Shared Analysis and Rigorous Experiments

 

(Alison Lin leading a workshop during the meeting in June 2018 in Virginia)

In February of this year, the leaders of Wye River left a three-day in-person convening with greater clarity on their “shared North Star” and how the notion of “Radical Hope” would fuel them to get there.

The leaders, all from different organizations, better understood how they each played a significant part in the work of creating social transformation; as well as how they all represent a small fractal of radical hope.

The next steps were to first, figure out how each organization worked to center marginalized communities so that we can come to greater understanding around how this impacts our work together. And second, delve into the rigorous experiments each organization had designed and continue to build our ability to put our vision into practice.  

The group decided they would meet in-person again in early June, which gave them four months to work with. During this time period, the leaders became proactive about defining what centering marginalized communities meant to them, and how the idea related to their strategies. They also implemented and documented the results of the experiments they designed during the February meeting.   

Although the group is representative of organizations that work in different arenas, from climate change and reproductive justice, to workers rights and voting rights, they all share the value of centering marginalized communities.

But the question remained: what does this value look like in practice?  

They began to conduct a series of one-on-one calls with members from the STP team, answering specific questions about how their organization defined “marginalized,” how they planned on navigating the hurdles to working with these communities, and the grand question of, ‘what does ultimate success look like?’

The groups had different definitions of what marginalized meant. The words, “interdependent,” “most impacted,” or “closest to the problem,” emerged from the conversations. The talks brought about a bevy of notes and complex illustrations of answers, much of which would be further addressed during the meeting in June.

(Notes from the conversation during the June Meeting)

 

Simultaneously, leading up to the June meeting, the groups took time to conduct experiments within their organizations. Each group committed to designing and implementing a series of rigorous experiments that would help them address complex issues their organizations were grappling with.   

 

(Mehrdad Azemun, National Field Director for People’s Action)
(Mehrdad Azemun, National Field Director for People’s Action)

 

For example, Mehrdad Azemun, National Field Director for People’s Action, posed this question to his organization, “How can People’s Action live out our expressed value of Spaciousness?”

His hypothesis, “If every other Monday, all staff have a spacious day with no standing calls as Big Picture days then as an organization we will be living into our value of spaciousness.”

And another example was brought forth by the Membership Lab Team at Jobs With Justice (JwJ),  “How might we sustain JwJ given shifts in the 21st Century Labor Movement?”

The goal of this experiment: gaining clarity around how non-activist people/organic leaders frame their top concerns in their own words.

In order to carry out these experiments, the groups were getting one-on-one coaching from the STP team and working individually. And then they would share their results collectively, and coach each other on refining each other’s experiments; this was done on the shared Experiment calls leading up to the June meeting.

(Canadian Geese at Airlie Conference Center in Virginia)
(Canadian Geese at the Airlie Conference Center in Virginia)

In June of 2018, the group arrived at the two-day convening in Virginia, where they were given a full schedule of activities and discussions, during which they’d evolve their experiments and the principle of “centering marginalized communities.”

But before any of that, the group took a moment to go on a meditation walk.

People were asked to take a mindful stroll through the beautiful red clay laden grounds of the Airlie Conference Center, and enjoy the southern sun glistening off of the pond on a spring day. The aim of this walk was to remind the leaders that while preparing for the future, it’s important to be grounded in the now. And what better way to be reminded of how important “the now” is, than to spend some time in our ever-changing environment?

After the walk came the discussions.

The question of how these organizations were individually, and as a collective, working on centering what was once referred to as “marginalized communities,” (or “those most impacted,” or “front line communities,” or “those closest to the issue”) was discussed as a group in a very complex dialog; you can hear all about that conversation here.

In the end, Wye River leaders saw that the term Relationality–how everything is interconnected and interdependent– best described what they had in mind.

Facilitators saw the best way to deepen Wye River leaders’ understanding of the term Relationality was to simply draw it.

(Assorted visual representations of Relationality)
(Assorted visual representations of Relationality)

The visual representations allowed for common understanding, and further grounded the group in a shared definition to an integral part of this work. Since the concept of Relationality is a constant priority underlying the efforts of the organizations within the Wye River team, it was imperative that all members were on the same page with how it’s defined and what it looks like in action.

Aside from getting on the same page around one key term and principle, the two-day meeting also allowed leaders to discuss the work they’re doing in their organizations, giving more insight to the diverse ways people are approaching building power to shift the political culture of this nation.

While folding pipe cleaners and toying with the items on the desk, people discussed the experiments they’ve already conducted within their organizations, and brainstormed on experiments they’re looking to conduct in the months before the next meeting, which is in December of 2018.

(Members of the Wye River Network reflecting on next steps at the meeting in Virginia)

 

These activities, from the walking meditation to laying the groundwork for political shifts in America, all speak to overall purpose of the network: bringing organizations together to build the necessary power to shape the future of the country towards justice– thus reaching their collective North Star.

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