Tag Archive: storytelling

June 6, 2021

A Poetic Ecology of Networks: Moving From “It” and “So That” to “Us” and “As”

Photo, “Wondering,” by Abhilash Ramachandran

Networks are fundamental to life, to liveliness and to livelihood. There is growing recognition of this fact. And at the same time, the frame through which one views networks has a lot to say about how one might be living out and into their potential, or not. For example, I still see people a bit enamored of “social network analysis” (SNA) in a way that concerns. It is the equivalent of pinning an insect to a board and dissecting it. The vitality of any living creature does not lie in understanding its “parts” alone, and pinning anything down does not allow “the observer” to see it in action, in its vitality. This is not to say that SNA cannot be helpful, but to keep in mind that anything frozen is not a true representation of life, and that the very observation of something changes it, as in living systems we are constantly engaged in the making “and bringing forth of worlds” through our interactions (see the work of the late Humberto Maturana) .

Which brings me to the use of “it” in referring to a network, or the idea of “building a network.” A network is not simply an it, it is an “us,” at least when we are referring to social and social-ecological webs. And a network is not simply a means to an end, a “so that,” if you will. Networks always “are” in some sense, in light of the myriad and often invisible connections that exist in our world. And as I have written before, the very nature of networks in terms of their patterns of connection and flow, has a lot to say about human and ecological health and resilience.

The use of “it,” which I certainly fall into, can create a degree of false and, in some cases, dangerous separation. A case could be made that much of what ails mainstream society and the human world is a severe case of distance and abstraction. As Andreas Weber has pointed out, this false separation in mainstream biological sciences can lead to the cutting off of something vital – our feelings and emotion! In The Biology of Wonder, Weber makes the case that far from being superfluous to the study of organisms (including social and and social-ecological networks), feelings (and I would add our bodies below the neck), are the very foundation of Life!

Which is why, increasingly, I am playing with full-bodied ways of engaging people in “network ways of thinking, doing and being” – at individual (internal to our selves – yes, we are networks!), group, and larger systemic scales. Whether it be poetry, music/song, meditation, storytelling, somatic practice, there is an apparent need to enlist people in a “poetic ecology” (in Weber’s words) of net work. This to me is key to helping to realize the regenerative potential of networks, and requires dedicated and deep practice.

What changes, what possibilities arise, when you shift towards “seeing” a given network as an “us” and an “as”?

Image, “Forest Flow,” by wim goedhart

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May 10, 2016

Racial Equity Habit Building 2.0

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This year for the second time, IISC partnered with Food Solutions New England in designing and facilitating the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge as an extension of both organizations’ commitment to realizing racial justice.

Last year, this networked remix of an exercise created by Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Debby Irving, was offered as a way of spreading commitment to learning about, talking about and taking action to solve racial injustices in the food and other related systems. This year, additional tools and virtual platforms were added to create a more robust environment for learning. This included:

  • an even richer resource page with readings, videos and organizational links,
  • a blogroll of daily prompts with links to resources and room for participants to offer written reflections,
  • a series of original blog posts on the FSNE website committed to relevant topics and themes
  • a Twitter hashtag (check out #FSNEEquityChallenge)
  • a group Facebook page

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December 10, 2014

“What’s most systemic is personal”

“What’s most systemic is personal . . . and interpersonal.”

– rift on a Peter Senge quote

what's your story?

At IISC, one of the three core lenses that we bring to our collaborative capacity building for social change work is love as a force for social transformation. How this lens impacts what we do as practitioners depends on context, though often it comes down to ensuring that there is time for people in the collaborative change efforts we support to connect on a personal and interpersonal level. One way to do this is to invite people to share stories and do this beyond the parameters for their professionally defined roles. I did this recently with a group and as is often the case, there were a few areas of resistance in the collective body. “Why are we doing this?” asked someone with a hint of consternation. That became my opening. Here is what I offer as a response to discomfort around what some people call “touchy feely” exercises.

Why are we doing this?

  1. In general terms, to expand collective potential.
  2. To help each of us to be more fully seen and appreciated for who we are, beyond abstractions and implicit assumptions. When people do not feel seen or appreciated they can disengage, or “act out” to get the attention they want.
  3. To deepen connection, build trust and increase social velocity.
  4. To test and stretch the boundaries of “appropriate” and “legitimate” ways of knowing and being with one another. Otherwise people can default to ways that privilege those most comfortable with certain ways of being (often strictly professional and cerebral).
  5. To grow “positivity” – that is, to expand the overall collectively felt sense of positive emotions (which includes pride related to the demonstrated ability to have and hold difficult conversations). Positivity has been scientifically linked with greater physical and psychological capacity to see and take in more (of systems and one another).

I offer these, like a yoga teacher, with compassion for any expressed discomfort or tightness felt in different parts of the collective body. And the invitation is to breathe through this and to see what might be loosened up for the benefit of the whole. For another take on this, I highly recommend my friend Joe Hsueh’s piece “Why the Human Touch is Key to Unlocking Systems Change.”

