Posts categorized “Community”.

On friendship

This afternoon Caitlin and I were in a delightful conversation with new colleagues that ranged across the landscape of the work we are all trying to do in the world, supporting leadership, supporting quality and addressing the ineffable aspects of human experience that pervade our work on leadership.

And in the conversation we found our way to the idea of friendship.

In our Art of Hosting Beyond the Basics offering we are exploring friendship as a key strategic pillar to transforming the nature of engagement, organizational life and community development.  And today as we were discussing friendship as the highest form of accountability, I was reminded of my work 15 years ago in the BC Treaty Process.

Back then I was employed as a public consultation advisor for the federal government.  It was my job to talk to non-indigenous people about the treaties that governments were negotiating with First Nations.  Most of the non-indigenous stakeholders I had to meet with were hostile to the treaty process, to put it mildly. Some of them were just downright furious, driven by the white hot heat of completely irrational racism, uncertainty and disruption to their lives.  At their worst, hey shouted at us, threatened us with violence and tried to have us removed from our jobs.  these were not folks that I would ordinarily try to meet with, let alone befriend.  But I found I had no choice.  No amount of rational discourse about rights, law, policy and economics could persuade these people that treaty making was a good idea.

And the truth is that I didn’t have to have them think it was a good idea.  But I did need them to understand what was happening and I did need to offer them many many ways to engage with what we were doing, even if they were 100% opposed to it.  It was my professional obligation as a person responsible for the mundane daily workings of a democratic government, and it was my moral obligation as a human being who saw a group of people in danger of being dismissed by their government for their opinions, no matter how odious those opinions were to the government of the day, or how opposed those opinions were to government policy.

I realized that the only way we were going to create lasting agreements that gave First Nations the best possible future was to treat the noin-indigenous stakeholders as human beings.  And that meant that I quickly abandoned my professional guise of talking to them as experts in their field and instead I adopted a stance of friendship.  Instead of asking them questions I was interested in answering, I asked questions about what they were interested in: logging, ranching, fishing, making a living, what they did in their spare time, what was important to their families.

In due course I found myself hanging out with these folks.  Having dinner, going on long drives through the British Columbia wilderness to visit clear cuts and mining sites.  Joining them on board their fish boats and in their pastures, hanging out in local hockey arenas watching junior teams from Quesnel and Prince George and Powell River ply their trades.  I ended up playing music with people, drinking a lot of beer and whisky and meeting up with folks when they were in Vancouver.  It became social.  We developed friendships.

And in the end I believe it helped to transform the atmosphere in BC from an angry and bitterly divisive climate to one where folks were at least tacitly okay with treaty making, if not outright supportive.  My seven colleagues and I and our counterparts in the provincial government worked hard at developing these relationships.

Friendship is not something that we set out to create.  It is an emergent property of good relationships and good collaboration.  When you do a few things together that end up being – well – fun, then you begin to experience friendship.  And in the end when times turn a bit hard, that friendship will see you through, helping to sustain the work you have done.

It is not perfect by any means, but those three years spent in the late 1990s befriending folks all over BC proved to me that no one is above friendship, and that the results of dedeicated and personal relationship building are essential to a humane society.

What passes for “engagement” these days is so professionalized and sterile that I think it threatens the very fabric of the kind of society that we live in.  Society by definition is an enterprise that connects everyone together.  “Public engagement” that does not also include the capacity for personal connection is a psychotic and sociopathic response to the need to care and be cared for.  And when we get into hard places – think Ferguson, Burnaby Mountain and even Ukraine – it is friendships, tenuous and strained, but nevertheless intact, that offer us the way out.

My dad advises on getting things done with local governments

My son has been working on a project for his grade nine year.  At his middle school, graduating students are required to complete a year-long project called a MasterWorks.  Finn has chosen the reconstruction of a downhill bike skills park.  Earlier this year, our local government flattened the one we had without consultation, and Finn has been part of the team leading the charge to rebuild it in a different location.

My dad has been active in his community working on developing a dog park and also helping the village with it’s official community plan.  As a result, he has become an official mentor for Finn on his project and yesterday he sent along some great advice about how to get things done with local government.

Here’s his advise:

Finn:

Your mom told me about your Masterworks project. I would love to share some of my experiences working on projects with the Town of the Blue Mountains. Here are some thoughts to start with if you want to get help from your local government.;

1. Clearly Identify Your Project (New Bike Park)

Describe why this is important to you and your community and other bikers. You are competing with many other municipal projects such as roads, water systems and other things which might have been discussed during your recent election.

Identify any benefits to the community such as a safe place for kids to develop their biking skills and to hang out. A healthy place to play outside without electronics. A showplace for the Municipality.

2. Build a Support Group

Set up a spreadsheet or Word table and add a line for each of your biking friends, their parents and anyone else who will support you. Each line records their name, mailing address, phone number and most importantly, email address. The more names you can get the better. Municipalities will pay attention to groups of people who need something. They often ignore individuals.

Use the email addresses to send out newsletters to the Group whenever something is happening. Ask the Group for additional names of people who might help or offer support.

Provide a copy of the list to the Municipality to show them that you are not alone.

3. Build Bridges

Never bad mouth members of your Council or municipal staff. They were elected by your neighbours or were hired based on their credentials. Getting them mad at you will not help your project.

Find ways to meet individual members of Council or staff to ask for advice on what you need to do to complete your Project. I think you have already done some of this. Do not stop with one meeting. Once you have made some contacts, stay in touch either in person or by phone or email. This shows them that you are serious about your project.

Send a note to each person recently elected, thanking them for being willing to help govern your community. Ask for their support for your project. You can also contact those who lost the election, thanking them for running and asking them for any ideas on moving your project forward.

4. Set Up a Project Plan

I think you have already started this.

1. Create a design for the bike park. Define the dimensions (how much land will be required). What materials will be needed (fencing, ramps, jumps etc).

2. Who will build the Park. Your Support Group? The Town? Local contractor donation of time and equipment?

3. How much will it cost. Where will the money come from? Can your Group do some fund raising? This is always helpful. Municipalities prefer not to fund special interest groups by sharing the costs with all the property owners (tax payers) who may not want to use your Park. I believe the Town is interested in providing another site from land available as public parks.

4. Who will manage the Park. What rules will be required to satisfy the Town so they can avoid liability if someone gets hurt. Usually the Town will cover themselves with a sign at the Park. What rules do other Municipalities use?

5. Who will maintain the Park. Your Support Group? The Parks department? The more you can find ways to limit the cost of the Park for the Municipality, the more they will be interested. There is never enough money to provide all the things that everybody wants.

6. Identify the Project Schedule. When do you want the Park to open? What does the Town need to do to make this happen? By-law changes? Approval of a budget. Availability of Town staff to prepare a site, install fencing etc.

Fantastic eh?

Helping to improve the public conversation

another bown from strachan

For the past few weeks I have been trying an interesting experiment in civic dialogue.

Here on Bowen Island we are in the midst of local elections.  We are a small community of 3500 living on a liece of land about the same size as Vancouver, with fairly limited resources in terms of being able to fund local services.  It is a beautiful and inspiring place to live, a place that almost wills one to dream about it.  It inspires people to move here, to build, to steward, to preserve, to write.  Folks run for election because deep down they love this place and they want to do something about that.

We are close to each other on Bowen.  We are a pretty homogenous place.  We live close to the land and the sea, and close to each other’s dreams and frustrations.  The major difference between us is our opinions of the way the world should be.  And, ike most small communities, I think we suffer from what Freud once called the narcissism of small differences. We project a lot on to each other and it surprises me that some of the vitriol that is produced at keyboards and published online and in print does not translate into real life all that often.  I have seen neighbours who seem to be at war with each other online greet each other cordially in the street.  Relationship seems, in most cases, to trump things.

