Tag Archive: reflection

May 31, 2016

Creating Space: Resilience and Healthy Networks

Last week I attended another meeting of the Research Alliance for Regenerative Economics (RARE) and we deepened our conversation about a “regenerative framework” for guiding system change. Underlying our conversations is the premise that many living systems – ecological, economic, social – are reaching or have already reached a point of crisis where they can no longer respond to changing conditions in such a way that humanity, or significant portions thereof, can thrive. Another way of saying this is that these systems are losing their capability for resilience (to “bounce back” from perturbations) and regeneration (to self-organize and evolve). Our discussions are focused specifically on the dynamics of networks, human and otherwise, and what these can tell us about why we are where we are socially and ecologically and what can be done to alter current conditions and humanity’s long-term prospects.

Breeding disconnection, diminishing diversity and stemming resources flows is “irresponsible.”

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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.

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February 4, 2016

Networks for Change: Growing Gratefulness and Belonging

“Grateful living brings in place of greed: sharing; in place of oppression: respect; in place of violence: peace. Who does not long for a world of sharing, mutual respect, and peace?”

Brother David Steindl Rast

ThankfulSunriseResize

The following is a slightly edited re-post from a couple of years ago. The impetus for both the re-posting and editing was a recent conversation on On Being with Brother David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk, writer/speaker on the topic of gratitude, and known for his participation in interfaith dialogue and his work on the interaction between spirituality and science. 

In a recent interview with Brother David Steindl-Rast, On Being host Krista Tippett introduces the topic of gratitude, by saying that at times it can come across as fairly cerebral or precious without much gravitas. Case in point, writer Barbara Ehrenreich, approaches gratitude with considerable skepticism, seeing it as another “feel good” way to be self-satisfied and unconcerned with the world and people who are suffering and oppressed. Yet Brother David, who has lived through war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country (Austria), teaches what he calls “gratefulness” as a deep and important spiritual practice.

Gratefulness in Brother David’s view and experience is not at all superficial, or a practice purely for the privileged. It allows for and leans into the very real anxieties of life, and when invoked in “full-bodied ways” can help prevent those anxieties from becoming disabling fear. Brother David acknowledges the tragedies and injustices of the world, while saying: Read More

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January 12, 2016

Leveraging Introversion in Networks for Change

“Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.”

-Susan Cain

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Image by Tom May (www.flickr.com/photos/sleepyhammer/13877245315/sizes/c/)

The following is a slightly edited re-post of something I wrote in early 2014. Since writing this, I continue to see the need to be vigilant around not privileging extroversion in groups, to provide more opportunities to tap a range of cognitive styles to leverage fuller potential in networks.

Having read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, I feel both validated (as someone of more introverted tendencies as the years pass) and able to see with new eyes. IMHO, the book is well worth the read, and if the thought of tackling the 300 pages is daunting, you might enjoy a taste via Cain’s TED Talk.

Here I want to reflect on some of the insights Cain’s work has to offer collaboration and “net work” for change. Essentially, Cain reminds us of an important element of diversity that we should not overlook in our change efforts – different cognitive processing styles and ways of responding to social stimulation. Read More

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December 22, 2015

Networks, Social Change and Making the Invisible Visible

“As long as it remains invisible, it is guaranteed to remain insoluble.”

Margaret Heffernan, from Willful Blindness

Photo by Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux

The following is a slighted edited re-post of a piece that appeared at this time last year on our site . . . 

As I look back on this past year through the lens of the work we have done at IISC supporting networks and movements for social change, one of the most significant themes from my perspective is the value and importance of “making the invisible visible.” Over the past twelve months, we’ve facilitated many reflection sessions with diverse groups to gauge the development and impact they observe from our work together. I tend to ask people how they see change happening at different levels: self, group, larger systems (organization, neighborhood, community, state, region, etc.). I also like to ask them to reflect via the use of stories to capture and convey significant development.

What has surfaced from this sharing is that even though some of the big goals around equity and sustainability are still ahead of us, there has been movement and part of this development comes down to seeing and being able to work with what had previously been unseen. While the methods for getting to this recognition have varied – from system mapping and analysis to network mapping to structural and power analysis to learning journeys to dialogue and tackling difficult conversations – by creating space to see, share and explore, there has been significant deepening of relationships (to self, other, the work), understanding and commitment.

System map

So what is being made visible? Read More

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November 21, 2014

Network Development: Reflection is Key

Photo by Neal Fowler

It probably goes without saying that learning requires reflection. This holds true for individuals and groups, and yet what I find is that many collaborative efforts can fail to build adequate reflection time into their work. Often it seems that reflection can be cast aside in favor of “getting stuff done” and because, “There is so much to do!” And ironically, what can ensue is an overall and ongoing sense of impatience and frustration that “we aren’t doing anything or enough.” Experience shows that when people in networks and collaborative change work do pause to reflect, there is much value to be gained.

The other day I worked with the core team of a regional network focused on food system change, and we took time to reflect on what the past couple of years of work have yielded at individual, collective and systemic levels. People offered up their own reflections, as well as those garnered from informal interviews with others in the network. The result was eye-opening, affirming and provided a collective boost. What we agreed is that considerable and important development has occurred over time, including: Read More

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December 5, 2013

Practices for Resilience and Development

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|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

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January 24, 2013

Reframing the Systems We Want

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|Photo by Darrel Birkett|http://www.flickr.com/photos/darrelbirkett/6935043394/sizes/m/in/photostream|

I’ve been playing with different reflection questions lately to try and help various networks and multi-stakeholder collaborative change efforts put a clearer and more aligned frame around the kinds of systems (food, education, health, etc.) that would yield more equitable, sustainable, and enriching results.  This is not to pretend that they can take control of the systems and command them to be different, but rather to create an image toward which they can nudge these systems via various leverage points.  In one recent convening, I borrowed a page from critical systems heuristics, which asks us to identify and play with the existing systemic boundaries, including motivation, power, expertise and legitimacy. Read More

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November 14, 2012

Be Aware of Boundaries

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

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January 6, 2012

Epiphany

What has been the most important epiphany in your life?

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany and I’m from Puerto Rico where we celebrate it as Three Kings Day.    In fact, I’ve just heard it argued that Puerto Rico is the country with the strongest tradition of “Día de los Reyes.”  Our Christmas gifts used to come on this date instead of December 25.  We would leave grass under our beds so that their camels could eat as they went from house to house.  I grew up in a nationalist household, so my family was among the last hold outs as “Americanization” (which was really commercialism and marketing) led more and more people to get into Santa Claus.  To this day my father hates Santa – it’s actually kind of funny.

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December 8, 2010

The Apprentice

Last month we were graced by the presence of Kathy Sferra, who was on loan from Mass Audubon.  Kathy took the initiative to approach us about spending one month of her six week sabbatical apprenticing herself to IISC, observing and contributing to our work and taking the lessons back to her home organization.  She began contributing instantly as a thought partner, often making keen observations and asking good questions that her relative outsider perspective afforded.  As her parting gift to us, Kathy offered up the following reflections and take-aways, specifically with respect to designing and facilitating meetings and other convenings, that I wanted, in the spirit of the season, to re-gift and pass along: Read More

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