Etmanski: Set the Table for Allies, Adversaries and Strangers

Have you ever been asked to participate on a committee or in a community meeting and left wondering why were invited?  A situation in which the conversation was swirling around you but you never quite knew how to contribute to it?

Looking back to the occasions in which this was the case for me, I realize the people calling the meeting (conveners) had a broad range of reasons for inviting people (job titles, organizations, to not hurt feelings, to get things done, to access resources, for expertise, to make new connections, because they were told to, and so on).  All of which are valid reasons but it was unclear why I had been invited so I contributed little.

As a convener, we need to be deliberate and thoughtful about the people we invite and the environment in which they gather.  Remember, to have the idea picked up by the mainstream, means inviting supporters, opponents and others beyond the immediate context.  Everyone needs to feel welcome and to be assured that their contributions will be valuable and important.

 

Four Characteristics of Effective Convening

To avoid the gathering in which a few people speak and nothing is ultimately accomplished, take a minute to run through the questions below.

  • Civility” – Has the group crafted (agreed upon) ground rules of conduct by which they can respectfully, openly, and safely contribute?
  • Personal Agency” – As the convener, have you encouraged the best from all participants?  Have you given each participant an opportunity to shine, show their strengths and lead in their own way?
  • Hospitality” – As the convener, are you able to articulate the importance of each participant’s contribution and made them feel like they belong?
  • Curiosity” – As a convener, have you created a group culture in which uncertainty leads to inquiry and eventually new answers?

 

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski is a guide for social innovators to move their idea from localized success to broader systemic impact.

Etmanski: Create a Container for Your Content

Being on the Board of Skills Society, I find myself wondering how we might get our message beyond our immediate community of supporters.  A common problem confronting most not-for-profit originations.

 

How do we get people to care about something that doesn’t really matter to them?

 

 There are lots of strategies.  The Elevator Pitch.  The One-Pager.  The Brand Message.  The Narrative.  Social Media Strategies.  Flashy Brochures.  All of these are effective to a certain point.  However,  how can the message a person hears be converted into an action they take?

 

For Etmanski, “Presenting the right content in the right container makes it easier for people to do the right thing” (p.64).   For impact beyond the local context, the message needs to inspire people beyond your community of supporters to  contribute to the million small acts of the movement.

 

5 Characteristics of Effective Containers

I crafted questions to  help you evaluate your message and its ability to reach beyond your community of supporters.

  • They are playful and fun.” – Does your message make people feel good?
  • They are non-judgmental” – Does your message blame or guilt the people you are trying to reach?
  • They ignite our imaginations” – Does your message inspire people to think about what is possible?
  • They personalize the abstract” – Does your message articulate how the issue is connected to the people you are trying to reach?
  • They tell a story” – Does your message have characters and a plot?

 

After running your message through Etmanski’s tips, I would encourage you to ask yourself one more question; does your message still have the ring of authenticity or does it feel contrived?

 

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski is a guide for social innovators to move their idea from localized success to broader systemic impact.

 

 

Etmanski: Think and Act Like a Movement

Al Etmanski’s book assumes readers are striving to achieve real systemic change and his first pattern articulates the importance of movements.  For Etmanski, “Institutional change cannot happen without a movement” (P.49) and “A movement is composed of a million small acts.” (P.48).

This is not new.  Change occurs when enough people are moved to action for a long enough period that it finally happens. Gladwell talks about this type of change in Tipping Point.

The new piece for me was Etmanski’s insistence that systemic change requires us to look beyond our immediate context and missions to the broader goals of the movement. As an example you might identify a gap in mental health support for veterans. To impact the system creating the gap, Etmanski believes you should align your efforts with broader movements like The Movement for Global Mental Health or The Canadian Mental Health Association.

Think back to the occasions when you were involved in developing a mission and vision for your organization.  Was the movement a part of those discussions and considerations?  Was a movement objective devised alongside the mission and vision?

It’s not unusual for us to focus on the local context where we can see the ways our work makes a difference.  Spending time and energy on thinking about how we will contribute to the ‘movement’ seems like an abstract, ambiguous, pointless task.

To keep conversations about developing a movement objective meaningful, Etmanski provides some loose boundaries in his characteristics of an effective social justice movement.

Five Characteristics of an Effective Social Justice Movement.

