Full Frontal Engagement

Climbing togetherIf we want to see communities where people are fully engaged, participating in their own lives and their own futures, what would it look like if that was modeled everywhere – starting with our own organization?

This is a question that has been in the making at Creating the Future since the initial decision, before we even had a name for this organization, that we would make all our major strategic decisions by engaging others in those decisions.

From there, engaging about “major strategic decisions” became engaging about anything meaty our board or staff was considering. It became posting our minutes online and making sure those minutes were not just the legal minimum, but instead showed the flow of the discussion.

We began blogging every decision. How should we design X program? Does it make sense to do a fundraising campaign? What should our conflict of interest statement include? All the issues most organizations decide internally, often behind closed doors, we have blogged openly, scouring social media to then bring people into the discussion – and then rooting our decisions in what we learned from that engagement.

From “Engaged Decision-Making” to “Fully Engaged, Period.”
The more open engagement became “just how we do things,” the more we began applying that thinking to everything we did.Looking at a photo

Board Guests:
As our board continues to grow and add new members, we considered what “deeply engaged and participatory” meant for us as well. Our meetings tackle such meaty subjects, taking the time to discuss every aspect of this work, as we do our best to model thoughtful, effective, generative leadership. To work in that manner requires that the size of the board be big enough for diverse thinking, yet small enough to be able to all share our thinking.

Which led to our having guests at every meeting, who are invited to fully participate in the discussions as if they were on the board – a way of having a constant stream of deeply engaged participation from a broad variety of sectors and cultures and countries and viewpoints. (We’ll be blogging more about this, as it has been an immensely rewarding experience.) 

Kids playingFunding:
We vowed to seek funding in a way that builds deeply engaged partnerships – not the transactional “silent financial partnership” that is currently the norm in social investment of all kinds. We vowed that if our mission is in part to make funding more effective in creating strong, healthy communities, that we will infuse that mission into our own funding relationships.

We will ask our funding partners to walk alongside us, learning together and experimenting together and transforming together, to accomplish something together that neither of us can accomplish on our own. We envision a stone soup approach to partnership – a gathering of riches where we all are better for having joined together – rather than the typical power-laden relationship of “funder and grantee.” And whatever comes of that, we will share openly, as we learn together.

As engagement and participation began to be our board’s reflexive response, it wasn’t a far stretch to suggest that all our planning work should be done as live streamed events, where anyone could watch and learn and yes, even participate in a text chat along with us. That a funder who wanted to fund such an effort would be invited to participate as a full member of the planning team – to make changes in their own work, and not just help plan for Creating the Future’s work (fully participating meaning bringing your own soul to the table, for all that might make possible for everyone present).

And yes, we’ll be blogging more about this, too.Grandmother laughing with grandson

The Inside Story
This progression didn’t happen as a prescription – a mandate to be transparent for the sake of transparency or external accountability. It happened instead as the natural extension of our mission – to be a living laboratory, to openly explore, and most especially, to ensure that others could learn from what we were learning as well as what we were modeling.

Instead of a spirit of stewardship of resources, it came from a deep sense of stewardship of the future of our world.

And it didn’t happen overnight. It came from lengthy exploratory discussions. It came from giving ourselves time to explore, and to get accustomed to new ways of being, and to then put a toe into deeper exploration.

As we experienced what it made possible to engaged all meaty decisions, it felt natural to expect funders to bring their all, to fully participate in a real partnership.

Which led to it feeling perfectly natural that we would have fully participating guests at every meeting.

Which led to it feeling perfectly natural that we would do all our planning live in front of anyone who wanted to watch or participate – our community/global impact plan, our marketing / communications plan, and yes, our resource development plan.

Busting down the walls. Fully engaging the wisdom in the room – and acknowledging that for our particular mission, the “room” is the world.

Which leads to this question…

Friends hugging & smilingWhat if everything we do is fully engaged?
What would it make possible if we assumed that everything Creating the Future does is open and engaged and participatory, in the broadest meaning of that word? What would it make possible if we assumed open and engaged as the default, making private decisions and actions only when circumstances truly necessitated being closed?

We put our first toe into this question several months ago, as the board considered its Executive Session Policy.  Now, though, we are at the brink of something far more powerful than a narrow policy. We are at the precipice of a way of being that could change everything – for our own organization’s work and far beyond…

What would it make possible if our board meetings were streamed online, where anyone could watch and add comments / ask questions / join the discussion in text in real time? What would it make possible if that was then all posted to YouTube, where anyone could watch?

What would it make possible if our internal trainings – the kind of trainings that boards and orgs do all the time, from orientation to “how to talk about the mission” to graduate discussions – were all streamed live online and then posted to YouTube for anyone to see?

And what’s the worst that could happen if we busted down the walls, and engaged every activity live online, in person, in front of anyone who wanted to watch?

As with everything, your thoughts will help shape our actions. Which is just one of the many things being openly engaged and participatory makes possible.

Many thanks to all the people we love, whose photos dot this post.

9 thoughts on “Full Frontal Engagement”

  1. Hi Hildy, you know how I appreciate (and tweet) the way you frame questions around “what does this make possible.” Definitely a power question.

    As I read your post I wondered about current practices in many organizations so I flipped it a bit to ask …
    What does it make possible when we meet behind closed doors and seldom share what we are learning and doing with others outside the room?
    What does it make possible when we host our trainings only for those attending on location?

    By asking from this stance, would it help us see invisible patterns and practices that bind us?

    What if we were to preface our questions (and results, suggestions, ideas) with “What would it make possible if …”

    What would that shift in framing questions make possible? 🙂

  2. LaDonna:
    It is indeed a powerful question for helping us see beyond our feet, out towards what is possible (which is everything we really want!)

    I also like the worst-that-can-happen question, for ferreting out fears.

    So – now the fun part. What WILL it make possible if we bust down the walls and do all our group work by making the group BIGGER?

  3. The worst that can happen is that people who don’t understand the concepts behind CTF will borrow the words without the comprehension. They may facilitate or train badly. But they may still be better than they would otherwise have been! So it doesn’t seem like much of a risk.

    I’m looking forward to attending some board meetings!

    I hope the Xtreme Transparency approach grows the number of people who engage in FB, TwitterChats, etc. with us, so we learn from them and they get involved with CTF. And that way we make the CTF way the norm, and our communities amazing. How can we lose?

  4. I am reminded of the trite-but-true “Doing what you always did gets you what you always got.”

    Hiding behind bylaws, locked doors, policy, and the ever-present “we can’t make THAT public” encourages poor and/or incongruent behavior.

    Carving away the excuses and the BS is, to me, central to what CTF is about. Those 2 things consume mental/financial/political energy that is better spent on our mission.

  5. For me, transparency = engagement opportunity.

    In our organizations, we tend to expect that our supporters and “stakeholders” somehow know what we are doing, what we value, how we work, what we believe and (most importantly) what we have achieved. And then, we’re surprised and disappointed when they don’t.

    We blame the specialization silos and overwork and politics and a bunch of other things for our lack of shared experience. And then we keep doing more of the same.

    So I’m interested in openness in leadership/governance as an opportunity to start and maintain a dialogue with people who I reasonably expect are excited about the same things that I am, and that Creating the Future is. And if that’s not the case, that we’ll have the chance to learn from one another, and still keep building.

    I love the way Jane Garthson put it, that we can all become better off by learning from one another. That makes sense to me.

  6. Interesting that “transparency” pops into my mind as well when I think about what you propose…Gayle is right, I think, about this being an engagement opportunity. But it’s also a very powerful opportunity to model (very openly) what it actually looks like to be fully engaged. And we need that in order to enable more organizations to take what often seems like a risk (a leap!). Seeing it done, and done well, and being able to follow along the successes (and the bumps along the way) makes it less daunting for those still taking baby steps. Reminds me of a birthday card I once received…on the outside it said “I have a great idea! Let’s all get older…” and inside it said “you go first”. There’s tremendous value in what you are demonstrating CAN be done, and it empowers others to take those all-important next steps.

  7. In a rush but just wanted to share the observation that the watchword of ‘transparency” in the social change arena (and business world to a degree as well) continues to frame this conversation around that vague notion. But you’ll notice I didn’t call this post Full Frontal Transparency – I called it Engagement. And the only time I used the words in the post were to say, “Yeah, not so much…”

    Just because the newest hot trend says that’s what a thing is doesn’t make it relevant. Or effective. Or meaningful in any way. Often just the opposite.

    Quick thought as I head out to do a talk on (tee hee) engagement! 🙂

  8. Thanks for pointing this out, Hildy.

    I see Transparency as a tool for engagement but not an end in itself. So I think some of us are thinking, yeah, that level of transparency will really help make engagement possible. Your ideas such as allowing observers on the Internet to participate in board meetings go far beyond transparency, but transparency is a prerequisite.

    And transparency is part of what we have to help our clients embrace instead of fear if they want to move to real engagement, which of course most claim they do.

    Karen, I LOVE the birthday card quote!


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