Image by Clearly Ambiguous, “Solar System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Last week, I was invited to a convening held by the Social Impact Exchange to do some work with funders who are considering and/or investing in systems change (as opposed to say programmatic) strategies. The invitation was to kick the convening off by helping to “open minds and hearts to new ways of thinking and doing.”
At IISC, we have been playing with what it means to “think,” given what can tend to predominate in many maintstream settings is highly analytical, disembodied and heart-dismissing approaches. Our belief is that we need to (re)claim the fullness of our intelligence in order to create the more beautiful world we know is possible. As our friends at Management Assistance Group have written:
“Too often, we stay in generalized and practical knowing, rarely dipping into foundational knowing or artistic knowing in meaningful ways. By not intentionally drawing on these, our theories and action plans are often disconnected from our values and beliefs, and the bedrock experiences of our lives.
Moreover, privileging one way of knowing over others marginalizes and ignores other truths that people bring from other ways of knowing. This marginalization often lies at the core of conflicts, systemic barriers to change, and inequity.”
To support people in this direction of more holistic knowing, we are creating more space to explore our individual and collective interiors, sit in and with spaciousness and silence, explore reality and possibility in more embodied ways (movement!) as well as engage in deeply relational interactions that can be heart and soul expanding.
At one point during our opening, I offered a collection of systems-oriented quotes and sayings and invited people to do a self-organized group read of them (whoever felt so moved to speak, though only one quote to a person). People were asked to pay attention to what moved inside of them as they read and heard these quotes. This was done, in part, to help dislodge people from unexamined thought patters. I was explicit about this and introduced the exercise with these words from quantum physicist David Bohm:
“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
When the group was over, and after a moment of silence, people were invited to share with a partner what they were most struck by and why. You are invited to do the same with the words below, to read in silence or aloud, to share any reactions and resonance and also to offer other systems-focused quotes/sayings that you have found to help open and expand some aspect of your thinking.
Image by Matthias Ripp, “Planetary System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
“A system cannot fail those it was never intended to protect.”
– W.E.B. DuBois
“The problem with problem-solving is the idea that a solution is an endpoint.”
“We act as if simple cause and effect is at work. We push to find the one simple reason things have gone wrong. We look for the one action, or the one person, that created this mess. As soon as we find someone to blame, we act as if we’ve solved the problem.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley
“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
In 2015, the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) Network Team began a year-long process to better understand how we could support the region in achieving the New England Food Vision. The Vision describes a future in which at least 50% of our food is grown, raised, and harvested in New England and no one goes hungry. It looks ahead to the year 2060 and sees farming and fishing as important regional economic forces; soils, forests, and waterways cared for sustainably; healthy diets as a norm; and racial equity and food justice promoting dignity and well being for all who live in New England. Read More
In light of a recent conversation with Jana Carp, an academic who has studied the underlying principles of the “slow movement” and how they connect to sustainability, place-making and livabily, I am revisiting, revising and reposting the piece below. Jana and I were connected by a mutual colleague with the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, given our mutual interests in public engagement, community-building and sustainability (inclusive of justice), and had an interesting conversation about slowness and networks.
At one point, the question came up as to whether networks might cut against slowness, especially when the emphasis is on rapid growth, diffusion, and trans-local connections. My thought at the time was that this certainly could be the case, and that is why it is important to think about both the breadth and depth dimensions of networks, as well linking different scaled networks (local, regional, global). The importance of networks for social change can certainly reside in their reach and rapid scaling. Their potential also resides in the nature and quality of connection, how deep the ties that bind are and what they help to create and circulate. And this brought me back to these reflections on how to think about “social velocity” in networks and collaborative work …
My friend Joel Glanzberg is a constant source of provocation and insight. The way he sees the world, through a living systems and pattern-seeking lens, is not only refreshing but unnerving in that it is evident how simultaneously critical and rare his perspective is. Joel is great at helping me and others to see beyond objects and structures to underlying patterns and processes, and how these are what animate living systems. Read More
“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems.”
– Wendell Berry
An essay that I return to now and then, including over these past summer months, is Wendell Berry‘s “Solving for Pattern.” Published in 1981, the piece essentially considers systemic approaches to more “sustainable “agriculture, though the concept alluded to in the title has wider application. The phrase “solving for pattern” isan invitation to take a larger and longer view of “problem-solving,” to think about interventions that serve a bigger picture in more sustained and multiply beneficial ways.
Solving for pattern, according to Berry, runs counter to reductionist and mechanical solutions, which lend themselves to more predictable and relatively contained situations. When reductionist solutions are applied to more complex and systemic situations, they are more prone to failure and to exacerbating negative aspects. Real-life examples include:
Process can sometimes get a bum rap in our work, as in: “I’m not a process person. I’m action-oriented.” This attitude can become a source of considerable frustration, and yet, I get it. Some people are tired of what seems like endless talk that gets them no where. And yet to translate this kind of seemingly circular conversation (what Chris Thompson has referred to as co-blaboration) as “process,” as opposed to action, does a disservice to what is essential to the work of social change. No, I’m not talking (only) about talking. I’m talking about how it is precisely at the level of process that we can make truly profound change. Read More
A group of us from IISC attending Facing Race, the Applied Research Center’s bi-annual conference. For me (and many others, judging by the #FacingRace Twitter stream), it was an energizing, affirming and enlightening experience. Over the next few days, we will offer details about what we heard and learned. I want to begin with a few big picture ideas.
I have written a few times in this space (see “Right from the Start” and “The System is Us”) about our work with the Graustein Memorial Fund and stakeholders from around Connecticut to re-conceptualize and change the early childhood development system in the state so that all families and children are thriving. We are currently in the midst of a visioning process, whereby members of the System Design Team are engaging various constituents in conversations about what it would look like if the system were truly providing equitable and excellent support and opportunities to all children, regardless of race, ability, and income. In addition, we are asking what foundational beliefs, or values, would under-gird such a reality brought to life. This phase kicked off with a series of interviews with participants in the Memorial Fund’s annual Stone Soup Conference. This included parents, child care providers, elected officials, advocates of all kinds, and the keynote speaker – Ralph Smith. Check out the series above, along with others posted on the Right from the Start site. There is an emerging picture forming here, that speaks to the power of collective visioning. What do you see?
“In a sense, it’s not a system until it’s working for the people on the front-line, and above all the parents who need services for their children.”
-David Nee, Executive Director, WCGMF
|Photo by jfinnirwin|http://www.flickr.com/photos/jfinnirwin/5248114004/in/photostream|
Last November I blogged about the launch of a bold and exciting initiative in Connecticut, spear-headed by the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund based in Hamden. My colleague Melinda Weekes and I were engaged to assist the Memorial Fund as it answered a community-based call to step into a convening role to bring relevant stakeholders together from around the state to re-imagine and build an early childhood system “that is accessible and effective in all settings and in all communities for Connecticut’s children and families regardless of race, abilities and income.” This initiative has since been dubbed Right from the Start, a name that has turned out to be quite prescient in light of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent comments. Right from the Start builds upon 10 years of work by the Memorial Fund in supporting community-based efforts to promote development and learning for all children. Melinda and I are proud to have been able to make a contribution over the past four years by providing Facilitative Leadership training and collaborative capacity building to more than 200 individuals from the 57 Discovery Collaboratives around the state. Read More
“Tension and transparency of tension create capacity.”
|Photo by ideowl|http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideowl/3737550476|
Last week I blogged from Knoll Farm in Fayson, VT, where I was serving as a co-trainer of our Whole Measures workshop, which we offer in partnership with the Center for Whole Communities. In that post I reflected on the connection that the Knoll Farm site creates between people, and between people and land. A remarkable aspect of the Farm is its intentional design, in that its human-made elements naturally work with and build upon the contours of the landscape and draw people’s attention to certain dynamics that reflect essential truths. An example is the large yurt, that sits on an outcropping at the end of an old logging road. It is a welcome (and welcoming) sight as one rounds the bend having climbed a fairly long steep incline. Its brown and green colors integrate nicely with the forested landscape, and its very structure invites one into contemplation about the life that surrounds it and with which it is in relationship. Read More
|Image from Carlos Gershenson|http://complexes.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html|
I’m writing this post from Quincy, Massachusetts where I’m attending the International Conference on Complex Systems. My head is very full and there is much to process that will no doubt spur further posts. A question I brought with me into these proceedings is what we are learning from complexity (in fields such as systems biology, network theory, epidemiology) about developing stronger collective regenerative capacity, the ability to work with each other and our various contexts in order to both survive and thrive (co-evolve). So here is a first take, in alliterative fashion: Read More
|Photo by Robert Higgins|http://www.flickr.com/photos/37893534@N07/4779016818|
“Stakeholder” is a big word in our practice at IISC. When it comes to our collaborative change work, we take stakeholder analysis very seriously, in certain situations spending a few days to complete this critical task. The aim is generally to surface the names of those groups and individuals who as a sum total will help to ensure that we have the system represented in the room. What this means is pushing people, at times, into uncomfortable places to consider typically unheard voices and those they have outright resisted inviting to the table but without whom they could not hope to make the kind of change to which they aspire.
Typically we engage in a conversation with our clients and partners that asks them identify, in the context of some given change effort, those whose stakes are defined in the following ways: Read More