  1. “They ignite our imaginations” – Do you contribute to a bold vision that disrupts the status quo?
  2. “They are multi-generational” – Do you contribute to movements as they reappear in new forms with successive generations?
  3. “They comprise small acts” – Do you contribute to the same thing that others feel compelled to contribute to?
  4. “They are self-organized” Do you contribute to something in which everyone sees the goal without a central command structure or charismatic champion?
  5. “They marry art and justice” – Do you contribute to something in which art has created new ways of seeing the world and transformed what we see as a possibility?

 

Would you say efforts to help the flood of Syrian Refugees is a movement?  Or the Arab Spring? Or Occupy Wall Street?

 

Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation by Al Etmanski is a guide for social innovators to move their idea from localized success to broader systemic impact.

 

Making Your Idea Matter

Having repeatedly heard folks in social innovation circles refer to Al Etmanski, I felt compelled to pick up his book Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.  It’s intended to guide innovators after their idea has been mushed, mashed, shaped, sanded, polished and tested.

How does a social innovator shepherd an idea from local success to broader systemic impact?

I recommend picking up a copy for his stories illustrating many of the ideas I’ll be posting.  A quick, accessible, useful read.

Etmanski opens by saying we all have the ability, capacity and responsibility to innovate. We can’t escape by saying ‘I’m not a big idea thinker‘ or ‘I’m a doer not a thinker‘. Further, he identifies three types of innovators needed to spread an idea, no matter how amazing, to achieve broader systemic impact.

Disruptive Innovators: have the unwavering belief that we can do better by challenging the the way it’s always been done..

Bridging Innovators: have the credibility and networks to highlight the benefits of the disruptive innovator’s new idea for institutions and policy makers.

Receptive Innovators: have access and knowledge of the system to change policy, law or funding to make the idea possible. (also known as intrapreneurs).

Which type of innovator are you?  Even more importantly, do you know anyone from the other two types of innovator?

 

Podcast Pick: SSIR – Whose Story Are We Telling? (Andrew Means)

Before hearing Andrew Means on the SSIR podcast, I would listen to the stories Not-for-Profit organizations tell about their work and couldn’t help but be inspired.  Hearing the exceptional rags-to-riches story about a person experiencing homelessness that used an NPO’s employment program and now manages a local million dollar company would move me to open my wallet.

Another common narrative is based in data.  After hearing that upon completion of the employment program 85% of participants (people experiencing homelessness) became employed, I became convinced the program is ‘doing something right‘.

Look more closely at the stories and you’ll notice they have two common deficiencies.

First, they fail to link the complex nature of the problem to the need for their program.  As a complex problem, homelessness is multi-faceted with causes sprouting from racism, poverty, abuse, family violence, mental illness, and addiction to name a few.  Are you able to articulate how the employment program addresses some of these broader facets of homelessness?

Second, the stories tell us what has been accomplished in the past but fail to articulate why it matters for the future.  Has the story about the employment program taught us about the ways in which being employed will impact people experiencing homelessness in the future?

Means believes our stories need to go beyond our comfortable narratives to include how the program/organization has impacted the broader systemic context.

Yes. Impact.  When I think about measuring impact I am immediately overwhelmed by where to start while remembering past attempts rife with pitfalls and blind alleys.  But Means believes it’s the key to making progress on complex, systemic, nasty, intractable social problems and he has a tidy little formula to get us started.

World with your organization – World without your organization = Impact of your organization 

Tidy to say. Still messy to do.  Fortunately Means gives us a couple tips and some excellent examples to get us thinking about starting.

Counter-factuals:  provide us with an accounting of what would have happened if the organization/program had never existed.  This would mean asking how many of the participants getting a job after completing the employment program would have landed employment anyway.  Then setting this against the 85%.

Displacement: helps us articulate how our work causes ripples in the broader context.  It might mean asking how many participants getting a job after completing the employment program are filling positions otherwise filled by equally qualified people already in the labour market and setting this against the 85% too.

Granted. Quantifying displacement and counter-factuals can be time-consuming and possibly expensive.  But Means is nudging us towards authentically confronting the gap between what we want to accomplish and what we are actually accomplishing. 

The result will be a community making more informed decisions about contributing towards outcomes we actually want to achieve rather than outcomes we pretend we are achieving.

When we join the crowd at the Annual General Meeting, it is with the expectation that we will hear the stories that make us feel like we are in the presence of something that matters.  But the stories are stuck in a rut.  They have a predictable plot involving the usual characters.  Think the movie Star Wars.

