Movement Building and Collective Impact

In an article written for Fast Company, Kaihan Krisppendorff, identifies four steps to building an effective social movement, which I have adapted below:

1. A community forms around a common goal or aspiration.
2. The community mobilizes its resources to act on the goal/aspiration.
3. The community crafts solutions and acts to deliver them.
4. The movement is accepted by (or actually replaces) the establishment or established regime of laws and policies (Source).

If you are involved in a collective impact initiative, these steps should resonate with you, in particular with the five conditions of collective impact.  Krisppendorff doesn’t address shared measurement in his post about social movements, but successful movements are always about moving the needle and bringing about systems change to do so.

Consider the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. in 1964; the Civil Rights Act rendered discrimination/segregation illegal, especially with respect to jobs and workplace advancement, and termination because of colour. States that did nothing to address discrimination lost federal funding. There were other impacts but you get the gist. Big change for sure.

As is often the case, the big changes that get made fuel additional change. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act, addressed the legal obstacles (e.g. literacy tests and poll taxes) that state and local governments had set up to stop African Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote.

Passed in August of 1965, by the end of the year 250,000 African Americans had registered to vote. The impact of such systemic and legal change was likely felt the most in the hearts and minds of African Americans, but from strictly a numbers perspective, here is one stat that exemplifies the impact: “In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among blacks increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969” (Source). Continue reading

Was that you I saw standing on the edge?

I was the Lumber Jack size of a man with his toes on the precipice just a stone’s throw away from you.  My toes were nearly hanging over, which meant my belly extended even further over the edge.

The other side – that place beyond the chasm where I wanted to be – wasn’t all that far away. I imagined if I backed up 20 yards and ran fast, I could make the leap with room to spare.

Were you thinking the same thing?

I tried not to look down or at the jagged rock face that would be my ruin if I missed my mark. I tried to keep my eye on where I wanted to be, on the prize so to speak. But truth be told, I stood there on the edge alternating my eyes between the perils below and the possibilities that waited for me “over there.”

We looked at each other a few times, quick glances as if each of us offered the other some solace, some sort of connection about the individual choices that we were facing. Would it help to stand side by side?  Could we help each other understand the risks and the rewards we might realize by leaping over the void?

Of course, we weren’t alone. Down the way from each of us were others standing on the edge as well.  Young and old, women and men, people of all colours. I think I saw a mother carrying her child and a man in a wheel chair.

There we were, all of us on the edge of who we were at that moment, wondering about the possibilities over there, our fears swirling beneath us, dark and dangerous.

That’s when I woke up.

It was the strangest dream.

Like many dreams, this one lingered for a while as I went about my business and then dissipated over the next few days. I had forgotten all about it until I started writing this piece. I remember thinking, “that dream could be a great introduction to a book.”

As an activist, writer, musician, father, and partner, I have stood on the edge of who I am many times. Sometimes I leapt over the darkness below and carried on with my journey on the other side until, as you likely anticipated, I ended up on another ledge, facing another chasm separating me from possibility.

Other times, I turned around and walked away, either not ready for what I might find “over there,” or just too damn afraid to risk the fall. As well, there were times when I realized that the possibilities of where I was were still unrealized and that leaping from one cliff to another would have smacked more of escape than exploration.

In all of these cases, one thing was certain and constant, namely that there was no certainty I could rely on. Staying put may have offered me comfort and safety, but if I am honest there was no certainty that my current location would serve me best. And the possibilities offered across the way – or perceived to be offered – were only that, possibilities. Nothing guaranteed was waiting for me.

This uncertainty was simultaneously unnerving and exciting. It seemed like every choice facing me was terrifying and yet I felt rich with choice.

While the dream was mine, the experiences it painted are, I suggest, part and parcel to our humanity, our human condition.

In the context of my work to end poverty or within the frame of being a creative person (writer, musician, artist), I am constantly faced with choices and few, if any, offer me a predictable outcome.

Reflecting on the dream, I see it as a story about change and its many risks and possibilities. The dream sparked my thinking about my own resistance to taking chances and my all too frequent desire to just let what is be good enough. I am comfortable with good enough, with my routines of living. I know what to expect or at least think I do. My guess is you get what I am trying to say here. There is often something heartwarming about the status quo.

There are many, many people testing new waters, crafting ideas, launching innovative actions. I am blessed to know so many incredible leaders and thinkers, risk-takers and catalysts, and passion-makers and boat-rockers. But even the best explorers get lost, prefer calm waters, and hesitate.

I have said more than once: transformative ideas require (and deserve) transformative practice. They must weave together if we have any hope of our ideas coming to fruition. To create unique, beautiful music goes beyond the composition. Creativity, passion, and experience are put to practice (technique) and what we hear is all of that, not just the notes the pianist is playing. In other words, often, if not all the time, new music requires new technique in order to act on the possibilities of our creativity.

And for a pianist to create new music, does she not have to redefine who she is as a pianist, if not a human being?

Think of the risks jazz musicians take when they sit together and jam. For such interplay to work well, each of the players has to trust their skills and techniques while being open to possibilities that unfold during their session together. Even the best musicians experience times when the magic doesn’t happen. Even the best player can miss a note or go sideways while the others head off in a common direction.

The risk goes beyond embarrassment for missing a note. Mistakes and misses are also about the person making them and the more innovative we try to be, the more likely we will fail along the way. How do we incorporate a value of failing within our identities? How can we find sustenance from one another when our quest for the new and better way to do things, tumbles us to the ground.

Our desire to act on what is possible relies on all we have learned while at the same time challenges us to move beyond what we know to what might be. It is hard enough to do this by yourself; it is so much more difficult to do this together.

One of the fundamental tenets of my practice as a leader, teacher, and innovator is this: big change is a group activity requiring that we help one another overcome our fears, our personal or professional shortcomings, and our collective tendency to gravitate toward what is comfortable and easy.

We need our edges and our chasms. Without them we are limited in where we can go and what we can discover. But I suggest we should not stand on the edge by ourselves. We have a much better chance of leaping forward if we do it together.

 

 

Together, Differently

I sit on the Mayor of Edmonton’s Task Force to End Poverty. It’s a diverse group including the expected mix of leaders from government, business, education and community services. At a recent gathering we were working together to increase common understanding about poverty as well as to move forward with identifying strategies.

In this session we were gathered in small groups around round tables. At my table the folks there represented those that might be considered to be on the far left and those on the far right and everything in between. (I will let you imagine where I fit on that spectrum!)

This little story is not about left or right, but about how people from all walks of life, each with their own ideologies, their lenses and biases, as well as their compassion and insights can walk together toward a day when poverty is no more.

One of the gentlemen there clearly operates at the opposite end of the “spectrum,” than I do. For a time, he and I (and others) seemed like we were debating positions more so than exploring possibilities together.  We listened to one another, expanded on one another’s thoughts or beliefs and there were numerous points where we did not agree.

Here is what I found to be so amazing and encouraging. No one was facilitating our round table conversation. We went back and forth; everyone spoke, granted some more than others. I imagine some of the things said by one rankled the sensibilities of another, but we were respectful and we kept at it. I remember thinking as things progressed that despite our differences, all of us were there for the same purpose: to end poverty in our community.

I know it wasn’t magic, but it had that feel to it. Perhaps it is was more like a mysterious convergence. Why? Because we all discovered, through the sharing of, and dialogue about, our differences that at the end of it all, we were on common ground. We just travelled to it from different places.

Yes, our differences remained. Our politics were not transformed. Our fundamental beliefs were maintained, but we used them to create understanding and commitment to the work before us.

There are a host of tools we can use to foster dialogue, but in the final analysis, it takes people to welcome other people into their minds and hearts, accept our differences as well as our imperfections, and move forward together.

I discovered as the meeting drew to a close that the gentleman that was most different from me had become my ally and I had become his. To paint a bit of a stereotypical picture: imagine a gentleman in a suit I could never afford, neat and tidy hair, shoes that shone and another gentleman in jeans, untucked shirt, sandals, and a tad scruffy walking together toward the same place. Together, differently.

It made my heart sing. And I have to believe, his did, too.

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Becoming a Learning Organization – Part Two

ACTION LEARNING

According to Michael J. Marquardt[1], “action learning is a dynamic process that involves a small group of people solving real problems, while at the same time focusing on what they are learning and how their learning can benefit [one another]….Perhaps action learning’s most valuable capacity is its amazing, multiplying impact to equip individuals, especially leaders, to more effectively respond to change. Learning is what makes action learning strategic rather than tactical. Fresh thinking and new learning are needed if we are to avoid responding to today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions while tomorrow’s action-learning_redchallenges engulf us.”

Engaging in action learning involves coming together to create a learning space that not only allows but facilitates out of the box ideas. Sometimes people may wish to throw the box away completely; so the learning space must also be a safe space for exploration. Action Learning  is an exercise in creativity and the audacity of people believing they can do better, be more, and make a bigger difference. Continue reading

Becoming a Learning Organization – Part One

SINGLE, DOUBLE, AND TRIPLE LOOP LEARNING

One key to organizational success has to do with the capacity of people to learn – learn from mistakes as well as learn from successes. The call for organizational learning has escalated over the years ever since our culture and economy transitioned from a “we make things” focus to what is called a “knowledge society.”

Today, knowledge workers are highly valued as you know, but the real asset of a knowledge worker goes far beyond what she or he “knows”. Simply put, no one can hold all of the knowledge they need to do what they do today, much less tomorrow.

The strongest asset of a knowledge worker is her/his ability to figure things out, find information, gain knowledge, as well as transform experience into knowledge. This means three things to me. Continue reading