A couple of years after the Food Solutions New England Network officially published the New England Food Vision, and just after the network formally committed to working for racial equity in the food system, it formally adopted a set of four core values. On the FSNE website, a preamble reads: “We collectively believe that the food system we are trying to create must include substantial progress in all these areas, alongside increasing the consumption of regionally produced foods and strengthening our regional food economy and culture.” The four values are:
We celebrate and value the political power of the people. A just food system depends on the active participation of all people in New England.
Racial Equity and Dignity for All:
We believe that racism must be undone in order to achieve an equitable food system. Fairness, inclusiveness, and solidarity must guide our food future.
We know that our food system is interconnected with the health of our environment, our democracy, our economy, and our culture. Sustainability commits us to ensure well-being for people and the landscapes and communities in which we are all embedded and rely upon for the future of life on our planet.
We consider trust to be the lifeblood of collaboration and collaboration as the key to our long-term success. We are committed to building connections and trust across diverse people, organizations, networks, and communities to support a thriving food system that works for everyone.
In the last few years, these values have generated a lot of good discussion, both internal to the network and with others, and we are discovering that this really is the point and advantage of having values in the first place. They can certainly serve as a guide for certain decisions, and in some (many?) instances things may not be entirely clear, at least at first. What does racial equity actually look like? Is it possible for a white-led, or white dominant, institution to embody racial equity? Can hierarchical organizations be democratic? Are there thresholds of trust such that people are willing to not be a part of certain decisions in the name of moving things forward when needed?
Recently, FSNE received an email from a Network Leadership Institute alum who now works as a commodity buyer for a wholesale produce distributor in one of the New England states. They reached out to inquire who else in the network might be thinking about high tech greenhouse vegetable production in the region. Specifically their interest was talking about projects that use optics of being “community based,” but are financed by big multinational corporations. “What would a “just transition” framework look like in the context of indoor agriculture,” they wondered, especially in light of undisclosed tax deals happening as the industry rapidly grows.
As it turns out, a public radio editor recently reached out to FSNE Communications Director, Lisa Fernandes, about pretty much the same thing, also referencing other similar projects taking root in different parts of the region. What does FSNE think of these? Part of her response was that there are some good questions that not only the New England Food Vision (currently being updated), but also the Values, can raise to evaluate the potential role of some of these more tech-heavy food system projects and enterprises as the region strives to be more self sufficient in its food production. And this conversation is certainly growing.
These exchanges in our region have had me thinking about work colleagues and I have been doing with food justice advocates in Mississippi. A central part of this also lifts up values as being key to establishing “right relationships” between actors in the food system, and also between advocates and partners (including funders) from outside of the state. I have learned much from Noel Didla (from the Center for Ideas, Equity, and Transformative Change) and her colleagues about the importance of establishing what they call “cultural contracts,” which create a foundation of values-based agreements as a way of exploring possibilities for authentic collaboration. The signing of any contract is just a part of a process of ongoing dialogue and trust building. For more on these contracts and culture building, see the recording of a conversation Karen Spiller and I had with Noel and other Mississippi food system advocates during the FSNE Winter Series earlier this year in a session called “The Power of the Network.”
“Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.”
In a different series of workshops with those same Mississippi-based advocates, we introduced a values-focused tool from the PROSOCIAL community. PROSOCIAL is rooted in extensive field research (including the commons-focused work of Nobel Prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom) and evolutionary and contextual behavioral science. PROSOCIAL offers tools and processes to support groups in cultivating collaborative skillfulness and the critical capacity of psychological flexibility, including the application of Acceptance and Commitment Training/Therapy (ACT) techniques.
The ACT Matrix (see below) is something that individuals andgroups can use to name what matters most to them (their core values), along with aligned behaviors (what are examples of living out these values?), as a way of laying a foundation for clarity, transparency, agreement, support and accountability. The Matrix also helps people to name andwork with resistance found in challenging thoughts and emotions that might move them away from their shared values. The upper left quadrant is a place to explore what behaviors might be showing up that move people away from their stated values. In essence, this helps to both name and normalize resistance and when used with other ACT practices (defusion, acceptance, presence, self-awareness), can encourage more sustainable, fulfilling (over the long-term), and mutually supportive choices.
An additional values-based tool we have lifted up both in New England and in our work in Mississippi is Whole Measures. Whole Measures is a participatory process/planning and measurement framework from the Center for Whole Communities). There is both a generic version of this framework, as well as one specifically focused on community food systems (more information available here). As CWC points out, “How the tool or rubric framework is used, how the community engagement is facilitated, who is represented in the design matters.” Whole Measures is about content, yes, and it is meant to be used for ongoing deep dialogue, especially amidst complexity, diversity and uncertainty, and when faced with the challenge of tracking what matters most that can also be difficult to measure.
When it comes down to it, these times seem be asking us what kind of people we really are and strive to be. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll fall for anything.” And so the work of values identification and actualization is of paramount importance. I’ll leave it to the poet William Stafford to appropriately close this post with his poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” (something we often share with social change networks as we launch, especially the first and last stanzas):
If you don’t know the kind of person I am and I don’t know the kind of person you are a pattern that others made may prevail in the world and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind, a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail, but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park, I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy, a remote important region in all who talk: though we could fool each other, we should consider— lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake, or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep; the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe — should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
“What is missing from the policy analyst’s tool kit – and from the set of accepted, well-developed theories of human organization – is an adequately specified theory of collective action whereby a group of principals can organize themselves voluntarily to retain the residuals of their own efforts.”