Means is nudging us towards telling more complex stories by introducing compelling storylines and new characters illustrating the relationship between complex problems and our work.  Think the movie Interstellar.

 

Whose Story Are We Telling? Featuring Andrew Means from Stanford Social Innovation Review Podcast

 

Podcast Pick: The One You Feed: Emily Esfahani Smith

Lately I seem to be having similar conversations with all sorts of folks.  Some are 76 years old and others are 26.  Some have kids and others don’t.  Some are single others aren’t.  Some I know and others I’ve just met. Invariably they are spoke about the desire to do something that matters.  But during the many conversations, I felt like there was more we needed to explore but was unable to articulate it.

However, after listening to Emily Esfahani Smith speak about meaningfulness on The One You Feed, I discovered a way of speaking about the search for purpose.

Start with this question.  What makes you happy?

For me it’s a great meal.  Like the amazing kimchi soup my wife makes or the Filet Mignon Tournedos Rossini at the Wildflower Grill.  The great meal triggers a feeling like life can’t get any better. Happiness has an internal focus.

Now ask yourself, what gives your life meaning?

For me it is caring for the dog (Poppy) my wife and I triumphantly scooped up from the Edmonton Humane Society and few months ago. The act of caring for the dog reinforces my connection to something beyond myself.  It forces me to recognize purpose or value in my life that exists beyond my internal needs like family, God, nature, work, or a dog that need a home.  Meaningfulness is derived external to the self.

Additionally, Smith makes clear that meaning is not achievable through an intellectual exercise.  We can’t think our way to meaning.  Rescuing a dog from the Edmonton Humane Society holds meaning. Thinking about rescuing the dog is a plan to create meaning at some point in the future.

 

Finally, take a look at the career choices you see people in your network making and ask yourself, what is the driving force behind their decision?  

Near the end of the conversation Smith reveals that she believes people are making career choices based on more than money.  She articulates it as a societal shift from Material Want to Meaning Want.  The transition from the quest for money/things to the quest for knowledge/purpose.

 

What drives your choices?

Scenario Thinking: Act and Monitor (Phase Four/Five)

Scenario thinking has five basic phases as outlined in What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits.
  • Phase One (Orient) –  creates a clearly articulated issue/question
  • Phase Two (Explore) –  identifies all driving forces.
  • Phase Three (Synthesize) – prioritizes driving forces
  • Phase Four (Act) – crafts the strategic agenda
  • Phase Five (Monitor) – signals the need for tweaks to the strategic agenda  
 
 

Act

Gather the scenario frameworks from the Synthesize phase and fully immerse yourself in their narratives.  Imagine that the future circumstances of each scenario are really occurring and ask yourself:

  • What actions would I take today to prepare?
  • What could I do to increase the likelihood that this scenario will come true?
  • What could I do to decrease the likelihood that this scenario will come true?

Answering the questions will reveal scenario implications for each scenario.  If the scenario describes a future in which there is reduced government funding and a weak economy, it is safe to deduce that one implication would result in less funding for the organization.  It may also expedite innovative approaches the organization has wanted the opportunity to explore as another possible implication.

Your strategic agenda will start to emerge as you reflect on the implications of each scenario.

Begin by searching for implications common to all scenarios because they represent the lowest level of risk.  The same implication present in each scenario will make it most likely to come true in the future.  One implication likely to be present in all scenarios for a not-for-profit organization is funding shortfalls regardless of government funding or the strength of the economy.  Basing your strategy on funding shortfalls is fairly safe.

Relying on a scenario implication that is singularly different from other scenarios represents the highest level of risk because there is a lower likelihood that it will come true.   Basing your strategy on the future outcome of an election is risky for the organization.

“The test of a good set of scenarios is not whether in the end it turns out to portray the future accurately but whether it enables an organization to learn, adapt and take effective action.” (P.30, What if? The Art of Scenario Thinking for NonProfits)

 

Monitor

Monitoring the strategic agenda is often the stage that gets sidelined by the day-to-day routine of the organization.   Monitoring involves watching for signals indicating changes in the environment potentially impacting the organization and its strategic agenda. 

The key to the Monitor phase is selecting the correct signals to watch by identifying a set of ‘leading indicators’They should contain a mix of qualitative and quantitative information from the local, national and international contexts.  Then take some time to make adjustments to your strategic agenda.