We just completed a third year of providing coaching support to a state-wide health equity network. We began our partnership before the pandemic and have spent the last couple of years checking in as life with the pandemic and intersecting crises have evolved, working with both staff and key partners. It has been interesting to see how there has been a natural inclination to build on recommendations from our first year, as people have appreciated the power of and need for leaning into more networked ways of thinking and acting (spending more time connecting organically and getting to know one another, providing mutual support in light of intersecting crises, staff operating as more of a gate-opener for and facilitative leader with partners, creating stronger alignment around shared policy priorities across the state and between communities).
In our first year report we used the Connectivity-Alignment-Coordinated Action framework to assess gaps, strengths and possibilities for the network. What this framework suggests is that movements for social change and advocacy organizations can be more effective when they bring a network lens to their work and intentionally cultivate diverse, intricate and robust connections and exchanges of various kinds through those connections to advance their goals.
creating stronger connectivity and trust between people, organizations, and communities;
facilitating greater alignment amongst those who are connected around shared purpose, values, and/or common goals;
coordinating action and also creating conditions for/supporting self-organized initiative among aligned people, organizations and communities.
In conversations with organizational staff who steward the network throughout 2020 and into 2021, it was clear that much had moved on different fronts with respect to all three realms. Some examples include:
Virtual retreats seeking maximizing network connections and deepen relationships.
More care and attention given to onboarding for new members.
Mindfulness being given to tech tools regarding how best to use virtual spaces so that they are accessible, allow for equitable engagement, and do not distance or marginalize participants.
Staff working to facilitate connection and alignment between partners working on advocacy for the state budget and organizing in local communities.
Advocacy work that has included more network mobilization and in a way such that staff is less protective of connections to lawmakers.
Community partners have been invited to bring along a community member and there was an opportunity to work with relatively high level staffers.
Virtual retreats have featured an activity around “contribution mapping,” to look at, appreciate and celebrate how the network more broadly was engaged in action.
The report also included a set of recommendations, many of which we feel could be applied to many different networks in these times, especially as people grapple with issues of capacity and the need to front and center care and wellbeing. And so we offer this slightly edited list for wider consideration, with an invitation to add:
Keep doing what you are doing! Continuing to facilitate deeper trust and connection, stronger alignment and broader network action will only help to support the overall movement for justice and sustainability.
With respect to creating new and strengthening existing network connectivity going forward, ask what few key connections would really bolster the overall network and its work. As Grace Lee Boggs puts it, “Movements are born of critical connections rather than critical mass.”
Consider how you might continuously cultivate a set of “network weavers” (and weaving behavior overall). Look for who is already engaged as “network champions” and consider supporting their capacity to do what they might naturally be inclined to do.
Consider deepening values work with staff and key partners. As there continues to be tumult in many places and spaces, helping people to ground in and be accountable to shared values can be of tremendous benefit in strengthening alignment. More on this here.
Pay attention to how you are spending your time and energy around network development, for the sake of all network members. There is so much overwhelm in so many systems now. Ask what brings life to the overall network and to participants and co-creators throughout and follow that. For more on connection, flow and energy management, see this.
Related to the above, if you do not do this already, consider bringing in a trauma- and burnout-informed lens to your work with partners. Some guidance can be found in the context of this post.
And by all means, take time to celebrate your successes and recognize how you are changing and evolving in “small” ways as an organization and a network. Experience shows that his will go a long way to keeping people fueled and engaged. Keep telling the evolving story of networked change.
As mentioned in a previous post (see “A Network Leadership Institute Goes Virtual With an Appeal to the Senses”), this summer, the core convening team of Food Solutions New England was able to attend a number of different trainings to heighten the team’s awareness and facility around issues of trauma and racialized trauma. This was made possible through the generosity and understanding of the Angell Foundation, which has supported FSNE in offering the Network Leadership Institute since 2016. Last year, in light of COVID, the calls for reckoning and repair, and so much uncertainty, along with the very place-based nature of the Institute to that point, we elected not to jump into the virtual fray. Instead we took a step back, and had some deeper conversations about the future of the NLI, what we had learned over the past years, how we wanted to evolve the offering, and what new capacities we needed as a team and broader network.
Now we are poised to offer the 5th Institute over the next six months (September 2021-February 2022), anchored in 6 day-long virtual sessions, complete with many of the same components we have had in the past: (1) community and relationship building, (2) grounding in the history and present work of the Food Solutions New England Network, (3) meeting and hearing from other food system leaders and change agents in our region, (4) sharing practices to cultivate personal and collective resilience, and (5) developing deeper collaborative and networked capacity to realize justice, equity, sustainability, and democracy in our regional food system. In addition to these six sessions, we will offer a number of optional inter-session gatherings, in the early evening, with either a cooking demo, relevant movie (such as Gather and Homecoming), or special speaker.
We enter into this year’s offering knowing that the baseline for our work is connection and care. And thanks to Jerrilyn Dixson and team at Progressive Therapy, LLC out of Jackson, MS, Cultural Somatics Institute, Class Action and Quabbin Mediation, we have more enhanced sensibilities related our collective work for equity and well-being. What appears below are some of the lessons that we are bringing to this year’s Institute, and all the on-line gathering work of FSNE.
3 Realms of ACEs (sources of child trauma)
Important overall learnings and take-aways…
Class is not just wealth; class is about a combination of resources + culture (status/power/education, etc.)
Class can be a driver for anxiety, stress, comparison, confusion, shame, inner resistance …
The levels of classism can mirror and connect to the levels of racism (internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural).
Harm-doing can take many different forms, including: racism, sexism, misgendering, aggression, unpaid labor, miscommunication, exploitation, abuse …
At least 70% of people have had at least 1 traumatic experience; thus, trauma is the norm, not the anomaly
6 core principles of trauma informed care: safety, trustworthiness and transparency; peer support and mutual help; collaboration and mutuality; empowerment, voice and choice; attention to cultural, historical and gender issues
“Trauma happens when people feel disconnected,” not seen, heard or valued.
Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and values and when they give and receive without judgment.
Challenging behaviors are almost always about creating connection and/or safety, even if that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on to the outside observer of the behavior
The concept of “protest behaviors” — these are things people do to get what they need to feel connected, when not getting their needs met. These show up in all different kinds of ways — be on the lookout.
Make sure to offer assistance with technology and do not assume, or convey the assumption, that everyone is comfortable with any given technology or technique.
Build community agreements collaboratively and by consensus.
Ask people to name any accessibility needs, discomforts and triggers (this could be done in a survey and/or during group activity).
Create safe and soothing space (white noise to drown out distracting noise or to let people know that what they are sharing is not carrying beyond the room, soft/relaxing music, natural imagery, calming scents)
Be aware of your own triggers as a trainer/facilitator/coach – realize it isn’t the person, it is the action andthe interaction. Recognize, take a break. Have a code between facilitators for when one of us is triggered and needs to step out to re-regulate.
Consider having a “3rd party” (not one of the facilitators) that a participant can talk toif there is a perception that the challenge lies with the facilitation approach.
Use a grounding/re-connecting exercise or opportunity after a challenging moment or episode of disconnection in a group (breathing, movement, shaking, tapping, etc.).
Use a scale of 1-10 for mood check/how people are entering or leaving space. Use a scale of 1-10 on how connected you as facilitator feel to [the group or the topic we are working on today.
Invite people to make themselves feel comfortable as participants (bring fidget toys, food, water, something that makes them feel at home).
Pay attention to the choices of colors, images, etc, in the slides that you use.
Create some predictability and transparency by sharing goals and the agenda of a session in advance, along with timeframes, roles, expectations and any supplies/materials needed.
Stay online 15-30 minutes after a session for anyone who would like to talk more.
Agree on a hand gesture signal that allows people to take space as needed (i.e. when they want to leave the room to use restroom or take an unscheduled break).
Consider structuring in identity-based caucuses. Give them topics and structure. Use when needed or desired.
Use entry passwords, and make sure everyone in the group can get easy access to them, for virtual settings, ensuring that all feel it is literally a safe space
Apprise guest speakers of group agreements, before they show up and brief them on the vibe/pet peeves. Let the group know this is being done to demonstrate you value the trust-based environment you are trying to create.
Have mental-emotional-spiritual health and support resources information available.
Should things get volatile with someone who is triggered, reflect back (name the behavior), create space for them to be heard, do not take it personally and check your privilege …
Be ready to recognize if an individual is not ready for the group or program (and vice versa) after employing all of these practices. No one person is bigger than the mission/goal. Have procedures in place for non-compliance that maintain the dignity of all.
Have a “consent/agreement” about actions that will be taken should challenges arise, including the possibility of determining the program is not the right fit for participant. “In the event of a conflict or a feeling of harm being done, here are [2-3] ways to start the process of addressing or resolving the issue. If, even after these efforts, the challenges remain, we may collectively decide that this program is not a good fit for your needs….”
“Non-violence is the constant awareness of the dignity and humanity of oneself and others. Non-violence is a courageous acceptance of active love and goodwill as the instrument with which to overcome evil and transform both oneself and others.”
Wally Nelson, African American civil rights and peace activist (1909-2002)
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”