Archive for the 'reflection' Category

Feb 01 2015

Slowing Down to Pay ATTENTION – the #365 Photo Practice

January30For a number of years, some of my good buddies have taken part in the #365 photo project.  Alan Levine and Stephen Downes have been most prominent on my radar. I never seriously considered doing it until January 2, 2015. I can’t quite put my finger on why. There are lots of logical reasons – I try and include the visual in my work on a regular basis. But that wasn’t the reason. I’m beginning to think it was because I wanted to pay attention to things differently. So I did not consider it more than that and just started. Just fricken do it.  Forget the logical.

I did not think about themes. I did not think about “getting better at taking pictures.” I did not think about narrative. Just take a picture or pictures, and pick one to post. Voila.

About the same time I noticed that my friend and “inspiring being” Eugene Eric Kim posted Ten Days Into my 365 Photos Project. I had noticed his pictures and thought, “cool, Eugene is doing this too!” And of course, Eugene being someone who I perceive as taking his photographic craft as seriously as he takes his process arts work, I got a bit intimidated by his comments about taking better pictures. (Update: He posted about the project again today in a don’t-miss post.)

I was using my phone and my very cracked and battered Nexus 7 tablet. Oh dear. Then I stopped myself. Remember, I said, I am not doing this as a photographic practice, but as one of paying attention. At the same time, I LOVED Eugene’s reflections and a little thread of light conversation started pinging and pattering between our posts of our pictures on Facebook.  I liked that. I enjoyed when other friends hit the “like” button, or even better, left comments. Last week I was working very hard and the only picture I could muster one night was taking a picture of my feet while I was collapsed on the couch. And the comment was on the energetic nature of my sock color. This little bit of attention  energized me (Thanks, Joy!). My friends were being part of my paying attention. The attention became a network, or a tiny little force-field.

I like that. A lot!

On January 29th, Eugene posted a picture and comments that again twinged me to observe my own practice by observing his. The conversation was so useful to me. Eugene gave me permission to share it and it is captured here. #365Photo Conversation With Eugene. Eugene some interesting things, so if you are interested, click in!

Eugene wrote “My primary criteria is that the photo tell some story about my day.”

I responded, “That was really helpful for me to read, as I’m still very unclear about my own aims and criteria with the project. I think right now my baseline is low – get it done. I also have a tiny tablet and a cell phone as my camera, so I have to discover what makes a “good” picture on those devices. I do get intimidated by beautiful pictures by others (like you) and I have to shut off that voice. I have enjoyed a) trying to be observant of images/moments and b) giving a tiny bit of context when I post. But it is still very emergent.”

Later in the conversation Eugene wrote: “Nancy, even though we didn’t plan it, knowing that you’re doing this too has helped me _tremendously_. Several of your images have already inspired me..” and “I’ve also loved the emergent aspects of this project, which includes this exchange with you! I also love that you’re taking photos with your phone and tablet…” and “to embrace the spirit of the project and all of the unexpected things that are happening as a result.”

liquidnetworkI was nodding affirmatively as I read. My own random experiment has already morphed and changed because of posting pictures on Facebook and engaging with people like Eugene. The social learning aspect is a wonderful and welcome surprise. That network.

So here is my recap so far.

Attention: Attention turns out to feel more like observation. As I take my daily walks, I am starting to “look with new eyes” at what passes around me. Big picture. Detail. Pattern. Getting out of my “to do list” mode and let my mind calm by using my eyes, instead of “thinking, thinking, thinking.”  The unexpected is now paying attention differently to my friends’ #365photos. (And slightly annoyed that I have to go multiple places, but not so annoyed that I find a technological solution to this!)

Identity: I had not at all thought about how my pictures would give a wee window into my worlds to those who see them on Facebook. I always underestimate how much time and attention people give to Facebook. That is both a wonderful and scary thought. Now that I have noticed this, I am resisting taking/curating my photos as an expression of identity. I want to stay with “attention” for now.

