Having run the NLI for four years as an in-person offering, happening over three multi-day retreats in different parts of the region, we took a break during 2020, which we had considered doing before the pandemic, and recalibrated. The lingering uncertainties of COVID19 forced us into making the Institute virtual, and it is now a monthly day-long offering, that happens between September and February, with optional intersession opportunities (a movie – we have already watched “Gather”, a cooking demonstration – Wampanoag Chef Sherry Pocknett joined us earlier this month, a Liberating Structures evening, etc.).
Along the way we are doing what we can to encourage connections beyond our on-line gatherings, and doing this by making space for realtime connection, albeit on Zoom. This has stretched our creativity and also has us constantly thinking about how to balance presentation with discussion, form and void, whole group with small group and paired discussions, etc. One small practice that we have integrated that seems to be helping people connect during and between sessions is asking a few simple questions. Where this shows up most prominently is when a few of this year’s cohort members do short 10 minute presentations during each session about their work advancing just and sustainable food systems.
When people share, we prompt them not simply to talk about what they do, but also WHY IT MATTERS TO THEM. In addition, we may ask what they bring to the work they do and what excites and challenges them about this work. What we find is that this can create opportunities for connections that are not simply functional (You do what I do or something related to what I do), but also values-based and affective/emotional (Hey, we have some of the same experiences/motivations!) and mutuality (Hey, I have something that might be helpful for you, and you might have something that is helpful for me!). My colleague Karen Spiller and I ask these same questions during panels we have of food systems change agents in our region, before inviting small group breakouts for the cohort to be more intimate with the individual panelists (our recent session included Gaby Pereyra of Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, Anna Muhammad of NOFA-Massachusetts, Sarah Huang of The Grassroots Fund and Madeline Sarrow of Migrant Justice, all speaking to one of FSNE’s four core impact areas – racial equity leadership).
Another simple but powerful question we ask, after someone presents is, “Questions? Comments? Connections?” It is interesting to see how many people jump on the last question, making connections between their work and that of the presenter, offering a name or resource that might be of support, or thinking about possibilities for collaboration. Of course some people might be inclined to do that without the prompt, but this refrain, “Questions? Comments? Connections? seems to be prompting regular weaving activity during and between sessions, reminding us that the questions we ask matter!
And we are checking in with people during each session about the connections they have made since our last time together, reminding them and ourselves that larger change and movement is built through and upon this workof reaching out and exchange!
What other questions have you been asking and small moves have you been making to promote a culture of weaving?
“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
“You have to remember, every boundary is a useful bit of fiction.”
– Buckminster Fuller
One of the more memorable stories about my late father, who passed away 3 years ago this month, happened not long after the Great Recession began in 2008. At the time, he was on the board of a national organization devoted to the study and promotion of human consciousness and the connection between science and spirituality. During a phone meeting of board members, people got to talking about the economic crisis, at which point one member made the following remark: “It’s at times like these that it’s especially important to remember that we are all one.”
“Bullshit!” was my dad’s response (not prone to such outbursts on that board or in general).
After a momentary and no doubt stunned silence, he elaborated – “Clearly we are not one. Some people, a very few people, are making out like bandits from this crisis. Meanwhile of the so-called 99%, some have been much harder hit than others, their wealth decimated. How can we say we are one at a time like this?”
To be fair to my father and full in the storytelling, my dad acknowledged that he believed that it is important to recognize interdependence and shared humanity, and that how and when to do this is an important consideration. Which brings me to the quote from Buckminster Fuller above, a personal favorite and one that I seem to keep sharing recently. Fuller, the eminent systems theorist and design scientist, understood the interconnected nature of reality, as well as the human need and tendency to draw boundaries. Theoretically these boundaries are drawn to be of use to something and/or someone – to name important distinctions, focus attention, aid with analysis, etc. In fact boundaries, or at least difference, might be said to be crucial to life, as dynamic exchange is required to keep living systems alive. Yes, boundaries can be very useful . . . except when they’re not. Read More
In our collaborative capacity and network development work at IISC, there is considerable complexity to hold. This can create quite a mental exercise for everyone involved – What is the system we are trying to develop/problem we are trying to solve? What are the contributing factors? What is our desired future state? Who should be at the table? What are the systemic leverage points and associated strategies? Etc.
This is necessary work, and it can become incomplete or rather one dimensional when it only taps some of our collective faculties. Read More
“Transformation comes more from pursuing profound questions than seeking practical answers.”
– Peter Block
|Photo by Bilal Kamoon|http://www.flickr.com/photos/55255903@N07/6835060992/in/photolist-bpZtvb-8A6i9c-8p2AtP-do8Bez-do8JT3-7RiJTU-ao63dG-7Cjh9a-7Co7Fm-ihgH2m-9dXKU2-bgGa4c-8CkodQ-azGM3y-cBFFBS-8ChFDT-bX6EoZ-fPzNoo-9PBH3p-7GZn1X-9iKHnC-8nxop8-9tQh9o-9tMiYv-9tMj4F-7QpV8y-do8JVU-7Co7vW-7Gh8sv-8qQBZ9-eUDNUt-7Gh3sp-9ESmzs-8nAwhG-8nxom2-8nxonr-8nAwhf-8nAwgm|
Three of our IISC blogger-practitioners have been in conversation about 3 questions they are each carrying with them into 2014 to guide and develop their practice to support social change. We invite your reflections on and additions to these: Read More
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”
Some version of reflection on the power of words has been coming up frequently in various networks lately, including the power of the right phrase, the right question, or the right story to become an attractor that galvanizes collective action. This seems a critical function in networks, tapping memetic resonance. What have you seen in net work that helps unleash the lightning?
|Photo by Michael Cardus|http://www.flickr.com/photos/create-learning/4607228635|
At this point in my tenure at IISC, I get the opportunity to return to certain systems and programs that I have been serving for a number of years. This includes a few organizations and leadership development initiatives to which I’ve been contributing for a half-dozen years now, through two presidential elections, the Great Recession, the Arab Spring, the explosion of social media, and some stormy knocks over the head about the reality of climate change. Through all of this I’ve been interested to see how the conversation has changed, where it has in fact changed, within these institutions and programs and among the participants. Read More
Seeing the words “Critical Systems Heuristics” may tempt you to run screaming from this post, but please hang in there while I distill what this important framework and addition to the systems thinking body of work has to offer our social change efforts! CSH is attributed to Swiss social scientist Werner Ulrich and his efforts to bring critical analysis to the boundaries that we construct around and within systems. Far from being primordial, these boundaries and divisions are an expression of what people see and value from their particular perspectives. As Ulrich writes, ” The methodological core idea [of CSH] is that all problem definitions, proposals for improvement, and evaluations of outcomes depend on prior judgments about the relevant whole system to be looked at.” His effort is to help make these boundary judgments explicit so that both those affected by and those implementing such judgements might see alternatives that better serve the whole. Read More
This trailer is from a film about the work of dropping kowledge, an initiative in which IISC’s new President, Ceasar McDowell, has been deeply involved. dropping knowledege “invites you to question yourself and the world around you.” “Every time you ask yourself a question, a new dialogue begins,” and dialogue is a step to reclaiming conversation and its outcomes.
|Photo by Siew Yi Liang|http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonictk/361505937|
One of the comments that often comes up in our popular workshop, Facilitative Leadership goes something like this, “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 not so skillful. My answer today: there’s always an opportunity to lead, ask good questions, facilitate from the chair! Read More
Blogging this morning from the Building Energy Conference, New England’s most established cross-disciplinary renewable energy and green building gathering. If you are here, come visit us at our IISC booth! One of the big topics of this year’s conference and trade show is thinking in terms of systems. In this spirit, the following post draws from an email that I recently sent to the convenor of a state-wide system change initiative that is poised to identify strategic points of leverage within the system and its component systems to nudge it in the direction of serving all people equitably in the state and ensuring community food security. Related to this goal is the desire to support a more robust local economy and to work synergistically with ecosystems. I believe the questions listed pertain to any complex dynamic system change effort, whether one is talking about food, education, or community energy use and production, and I welcome your thoughts . . . Read More
Last week I was privileged to attend a gathering of practitioners from across sectors to discuss the successes and challenges of working in networked ways. The Northern New England Network Community of Practice met in Portsmouth, NH for a full day of conversations facilitated by members of Maine Network Partners. Throughout the day many critical questions were raised about and stemming from net work. No one pretended to necessarily have all of the answers to these, or to imagine that what works in one case will necessarily work in another. Nonetheless, we look forward to exploring any patterns that do show up across experiences in our respective network efforts, whether we are talking small or large scale, local or regional, within a sector or across sectors . . . Read More