Categories
Uncategorized

Getting to Maybe

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Brenda and Michael Patton

Some of my favourite excerpts…

But how can we move the dial on our most complex and seemingly intractable social problems? How can we be more than just anxious critics of the status quo or wishful thinkers about a better future, and become actual and effective agents for large-scale transformations?

==========

This is a story in progress, a transformation underway. But that is one of the important things about social innovation; it is not a fixed address. By the time we arrive the destination has changed. So it takes perseverance as well as patience.

==========

Social innovation requires that while we may not be able to predict outcomes, certain kinds of interactions are more likely to result in transformation than others.

==========

We, on the other hand, by studying successful social innovations and drawing on our own experiences, believe that social activists can use the insights that come from complexity theory to increase the likelihood of success. Not guarantee success. There are no guarantees, no certainties. This book does not promise success if you follow seven proven steps.

==========

Relationships are key to understanding and engaging with the complex dynamics of social innovation. For social innovation to succeed, everyone involved plays a role. As systems shift, everyone—funders, policy makers, social innovators, volunteers, evaluators—is affected. It is what happens between people, organizations, communities and parts of systems that matters—“in the between” of relationships.

==========

We’ve been taught that thinking is separate from doing. But in this book we offer thinking as a form of doing, and emphasize doing as an opportunity for thinking, reflecting and learning. Complexity science suggests that how we think about things matters. A fundamental sociological premise is the Thomas theorem: what is perceived as real is real in its consequences. We would add: how we think about and understand the world frames our actions. Indeed, we can be even more basic: whether we think about things matters.

==========

Yes, a dandelion because they are the flower of wishes. You blow that ball of seeds and the wind carries them to the one assigned to grant or reject. And it’s a good thing that it’s the dandelions who have this power because they are tough and sometimes you have to be tough to even remember that you have any desires left at all, to believe that even one could be satisfied, would not turn to an example of “be careful what you wish for, it might come true.” Maybe that’s exactly why there are so many of them— the universe gives us extra chances to keep dreaming. Each one an uprising, a burst of color in the cracks of our hearts, sunrise at an unexpected time, in an unexpected place. Ellie Schoenfeld, “Lucien’s Birthday Poem”

==========

“We changed…I changed…” Brown’s words reflect a pattern that seems to characterize social innovation, revealing the paradox that wanting to change others means accepting a profound change in oneself. There is a sense of co-evolution, of being “of the system” and never truly outside it. Self-reflection and self-revelation are necessary.

==========

Social innovation takes conviction and courage, and it also takes devotion, of the more sustained kind we often think of as perseverance.

==========

Remove barriers to innovation. Social innovators don’t look to government to make things happen. Social innovators make things happen. Social innovators worry about overcoming regulatory and policy barriers that support the status quo, impose controls and sap energy. We’d want to work with the public sector to identify, map and examine system barriers, including barriers erected by government. In many cases a solution adopted by government to solve some earlier problem becomes, over time, itself a problem.

==========

As soon as we mention some major new initiative, someone immediately says, ‘How would you evaluate it?’ And then we’re stymied. It’s pretty discouraging.” We’ve heard this often over the years. Evaluation, almost always scary, has become a major barrier to social innovation. Premature and skeptical demands for accountability can shut down social innovations just as they’re starting to take off. At the same time, it’s not viable for social innovators to just say, “Wait, wait, wait. Trust us. We’ll get to evaluation later.” A key to encouraging innovation is to explore and adopt less narrow and restrictive approaches to evaluation.

==========

But the adaptive cycle tells us that unless we release the resources of time, energy, money and skill locked up in our routines and our institutions on a regular basis, it is hard to create anything new or to look at things from a different perspective.

==========

As exciting as the reorganization phase is, with its climate of exploration and promise of renewal, if the system is to be resilient, some death is required at this stage too. Multiple species growing one inch apart cannot all grow to maturity. In an ecosystem, some species must wither while others “win,” securing enough of the available resources to grow to maturity. In creative organizations, multiple teams often compete to create the best prototypes, but only a few of the programs and services that are imagined can be launched. So some of the richness, some of the variety, must be let go, allowed to die in order to move to the next phase of the adaptive cycle: exploitation.

