As Creating the Future begins scaling up its programs, we have always known that demonstration projects would be part of that work.
If our mission is to transform the work done in the entire social change arena (nonprofit orgs, social enterprises, socially conscious businesses, etc.), to ensure those efforts are making a notable, visible difference in their communities, then one of the pre-conditions to that shift is that people need to see what is possible, both in results and in approaches.
• People need to see the level of community change that is possible.
• They need to see how quickly and dramatically it can happen.
• They need to see how joyful and graceful that change can be – that the assumption that people will fight change (and fight each other) is just that – an assumption, and not necessarily an accurate one.
• And they need to see that those results are not only practical and doable and accomplishable – but that the work is easier, that it’s more fun.
The easiest way for people to see what is possible is to create something for them to see – demonstration projects.
Over the past few months, Creating the Future has considered several demonstration projects. And each of those groups has asked us the same question: When you say “demonstration project,” what do you mean? What exactly are you looking for?
And so, at its board meeting last week, the Creating the Future Board addressed this set of questions:
• What will demonstration projects make possible, and for whom?
• To create those results, what will those demonstration projects need to have? What will they need to be?
What Will the Demonstration Projects Make Possible?
Our board brainstormed:
Demonstration projects will share experiences. “This is how it has worked for others.” That will provide early adopters with a visual of what it looks like – not just a how-to checklist, but they can see it and hear it and feel it – like the “first follower” in the TED talk on how to build a movement.
• See the steps, the ease of the process AND its power.
• The power of “Show, don’t tell.” Showing engagement, showing results, showing how.
• Documenting from one end to the other – getting inside the back room. Seeing the revelations, the mistakes.
• Seeing is believing!
For the demonstration groups themselves, they will see the power of it being bigger than just them.
• That they are just one piece in the puzzle.
• This would create new relationships and expectations of what organizations are all about – a new level of accountability and relationship with their community.
• Turning to the community and welcoming them. More than just getting insights and participation – “whole”.
The ultimate result will therefore be the mission Creating the Future has set to accomplish: That the normal expectation of all social change organizations will be to create visionary results in their communities.
What The Demonstration Project Needs to Have
To be effective in creating those results, a project will need to:
- aim at demonstrating significant community change / improvement as the primary goal
- show the power of the thought framework towards effecting that change – that it is practical, effective. With a primary focus of external impacts, the project must show the connection between internal organizational development and those external community results.
- demonstrate the whole process vs. just one tactical piece – a complete “proof of concept.” People tend to prefer tactics to process. They will usually acknowledge that process is necessary, but being in a hurry, they will prefer to skip most of the process in favor of “getting down to tactics.” The demonstration is therefore in part about the practice of focusing wholly on process until the process itself brings the group to tactics, vs. diving into tactics as quickly as possible. In that way, the process is part of the outcomes – that people be different with each other, work differently together.
- demonstrate how usable and accessible the frameworks are, how straightforward
- be willing to have the whole process be transparent. The demonstration group must be willing to be a full example to others, from start to finish, from the inside out. Groups are used to “failing in private / succeeding in public.” This is about being fully authentic, engaging with the world so everyone can learn together – the demonstration organization, those observing, and Creating the Future.
To be effective in creating those results, Creating the Future will need to:
- ensure information is accessible to observers in a variety of ways, depending on what chunks they are ready to absorb. They may read about something just once, or observe it over time, or participate in a bigger way. It needs to be accessible. Real not plastic.
- find projects across all domains (governance, planning, community engagement, revenue generation, investing / grantmaking, etc.).
- find projects in large and small communities, urban and rural, groups that work internationally and groups that work locally; new orgs and old orgs; etc.
- find projects across a range of missions – arts, environmental, human services, education, etc.
- hold the tension not just for the group that is the subject of the project, but for those observing. “This is normal. Here’s what you may be feeling. Here’s what how other groups have experienced this” and etc.
By the end of the discussion, the following became clear:
The reality of how anything in life is created is not linear. That reality is often observed as “messy” but in reality, it is the simply the patterns of divergence and convergence that are how we humans think. A healthy ecosystem isn’t “messy” – it is fertile, rich with diversity. And virtually nothing that happens in that ecosystem is linear.
Therefore, these demonstration projects will show how the complexity of reality can be used simply and with ease, to create practical results that can be benchmarked / measured along the way – which is precisely what Creating the Future’s methods and frameworks are accomplishing!
By demonstrating this publicly and openly, the result of these demonstration projects will be a significant leap forward in helping social change efforts create the future they want to see in the world.
So what do you think? Did we miss anything? What can demonstration projects accomplish for the organizations and changemakers and ultimately the communities we seek to impact? And in order to accomplish those goals, what do each of those demonstration projects need to be?