Elinor Ostrom (1996) Governing the Commons
“…there’s no real evidence that one can become expert in something as broad as ‘decision making’ or ‘policy’ or ‘strategy.’ Auto repair, piloting, skiing, perhaps even management: these are skills that yield to application, hard work, and native talent. But forecasting an uncertain future and deciding the best course of action in the face of that future are much less likely to do so. And much of what we’ve seen so far suggests that a large group of diverse individuals will come up with better and more robust forecasts and make more intelligent decisions than even the most skilled ‘decision maker.’”
James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds
Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop for one of the sub-networks of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network focused on food access (including food justice and racial equity). Farm to Plate is moving into a second decade of work and looking to refresh its strategic work and structure (version 2.0). As part of this move, various members are interested in how they can engage others more robustly and/or responsibly in their work, including those who are negatively impacted by the current system (those living with hunger and in poverty, struggling farmers, farm workers, indigenous people, etc.). The workshop was designed around some core IISC collaborative frameworks, which participants applied to their work in pairs and small groups, and it also elicited different participatory methods that those in the room were already using or aware of.
One of the operating assumptions in the workshop was that engagement and participation can and should look different in different situations, and that more is not necessarily better. Rather, it is important to get clear on the aims of an initiative, carefully consider who the key stakeholders are, weigh various factors (time, complexity, readiness, power dynamics, etc.) and think about timing and different phases of the work. Doing this kind of due diligence can help to clarify when and where on a spectrum of engagement options different individuals and groups might fall (see below for some examples).
For the last segment of the workshop, we explored a variety of participatory models and methods, and here is some of what came up (specifically considering the context of Vermont food systems work).
Rural Vermont (community organizing, sociocracy as a form of governance)
Migrant Justice (community organizing, Milk With Dignity Campaign, sociocracy as a form of governance)
Last week I had the pleasure and privilege of partnering with colleagues from IISC and the Center for Whole Communities to offer our course, Whole Measures: Transforming Communities by Measuring What Matters Most, at beautiful Knoll Farm in Vermont. The weather and the participants did not disappoint, and the entire experience spoke to the power of paying attention to and naming what matters most as a point of departure for creating and measuring wholeness in communities and organizations. We broke bread together, engaged in dialogue and storytelling, sat around the campfire, took in the richness of the Mad River Valley landscape, laughed, cried, and even got our groove on a bit.
Enjoy a taste of the experience in the video to which the link above leads (click on the image). And please consider joining us for a future session and other opportunities at the Interaction Institute for Social Change and CWC.
It often emerges as a core tension in our complex multi-stakeholder change work. It’s embodied in comments such as, “Let’s stop all this talking and start doing something!” Or, “I’m not a big process person, I just want to get to action.”
In the New England Regional Food Summit two weeks ago, speaker Rich Pirog raised the importance of trying to find, in an ongoing fashion, a balance between process and action. This he has learned from doing many years of building regional food networks in the Midwest. It is certainly the case that we can over-talk, over-think and over-process together, driving one another crazy and/or from the room. And we can also jump blindly, prematurely, and harmfully to action.
So how do we strike an artful balance and keep differently oriented people in the game? A few thoughts:
They say being a change agent is an inside job. This summer, we invite you to sharpen your tools and rejuvenate your capacity for leadership through a values-based professional development opportunity in a beautiful retreat setting! Center for Whole Communities (CWC) and Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC) are collaborating to offer a four-day residential Whole Measures Workshop July 10 – 13, at CWC’s retreat center at beautiful Knoll Farm in Fayston, VT. Read More
“The most sustainable impact comes from our deriving meaning and then connecting that meaning to our purpose, to what we stand for, and to the contributions we make.”
-Dr. Monica Sharma
There is something about the invitation to health and wholeness and to talking about how to measure it that seems to be a real draw to our Whole Measures workshop, which we offer jointly with the Center for Whole Communities. I can see it in the eyes of many participants as they walk into the room – “Tell us how!” And there is a bit of a disruptive experience that occurs when we let people know it is not so formulaic. One of my favorite quotes comes from my mentor Carol Sanford who has said, “Best practice obliterates essence,” and I think it really applies to what we are talking about here. Read More
The spectrum of those working towards community food security is culturally and geographically diverse, spanning a broad range of people, places and activities. Organizations and individuals working in the food system and building food secure communities create complex relationships and inter-related activities. Read More
Picking up from Gibran’s post yesterday and continuing in the vein of follow-up to our LLC webinar on collective leadership, I want to respond to some of the questions we did not have a chance to answer or answer fully from participants, including requests for examples of collective leadership in action and inquiries about blocks and how to work through or overcome them. Read More
“We seem to have been living for a long time on the assumption that we can safely deal with parts, leaving the whole to take care of itself. But now the news from everywhere is that we have to begin gathering up the scattered pieces, figuring out where they belong, and putting them back together. For the parts can be reconciled to one another only within the pattern of the whole thing to which they belong.”
Throughout the past few years readers of this blog have seen some discussion about the tensions that exist between those working on individual behavior/spiritual change and those striving for structural transformation. Read More
|Photo by umjanedoan|http://www.flickr.com/photos/umjanedoan/497411169/#|
In our Whole Measures workshop, we come to a point when participants realize that the promise of learning how to “measure what matters most” is not a case of digesting “best practices.” This is often a difficult moment, one fraught with frustration, but also the beginnings of insight (or a reminder) that we are each part of a gradual unfolding that is unique depending upon our particular context, and that to simply embrace some kind of cookie-cutter method of measuring health and wholeness is futile. This is so, in part, because before we measure what matters most, we must determine what matters most, and this changes from system to system. Furthermore, it is no easy task of discernment. Often people are good at setting goals, or talking abstractly about “values,” but this does not always equate with getting to heart of what is most meaningful to us, as demonstrated by the lives we actually live or our hearts’ deepest desires. One of the best processes we’ve found for doing this is to embrace storytelling. Read More