==========

Moving from stage to stage can feel like a crisis, like we are losing ourselves. But the adaptive cycle reminds us that destruction and renewal, death and life are necessary for any healthy system.

==========

As a philanthropist supporting social innovation, you might logically turn to evaluation. Isn’t that what evaluation is all about—collecting data to allow people to assess how they are doing, what they have achieved? In the meetings that preceded the writing of this book, we reviewed examples of major social innovation and inevitably someone would wonder: does evaluation help or impede social innovation? Innovation flows from creative juices. Evaluation, because of its typically critical and judgmental stance, may well inhibit creativity. Indeed, creativity and critical analysis are often juxtaposed as opposite ways of thinking. Much of the energy for social innovation flows from faith, hope and a sense of calling. Is there any place for hard-headed evaluation? Or should it be exiled, as in brainstorming exercises?

==========

Many forms of evaluation are the enemy of social innovation if applied at the wrong time or in the wrong way. But serious social innovators want to make a difference, and need some way of determining whether what they are doing is actually working. The right kind of evaluation can be a powerful tool to help the social innovator stand still and take stock.

==========

We want to offer a way of asking the right evaluation questions at the right time and asking them in a way that energizes rather than stifles social innovation. Such a creative approach to evaluation does exist. It is called developmental evaluation.

==========

Most conventional evaluators insist that an effort cannot be judged without clear, measurable goals. They spout the wisdom of the Cheshire Cat: if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. A road map specifying where you’re going and how you’ll know when you get there is essential, evaluators insist, for effective action and accountability. They are especially critical of grand schemes that vaguely envision systems change and transformation. But social innovators in complex systems learn to eschew clear, specific and measurable goals because clarity, specificity and measurability are limiting and can lead to tunnel vision. In contrast, when astute social innovators tackle an issue or a problem, they realize that they don’t yet know enough to set specific goals or measurable targets; they also understand that different participants have different aims in the change process—and that those participants themselves should play a major role in goal setting.

==========

All of us are prey to some extent to these kinds of distortions. Try this experiment. Think of someone you know who irritates you unreasonably. We’ll call him Marvin. Most people you can deal with, but Marvin gets on your nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. Now on a piece of paper write down a list of adjectives that describe Marvin’s irritating qualities. Don’t try to moderate your description: be as critical as you sometimes feel. Now, in a second list, right beside the first, write the opposite quality. If the first item on your Marvin list is “stingy,” write “generous.” If the second item is “cowardly,” write “brave” and so on. When you have listed the opposite term for each quality, read that second list out loud. Do you feel a shock of recognition? Generally, that second list turns out to include those qualities one feels most proud of in oneself. This exercise should give us some insight

Into our disproportionate irritation with Marvin. If we have worked so hard to be generous, we have had to repress all inclination in ourselves to be stingy.

==========

What is the equivalent rule of “adding to the existing pile” for human organizations? It seems to relate to information. Ant colonies, neighbourhoods and business clusters are all very good at sharing relevant information. Ants need to know where to find food. Businesses need to know how to find trade trends, sources of labour, expertise, suppliers and current pricing information. Even in our information-rich age, physical proximity allows for a wider and deeper range of information to be shared. It is not just data businesses are looking for—data can be easily found through the Internet and other remote sources. Businesses seek to recognize the patterns in the masses of data bombarding them every day. Face-to-face interaction, accidentally bumping into each other, the sharing of gossip and the observation of emotions convey a rich array of information that helps people make sense of the patterns of business, and helps them to learn quickly and adapt to changing contexts. In other words, businesses are looking for dagu.

==========

Its organizers couldn’t control or predict the consequences; they trusted and worked with the emergent patterns that were created, and used these to launch their next round of learning and intervention.