Practice: When I was traveling and in a time zone 19 hours away, I got confused about which “day” I was posting for. Ah, the international time line. But travel provides fertile opportunities for pictures. I was worried that I would not be able to post. I can’t always post from my phone while overseas, so I did more with my tablet and wifi. Thanks to Eugene’s positive support, I have let go of worrying about pictures that are literally just snap shots.

I’m liking this!




3 responses so far

Jan 08 2015

Conversations With a Wonderful Client

Sometimes you just get lucky. I get lucky quite a bit with my wonderful clients. As a wrap up to some work last year, Simone Staiger of CIAT and I decided to do a little text based conversational reflection on the work we did. This is posted at Conversations with Nancy White around the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy and reposted here for sharing!

Conversations with Nancy White around the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy

Nancy, when I contacted you at the beginning of 2014, I was looking for support, through regular conversations (monthly one hour Skype calls), to discuss, and evaluate the implementation of CIAT’s internal communications strategy.

NancyWhat a treat! Wow, that you will a) take the time for reflective and action oriented conversations and, b) pay me for it is WONDERFUL. I love working with you, Simone. This reaffirms my belief that there is tremendous value in working with wonderful people and cultivating those relationships beyond the formality of contracted work. I know some would say this isn’t very smart, but I think friendship adds to a working relationships – as long as we can stay open and frank with each other. We do a good job of that!

SimoneThe strategy intends to increasingly create spaces for dialogue among staff, foster team work & learning in teams, and communicate consistently to create among all staff a better understanding of key developments in CIAT’s work and institutional environment. The document was the result of a series of analysis and exercises to identify the real underlying issues that need to be worked on and to lift internal communications up to a level that goes beyond improving instruments and media.

This theme of “space” and “spaces” is showing up in many places in my work. Is this something real, or am I just paying attention differently. People seem more time-pressed, hurried and stressed. The focus on getting tasks done, hitting one’s list of deliverables and “efficiency” seems to becoming a “false god.” So this idea of creating space for dialog is a good way to test if paying attention to hearing, listening, and understanding – particularly around shared goals and issues – can be of benefit. Intuitively I believe it is, but taking a more analytical stance is useful.

CIAT’s communications and knowledge management team in collaboration with Human Resources Management had identified a whole series of products and activities that could bring us closer to our objectives. What we did not do is to identify a series of indicators – qualitative or quantitative – that could help us evaluate progress, and which we are deeply missing now.

Simone, you asked me hard questions about monitoring and evaluation that help that stance. I appreciate being pushed in this direction. I am paying close attention to how these indicators can not only help us understand if we are meeting our intentions and goals, but if they can also help us identify what to “stop doing” to make space for the stuff that really matters. We talk about this, but how to we discern and validate these choices beyond a guess – or simply losing what we cannot make time for.

For one example, it was extremely easy to come up and finalize, with your help, a set of indicators that will help us in 2016 to measure progress on the effects of our new intranet, to be launched End of January. How easy it is to go through an exercise like this, when you talk about a concrete product and its usage!

Just nodding about the difference between talking about something generically, and talking about it in a specific, concrete context!

In my initial talks with you I was interested in ways to increase knowledge sharing between different stakeholder groups within CIAT: Management Team – The program and theme leaders, which represent around 12 staff – The 80 or so who I call the influential people, some being real opinion leaders – All CIAT staff. It seemed to me that we needed to create effective bridges to connect those four “populations”. How can we involve different stakeholder groups, and create incentivize for engagement? Well that is a very general and tough question, which in addition is not new but still so unresolved… In the conversations with you we explored many possibilities, and interventions at different levels – individual, groups or teams, all staff – and through different means: pilot projects, personalized team discussions, or institutional campaigns.

Reflecting back on this, I have to revisit one of my “now that I’m over 50 years old curmudgeon” opinions. I am interested in early adopters. I am VERY interested in second wave adopters. And I will not waste time on resistors. Is this an effective strategy in organizations? If we think of the “80 or so” as early adopters or leading edge second wave adopters, I don’t think we can consider everyone else as resistors. But I suspect there are informal leaders whose resistance can affect the rest of the early adopters. AND, it is important to not confound resistors from people who see the world differently and have useful dissenting views that can help us learn and grow. What differentiates these two types of people? If we could figure this out, we might be able to more generatively interact with those innovative thinkers who we might otherwise miss and misinterpret simply as resistors. Your question, Simone, about how to move past those 80 people has resonated with me since you mentioned it.

What I mostly took away from the conversations, as well as from previous explorations, is strongly related to something that Peter Senge insisted on in a leadership course I took with him in 2013: The need to go away from symptomatic solutions to fix an issue or solve a problem quickly, and to shift towards fundamental solutions that for sure take longer, and have a delay in having an impact, but produce longer-term lasting positive effects.

What I build on to your reflection, Simone, is that people are always part of fundamental solutions, so maybe we need to consider how we are or might be understanding, relating to and interacting with people?

Now: there are many, many tools and methods out there to facilitate deeper thinking in groups and organizations that help to identify the roots of a problem and design fundamental solutions. You pointed to a series of tools and emerging perspectives and possibly “Liberating Structures” is one of those emerging pools of possibilities to “include and unleash everyone”.

Learning more about and practicing Liberating Structures was a strong thread for me in 2014 and will continue this year. One fundamental lesson is that as a facilitator, I need to have a diverse range of approaches, I must understand why I choose any one at any one time, and that there is potency in how we sequence and combine ways of engaging and interacting. So LS is helping me become a more conscious facilitator. When I take this in context of the type of facilitation training and capacity development I see in organizations like the CGIAR and others, it reminds me that we must always be leveling up. Yes, we start at the mechanical stage, but if we don’t build towards better understanding of those mechanism, and towards being able to “read” a room full of people and adjust (plan and then be prepared to improvise), we are not moving the facilitation practice deeper and forward. So for 2015, I want to challenge my own ideas of how to support facilitation capacity development in myself and others, for just the kinds of challenges you face, Simone.

One thing that helped us go into that direction is to work increasingly at the team level. It is probably a useful consideration to identify when you actually have to include everyone (meaning the whole organization), which leads too often at CIAT to intensive information diffusion that convince some and are rejected by others, and when it is appropriate to do so at a team or group level, trying to have inclusive dialogues. The socialization of the CIAT strategy with 20 teams and almost 300 staff was certainly a time consuming exercise, but probably the most meaningful, trust-building and symptomatic-looking one.

This focus on teams resonates with me, and then leads to the next challenge: the fact that so many of these teams are distributed under the CRP structure of the CGIAR, and that many people have “multiple bosses.” They have their geographically situated managers. They have their distributed managers, many times people outside of their own center. I wonder how the CGIAR is paying attention to this power issue, and what they are or might do with it. Things could fracture around “loyalty lines” of many sorts. Moving towards a truly networked way of working presents many challenges for established institutions.

You and I also discussed the possibility to use the new corporate values which have been developed in a very inclusive process, as a means of achieving integration, dialogue and team cohesion. The Human Resources Management Team with whom we have regular conversations and undertake joined actions believes a lot in the “value approach” based on strong support of a united Management. My concern is the danger of getting into the lecturer mode and not to find the right tone to feel staff comfortable and available to discuss required attitude changes.

This is something else I’ve been learning about from other Liberating Structures practitioners. The values themselves are not much, in reality. It is how they are lived within the work we do. So I suspect we can’t just preach them, as you noted, Simone. Instead we need to examine our work through the lenses of our values. There was a very interesting thread on KM4Dev in late 2014 asking about this ( Two particular Liberating Structures might be useful: Integrated-Autonomy ( and Generative Relationships STAR ( .

After one year of using the strategy as a guide when it comes to decide what we do and how, I take way the following: We are on the right track. We know what fundamental situations need to be improved or resolved, but we can only be successful if internal communications is aligned and – more importantly- involved with ongoing organizational changes, if we find the right solutions for the different situations / target groups and if we receive increased support that allows us to avoid symptomatic quick fixes.

I might offer a slightly different perspective, Simone. It may not always be about alignment, per se, but clarity of what alignment means (shared goals) and what it means when we are not in alignment. What we do depends on this kind of clarity. Lack of alignment is not always about “you and I need to agree.” It can also point us to something emergent that may offer us new insight. But if we aren’t aware of this misalignment, we never get to that generative conversation.

Yes, Nancy. Thanks for this important different perspective. I agree now that I read my point again, that your take on it is so important for CIAT. We must be able to make the different views, motivations, and strategies of and within our research areas more explicit and use it increasingly as an opportunity to expand, grow and learn.

Comments Off on Conversations With a Wonderful Client

Apr 11 2013

Teaching Empathy: hey, that’s networked leadership!

IMGP3454I’m currently working with an intelligent and courageous core team working to implement a very different way of working in a very large bureaucracy. It is really HARD work, but these three people are showing energy, resilience and graceful humor. As I read this article on Forbes tonight, Teaching Empathy: The Ancient Way Is Now Cutting-Edge it struck me that the four things they suggest we teach for empathy also represent network leadership.

  1. Teach listening as a core skill and expect it as a cultural practice. Start by being an active listener yourself and give people the time they need to reflect. Time not made for someone is time wasted.
  2. Make dialogue a primary team, group or classroom practice. Dialogue opens the doors to exploration—what Peter Senge in his guide “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook” calls “skillful discussion,” where thoughtful decisions can be made that honor all participants (or, in business, stakeholders).
  3. Identify roles, not organizational charts. When people are able to articulate their role, what they need to be successful and what gets in the way of their success, an empathic understanding is present and the beginnings of a healthy team, class or group takes shape.
  4. Lead with consistency, authenticity and honesty. Be clear as to why you are doing what you are doing. Do not lead or manage through personality but rather through articulation. To articulate is to clarify.

By networked leadership, I mean leading where you don’t always have authority. Where multiple reporting lines mess all the normal power plays up, rendering the old style of leading obsolete.

I see this team doing more and more active listening and they have refined their conversational skills to demonstrate both listening and bridge potential understanding gaps using the “what I heard you say is… ” before they add their thoughts. In an organization with a practice of “I win if I look smartest,” a lot of people’s attention is wrapped up in preparing their next statement, not listening.

In the formation of this big new plans, emphasis is placed not on large, plenary sessions to hash things out, but breaking into small conversations and building meaning outward. There is a strong invitation for others to describe what they understand and need about this big transition they are all navigating.

The new structure now distributes resources across divisional lines, so the idea of one’s formal boss is being tossed on the waves of change. The idea of roles, not organizational charts is one I want to bring up at our next meeting as a way to help with this.

Finally, this team is composed of a very senior leader, a senior researcher and a more junior staff member. I see them leading with honesty, authenticity and striving so hard for consistency. What I hope I will see soon is more and more people around them recognizing and appreciating this, so it will encourage more of the same.  I think it is possible. Hard work, but possible. And when it becomes more common, I suspect I’ll see both better results, and more joy.

I think these are four terrific things. What else do courageous, networked leaders need to know and do?

Edited PS: see also Eugene Eric Kim’s post on Balance Bikes for Changemakers. It’s all about the learning/experimenting!

2 responses so far

Feb 12 2013

Data, Transparency & Impact Panel –> a portfolio mindset?

KanterSEASketchnotesYesterday I was grateful to attend a panel presentation by Beth Kanter (Packard Foundation Fellow), Paul Shoemaker (Social Venture Partners), Jane Meseck (Microsoft Giving) and Eric Stowe ( moderated by Erica Mills (Claxon). First of all, from a confessed short attention spanner, the hour went FAST. Eric tossed great questions for the first hour, then the audience added theirs in the second half. As usual, Beth got a Storify of the Tweets and a blog post up before we could blink. (Uncurated Tweets here.)

There was  much good basic insight on monitoring for non profits and NGOs. Some of may favorite soundbites include:

  • What is your impact model? (Paul Shoemaker I think. I need to learn more about impact models)
  • Are you measuring to prove, or to improve (Beth Kanter)
  • Evaluation as a comparative practice (I think that was Beth)
  • Benchmark across your organization (I think Eric)
  • Transparency = Failing Out Loud (Eric)
  • “Joyful Funeral” to learn from and stop doing things that didn’t work out (from Mom’s Rising via Beth)
  • Mission statement does not equal IMPACT NOW. What outcomes are really happening RIGHT NOW (Eric)
  • Ditch the “just in case” data (Beth)
  • We need to redefine capacity (audience)
  • How do we create access to and use all the data (big data) being produced out of all the M&E happening in the sector (Nathaniel James at Philanthrogeek)

But I want to pick out a few themes that were emerging for me as I listened. These were not the themes of the terrific panelists — but I’d sure wonder what they have to say about them.

A Portfolio Mindset on Monitoring and Evaluation

There were a number of threads about the impact of funders and their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) expectations. Beyond the challenge of what a funder does or doesn’t understand about M&E, they clearly need to think beyond evaluation at the individual grant or project level. This suggests making sense across data from multiple grantees –> something I have not seen a lot of from funders. I am reminded of the significant difference between managing a project and managing a portfolio of projects (learned from my clients at the Project Management Institute. Yeah, you Doc!) IF I understand correctly, portfolio project management is about the business case –> the impacts (in NGO language), not the operational management issues. Here is the Wikipedia definition:

Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is the centralized management of processes, methods, and technologies used by project managers and project management offices (PMOs) to analyze and collectively manage a group of current or proposed projects based on numerous key characteristics. The objectives of PPM are to determine the optimal resource mix for delivery and to schedule activities to best achieve an organization’s operational and financial goals ― while honouring constraints imposed by customers, strategic objectives, or external real-world factors.

There is a little bell ringing in my head that there is an important distinction between how we do project M&E — which is often process heavy and too short term to look at impact in a complex environment — and being able to look strategically at our M&E across our projects. This is where we use the “fail forward” opportunities, the iterating towards improvements AND investing in a longer view of how we measure the change we hope to see in the world. I can’t quite articulate it. Maybe one of you has your finger on this pulse and can pull out more clarity. But the bell is ringing and I didn’t want to ignore it.

This idea also rubs up against something Eric said which I both internally applauded and recoiled from. It was something along the lines of “if you can’t prove you are creating impact, no one should fund you.” I love the accountability. I worry about actually how to meaningfully do this in a)  very complex non profit and international development contexts, and for the next reason…

Who Owns Measurement and Data?

Chart from Effective Philanthropy 2/2013

Chart from Effective Philanthropy 2/2013

There is a very challenging paradigm in non profits and NGOs — the “helping syndrome.” The idea that we who “have” know what the “have nots” need or want. This model has failed over and over again and yet we still do it. I worry that this applies to M&E as well. So first of all, any efforts towards transparency (including owning and learning from failures) is stellar. I love what I see, for example, on particularly their technology. (In the run up to the event, Paul Shoemaker pointed to this article on the disconnect on information needs between funders and grantees.) Mostly I hear about the disconnect between funders information needs and those of the NPOs. But what about the stakeholders’ information needs and interests?

Some of the projects I’m learning from in agriculture (mostly in Africa and SE/S Asia) are looking towards finding the right mix of grant funding, public (government and international) investment and local ownership (vs. an extractive model). Some of the more common examples are marketing networks for farmers to get the best prices for their crops, lending clubs and using local entrepreneurs to fill new business niches associated with basics such as water, food, housing, etc. The key is the ownership at the level of stakeholders/people being served/impacted/etc. (I’m trying to avoid the word users as it has so many unintended other meanings for me!)

So if we are including these folks as drivers of the work, are they also the drivers of M&E and, in the end, the “owners” of the data produced. This is important not only because for years we have measured stakeholders and rarely been accountable to share that data, or actually USE it productive, but also because change is often motivated by being able to measure change and see improvement. 10 more kids got clean water in our neighborhood this week. 52 wells are now being regularly serviced and local business people are increasing their livelihoods by fulfilling those service contracts.  The data is part of the on-the-ground workings of a project. Not a retrospective to be shoveled into YARTNR (yet another report that no one reads.)

In working with communities of practice, M&E is a form of community learning. In working with scouts, badges are incentives, learning measures and just plain fun. The ownership is not just at the sponsor level. It is embedded with those most intimately involved in the work.

So stepping back to Eric’s staunch support of accountability, I say yes AND the full ownership of that accountability with all involved, not just the NGO/NPO/Funder.

The Unintended Consequences of How We Measure

Related to ownership of M&E and the resulting data brings me back to the complexity lens. I’m a fan of the Cynefin Framework to help me suss out where I am working – simple, complicated, complex or chaotic domains. Using the framework may be a good diagnostic for M&E efforts because when we are working in a complex domain, predicting cause and effect may not be possible (now, or into the future.) If we expect M&E to determine if we are having impact, this implies we can predict cause and effect and focus our efforts there. But things such as local context may suggest that everything won’t play out the same way everywhere.  What we are measuring may end up having unintended negative consequences (this HAS happened!) Learning from failures is one useful intervention, but I sense we have a lot more to learn here. Some of the threads about big data yesterday related to this — again a portfolio mentality looking across projects and data sets (calling Nathaniel James) We need to do more of the iterative monitoring until we know what we SHOULD be measuring.  I’m getting out of my depth again here (Help! Patricia Rogers! Dave Snowden!)  The point is, there is a risk of being simplistic in our M&E and a risk of missing unintended consequences. I think that is one reason I enjoyed the panel so much yesterday, as you could see the wheels turning in people’s heads as they listened to each other! :-)

Arghhh, so much to think about and consider. Delicious possibilities…

 Wednesday Edit: See this interesting article on causal chains… so much to learn about M&E! I think it reflects something Eric said (which is not captured above) about measuring what really happens NOW, not just this presumption of “we touched one person therefore it transformed their life!!”

Second edit: Here is a link with some questions about who owns the data… may be related

Third edit: An interesting article on participation with some comments on data and evaluation

Fourth Edit (I keep finding cool stuff)

The public health project is part of a larger pilgrimage by Harvard scholars to study the Kumbh Mela. You can follow their progress on Twitter, using the hashtag #HarvardKumbh.


3 responses so far

Feb 02 2013

This is a story of love…

I cannot resist sharing this story of parenting, leadership and love. Relationships are long term. Our commitment to them can seem/feel/look invisible and it is wonderful when someone figures a way to make it visible.  I can’t quite suss out the identity of the author and this is 8 months old (with millions of hits, it seems, so I’m late to the party. ) Anyway, apropos of nothing other than love, I give you…

Via: Photo Album – Imgur.

I graduated High School this week. When my Dad said he had a present for me I thought I was getting some cheesy graduation card. But what I received was something truly priceless. Following the ceremony he handed me a bag with a copy of “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” by Doctor Seuss inside. At first I just smiled and said that it meant a lot and that I loved that book. But then he told me “No, open it up.” …On the first page I see a short paragraph written by none other than my kindergarten teacher. I start tearing up but I’m still confused. He tells me “Every year, for the past 13 years, since the day you started kindergarten I’ve gotten every teacher, coach, and principal to write a little something about you inside this book.”

Photo Album - Imgur

He managed to keep this book a secret for 13 years, and apparently everyone else in my life knew about it! Yes the intended effect occured… I burst out in tears. Sitting there reading through this book there are encouraging and sweet words from every teacher I love and remember through my years in this small town. My early teachers mention my “Pigtails and giggles,” while my high school teachers mention my “Wit and sharp thinking..” But they all mention my humor and love for life. It is astounding to receive something this moving, touching, nostalgic, and thoughtful. I can’t express how much I love my Dad for this labor of love.

Comments Off on This is a story of love…

Next »

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.
%d bloggers like this: