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Jim Coe: Theories of change vs dart throwing chimps

Jim Coe has kindly agreed to us re-posting his blog demolishing ‘Theories of Change.’ He has captured the essence of why so many organisational campaign planning efforts – as they are actually practiced – are unable to handle the complexity of the real world. The blog was originally posted at CoeAndKingham.org.uk

Jim Coe

Jim Coe will smash your theory of change

I wouldn’t ideally call it a ‘theory of change’, but I think it can be really helpful to develop – at an organisational level – a shared view of how change happens, the power dynamics at play, and the best ways to intervene.

The absence of this sort of analysis can be problematic for many reasons, to do with what flows into this gap in understanding.

However, it’s at the campaign level, not the organisational one, where ‘theories of change’ are all the rage these days.

And, as a planning process and tool, the approach has some obvious advantages:

It uncovers, and allows for interrogation of, assumptions about how change happens.

The process of developing theories of change can expose vague and unfounded assumptions and help ensure that strategy is anchored around the change you are trying to achieve.

The process of planning can give valuable space to reflect on the bigger picture.

This is true as long as it doesn’t just end up privileging particular groups or opinions and excluding others (which it can easily do, for reasons to do with how power plays out).

It can help create a common understanding.

Theories of change can get everyone on the same page, and help in communicating a common direction.

On the downside, though, I would say that campaign ‘theories of change’ are pretty much nonsense. In that they are based on – and then further encourage – a fundamental misinterpretation of how change happens:

1/ PREDICTION

Campaign ‘theories of change’ tend start from the expectation that social change is predictable and that the steps can be plausibly laid out.

In a few cases – to do with the stability of the issue or the context – some sort of formalised forward planning may make sense. And in theory, if not generally in practice, there is scope to continually adapt the ‘theory of change’ as the context evolves.

But even so, the ‘theories of change’ approach seems to be based on over-optimism at best.

In a classic 20 year study for example, political psychologist Philip Tetlock asked nearly 300 experts to make political and policy predictions in their specialist fields, and he then looked back on these predictions and reviewed their accuracy.

He found that the forecasts overall were barely better than a ‘chimp strategy’ [of randomly guessing], and in many cases they were worse.

Tetlock judged the reasons for this poor showing were to do with:

* How change actually happens (and its inherent unpredictability)

* The psychological properties of people making the predictions (we prefer simplicity, are averse to ambiguity, like to believe in a controllable world, etc.)

These factors combined make it unsurprising that predictions about what will happen and what actually does happen can be so far away from each other.

2/ THE SOURCE OF CHANGE

Theories of change – as they are typically applied – help promote a false and solipsistic sense of organisational self-importance.

They are attractive because they fit with our understanding of time, as something that goes forward. We intervene and this has effects that then lead to later outcomes.

This very much encourages a distorted, organisation-centred picture of the nature of change, with everyone else bit part players in it.

But social change is far more likely to be happening in all kinds of directions, driven by all sorts of actors and factors in all sorts of different combinations. Organisations find themselves aiming at moving targets rather than living in a world where everything else revolves around the organisation whose theory of change it is.

And so as an alternative I would suggest a more sensible approach to campaign planning, a ‘balance of forces’ approach, based on:

1. mapping where the power lies in the system
2. setting out the barriers to achieving the desired change (and the favourable factors)
3. identifying in what ways the campaign will intervene to change this balance

The campaign plan would then follow this logic, setting out

* What needs to change and

* Which changes the campaign is focused on helping to achieve, and how

Not in a grand, long-term blueprint sense, but in a ‘let’s do this and then see where we are’ kind of way.

Ongoing planning would then be about iterative course-correcting. Revisiting the analysis of the barriers to change along the way, tracking any progress, or shifts, and adapting strategy as needed.

This approach

* Embeds the importance of a robust analysis of power and the dynamics of change

* Focuses on outcomes and the kinds of interventions an organisation can best make to help achieve them

* Helps in shaping a common strategy

* Allows for a more fluid approach, a shift from ‘predict and control’ to ‘assess and react’

And its starting point is a much truer picture of how change actually happens.







Jim’s take on Theory of Change is closely related to the chapter of my book, Anarchists in the Boardroom: How social media and social movements can help your organisation to be more like people, on strategy and planning. You can order it here.

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To speak or not to speak?: Challenging white male panels

So a while back I was invited to speak at a CharityComms ‘brand management’ event called ‘Keeping your reputation spotless.’ I agreed to speak if they were ok with me debunking the entire notion of ‘brand management’ in a digital era, and the ethical implications of it more generally. Then, yesterday, I discovered that I was slotted to speak on a panel of four white men. What do I do, as a white man who doesn’t want to contribute to racism and sexism, and the unspoken implication that expertise has a race/gender? After much consulting of friends on the interwebs, I wrote this letter.

