muscle-building in leadership skills such as process design, facilitation, coaching (leading with listening and inquiry), systems thinking, visioning/imagining, mutual learning and collaborative decision-making/governance. And in undertaking such practice, we at IISC would suggest this is not about achieving perfection. The humbling and exciting thing about collaborative leadership, in my humble opinion, is that it is a life-long learning pursuit and an endless opportunity to deepen understanding of ourselves, others and living systems. For this reason, one of my mantras is:
Practice for presence, not for perfection.
That is, practice can help practitioners get beyond being caught up in simply “learning the scales” of collaborative leadership, in trying to get the skills “right.” Practice at its best can contribute to a state ofbeing more fully present to what is happening in any given situation and being able to work with that in powerfully improvisational ways.
Furthermore, over the past year, there has been a clear call for practice and practices that are explicitly about cultivating spaces to hold difference and tension and trauma. That may be another order of presence characterized by a deeper tuning in and movement away from more transactional processes to ones that are emergent, co-created and geared towards supporting moral courage and imagination. What that can require is vulnerability and a humble sense of “being with.” What it stands to make possible, as opposed to business-as-usual, is growth and real movement forward, together.
“It’s great that I’m learning all of these practical leadership and facilitation skills, but what happens when I’m not the one leading or facilitating?”
How can we keep things rolling when we aren’t formally in charge and when formal leadership is perhaps not so skillful? My answer: There’s usually some opportunity to lead, ask good questions, and to facilitate from the chair! Read More
Image from Taro Taylor – https://www.flickr.com/photos/tjt195/30916171
The concept of leadership has been undergoing an evolution. In this “network age” there appears to be both an expanding appreciation that leadership has always been about more than the singular heroic individual, and that going forward, leadership really must be much more of a shared endeavor.
In our collaborative consulting work at IISC, leadership (or what we often call Facilitative Leadership) is about “holding the whole,” thinking expansively about the state of a given complex system (community, economy, ecosystem, etc.) and paying attention to what will be required to ensure resiliency and/or change for more equitable and sustainable benefit. In these situations, the traditional top-down images of leadership fall far short.
Network leadership is at best a dynamic, diverse, more decentralized and multi-dimensional phenomenon. Many of those with whom we partner at IISC understand this implicitly, and we have found it important to help them be more explicit about this by clearly delineating the roles that leadership can embody in a collaborative/networked change endeavor. Read More
I have had many conversations recently about network form and transition, all of which have me thinking of what we often talk about in our practice at IISC: balancing acts. The core approach that informs our work in the world is Facilitative Leadership, which strives to create and inspire the conditions for collaborative and net workthat yields greater, more sustainable and equitable change. In co-creating these conditions, as process designers, facilitators, trainers and coaches, we invoke a variety of practices and frameworks, each of which has its own dynamic range of considerations. Read More
“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.
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
“We want a system that provides all children regardless of race or economic background with the same opportunities.”
– CT Right From the Start
The video above and words below appear on the CT Right from the Start (RFTS) website, and represent one of the outcomes of the past two years of work of a collaborative multi-stakeholder effort that IISC has been supporting as the lead process designer and facilitator. RFTS runs parallel to the state’s planning initiative to create an early childhood office that consolidates services for children and families. Right from the Start has become an important voice for equity in Connecticut and we are very proud of its stance and our partnership . . . Read More
The following post is taken from a message I recently posted on the Community Food Security Coalition listserv. I have already heard from a few people and am setting up conversations with them to hear more about what they are doing process and form-wise to advance the work, and look forward to sharing what I learn from them in this space. While the topic of this blog is networks focused on just and sustainable food system development, reactions are welcome from those working on new structures to address other social change issues . . .
IISC currently works with a number of food system-related initiatives around the country, providing process/structure design and facilitation support to collaborative multi-stakeholder approaches to change. As we strive for more healthy, just, sustainable, and community-enriching food systems, part of our role is to hold the stake for the “how” of the work, to ensure that it aligns with the multi-dimensional ends we seek, and to fine-tune this to the essence of the particular geographic and social locale (municipality, state, region). Read More
This is Marianne’s last week as Executive Director of IISC. We’re devoting the blog to her writings and thinking this week.
Earlier this week during an IISC staff learning session, we entertained the question, “What do we know from our years of doing collaborative capacity building work?” Here IISC founder and Executive Director, Marianne Hughes, speaks to the core framework that supports our process design and facilitation work, the Pathway to Change.
IISC would like to share our Top 5 most influential post of 2012! Join us until the New Years Eve when we reveal our number 1 blog post!
The following post began as a response to FSG’s lastest contribution to its work around “collective impact” on the Standford Social Innovations Review blog. There is much value in the additional details of this cross-sectoral approach to creating change, and I especially appreciate what is highlighted in this most recent piece regarding the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of “backbone organizations” to support and steer the work. In the ensuing conversation on the SSIR blog, there is a comment from an FSG staff person about the importance of building trust in launching these efforts, and it was from this point that I picked up . . .
With deep appreciation for the good work of FSG in helping to codify this important approach, I wanted to add that from our experience at the Interaction Institute for Social Change, helping people develop the skills of process design and facilitation is of paramount importance in cultivating trust and ultimately realizing the promise of large-scale multi-stakeholder collaborative efforts. Read More