VTF2P Network: Leading With Values

October 31, 2013 2 Comments

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this week the Vermont Farm to Plate (F2P) Network held its third annual convening.  This marked the move to the third year of the F2P Network’s existence, and another significant milestone.

At the first convening in 2011, there was a mix of enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, impatience, and some reticence.  Many were intrigued by the notion of this new form of multi-organizational collaboration seeking to double local food production in 10 years time, boost the state economy, and address issues of food access and security.  The refrain from Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross and Ellen Kahler, Vermont Sustainable Job Fund Executive Director and head of the network’s “backbone” organization, was essentially this: “The question is not if we are going to do this, but how.  We must do this together, and we will learn and adjust together.”  It is also important to note that this first gathering was being held in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, which decimated farms, homes, and communities around the state.  And as I’ve learned Vermonters are wont to do, people showed up in spite of or perhaps because of the odds, rolled up shirt sleeves, and started to fill and adjust the proposed network structure.

The next year, they showed up again, in slightly larger numbers, and with greater confidence and enthusiasm. Something “clicked” (to use Ellen Kahler’s word) over the summer of 2012, as people began to more fully understand the potential of the Network and find their footing in various roles and group processes at the task team, working group and steering committee levels.  The second annual convening demonstrated the sheer number of activities happening throughout the Network to advance connectivity, alignment, and action towards the goals of the F2P strategic plan.

This year and week they showed up in even greater numbers, ready again to dive in and dive deeper, through consideration of selected success stories and conversations about cross-cutting and complex issues (climate change, access and equity, change at different scales of the food system).  Data collected and shared by Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund shows that participation in the Network has increased from 110 organizations in 2011 to nearly 300 this year, the number of network groups (task teams and working groups) expanded from 6 to 30. Survey responses and network mapping show that the vast majority of participants see great value in the many new connections they are developing from participating in the Network and that there is very dense information sharing happening. Furthermore, many organizations are saying explicitly that the Network is helping them to advance their own goals (which is part and parcel of the “network bargain”).

There is still much work to be done with respect to achieving the 25 goals of the F2P strategic plan and enhancing the participating organizations’ ability to meet their own goals.  And what is clear to me is that the time spent building the trust-bound foundation of the Network these past two years has been critical to its success and growing potential.  Part of this work has included developing and practicing a set of shared values that I have seen evident in my interactions with individual participants and in conversations of the whole.  With the hope that these might serve, inform, and inspire others, here they are:

  • Equity – We strive to build a food system where fresh, local/regional food is accessible, available, and utilized by all Vermonters.
  • Interdependent and collaborative – The F2P Network is built on the strength of relationships and trust within the Network and is inherently interdependent.  The Network recognizes that collective impact is greater than the impact any organization can achieve alone.
  • Decentralized shared leadership and accountability – The F2P Network recognizes the need for shared leadership and responsibility across many organizations to accomplish the broad set strategies needed to achieve the F2P Goals.
  • Transparent and inclusive – The F2P Network values open communication and includes a diverse array of organizations.
  • Systems thinking – We live in a world of linked systems- from local to regional to global.  The F2P network values understanding the “whole” while others are moving the “parts” forward.
  • Data driven – Our strategies and action plans are based upon analysis of data and on-the-ground experience; indicators of progress will be tracked and reviewed by the F2P Network so that our programs and initiatives can br evidence based and best practices can be replicated.
  • Deliberate – We value intentional and ongoing reflection and performance evaluation to ensure we stay focused, relevant and adaptive to changing conditions of the marketplace.

2 Comments

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Great to see the progress over time! Looking forward to celebrating their success in years to come!

  • Miriam Messinger says:

    I love the values–not off the shelf ones, as it were, but ones that the group clearly thought about and practice. I recall you saying that these values show up in the spirit in the room as well with new comers feeling truly welcomed. And it’s great to hear that F2P sees the “network bargain” coming to life.

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