This anger and frustration is not surprising.  Even in a country like Canada there is an increasing dissociation between citizenship and government.  There are massive global entities that operate beyond the influence of many of us, massive blobal issues that affect our daily lives that we have no say over and our democratic governments don’t give us many effective ways to be heard, although we can still cast a vote for them.  We seem to be subjected to arbitrary decisions all the time, whether it is what is poured into our land and air and sea or what time the ferry runs.  It doesn’t seem to matter what we think.

In that sense, local politics feels like the last place we can actually make a difference.  And when it feels like the only way to make a difference is to shout, that’s what we do.  We shout at each other.  We lose ourselves in the thought that our enemies have to be defeated, that ideas have to be extinguished, that worldviews and ways of seeing and being held by other people are invalid.  And maybe by extension that others are invalid.  It’s just a little to easy, when you live on an island, to suggest that other people love it or leave it.

And I have been as guilty as others in the past, so I’m nothing special.  And I facilitate dialogue for a living.  Being human is hard.

So I wondered if this election cycle would be different, because in the past 10 years or so we have had some unbelievably bad civic conversation about major real estate developments, amenities, by-laws and community plans, ferry marshalling, village planning, a proposal to establish a National Park, and suspicions of conspiracies, conflicts of interest and nefarious motives of our neighbours.  I wondered if this cycle was to be different.  And I wondered if we could do anything to make it different.

For me, when voting for people, I’m not interested in their position.  Anyone can write down a list of things that are good and true and ask if others agree with them.  What I want to see is how you think about stuff that is not so easy to reduce into a yes/no polarity.  I want to see how you confront complexity and how you work with others to figure stuff out.  I saw glimpses early on between a few rookie candidates running for office who started engaging in an online discussion about transportation options for our island.  I saw people doing two things well: admitting that they didn’t know something and sharing information with each other.  It was fascinating.  It gave me a glimpse into how these people might act if they were elected to serve with one another.

I wanted to see more, and regretted that I hadn’t set up a forum for this very function, until one of the candidates on his own set up a facebook page and invited me to moderate it.  And so I stepped in.  Here are the guidelines I posted (if you are on facebook you can see the forum):

1. If you want the candidates to consider a question, either have one of them post it here, or send it by facebook message to me.

2. If your question is a yes/no question, and you send it to me I’m going to ask you to rephrase it because the world is more complicated than that, and dialogue is encouraged by asking questions we don’t know answers to. If you want to see the candidates’ POSITIONS on things, go to their pages. If you want to see them DISCUSSING things together, hang around here. Candidates: please feel free to engage with each other. It’s more interesting to see you discussing things than it is just to read a statement.

3. I’m not sure if we have the setting right, but the intention here is to only have candidates post and respond in the comments. I’m not going to go around deleting comments, but if you are not a candidate and you want your say head over to the Bowen Online Forum. Feel free to “like” things. This space is primarily intended for us to watch candidates working together to figure stuff out.

4. Candidates are allowed to and enouraged to say things like “I don’t know” and “what do you think?” and other admissions of vulnerability, humility and discernment.

5. As things become busier, I’ll prioritize questions from those that haven’t asked any yet. It’s always better to send one great question to get the candidates talking than it is to send a bunch in all at once.

6. Nobody’s perfect. Let these guidelines be good enough to get things going. Message me if this doesn’t work for you.

7. And yes, not everyone is on facebook and there is no way to share this page if you’re not signed on. Perhaps next time we’ll choose a better forum for this conversation. in the meantime, you can certainly cut and paste what you are reading here and email it to others.

Smile. Democracy is more than just voting.

I have to say that it has been a great experience and it has stood in contrast to the Bowen island Forum which is where the rest of the citizenry works out its opinions of one another with a lot of vigour, spontaneity and sometimes quite hurtful attacks.  It gives me a clue to what is possible when we change the way we frame conversation in the public sphere.  Here’s what I learned:

1. The hardest policy questions do not have yes and no answers and we are not served by reducing them to a binary resolution.

2. We need a public conversation that allows us to be wrong or unsure and allows us to share information with each other to make skillful decisions.

3. Everyone needs help to ask good questions and to get away from “gotcha” politics.  (It is interesting how a few people have told me that the facebook page is for “softball” questions because the conversation there has been civil, nuanced and searching.  I have responded that this is because we were trying to deal with real issues rather than gather future ammunition for “i told you so” campaigns.  There is no shortage of material for those searching for conspiracies and nefarious motives, if that is how you choose to view people.)

4. Radically different opinions can actually add nuance and value to a decision if we are able to see the differences and not dismiss people out of hand.  In fact we need this difference.  But learning to live WITH this difference is what qualifies you to a position of stewardship in a community.  Demanding the elimination of difference either by saying that “we should all get along” or “you are fundamentally wrong” erodes community.

5. Facilitating this middle ground requires a commitment to a process, to principle and to boundaries and it requires working with people kindly and respectfully to help them ask the questions they want answers to in a way that opens them for the possibility that they might not get the simple answer they are looking for.  People have responded positively to my private chats with them as we have added more nuance to questions.  We all need help to participate well in the public sphere.

6. Local governance is hard. We do well as citizens to remember this.  Those who will get elected on Saturday are about to take on a job that is many pay grades above what they are going to earn doing it and they will all be confronting novel situations, problems and ideas and will be required to navigate in a good way through difficult waters.  No one knows how to do this perfectly, and I think we owe a little grace and latitude to those who will be entrusted with our future.  And I say that even as I have had significant differences in the past with some of the people likely to be elected.

I have a lot of respect for the candidates that were able to show up in the forum over the last couple of weeks and I have enjoyed the process of putting my money where my mouth is.  It feels to me like I can trust the folks who WILL get elected to carry this tenor of collaboration across and with differences into their four year terms on Council and I hope we have chances to continue to have these kinds of civic conversations face to face.  I am willing to continue exploring forums for better civic dialogue and participating as I can to host and encourage this kind of exploration and collaboration to continue.

Good luck to all on Saturday.

What you learn looking down on it all

Chris Hadfield, Canada’s greatest guitar slinging astronaut, has this to say:

“… I was up (on the space station) for five months and it really gave time to think and time to look at the world, actually to steal 90 minutes at one point and just float  by the window and watch the world, go round the world once with nothing to do but ponder it.

 

And I think probably the biggest personal change was a loss of the sense of the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

 

It’s really we sort of teach it to our children, you know. Don’t talk to strangers, this is us. This is our whatever – our family, our house, our neighours, our relatives, your school.

 

It slowly grows where the line between us and them is. Um but to – I’ve been around the world thousands of times, 2, 593 times – and that line we impose on ourselves of where us ends and them starts, just keeps diminishing and it wasn’t conscious. I noticed maybe a third of the way into my half year stint up there that I just started referring to everybody as ‘us’. Unconsciously there was some sort of transition in my mind that ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.’

 

And I think you come across any city in Australia and you see the pattern of the downtown and the suburbs and the surrounding farms and the water and the rail and the communications, just the standard human pattern. And then if you just wait until you cross the Pacific – takes about 25 minutes and then you come across the Americas and there’s that exact same pattern again. And then you wait another 20 minutes and you come across northern Africa – and there’s that exact same pattern again.

 

And we solve the same problems the same way, all over the world. It’s just ‘us’ and everybody just wants some grace and better chances for their children and a chance to laugh, understand it all. And that inclusionary feeling was all pervasive and unavoidable, having seen the world the way I’ve seen it and it was part of my motivations in doing my best to share it when I came back.”

Thanks to Alan Stewart for transcribing this.

A Better Way to Say Sorry

It’s simple:

 

I’m sorry for…

This is wrong because…

In the future, I will…

Will you forgive me?

But it’s so important.  When you are engaged in work with teams of people and you are doing things none of you have done before, there are going to be mistakes made and people are going to be offended.  Learning how to apologize is important for a couple of reasons.

A sincere apology builds trust and strengthens a group. There is nothing better than a group of people in which people take on responsibility for their actions.  True leadership arises when folks step up, show their self-awareness and understand how their actions have impacted the group.  You build tons of social capital within a group by acting this way and it makes you resilient and more grace filled and more forgiving.

Secondly, a sincere personal apology is an incredible liberation for both you and the person you have offended.  If you have even an iota of moral clarity, something in you will be triggered when you have offended another person.  You KNOW you were wrong.  Stepping up is a cleansing feeling.  And to have an apology like that accepted and to be forgiven is beautiful.

This is fierce practice.  It requires us to be vulnerable and honest and to be carefully self-aware.  And done sincerely it builds capacity, grace and humility.

Communities of Practice

My friend Peter Rawsthorne begins a series of blog posts today reflecting on what is required to keep a community of practice together online and across organizational boundaries.

What do you need to consider when building a Community of Practice CoP that spans organizational boundaries where client confidentiality needs to be honored. There are a plethora of things to be considered when building an online virtual community of practice, these include; the team and the contexts’ relationship with openness, the memberships ability to be self-determined, how online communication will be broadened and followed, and how the internet is the platform.

via Critical Technology: Virtual Community of Practice Conundrum.

An intro to the Art of Hosting and some mapping

 

Back in November Janaia Donaldson from Peak Moment TV interviewed Dave Pollard and I about the Art of Hosting, especially as it applies to transition towns, resilience and community leadership.  That video was released today along with a lovely 10 minute edit in which Dave maps out some of the essential Art of Hosting elements using the GroupWorks Pattern Language card deck.  Enjoy.

Cultivating Communities of Practice

Etienne Wenger provides a useful set of principles for cultivating communities of practice as living, breathing things:

  1. Design for evolution.
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives.
  3. Invite different levels of participation.
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces.
  5. Focus on value.
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement.
  7. Create a rhythm for the community.

Read more at the link below.

via Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge – Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice – HBS Working Knowledge.

Creating a mindset to work with failure

Innovation does not come without discarding ideas, trying and failing.  In complex systems with complex challenges, failure is inevitable and desired.  If we need to prototype to sense our way forward we have to have a mindset that can handle failure.

On Saturday at the Art of Participatory Leadership in Petaluma my new friend Shawn Berry convened a session on failure and through listening to stories ranging from small prototoyping failures to business breakdowns and even deaths, I noted a few patterns that are helpful for groups and people to address failure positively nd resourcefully

Frame it up. In North America and Europe we have a cultural aversion to failure.  Failure is equated with inadequacy.  Our self-esteem is tied to our success.  Our compensation and status is affected by failure.  Fear of failure is prevalent in the culture.  In order to combat this tendency, it is helpful to work with a group to get them acquainted to failing.  For more playful groups improv exercises can be an excellent way to drop inhibitions to try something and fail.  More rational groups might benefit from a little appreciative inquiry where participants recall positive failing experiences.  Reflecting and sharing on times of failure and survival reminds us that it is part of the process.

Support the experience. While groups are experimenting and learning, succeeding and failing it helps to have support and coaching present in the process.  Depending on the kind of work being done you can offer support to keep a group resilient and unattached. I have used several different kinds of processes here including the following:

  • Simply pausing for reflection periodically in the process to notice what is going on.  Slowing the process down helps to gain valuable perspective on what is happening and helps a group move on quickly from failure.
  • allowing failure to occur and then taking the subsequent stressful thoughts to an inquiry process using The Work of Byron Katie.  We do this often when working with groups in the non-profit sector for example, where the pressure to succeed is accompanied by feelings of fear of the results of failing.
  • In indigenous and other colonized cultural settings I have often had Elders and healers present who can care for the more invisible dynamics in the field, especially when our work is going to carry us into some of the sources of trauma.  When you are working in a place where people are operating out of deep historical trauma, the fear of failure can be laden with many many deep seated implications.  Having people in the process who understand these dynamics is essential.
  • Peer-coaching is a common way to build resilience in groups where trying and failing is important.  When a team is trying to learn something new it helps to also build the capacity for them to be able to rely on each other.  This is why so many teams value “cross-training.”  When athletes train, they often work out in ways that are not related to their sport _ a skier training by rowing for example.  Doing this helps them to learn to use their body differently and builds strength that supports their core work.  Similarly, work teams can learn a lot about themselves by creating situations of safe failure such as through improvisational exercises, outdoor experiences, games and other non-work focuses.  The skills learned there can help support the team when they knuckle down to focus on key tasks and can support constructive failure within the work domain.  Ultimately these skills will build capacity if they increase the ability of the group to support itself through stressful times.
  • Developing a practice of greeting failure with joy.  My friend Khelsilem Rivers taught me this one.  He is – among other things – an indigenous language teacher and using the tool kit “Where Are Your Keys” Khelsilem helps people become fluent in their indigenous languages.  One of the barriers to rapid fluency is a fear of “not doing it right.”  Khelsilem completely transforms the experience of failure by introducing the technique called “How Fascinating!” When a person (including the facilitator) makes a mistake, the whole group celebrates by throwing their hands in the air, leaning back and declaring “How Fascinating!”  While it might seem contrived at first, the technique opens up the body, and greets the failure with a collective celebration.  Blame and judgement is avoided, collective support is activated and learning is grounded.

Practices like these are essential to build into the architecture of processes where failure is inevitable if innovation is to occur.

Process the grief. When catastrophic failure occurs it can leave people grieving, frightened and cynical.  If there is no way to process the grief then individuals often build their next prototype out of fear.  If you feel you have been burned before, you might develop your next idea by building in protection against failing again.  While that can seem prudent and safe, in reality, building structures out of fear is a much riskier proposition than building structures out of possibility.  Without processing grief, a group or a person can be susceptible to being “defended.”  I learned much about this state from Dr. Gordon Neufeld who is a child psychologist who has described this phenomenon in children.  Taking a group or a person through the grief cycle using empathy, story telling and compassion can help free the emotions that are triggered in future learning experiences.

Building a mindset to embrace failure and support the transformation of the energy of failure is critical to groups developing the capacity to lead in complexity.

I’ve also written about failure here:

Capacity, engagement and authentic learning

I think there is probably nothing new under the sun.  Engagement work has been tried, refined and improved all over the world in the last couple of decades that I wonder if there is anything new we can learn?  It does seem to fall into “authentic engagement” and “engagement washing” – if I can coin a couple of phrases.  But I haven’t seen radically new thinking or practice for a while.

What we are getting instead is some terrific collections of tools, handbooks and harvests of processes.  This .pdf of a Handbook for Civic Engagement prepared for a community process in the United States is an excellent example of the kind of harvesting that is useful.  It sums up lessons learned from engagement process, proceeds from practice to inform theory and provides some useful invitations for practice and application.  This is an artifact which has emerged out of the space of engagement “praxis” – the gap between theory and practice.  I’m interested in tis inquiry at the moment, and stumbling across things like this in my quest to understand what is useful in harvesting from initiatives that sustain the capacity and learning begun in real engagement.

“Engagement washing” initiatives don’t usually leave these kinds of documents in the places where the engagement took place.  It should be a hall mark of good practice that process learnings are shared and tools are developed as well as results documented.