Viewing Our Programs thru an Integrity Lens

Over the past year, Creating the Future’s board and community have worked to determine what it would mean in practice to ensure the organization is walking the talk of our values. What will that look like when we are applying our values to the real situations the organization faces?

At our June 2021 meeting, we began that journey. Present were Eli Angote, Jackie Bradley, Angie Eikenberry, Hildy Gottlieb, Vu Le, Dimitri Petropolis, Justin Pollock, Jason Ueki, and Karl Wilding. We are grateful to Jackie for preparing the following summary of the discussion.

Recap of our May meeting
We began the June meeting with a recap of our discussions to date, to bring everyone onto the same page.

  • The role of the board will be to ensure that we are walking the talk of our values and complying with the law.
  • How will we know if decisions are made with integrity? By having a conversation rooted in Catalytic Thinking.
  • Creating the Future’s way of being has been experimenting and sharing. Creating the Future is talking about formalizing that into programs where a cohort can gather around the experimentation topics (for example, accounting, communication, etc.). The first two topics are anticipated to be: 1) hiring and everything that goes with it, and 2) online communities. (It is a values-based priority to begin moving Creating the Future’s learning communities away from Facebook.)
  • This body is finding its way, if we stumble from time to time, that’s a “feature, not a bug.” Catalytic Thinking is a practice not a perfect.

How will the board approach their Integrity role re: the project Hildy described in the video?
Hildy had prepared a video describing a new project we will be embarking upon. Meeting participants had reviewed that video before the meeting, so that everyone was ready for the discussion.

  • When we begin discussing a new project, do we need to identify some sort of measure of how the project’s characteristics align with our values and our integrity?
  • How does the board deal with a situation they don’t think is right?
  • We are creating a space to ensure that conversations of intent, values, and conditions have been thought through. Rather than judging, the board’s role might be to just listen. Some questions to ask might be:
    • In what way do you see this initiative advancing the values and goals of Creating the Future?
    • What conditions do you think are necessary for this to be successful?
    • How can we put those conditions into place?
  • Rather than starting from a compliance mindset, how do we start from a strength mindset? The board’s role is not to ask: Is this right for us? Instead the board can ask:
    • How does this further our values?
  • Start with what’s strong, not with what’s wrong.
  • The board is a support entity. Its role is to support efforts that are happening close to it and far away from it. The board can apply the integrity litmus test by asking questions and thinking about the answers from a perspective of supporting rather than policing.
  • There are rubrics used in trauma-informed decision-making. Is there a rubric that Catalytic Thinking can use, where each new idea is run through the test? It can be open and experimental while still identifying key pieces that are important to include at each stage.
  • Is it as simple as going through the tenets of Catalytic Thinking or the Pollyanna Principles?
  • A rubric or dashboard would be a simple way to see that each prong has been addressed.
  • This could also be helpful for the current project. At the end of a cohort, it will be important for participants to have some sort of documentation that they can show to other people in their organization
  • There could be a process for individuals to capture Catalytic Thinking. Organizations need a means to dashboard Catalytic Thinking as a clear, easy way to communicate why the framework has value. “Reclaiming and recreating the logic model.”
  • While Angie and Hildy were designing Angie’s masters’ level fundraising class to be rooted in Catalytic Thinking, Angie created a chart that she could show to her class as an example of how Catalytic Thinking was used.
  • Any creation would be a reflection tool, not an assignment that must be completed.
  • Part of allowing groups to support each other is to have a common framework and a common language. Groups may be very diverse in terms of what they do, but if that structure of questions is there, they can support each other. This could allow the integrity function to transcend the board.

Catalytic Thinking: Who will be affected by this program? And how were they engaged?
The questions in the Catalytic Thinking framework begin by considering everyone who will be affected by any decision we make or action we take, and then finding a way to meaningfully include them in those decisions. Asking about this aspect of a project aims us towards accomplishing the best possible outcomes while simultaneously avoiding the unintended consequences that arise when we fail to include the folks who will be affected by our efforts. For the project Hildy described, were people engaged in this way?

  • Almost 100 people were engaged in one-on-one conversations. These people were anyone who is doing work in social change, including through non-profits, NGOs, social enterprises, corporations with a social justice arm, foundations, community activism, etc.
  • Information from each of these meetings was added into a single document that was shared with everyone, whose feedback was solicited again in an iterative process.
  • Approximately 6 months ago, this turned into team meetings to address specific questions about the program, such as “How will we resource this?”
  • How do we know that engagement is happening? Were the people who will be affected the ones who were engaged? Was a diverse group of individuals engaged?

Catalytic Thinking: What are the highest potential outcomes we are expecting for the individuals who may directly be a part of the cohorts?
As we considered all those people who would be affected, we then focused on the participants in the cohorts. What would “good” look like as their outcomes?

  • Excitement and relief were the first reactions created by the potential to experiment with Catalytic Thinking. It can be scary to experiment on your own stuff when you’re doing it in front of people who matter
  • This would create the opportunity to experiment and have evidence of what the process might look like in their organizations.
  • This would be an opportunity to show the difference Catalytic Thinking could make on the invisible systems we rely on (accounting, etc.).
  • This would create the ability to experiment without carrying the risk.
  • Lift Up the observation by Stephanie Rosso (during one of the engagement conversations) that  people will have a greater ability to be creative when they’re not experimenting on their own work. The brain science of our potential for creativity when the brain is not reacting from fear.
  • The Ultimate High Potential Outcome is that this is the answer to everything we have been complaining about in this sector for the last 40 years. This is the opportunity to intentionally design systems that are intended for creating social change. People can create change in their own organizations and then these changes become the new norms, resulting in systems intentionally designed for creating systems change.
  • Lift up Vu’s story from a previous meeting – kindergarten classroom was asked to draw a fish. Half of the students were given no further instruction and drew a wonderful variety of fish. The other half of the students were shown an example of what the fish might look like and drew the fish from the example.

Catalytic Thinking: What are the conditions for success for the participants?
For participants in the program to achieve those outcomes, what will they need to have in place? 

  • Participants will need the time, space, and safety to experiment and explore. They will also need options for how to do so.
  • Other conditions for success will be designed by the participants in every cohort.

Catalytic Thinking: What are the conditions for success for Creating the Future?
While we would normally spend the bulk of our time considering the conditions for success for our participants, the discussion quickly turned to our own conditions for success. What will WE need to have in place, to create those conditions for our participants? The responses included…

  • As we look at scaling our impact, we will need to look at scaling our funding in a way that aligns with our values
  • Apply the thinking that has guided our work since founding board member Gayle Valeriote shared with us what she learned from her mentor in community organizing: We will ask people to contribute “no more than they can afford, and no less than they believe it’s worth.”
  • How can we approach financial support through a lens of mutual support?
  • Creating the Future will need to figure out a hiring process, a compensation package, etc.
  • Creating the Future will need to begin identifying a succession plan. The work is currently reliant upon Hildy, Dimitri, and a small group of volunteers. This is ultimately not sustainable.
  • What would it take to create a system that allows for easy transcendence and for new growth? A condition for success is the clarity and simplicity of that answer. What makes it easy for a new program to plug into in a way that is clear, easy, and allows room for growth?
  • Switzerland’s president serves for only one year. This allows for a constant freshness of leadership.
  • What would resourcing look like if it were to align with our values?
  • How do we allow the participants in the board meetings to come up to speed quickly? Does this come back to the idea of a rubric or dashboard?
  • There’s this tension around the thought “We can’t think about this any more. We just need an answer.” However, if you can’t think of the answer, then you need to think about it more because you haven’t answered all of the preliminary questions yet. We need to increase our tolerance for inquiry.
  • How does the board let go of control and trust the power of the process?
  • Questions to ask about new programs during board meetings:
    • What’s your confidence level that this is doable?
    • How can I/we be an asset?
  • What would it take to create a framework for collaboration when not all values align? And how do we have integrity as part of a movement, when some people don’t want change?
  • There can be a rhythm to these conversations, which might look something like:
    • A form that asks the Catalytic Thinking questions that goes to folks ahead of time to review.
    • What’s your confidence that this is doable?
    • What else do you need / internal conditions for success?
    • What can we do as an integrity body to help?

Reflection: How do you feel about this process?

  • The proposed questions don’t feel like they draw out the agency of this body.
    • What are our assets that can help further the project?
    • What can be done to draw out those assets?
  • There is so much to unlearn. Our approach so far has been non-linear, which is good but also challenging. We spend a lot of time intellectualizing, when we need to get Catalytic Thinking to be relevant to the world’s problems right now (Palestine, police murders, etc.). When we talk about everything, it can feel like we’re not getting anywhere, but maybe that’s the point and we need to trust the process.

What is standing out to you from our time together today?
In closing the conversation, we asked for reflection. What was standing out to those participating in the discussion?

  • That was hard. This body is so dependent upon Hildy, we are going to have to unlearn even the fact that we take our cues from her.
  • It is messy living in a space of inquiry, yet that is what moves things forward.
  • I am feeling grateful and inspired. The core things are moving forward and it’s great to see it in action.
  • It is (or is not) difficult to think about the process because there is no right way. The process is constantly adjusting itself to the people in the room. I’m constantly considering: How much of my reaction is reflexive / habit?
  • I am struck by the comment that some people don’t want change because change is hard.
  • I am grateful that there are groups like this and people like us who are working on hard subjects.
  • Everyone is here because they believe in Catalytic Thinking, so how do we let it be that simple?
  • We know what we don’t want to be, but we don’t yet have systems to turn to, for what we DO want. We keep going back to the old ways because we don’t have an example of what to step into next. None of us can quite envision what that thing is, and that is what makes it feel like such a struggle.

At our next meeting, we will begin focusing on some of the internal conditions for success that we noted in this conversation – resourcing and succession planning. We will be skipping our July meeting, and will gather next in August. We hope you will join us then!

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