Calling Forth the Light

This blog is inspired by a Well-Being for All webinar co-hosted by CoCreative and the Academy for Systems Change.

What does the future of our collective well-being look like, and in what ways is it already here?  Too often, we focus on problem-solving for our current reality to the neglect of seeing where the world we want is already present. As we seek a better future, it can be life-enhancing to take a step back and elevate all that is already present. 

Recently, a group of changemakers from around the world gathered in a virtual setting to explore this emergence. I was honored to co-host this exploration with CoCreative and the Academy for Systems Change as part of their Well-Being for All webinar series. Please join the ongoing conversation!  

We begin with the 3 Horizons to tune our senses to perceive the ways in which the seeds of the future we seek are already in our midst.

The Three Horizons

In Horizon 1, which can be thought of as the present moment through the next year, we ask, Where/what are the seeds of the future we want that exist now? (W1.5) In Horizon 2, which can be seen as the next 3 – 5 years, we ask, What are the ideas that are going to disrupt existing patterns & create an opportunity for a different future. (W2)

Continue reading “Calling Forth the Light”

Collectively Remaking Our World: On Finding Joy and Belonging in Our Current Moment

This blog originally was published by the Collective Impact Forum.

In our increasingly complex world, we often look to guides to help us interpret and synthesize our experiences.  These guides can be mentors and friends, or cultural and spiritual leaders. Oftentimes, guides show up in the guise of a particularly sentient podcast host who rises to the generative possibility of our times.

Krista Tippett, the host of the On Being podcast and author of Becoming Wise, is one of my go-to guides. Each week she invites us to explore what she calls the “mystery and the art of living” through thoughtful interviews with artists, activists, theologians and practitioners like Isabel Wilkerson, author of “Caste”; US poet laureate Ada Limon; and Indigenous botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer.

So, imagine my delight to join over a thousand community builders, activists, artists, and funders as we convened online in late April during the annual Collective Impact Forum Action Summit to listen to a fireside chat with Tippett and Cindy Santos, Senior Associate for Strategic Partnerships at the Aspen Institute. They explored what it means to navigate our complex world in ways that deepen our humanity towards one another, as well as to nourish our own capacity and need for joy and belonging. Here are a few insights they shared.

Continue reading “Collectively Remaking Our World: On Finding Joy and Belonging in Our Current Moment”

Living the question

On deepening collaboration through powerful questions

Remington & toy tiger on a wooded trail

I’m just home from visiting my daughters at college in western Washington. Over walks and coffee, I got to dip into their world of wonderment as they grapple with their journey to adulthood. Who am I in this world? What is my unique contribution? How might I best answer the call of our troubling times? 

I was reminded of poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s beautiful passage in Letters to a Young Poet

“Have patience with all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves… Don’t try to find the answers now. They cannot be given anyway, because you would not be able to live them. For everything is to be lived. Live the questions now. Perhaps you then may gradually, without noticing, one day in the future, live the answers.”

As I understand this passage, Rilke is suggesting that essential questions are, indeed, unanswerable, as we are ever evolving. It is our active engagement with them that matters, as does our ability to allow the questions to guide our next steps, even when we’re unsure where the path will lead.

The role of questions and inquiry is central to my work with community collaborations. Starting with questions of purpose (Why are we gathering?); using questions to design our approach (What is it we most seek to understand? To impact?); and inviting in shared sense-making and reflection as we move forward (What are we noticing? Why does that matter?). Good questions help us build approaches that are intentional and relevant over time.

Continue reading “Living the question”

Building a Culture of Well-being

Note: This blog is inspired by a workshop designed for nonprofit leaders during the Montana Nonprofit Association 2022 annual conference.

Pasque flower at dawn

How might we compose a life that is richly fulfilling, nourishing, and serves the greater good? This is a question I ponder often, perhaps more so in this season of gratitude and reflection. 

As I understand it, cultivating well-being is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices that lead us towards a more balanced, generative life. As a process, it’s continuously evolving as we ourselves change, grow, and adapt. How can we cultivate greater balance and well-being in our personal, relational, organizational, and community lives?

Personal Realm | Composing a life

“Living is an improvisational art,” wrote cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson in her seminal book, Composing a Life. We are continually adjusting to changing conditions in order live with fulfillment. During the MNA workshop, we explored three aspects of composing a life: attention, embodiment, and self-love. 

Continue reading “Building a Culture of Well-being”

On the Art of (Re)Gathering

This blog originally appeared on the Collective Impact Forum.

Bee and orange flower

As any collective impact practitioner knows, our work involves meetings. A lot of meetings. We gather colleagues, allies, and networks to learn from one another, map our journey, dream, and celebrate. We know meetings matter, but how intentional are we, really, about why we meet, how we meet, and the role gatherings play in shifting the culture of our work?

These juicy questions were explored with verve and grace by Priya Parker, acclaimed author of The Art of Gathering, and Melody Barnes, the Aspen Forum for Community for Solutions’ Chair, during the 2022 Collective Impact Action Summit. In particular, Parker and Barnes delved into what it means to gather in our post-pandemic world. Their advice is good grist for our work moving forward.

I first discovered Parker’s work when a good friend gifted me a copy of The Art of Gathering a few years ago. I was immediately entranced by Parker’s ability to bring clarity and joy to our lives, whether it’s an annual conference or a social get-together with neighbors. Parker defines a gathering as any time three or more people come together, and wisely views that gatherings are the most accessible tool we have to shift culture. Here are some insights from their talk.

Start with WHY

The biggest mistake we make is to assume the purpose of a gathering is obvious and shared. When we assume purpose, we skip to form. We focus on where we should meet, who should attend, and what we’ll have for lunch. Instead, we should be asking ourselves: What is the need at this moment, and how can we design and facilitate a gathering to meet that need? A clear purpose informs who is invited, how the invitation is structured, what the expectations are and what needs to be discussed.

Hosting is power

Parker views a gathering as an act of love and an act of power.  A good host realizes their power and chooses how to distribute it during a gathering. In this context, power is decision-making. Who is invited? Who determines the agenda? How are decisions going to be made?

Continue reading “On the Art of (Re)Gathering”

The Butterfly Effect

image of a butterfly with the world on her wings

We now enter a season that holds within it an invitation for gratitude. Yet in our troubling times, it can seem too great a task to appreciate the gift of being stewards and witnesses, when much of what we love is disrupted.  In times like these, we often turn to wise writings, and so I’ll share a few that are helping me light the way forward. May they do the same for you.

Come from Gratitude

In her book Active Hope, Joanna Macy advises us to come from gratitude in our work. Gratitude, according to Macy, helps to build a “context of trust and psychological buoyancy” that is required to face difficult realities. It connects us to our deeply held commitments to self and to our world, and strengthens our capacity to “look at, rather than turn away from, disturbing information” and events.   

In my work alongside Native communities, I’ve appreciated when meetings open with a prayer to start our work off in a good way. We are reminded of the larger calling of our task and to appreciate the opportunity we are given to come together with purpose. I recently participated in an online conference that opened with a meditation. Participants were invited turn off their video, to place their feet firmly on the ground, and to imagine all the other participants’ feet placed on the same planet Earth. This simple visualization literally grounded us and helped to build our sense of community and shared purpose.

Continue reading “The Butterfly Effect”

Flow like a river

abstract background autumns water flows in the river

I am often asked to help clients sequence their collaborative work. We identify a need, we get the right people in the room… then what? That’s usually when folks call me. Figuring out the through line in our work is a balance of theory, practice, context and a little bit of, well: magic. What I call flow.*

In any ambitious community endeavor, such as supporting families in the early years of childrearing, reducing substance use and abuse, or expanding affordable housing, there are many variables that lie beyond our control. Complex problems can be hard to frame, there are diverse stakeholders, there is no single measure of success. And then there is context, which is ever evolving. This can include a change in community or organizational leadership, a shifting policy environment, a natural disaster or an economic downturn.

How do we navigate complexity and change to keep the work moving forward? 

I live in Montana, a land informed and enriched by its mighty rivers, and so I often find myself drawing on its lessons to help navigate the shifting waters of community change.

Ebb and Flow

Just this week, I shared with a client, “This work has a natural ebb and flow that we sometimes have the ability to direct, sometimes we end up – literally – going with the flow.” In working within the complexity of our work, what Donella Meadows called “dancing with the system,” we recognize there are times to act and times to pause. There are times when other events in a community become urgent, and our work must either pivot to address that urgency, or lay low for a bit. At other times, there is momentum that rapidly advances our efforts. 

Continue reading “Flow like a river”

Anatomy of an awesome meeting

image of a backbone

I was recently invited by Zero to Five Missoula to spend time with 20 community builders – people who believe that we can and will solve big problems when we have a good approach, methods and support; and who are invested in building community capacity for innovation and change. They are leaders working alongside community to improve early childhood, health care, affordable housing, substance abuse prevention and many other pertinent challenges of our time. It was an honor to be with them.

Over the course of two workshops, I shared strategies to deepen understanding of what it takes to align the efforts of multi-sector, multi-organizational collaboratives.  There are many ways to do this, and one of the key strategies is to design and facilitate awesome meetings. 

While most of us think of a meeting as the hour or so we gather, community builders know that the work we put into the meeting beforehand – thinking through its purpose and desired outcomes; preparing key stakeholders; and planning the agenda – is critical to not just the success of a meeting, but to our ability to advance our collaborative efforts. 

Continue reading “Anatomy of an awesome meeting”

Designing Great Virtual Gatherings

Interconnected circles

For many of us, this past year wrought havoc on the way we work. Seemingly overnight, I went from leading roomfuls though daylong convenings – replete with cool hands-on design labs, community building activities and awesome food options – to Zooming at my dining room table.  

The future of work seems likely to be, at best, a hybrid of WFH (a pandemic-popularized acronym for Work From Home) and in-person office spaces. In other words, our need to excel at virtual collaboration may well be here to stay.

As an early adopter of on-line communication tools, I was able to make the shift more easily than I anticipated. Here are some approaches I find helpful. 

Welcome in our whole selves 

On a recent call, my client’s husband ambled through the room and handed her a cup of coffee. Earlier that day, on a call with an early childhood collective, two moms held their babies as we talked. Working on-line has diluted the artificial separation between our work life and our home life, and I think that’s a good thing. 

We do this work because we want all communities to be safe and loving places for all to thrive. The traditional workplace, with its unspoken “Leave your true self at the door” conformity unnaturally separates us from this core purpose. This robs us of the greatest strengths we bring to our work: our personal stories, our vulnerability, imperfections and creativity. 

Welcoming in our whole selves can mean beginning a virtual meeting with an explicit acknowledgement that we are working in new ways, and that kids/pets/homelife, our messy rooms and unanticipated interruptions are welcome. It can mean taking the time to do check-ins that matter, such as “In the past week, have you worked more from your head, your heart or your hands?” 

Continue reading “Designing Great Virtual Gatherings”

On the Art of Gathering

My love of facilitating is closely matched by a love of making other gatherings in life meaningful. Hosting a great birthday party or dinner soirée can bring a deep level of satisfaction, just as hosting a daylong conference on civic engagement, a retreat on affordable housing or a design session on health equity in rural communities can rock my boat.

Imagine my delight when a dear friend gifted me a copy of The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. Parker, a professional facilitator trained in conflict resolution, explores how we gather in personal and professional venues, and illustrates just how much intention goes into connecting people to one another and to the larger purpose of our work and world.

Parker defines a facilitator as someone who is trained in the skill of shaping group dynamics and collective conversations, and goes on to share lessons learned on what works in the art of gathering. Here are two themes I found particularly resonant with my own facilitation practice.

Commit to a bold, sharp purpose

Too often our reasons for gathering are under-examined or muddled.
“We always have an annual conference,” we say to ourselves, and so we go about the tasks of finding a venue, lining up speakers and planning what’s in the give-away bags. We don’t examine the reasons why we’re gathering, and so we don’t design for that deeper purpose. Continue reading “On the Art of Gathering”