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October 17, 2023

Nothing about us without us!

In this week’s Systems Change Newsletter…

  • Invitations & Announcements
  • Catalytic Thinking Exercise: Nothing About Us Without Us
  • Resources to Further Your Practice
  • Story of the Week: Catalytic Thinking in Practice

Invitations & Announcements:

We’re turning your thoughts into action
Late last year, we asked you – our community – to guide the direction our work will take in the coming years. Since then, we’ve been working on a plan to turn your aspirations into action. At our November meeting, join us as we discuss those plans. You are the ones who will benefit from the work we do, and we want to be sure those efforts reflect what is important to you. Join the conversation here…

Bring your communication skills to the next level!
Just in time for the holidays and your year-end events, we’ll be hosting a Catalytic Listening webinar, to level up your communications skills to bring out the best in yourself and those around you.

  • If you’ve ever felt misunderstood when all you were trying to do was help - scratching your head and wondering, “What just happened here…?”…
  • If you want to help your colleagues and family members to find their own wisdom and possibilities…
  • If you want to get beyond your own biases, assumptions, preconceptions (and help others do the same)…

That’s just some of what this webinar is about. See what else you’ll learn here…

Catalytic Thinking Exercise:
“Nothing about us without us.”

In our continuing series on more effective alternatives to traditional strategic planning, the rallying cry of the disability rights movement has particular bearing: Nothing about us without us.

The mandate is simple:
When you are making decisions that will affect people, include them in the decision-making from the start.

Planning is decision-making writ large. And yet, how many of us actually include our community in our decision-making?

We gather board and key staff. Perhaps we do some community surveys or focus groups, often outsourced to a consultant. At its most inclusive, all staff is involved. At its least inclusive, not even the whole board is involved – a committee of the board creates the plan that a) everyone in the organization is then expected to follow, and b) will affect everyone in the community.

Five people, maybe ten, will make decisions and plans that will affect thousands, perhaps millions of people.

It is so uncommon for community members to be among the decision-makers in organizational planning that when we mention it to folks, the most common refrain is, “How would we even do that?” It is that unfathomable.

A food bank showed how it’s done when they asked all their partner agencies to gather all THEIR clients. Instead of facilitating planning conversations with just their board, they facilitated those conversations with the people who were most closely affected by their work – down to having those community members prioritize which goals to tackle first.

We saw the same thing last year at Creating the Future, as we were determining what’s next for our own mission. We asked you – our community members – what was important to you and what you thought our work could make possible. We then asked you to help synthesize the core themes that were important for us to act upon.

In both cases, the decisions were made by those most closely affected by those decisions, and the organizations’ job was to then turn the community's aspirations into action.

“We know what’s best for you” is the direct opposite of “Nothing about us without us.” In addition to the “we know best” approach being patronizing and disempowering, it is also the direct road to unintended consequences –the consequence of moving forward without involving the people who will be affected

So then, what would it take for your plan to be driven by your community?

Try this

The first set of questions in Catalytic Thinking is this:

  • Who will be affected by your plan? Whose lives are touched by the work you do?
  • What would it take for those individuals to have an active role in your planning? What would it take for them to lead the direction you take?

That is therefore the first step - to answer these questions for yourself. Who will be affected by whatever you are about to decide? Whose lives are touched by the work you do?

Your list will likely start with categories. Teachers. Farmers. Elected Officials.

But you can’t engage a category; you can only engage people. So start making lists of people you know, who fit those categories. (There is a great tool for that in the Resources section below).

The next step is to simply ask and listen. Ask the same questions you would ask your board in a traditional planning session. The great thing about Catalytic Thinking and its application for Community Impact Planning is that the questions are about things that anyone could answer. You don’t need to know the inner workings of an organization to answer…

  • Who will be affected by our work?
  • What could our work make possible? Possible for whom?
  • What would our community look like if our work were 100% successful?
  • What needs to be in place for that to be reality?

In the Resources section below you’ll find the questions Creating the Future asked during our own engagement efforts, as well as the answers people gave.  There was no need for intimate knowledge of our inner workings. Just knowledge of the impact our community members hoped we would create.

Unlike a multiple choice survey, you will want people to be able to respond fully, to share themselves – to truly engage in whatever way is most comfortable for them (vs. what is easiest for you.)

In a demonstration project Creating the Future did with the Nevada Department of Education, NDE’s team held listening sessions for all 200 staff. They gave folks the opportunity for written responses, group conversations, one-on-one conversations. The superintendent even did Coffees with the Chief, a direct conversation with the boss.

In our own engagement efforts, we asked folks to respond in writing, in small group conversations, in listservs, in our board meeting. And we listened through the lens of Catalytic Listening – listening for their aspirations, their strengths, their values.

These simple steps can help you put “Nothing about us without us” into action. You will be creating more radical inclusion in your work, taking steps to ensure that your plan can create the most impact possible in your community. And isn’t that what work in the social change arena is all about?

Resources to Further Your Practice:

  • DOWNLOAD: This tool will help you identify the people who can kick off your engagement efforts. Download it here…
  • LEARN: Catalytic Listening will help you explore what your community really wants. Start listening here…
  • READ: Creating the Future’s engagement efforts are all documented in this series of posts. Start here and work your way forward to see what we did! Start here…

Story of the Week: Catalytic Thinking in Practice!

This week’s story of the power of Catalytic Thinking comes from Kimber Lanning, CEO of Local First Arizona, an economic development organization focusing on the power of locally-owned businesses. Here is what Kimber told us in response to last week’s newsletter on Increasing the Awesome (vs. Decreasing the Suck).

We used to talk about our mission like this:

    • Corporate Dominance
    • Rural-Urban Divide
    • Wealth Gap
    • Climate Crisis
    • Food Insecurity

Now we talk about our mission like this:

    • Increase local ownership
    • Retain wealth & talent in rural & Tribal communities
    • Increase access to capital & financial power
    • Reduce small business environmental impacts
    • Build the local food economy & climate smart diets

Both these lists address the same issues. One set leads to power and possibility; the other leads to despair and reactivity. Thank you, Kimber, for this great example.

Got a Catalytic Thinking story to share with our readers? Let us know here!

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Creating the Future's Mission
Teach people how to change the systems they find themselves in,
to create a future different from our past -
all by changing the questions they ask.

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