We can do better than this.

We can do better than this.

Dear CharityComms –

When I was first invited to speak on your brand management panel, I thought it could be fun; rarely do I have the chance to speak to an audience so invested in the status quo of organisational communications and public affairs, so thought it could be a good chance to constructively ruffle some feathers. I’ve been genuinely looking forward to it. As I said when I initially accepted, I think brand management works against its own stated aims, focusing on image and reputation, rather than integrity. It is a plaster to avoid dealing with deeper organisational problems, which is ethically messed up, but is also a losing game in an era of increasing transparency, when Trafigura, Ryan Giggs, and of course the dreaded Streisand Effect are part of the new reality.

But that’s not why I’m writing this letter. I’m writing it because I realised yesterday that I was lined-up to be one of four white men at the event’s opening panel. Admittedly, I didn’t raise this as a possible concern when I first accepted; it’s something I’m working on getting better at raising, and have included on my generic talks/workshops CV, but don’t always remember to do each time I’m approached to do a specific event. So I’m sorry for not raising it as a concern earlier.

But as I did raise in emails since, I feel the implications of an all white male panel (even if the chair is a white woman) are not good. The subtext becomes: ‘expertise in this field is directly associated with race, gender, etc…’ And I don’t feel comfortable – even if I feel I would be adding a useful criticism of the other panelists’ perspectives – being a part of that unspoken subtext. While I am glad there are women speaking throughout the rest of the event, an opening panel sets the tone, and is often the source of the photos that outlive the event, so is particularly important to have thought about these issues.

When I was told in reply that there was no space for another speaker, and that you were really keen to have me on the main panel (after I suggested doing a smaller workshop in the afternoon, instead), I decided – in consultation with many others – that I had to take a different route. While hearing from you that this balance would be taken more seriously at a future event is good, I have too often seen this kind of future promise of action on inequality not translate into real action, once the heat of the current situation is taken off. Old habits die hard. I also consulted Twitter and Facebook, garnering dozens of responses, the vast majority of which encouraged me to step back and make conscious space for other voices to be heard.

So I am politely withdrawing myself from the ‘Keeping your reputation spotless’ panel, with the hope that:

1) whoever you find to replace me on the panel can break through the current homogeneity, and

2) that this will become a real deep thinking point for future events held by CharityComms, even if it means a lot of initial work to forge more connections into communities who are not currently part of your existing speaker pools, and a deeper analysis of how current organising practices may be inadvertently closing doors to others.

I realise that addressing this stuff is always a work in progress, and that one female/person of colour speaker will not properly address the ways so many organisations end up at the point of creating all white/male panels, but by making this issue public, I hope it will keep it from becoming the back-burner concern I’ve too often see equalities issues relegated to. I hope that it leads to a deeper organisational soul searching as to the ways privilege and traditional power structures might be shaping your work, as it does all of ours, if we are not explicitly conscious of it.

So I apologise for the inconvenience and challenge this may cause, but hope that just as choosing not to be involved is part of my own process of addressing my own privilege, it can also be a part of CharityComms process of addressing the privileges that might be subconsciously shaping aspects of its wider work. I am keen to see what response this garners, in practice.

With Love, solidarity and respect,

Liam

PS – Here are two places to potentially start conversations about gender (The Womens’ Room) and race (Writers of Colour), specifically. Happy to discuss further…







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Self publishing… minus the burnout?

Self-publishing is both possible and in many ways, fun. But it’s also really exhausting. And I’m wondering if we can find a way to avoid going to a publisher for the next Anarchists in the Boardroom print run, without also burning me out… What do you think?

Me talking about the book at the Open Development Camp, Amsterdam

So it’s been just over 2 months since we self-published Anarchists in the Boardroom!

It’s been an amazing experience, and have made it down to the last 50 copies already!

It’s been a really successful experiment in what can be done without traditional institutions, though it has had some limitations.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I can keep up with the work involved in self-publishing. It’s been seriously exhausting and has at some level made it harder to enjoy the many amazing conversations that the book has opened up.

There are so many aspects to the work a publisher and their partners traditionally do, even after the book is printed: store distribution, individual book distribution, speaking tour bookings, web selling software, arranging reviews and interviews and finding publications for guest blogs and editorials…

I’m a big fan of DIY – when I was 17 I started a hip-hop promotion company to give myself stages to play on, and had self-produced a vinyl 12” on my own a few years later. I co-founded an international youth exchange without an organisation when I was 20. I really, really enjoy the learning process of taking on a whole new project, and figuring out the skills I need to make it happen along the way.

But this book is proving a massive task. And the time I’m spending with a range of the tasks involved is keeping me from a) doing the stuff in the process I know I’m actually good at and enjoy, and b) doing the paid work needed to pay rent.

It’s also been a significant part of my 60-80 hour work weeks for the past two months.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you!

Having sold almost 500 copies in the first two months, without institutional backing, I reckon odds are pretty good that I could go to a traditional publisher with this and see if they’d like to take it on. This would free up a lot of my time and hopefully provide a bit of institutional backing for some of the logistics of the process.

But it would also mean less control over the process.

Alternatively, I could not print any more and leave it as a Pay What You Feel It’s Worth ebook, and see where it goes in exclusively digital format. This wouldn’t address doing any of the publicity, but would take care of some of the practical and administrative logistics. It’s the lowest effort option, and one that would leave the book’s future in the hands of the universe and see what people do with it…

The other option is more collaborative: what if we collectively became ‘the publisher’?

Basically, what if we figured out all the things that needed to happen to keep this book growing (logistics, publicity, distribution, etc) and shared some of the jobs around?

If there were a small crew of people who wanted to get involved in helping with these things, I would happily share book income around accordingly (though wouldn’t expect this to be a massive amount).

I’m open to ideas, but wanted to avoid a totally traditional division of labour, instead seeing who might be up for sharing a bit of the various tasks involved.

Anyway… I’m just tossing ideas around, but wanted to see what others thought about the 3 possibilities I’ve put forward – or suggesting a new one, if you can think of an option that I haven’t. Here, once again, are the options as I see them:

1. Approach a publisher – lose some freedom, gain some time; get some publicity and distribution support
2. Offer the ebook only going forward – save time on logistics, still have to do publicity work, and miss out on having something to sell at events
3. ‘Collectively self-publish the next batch’ – share the load, may involve extra coordination, maintains freedom about the process, addresses some of the questions of scalability of self-publishing.

Anyway, I haven’t totally thought the details of the 3rd option though, but I’m keen to discuss if you’d like to add ideas to the comments below.

Thanks so much for being a part of the journey!

Liam

PS – if you order one of the last 50 copies, I’ll inscribe something personal in it, either for you, or the lucky recipient you choose to give it to for a gift this holiday season 🙂

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Integrated development: Embracing mission drift in rural Nigeria

On Monday I got the chance to hear John Dada speak. John holds a lot of wisdom, much of which cuts directly against the so-called ‘best practices’ of the development world he’s involved with. One of the key lessons I took from John’s talk? Don’t get too focused on doing one particular thing; you’ll miss what’s going on around you!

john dada and indy johar

John Dada w/ Indy Johar at Hub Westminster on Monday

“You need to cut down and focus on microfinance,” one funder told John Dada, after the Fantsuam Foundation had expanded its work into yet another previously unknown discipline in rural Nigeria.

This is typical advice from many of the ‘experts’ in the development world: ‘specialise in one thing and focus all of your energies on it.’

There’s a particular worldview that this makes perfect sense within. The jargony term this worldview assigns to organisations not heeding this advice, is ‘mission drift.’

John Dada doesn’t buy it though.

Instead, he throws an alternative approach out there, speaking at Hub Westminster on a rare UK visit on Monday evening: “No service should be allowed to stand on its own, because it wouldn’t work.”

Fantsuam Foundation has a serious case of mission drift! What began with microcredit loans in rural Nigeria, moved into local IT provision and training, HIV/AIDS clinics, affordable housing, and eventually a community-owned tractor – crowd-funded by the modestly-sized, but committed network of support that Fantsuam has built-up within and beyond Nigeria through the approach they call ‘integrated community development.’

I describe some elements of John’s work in Anarchists in the Boardroom.

Integrated community development stands-up where so many development projects fail; it doesn’t try to see social issues through the various specialised lenses our organisations like to apply to them.

John was initially trained as a nurse in the UK, but has not let that limit the work he has been involved with. Nursing can only address some of the issues faced by people living in a complex world; if John was to decide to draw clear lines around what he would and wouldn’t do to support the community he was working in, he would not have achieved a fraction of what his organisation has been able to do.

What I took away from hearing him speak on Monday, is the importance of relationships; that building and maintaining trusting connections with people is far more important than many of the specific skill sets involved. We can often learn new skills more easily than we can build new meaningful relationships.

Thus the mission drift: when you’ve built up strong relationships in a community, you can’t just farm people out to another ‘service provider’ and expect them to pick up where you left off.

I remember working at the Scarman Trust a number of years ago, supporting people who had set-up small-scale community projects around London, but who had come to the end of the small grants (usually about £1,500) the organisation had given them. I’d usually done workshops with them for several months, met with them one-to-one, helped them with everything from keeping receipts in order and finding venues to hire, to figuring out what they wanted to do next.

Often, near the end of their grants, I’d end up referring them to one of a handful of other organisations – sometimes funders, sometimes other local groups in their areas. Some people were fine with this, but others were offended. Most ignored the referrals, no matter how much specialist expertise these folks I was trying to put them in touch with had.

One woman put it to me very succinctly: ‘Why do we have to talk to them? We want to keep talking with you. We know you. We don’t want to go to someone else.’

I don’t mention this as a particular endorsement of my own work, but as an indication of the centrality of relationships.

Only in certain professional settings do we seem to forget this; we tell ourselves that we can pass people around, between professionals, services, departments, organisations, without this affecting the people themselves, their health, their trust, their level of engagement, their openness, their commitment to working with us… If we’re not careful, people, churned through so many services, become passive, hand-me-down ‘beneficiaries,’ as uncommitted to engaging with us, as our ways of working suggest we are to engaging with them.

Fantsuam’s work keeps relationships at the core of what it does, adapting services and projects, and learning the skills needed to address the needs of the community, with those in the community itself. This may all seem incredibly inefficient to some of you, but I’m certain that the real inefficiency lies in our attempts to wedge people into services that don’t respect the importance of the relationships we so-flippantly bounce them between, with little regard for what someone invests in opening themselves up to someone else.

And because John and Fantsuam pay attention to people and relationships, one can never say too far in advance, what their next project might be. The community will make that clear though. For many years it has continued to do so. The work emerges to fit the needs of the people involved, which are never as fixed as the business plans we write often make them out to be!

Maybe our organisations would be better off if they could embrace a bit of mission drift and follow the winding road of the real world, rather than the linear trajectory plotted out on a piece of paper so long before?

—————–

Chapter 8 of Anarchists in the Boardroom explores more of John’s story, in relation to complexity and our organisational obsession with fortune telling (often disguised as ‘strategy writing’). Feel free to order a copy.

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I’ve been meaning to mention… we’re published!

Six months after the crowd-funding campaign wrapped-up successfully, Anarchists in the Boardroom was published last week and the crowd-sourced book tour has begun! These are my first reflections on this stage of the process. (And you can get your copies here, by the way).

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have done four events around the country, with over 100 people coming together to talk about how their organisations could be more like people. I’ll be in Oxford and Leicester later this month. Currently there are further events coming together in York, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton… and more in Amsterdam and Berlin.

I’m feeling so honoured by the reception. And these conversations – gatherings of 15-20 people, usually a cafe or bar, feel like the perfect way to getting these ideas percolating.

A couple of things have jumped out at me already.

1. This conversation is getting ready to boil over.
While there is a common perception that our organisation’s are typically so far from being ‘more like people,’ there is a lot of energy out there to discuss what a new and different kind of organisation could look and feel like. A recurrent theme has been that these conversations have happened in pubs for years, but rarely with a sense of positive direction emerging. Now it seems like there is a growing sense, not just of disillusionment, but also of possibility for what we can all do to start changing our organisations for the better. Our networks are strengthening every day; it will be fascinating to see how all our new connections can help us to explore new approaches together.

2. People are actually DOING STUFF with these ideas already!
Since the launch, I’ve already had two messages from friends/ colleagues, who had begun to put elements of more like people thinking into practice. One has kicked off an ‘innovation working group’ (you’ll want to read Chapters 5/6 to understand the full significance of that), and another has ‘de-constructed’ her organisation’s old management structure (I’m still waiting to hear the specifics of what that means). There are currently about 220 copies of the book that have been circulating for up to 11 days. Needless to say, I’m pretty pleased with two stories like this already! In the chaos that I’ve discovered self-publishing can be, morelikepeople.com has been slightly delayed, but expect to have it online in the next week so we can start to bring more of these stories together.

3. ‘Organisations’ don’t want to touch this stuff… but the people in them do!
I’ve been crowd-sourcing this book tour – basically asking people who are keen, to get together a venue and a group, a bed for me to sleep on and a train ticket, and I’ll happily come talk about this stuff. I wanted to set the bar as low as I could, without putting myself further out of pocket for it (writing a book did a pretty thorough job of that already!). But what I’ve found, is that even with an incredibly minimal cost, people who have invited me – even those that work in voluntary organisations that have a remit to put on such events – are choosing to organise these events on their own time and dime. Which is both a massive honour, and a sign of how far our organisations still have to go, if they aren’t even able to host a conversation on some of these themes. I’ve said it before, but this organisational inability to take off the blinders to a lot of the debates that the rest of the world is having, is not going to help them address their own growing irrelevance. (Dudley CVS has been the exception, thanks to the efforts of Lorna Prescott!)

4. The answers are all around us!
For all the frustration and disillusionment that’s been expressed by a number of the folks who’ve taken part in each of these events, there have also been countless positive examples. The community centre manager who encourages his staff to come up with any new idea and get on and do it; the HIV support group who actively hire people with criminal records and who have experienced life’s hardest elements, de-prioritising traditional qualifications; the big national charity where all staff are now getting a half-day a week to pursue their own ideas, whatever they may be…

So in brief, it’s been an amazing start! I’m more sure than I’ve ever been that these conversations are desperately needed, and that all of us who are thinking about these things have ideas and experiences to share more widely, so others can give them a go. morelikepeople.com is not far off, but I’m still keeping track of the stuff people are tagging ‘morelikepeople’ and will be bringing it all together when the new website goes online.

Massive thanks to everyone who’s taken part thus far! I suspect we’re closer to the kinds of change we want to see than it can often feel…

Here’s Lorna’s Storify of the first event we did together in Birmingham, to get a bit of a taste of the kind of conversations we’ve been able to have lately.

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Ha Ha: An experiment in self-organised social impact

Last Thursday I took part in an experiment. The idea was this: What is the greatest social impact that a group of relative strangers on the internet can commit to creating over the next week, with only 1 hour together and $10 each in the pot?

Harvest chard
Harvest chard

I have my friend David Pinto to thank for inviting me to take part in his latest brainchild. I was one of about a dozen who attended the 2nd ‘Ha-Ha’ (Happening Hangout), with little idea what to expect, beyond the slight chaos integral to getting something previously unimagined off the ground.

This was a hack version of what the process could be with proper technical development: a live-streamed Google Hangout of the hosts of the event, alongside a Quora question that everyone involved could post one answer to, but edit freely and comment on the answers posted by others, voting for the answers they liked best.

While messy due to most of the participants’ technological teething period at the start of the hour, the process worked. Not in a ‘my mind has been completely blown’ kinda way, but it worked, in that we reached agreement and had a clear sense of what was needed to take the idea forward.

After an hour, a bunch of people who (mostly) didn’t know each other before the process began, had agreed to donate the full sum of money contributed to Harvest Brighton-Hove, a community food project that helps people grow and source food that is local to the area. Someone (Lesley) volunteered to deliver the funds in person, and to use our combined social networks to promote the work Harvest does in Brighton & Hove (thus, one of the reasons for this blog).

During that hour, there was considerable debate about whether donation of money actually qualified as ‘action,’ about the advantages and disadvantages of being an international group, with a (very) limited budget, about what actually constituted social impact…

None of these questions, however, prevented the group finding enough common ground to do something. Which is inspiring, but also definitely left me with further questions.

My inclination, while a cool experiment, was that this would be a far more effective process of enabling self-organising, if the group began from a higher level of agreement; i.e. – not total strangers without an agreement about even a slightly more specific goal.

I often advocate the opposite – less unity, more autonomy – but this process highlights the importance of *a bit* of agreement. It’s certainly a balancing act, but as much as unity can be oppressive, a minimal baseline helps to unleash our creative potential together.

I’d like to see David’s Ha-Has put to use in an office, but open to those beyond the paid staff group, such as supporters/ members/ activists, who broadly believe in the organisation’s aims, but are not as restricted to voice radical ideas, as staff often can be.

Harvest 'The Big Dig' eventI’m also interested in seeing what could happen if the financial element was de-emphasised, encouraging a range of non-economic transactions to take place and forcing a more creative approach out of necessity.

While Occupy camps and countless indigenous communities have demonstrated that consensus can work in far larger groups than many had previously believed, there is more opportunity to build trust and empathy with those you are deciding with, when you have a) a chance to meet in person, and b) something that already provides a broad basis of unity.

The 3rd of 4 initial Ha-Has will be happening on Thursday (September 19th), 8pm BST, should you be interested in chucking in ten bucks and taking part. I definitely think it is an experiment worth pursuing. Whether it grows into something bigger each week, or whether it splinters off into a range of self-organised groups, there is learning to be had there, in terms of what groups of people can achieve together without the top-down coercion of management structures.

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Talking privilege amongst progressives

My good friend Sue posted this open letter today, challenging the progressive/ green/ social justice movement she has lived and breathed for years, to look at the ways it had made her life as a brown woman more difficult than it should have been. Progressive people still discriminate, despite our best intentions. Sue is on stress leave because of it. Those of us who’ve been privileged enough to be able to walk into groups and organisations that are built largely in our image have  a responsibility to understand how we may be inadvertently closing doors to many of the people who should be front-and-centre of the kinds of change we are promoting. Thank you to Sue for putting this out there for the rest of us. I hope it can help to open up some much needed dialogue.

_______________

Dearest Movement

Being a women of colour in the uk movement/non-profit sector is incredibly difficult. I am on day one of stress leave that I had to fight hard for – I worked hard to realise it was not my own failing as a professional and it was ok to admit that I needed time out and that my body, soul and spirit had reached it’s limit. I totally love the movement, but I was no longer sure if the movement loved me. My PTSD has partly been brought on by an insane amount of direct action over the past few years, but for me that was not the main cause – my working life has been to stand with community, I love nothing more than a beautiful, cheeky action. It was the invisible power dynamics and homogenity of personality types in the spaces we work that doesn’t always leave room for people who have different dispositions, mental health needs, who question campaigns and priorities, come from a different political analysis or for me as women of colour to have a real seat at the table, that did me in.

The homogeneity in our movement is systemic and and it’s shocking as it comes from groups that often consider themselves the most progressive and working from a social justice background. I have a lot of respect and love for a lot of the people, orgs and groups that make up the various segments of our movement but they have become toxic spaces for people of colour to operate. I know I am taking a risk writing this – some people will feel hurt, I might be risking professional relationships, but the reason why I work in a non-hierarchical anarchist setting is so that I can keep my truth fresh.

I am at my last stand and it is time for allies to stand up and to begin to seriously change these dynamics. I don’t just mean a few workshops or putting in a wheelchair ramp (those things are AWESOME but you don’t tack diversity on) this is deep deep work to really take a stand. I don’t know exactly what that work will look like – and I give props to everyone who has begun it – I can walk with you on the way, but you are going to have to do this work, and not just if everything else gets done…but front and centre…if we truly want to hold the values of anti-oppression, equality and justice in your groups.

Having just come back from Global Power Shift it was this lesson that hit me hardest – we have the data, we know how to lobby mp’s we can shut down power stations, but do we relate and support our movements and especially those that don’t look and think like us. If we do not build a strong, beautiful diverse movement all of our elaborate and clever campaigns are for nothing.

I had internalised all race, power and privilege dynamics around me I thought I just didn’t know how to play nice, maybe I didn’t know how to do my job I’ve spent years doing, thought maybe I was too angry and questioned my own mental wellness. But after a week with global organizers in our conversations between our meetings and sessions I heard my story over and over and over…the light bulb went on…

Our community who operates in these environmental and social justice spaces need to know that those people closest to you – who might not look like you are struggling – to do the jobs we love and to keep a livelihood, to have a voice, to stand in our power, you are pushing us out of the spaces where we most need to be, to make sure you are connected to the people you are supposed to be fighting for, so that you yourselves don’t keep replicating those same systems that we say we are trying to fight. I know that this is not reserved to just race or gender, it moves across class, gender identities and sexuality, and I stand with you.

I’m close to giving up everyday, but it’s my love for the communities who are fighting, the world’s diverse communities who hold the deep analysis, solutions and stories that will wake us up and need to be heard at this time of climate change that keep me from packing it all in. So, I’m taking a bit of risk with my truth for the young generation of activists and social justice workers that often keep quiet on this because they don’t want to lose their jobs or become unpopular in our organizing spaces. I say this with deepest love for all the work that everyone does and in hopes that this will bring us closer to the society and vision that you are all working tirelessly for.

In answer to your question Nishma, this is may be the norm, but it’s not right and I can’t wait for us to Shake It Up!

Love,

Sue
x

For an inspiring incredible read on Indigenous views of feminism, decolonization and extraction read here! http://thefeministwire.com/2013/06/indigenous-feminisms-walia/

This note is in response to a blog by Nishma Doshi
http://www.nishmadoshi.net/2013/i-was-fired-because-i-gave-off-negative-vibes/

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Helping me write the back of the book

Covers and titles are very important, but once you’ve convinced someone to pick your book off the shelf, you need to have something compelling on the back that will hopefully make them believe this is a book that will make their life better in some way. So instead of just writing what I’d like to read on the back of a book, I’d like to know from you what 150 or so words you think should be on the back of Anarchists in the Boardroom. I’ve put one option below and would appreciate any feedback as to the right words to help make you want this book. Thanks!

Change how we organise. Change the world.

Social change is changing – but are our social change organisations keeping up?

Our Industrial Era structures and the ‘professionalism’ so many began to adopt in the 1980s have not lived up to their promise, actually doing considerable harm to the passion and purpose that has traditionally driven our efforts to make the world a fairer and more just place for all.

Meanwhile, the organising approaches found on social media and in recent social movements are proving better suited for the emergent realities of the 21st Century, and more closely aligned with the values our NGOs, charities, trade unions and voluntary organisations have long espoused.

This book is a journey through worker-run factories, Occupy encampments, a spattering of non-violent direct actions and even a few forward-thinking companies, to make the case for helping our organisations ‘to be more like people,’ brushing away our ‘professional’ assumptions and organising as we do when we don’t have a job description or a business plan telling us how to change the world.

Feel free to add any variations to the comments section below.

Thanks for your help!

Liam

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WE DID IT! (and a weird idea for getting you your books)

What an amazing month! You crowd-funded the book! And then some! Plus, I’ve got a funny idea for ‘more like people’ distribution, that I’d like to hear your thoughts on…

Publishing, without the publishers

Anarchists in the Boadrdoom book cover by Steve Lafler

Anarchists in the Boadrdoom book cover by Steve Lafler

While you may well know my reluctance to place too much faith in numbers, here are a few from the ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’ crowd-funding campaign that tell at least part of the story:

  • $8,340 pledged (surpassing the goal of $7,700)
  • 161 donors (73 whom I’ve never met before)
  • 1,154 shares of the campaign page (on Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms)
  • 7 blogs by others about the campaign (see bottom)
  • 8 blogs by me on others’ websites promoting the campaign (see bottom)

I am so thankful to all of you who have made this happen!

It’s the first major validation that a) these ideas are important and haven’t been sufficiently explored yet, and b) the book doesn’t need an institution/publisher to be a success.

Both of these validations are really exciting to me and seem to put us in a great place to start moving towards ‘more like people’ organisations together.

Special thanks are due to Lorna Prescott and Paul Barasi – two of the firmest believers in the importance of what this book represents.

Both of them went so far above-and-beyond what I could ever have asked of either of them, spreading the word on the campaign, that I can’t begin to offer the kind of thanks they deserve. They kept me going during the slow middle weeks of the campaign. (Lorna also did a nice Storify (see below) of her involvement, as part of capturing the story of her day, when the campaign tipped past the goal).

‘more like people’ distribution

So here’s the wacky idea I thought of last night, when I was pondering the logistics of sending out a few hundred copies of the print book, to people around the world.

Shipping to, say, Wellington, New Zealand, is not cheap. Particularly when you’re sending lots of smaller packages. But at least 9  people in Wellington have ordered copies of the book.

What if I sent one big package to one of those nine people (based on someone volunteering to receive the lot) and left them to arrange details with the others for local distribution? (Please don’t tell me you’d be worried that they would steal the extra copies…)

Maybe this could be as simple as ‘Here’s my address, drop by whenever you have a chance,’ but maybe the person I’m shipping to decides to hold court in a cafe or pub for a few hours one evening and encourages everyone else who ordered the book to come along, pick-up their copy/copies and have a chat?

They’ve already got something in common to talk about, maybe something interesting could emerge?

…It also reduces the individual costs each person has to pay for shipping.

Of course some people will prefer the simplicity of a book delivered to their front doors – which I can of course also do – but thought the potential benefits of bringing together a group of people who may-or-may-not already know each other, or each other’s shared interests in new ways of organising ourselves, shouldn’t be passed up!

Maybe they never see each other again, but maybe they learn something, they meet someone of interest, they find someone to talk to next time they’re struggling away with their own bureaucracy…

What do you think? It’ll still be a few months before we’ve edited the manuscript, done the layout and had the hard copies printed, but it would be great to get your thoughts on this idea, and see if you’d be keen to meet others in your city who are also exploring this stuff, and if you’d be willing to coordinate with others in your city, to get them their books, one way or another.

Thanks again! You’ve been amazing and I look forward to all of you being a part of the emergent process that will follow!

Liam

Here’s the blogs I’ve written:

And those others have written:

And here’s Lorna’s good day (the third good thing has to do with the book)

 

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Scaling back our assumptions about scale: Why ‘bigger’ often means ‘worse’

A pretty, but unrelated picture from Tulum, Mexico by Jen Wilton

A pretty, but unrelated picture from Tulum, Mexico by Jen Wilton

It’s easy to equate ‘significance’ with ‘scale.’ In brief, ‘more is better… or at least, more relevant.’ The news perpetuates this, deeming something ‘newsworthy’ based on the numbers of people or the amount of geography affected, but we also reflect this in what we choose to give credence to on social media and in our lives, more generally. In government, we look to policy, far more than we look to local examples. In organisations, we look to executive decrees, far more than we do to what the person across the office is doing differently at their desk… But in doing so, we may be missing much of the really important stuff.

Relying on scale to determine significance can give the impression that the world is full of mostly bad news. Bad things can happen at a scale that good things very rarely do. A war, an oil spill, a hurricane – the impacts are huge, via almost any lens we choose to view them. But the really good stories don’t often happen in a way that affects such large numbers, all at once (and when they do, we probably have reason to be suspicious – think of the 1st Obama win, and how few of the hopes of millions were realised?).

But there’s a core issue here: We only take things seriously if they are BIG.

Think of all the small scale stories you’ve heard of really amazingly positive examples of one thing or another in the world. It may have been an ignorant idiot who posted a derogatory picture of a Sikh woman he saw with facial hair, but saw the error of his ways. Or the story of the Mexican city that governed itself for 6 months without elected leaders or police. Or the European cities that removed all traffic regulation and reduced accidents and improved traffic flow.

You probably know the kinds of stories I’m talking about. They make you feel good, but then you likely dismiss them and often forget about them soon after. The train of thought often goes: ‘that’s cool! …but so what? There are bigger problems in the world, these individual examples won’t really change anything.’

But good things are often far more subjective than bad things. We don’t all agree that the same things are necessarily ‘good.’ No one wants an oil spill, or a war to hit them. What we do want is far more varied, meaning that a great example in one place won’t necessarily be a great example in another place. Or trying to ‘apply’ a great example across a wide range of people and situations (like so much government policy, or organisational strategy), rarely works because the same approach will be received differently, from one place or community, to the next. (Read ‘Walk Out Walk On’ for an excellent explanation of ‘scaling up’ vs. ‘scaling across’).

What if we could see each of these small scale examples of the kind of world we want to live in, as reminders of the possibilities that exist all around us? They won’t look the same where we are, but that doesn’t mean they can’t offer a sense of hope, inspiration and possibility for us to create our own positive examples in the spaces we’ve got.

One of the biggest challenges we face, is our inability to imagine possibilities that are not part of our current realities. Because we haven’t experienced it, it seems impossible.

For the last eight months I’ve lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, a city that did just what I described above, governing itself for 6 months, without any semblance of government structure. With no police, its crime rates dropped to record lows. It only came to an end when the federal government launched a campaign of terror, just before Christmas in 2006, re-asserting control and dismantling the systems that local people had created to organise their lives together. Until then, self-organised systems were ensuring a kind of participatory democracy – while still often a messy experiment – that few of us have ever known.

But it was possible. Lack of government does not necessarily mean ‘chaos’ – people can come together and achieve amazing things without imposed bureaucracies. It may seem inconsequential to many, but it demonstrates potential, where many of us would previously have seen only a pipedream.

What about the story I also mentioned above about the guy who posted a picture making fun of a Sikh woman with facial hair. While his act was callous and ignorant, he was able to see the error of his ways. When the woman confronted him online, not with offence or anger, but with compassion, explaining why she had chosen not to remove her facial hair, as part of her spiritual practice, he was able to shift at a level many of us think of as impossible.

She did not respond with anger and defensiveness as so many of us would. He was not as permanently ‘bad’ and unable to learn, as many of us would have assumed of someone taking such a stupid and offensive action. If she can find compassion for him, and he can change, they demonstrates another often unimagined ‘proof of concept’ for the rest of us to take on.

Or what about Bohmte, Germany, where the city decided to get rid of all their traffic regulations? Traffic flow improved and accidents dropped considerably.

We often assume the worst of others, but when we are forced to really take responsibility for our own actions, and think of others in the practical choices we makes (like whether to drive or stop), we can create more effective and well-ordered systems that work for everyone.

‘It would never work here,’ many have said of this story. At some level they’re right. We can’t cut-and-paste our solutions across differences and expect the same results. But it did work there (and actually has in several other bold cities around Europe, where the EU has supported its ongoing implementation, because it has been so successful). The possibility this offers for changing how we choose to organise ourselves is immense.

Large scale systems are far too complex to often be radically changed overnight by a single event, so if we rely on scale to tell us what’s worth paying attention to, ‘good news’ will never be able to compete with a few really big horrible stories.

How many revolutions, as moments of great hope, have truly gone on to offer the kinds of change that people had expected of them?

If we can change the world, our countries, or our organisations for the better, it won’t be the result of one attempt to do so. It will be the result of many actions, almost invariably spread out over vast time and space, in which people make the choices to affect whatever is in their scope to affect, gradually connecting with others who are doing the same.

When we dismiss small scale examples of positive change, in practice, we dismiss any real possibility of positive change, at all.

What we, as a planet, want and need, cannot be captured by any single change. While a bomb or a flood will invariably be bad news for everyone affected by them, we can’t say the same of the far more subjective notion of positive change. There is no ‘good bomb’ that will spread positive effects in the ways war spreads bad ones. We’ve got to figure out what we really want for ourselves and in conversations with those that surround, and take action to make these things possible where we are.

And conversations don’t make headlines, but they are often the places where good things start to happen. I’m doing my best to give even the smallest examples of a better world the significance they deserve. If they can inspire me to see a new possibility, they can do the same for others. And who knows where they might take us? It might change the world, though we’d probably only notice retrospectively…

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