Curious to hear your own experiences connecting what is most personal and interpersonal with systemic change.

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July 17, 2014

Network Profile: FSNE

50 by 60

The following article appeared last month in the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) newsletter.  NESAWG is a 12-state network of over 500 participating organizations.  Together, they unite farm and food system practitioners and allies to build a sustainable, just and economically vibrant region.  From one network to another, the article profiles Food Solutions New England (FSNE), a network building effort now going into its third year of intentional development.  It captures where FSNE was just prior to the New England Food Summit, which advanced connectivity and commitment to both regional action/identity and work for racial equity.  NOTE: I have added links, bolded text, and pictures to the body of the article.

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June 18, 2014

Expand (and Deepen) the Frame

6c891-ninedotsexercise

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

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April 16, 2014

Network Development Through Convening

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Photo by Kevin Doyle. Some rights reserved.

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.

Here are some methods to consider for convenings to help feed and grow networks for social change: Read More

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March 19, 2014

Storytelling as Action

storytelling here

A few different experiences last week reinforced my conviction that storytelling can constitute significant “action” and advancement, including work done in networks for (and as) change.  The first was during a session that I co-delivered on behalf of IISC with the Graustein Memorial Fund and The Color of Words, about our work with an early childhood system change effort in Connecticut called Right From the Start. During the conference session we emphasized that one of the biggest leverage points for system change is at the level of narrative and belief systems.

Surfacing the dominant implicit and explicit stories about what is and should be, analyzing the degree to which they align with our values and intentions, and countering/reframing them if and as necessary has been part of the work of Right From the Start (RFTS).   Read More

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February 28, 2014

Networks-as-Change: Expanding Empathy

“In principle, empathy can override every rule about how to treat others.”

-Frans de Waal

empathy

Photo by Vamsi Krishna

 

Yesterday’s post considered the importance and power of the empathic turn in networks-as-change, to ground people in deep connection with living realities, for the sake of greater imagination, justice, resilience and responsibility. Taking cues from experience and the work and studies of others, here are some thoughts for how to cultivate radical “affection” (to quote Wendell Berry) in networks:

  • Go beyond abstraction to interaction – go to and meet in real places, explore them, consider how life happens there (see for example Story of Place and Heart and Soul)

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December 19, 2013

Empathy and the Dramatic Arc

“Stories bring brains together.”

– Paul J. Zak

This past week we have featured a couple of posts on empathy (see “Empathy + Equity –> Justice” and “Empathy Connect, Sympathy Disconnects”).  In light of these and also on the heels of recent powerful experiences in a couple networks for change around the use of storytelling to deepen connectivity and commitment, I found the video above to be instructive.  It is featured in a blog post entitled “How Stories Change the Brain” through the Greater Good Science Center.

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December 18, 2013

Networks and Cultures of Giving

Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of Business whose research focuses on “motivation, prosocial giving and helping behaviors, initiative and proactivity.”  His work and writing, including his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, seem to have something to offer those interested in and engaged in developing networks for social change, as much of it points to data showing that organizations of all kinds benefit from fostering cultures of giving. Read More

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October 16, 2013

Networks: Trust, Drive Time and Other Offerings

“Creating a culture of trust in a network can have a big payoff. Why is this so? First, when trust is well-developed in a network, people are willing to get involved in high-risk projects where their reputation and resources are at stake. These kinds of projects usually have a lot of impact. Next, high levels of trust usually make decision making easier and less time consuming. Finally, a culture of trust enables people to accept and work with people who are quite different from them, which increases the number of people working on network activities.”

– June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook

Trust Fall

|Photo by Mike Baird|http://www.flickr.com/photos/72825507@N00/6827018401/in/photolist-bphfHP-ayA7wy-bKZzec-e4iaNi-aaixFs-bKZArr-e58faj-e52zee-e58ah1-e5838j-e586eo-e58cR5-e584Hq-8Wcf9Q-csNfzU-dftPtq-dZTbw9-bWm4ku-d6vnvU-d6vg8U-awDsBx-dz9vRu-7CW4pj-acYjbQ-agyEHk-9XrqN1-9XouvF-9XowsD-9XrpRj-9XrorW-d6vBWJ-d6vpE5-d6vFUQ-d6voKN-d6vJaN-d6vuLJ-d6vRoQ-d6vUZW-d6vxbE-d6vDLf-d6vSBq-d6vvPL-d6vWoA-d6vXLJ-d6vybf-d6vqN1-d6vQrY-d6vGTA-d6vma9-d6vzeb-d6vKqG|

The importance and power of trust in networks for social change cannot be overstated.  Time and again, and despite what might show up as initial resistance, being intentional about getting to know one another beyond titles, official positions, and transactional exchanges reaps tremendous benefit, for all the reasons June Holley mentions above and more.  Taking time and making space to build trust helps people to do the important work of social change and is in many cases an embodiment of the change we are trying to make in the world – when we expand our circles of compassion and inclusion; when we create new patterns of opportunity, exchange and resource flows; when we see and validate previously unrecognized or undervalued assets.

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