==========

Emergence is not the innate desire of people. People want order very, very quickly, order in the economy, order in systems, order in whatever—order in the government. And so, the only way to [make people comfortable with] emergence is to have everyone agree that we don’t know what we’re doing, because if we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t be in the place that we are. And so, somehow, that enables people to go with the flow. And they don’t need an answer, don’t need a system, don’t need a pattern. They can experiment, they can open up, they can be creative and…and I think that’s being in the stream, it’s part of it.

==========

OP2000’s vision of raising two thousand people out of poverty by 2000 was a useful goal for attracting and motivating people. But such a clear goal can also become a liability if policy makers or funders fixate on it as a measure of success. For evaluation purposes multiple information targets are helpful. Who is coming to the Roundtable? Who is absent and why? What changes has each player (employers, government, charities and employees) made to reduce poverty? What lessons are the players learning? How are they sharing them? Again, such an approach, like the other developmental evaluation techniques we have mentioned, supports both emergence and innovation.

==========

One of the most difficult aspects of social innovation is that it is never enough, that there is always so much more to do. The result can be a sense of deep isolation and even despair.

==========

A lot of attention is given to getting social innovation started. That’s what I call the challenge of turning on the light switch. But that switch doesn’t just get turned on and then stays on. The switch goes on and off, right? That’s our challenge—not just getting the switch to turn on, but getting it to come back on when it goes off. Inspiration and purpose are not necessarily strong enough to keep it on all the time.

==========

Think about Ulysses Seal and the scientists in the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group, who continue to work tirelessly while knowing with certainty that they will fail, ultimately, to save all the species they love. One CBSG member explained it like this: “I do not believe for a moment that we are going to win. I do not openly say this…but it is not going to happen. I continue to work because, even if the desired result is not forthcoming, I have still done my duty…I have done whatever I could to bring it about, regardless of anything. This is important to me spiritually.”6

==========

One of the criticisms we get is that we don’t have a linear, goal-directed approach. We don’t assume where we are going. We ask: Who’s here? What are people experiencing? What are they believing and hoping? What is their understanding of community? And what is our understanding of all the things we’ve done? We keep trying things, building understanding and building community around ourselves. We are about uncovering, discovering, and creating. The process is natural. It grows organically. But it’s more complex than that too, because at the same time there’s strategic thinking going on. We also have to ask: Where is the land out there? Where’s the money? What are the opportunities? Where are the potential partners? What are the potential pitfalls? How could all this fit together? What would happen if we did this?15

=========

Deanna Foster and Mary Keefe when they took over the leadership of St. Joe’s and renamed it Hope Community in 1997 as a symbol of their vision. Foster and Keefe understood reality as messy, not orderly; emergent, not controlled. They understood social innovation as an ongoing process of experimentation, learning and adaptation. They worked from a complexity perspective, seeing and engaging the connections between the micro and macro. They monitored the big picture,

==========

Studies of systems change show that things often get worse before they get better. The dismantling of the old system before the new system is ascendant can feel—and can be—the coldest of cold heavens. Not only are things not getting better, they’re getting worse. Shallow allies flee, criticism intensifies, vision flounders, reality crushes. The antidote to despair is to embrace reality testing as a cold slap of water that awakens the senses to a new day and renewed commitment.

==========

Don’t let fear of failure hold you back. Be prepared for ups and downs, and live the Stockdale paradox: eyes on the stars, feet on the ground.

==========

In his speeches he urges young people to engage because each person can make a difference. He has travelled to Africa to testify at the trials of the Rwandan genocidaire at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

==========

The less good news, at least for some, is that there is no formula for knowing which door is the right door; indeed, the notion of “maybe” is that there is no right door. It is just a door. There is no road map for social innovation; it is not a route that can be mapped step by step.

==========

Let me try to say this in a way that will convey my feeling as an explorer. I did not have the port [in mind] the way you insist that I had it along the way. What I had was a going-forward-toward. That going-forward-toward was a good deal more general than you imagine. It is the non-explorers who rather naively assume that once they have a clear sharp picture in mind of where they are going, they can trust that picture through to the end.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *