Archive for Community asset development

Hunger Games – Allegory for us (part 2)

By | January 13, 2014 | 0 Comments
Last week I started a multi-series blog about The Hunger Games and lessons we can learn for our own Panem (the country of Hunger Games).  More upcoming topics will be:; 3) the distinction between common sense learned from applied learning and that which comes from “training;”  4) the separation within and between regions, cultures and communities.  It occurs to me that this week subtitle could indeed be a cross-over for a popular Reality TV series.
The Price We Pay to Eat—could you kill and eat a squirrel?
Katniss, the main character in The Hunger Games, is poor and from a single parent family.  In order for her family to survive, she enters her name in the reaping lottery for The Hunger Games multiple times over the year.  To explain: in the story a person can get “charity” in exchange for entering his/her name multiple times in the drawing which pulls one girl and one boy’s names for the Hunger Games.  squirrel
In this case, literally poor kids are at greater risk to die simply based on their financial state.  This is the case with Katniss. Again, this is fiction and described a dystopia, but how far a stretch is it to compare to low-income youth in our real world?  Are they also fated to a similar outcome?  Furthermore, illegal activities are vital to Katniss’ family’s survival.  Katniss helps to feed her family through illegal hunting, which she sells to community members.  It is this hunting which ultimately makes her such a good competitor.  Our heroine participates in the black market to make ends meet.  When was the last time we looked at a poor person who was selling illegal things as a hero?  Hmmm – let’s pause to think about this.

Innovation Inflation is ruining us

By | November 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

Daily, I read articles and hear advertisements about innovative new products or concepts.  I must disagree.  There is little true innovation in our daily lives.  By calling anything that is creative innovative, we are de-valuing true innovation.  There is an plenty of creativity and that is a good thing, but creativity and innovation are not the same.  Here is my take on the difference.innovation

Creativity is taking a new approach on an existing issue or task.  For example, in the new Iphone, having a finger print scan is a new take on phone security.  It is creative; it is not innovative. Smart phones, personal secure access and fingerprint scans each already exist and now they are re-combined in a new way.  Creativity is the ability to enhance an existing product of concept through aesthetics, function, or added features.  The finger print scan on the iphone is creative.  It is something that you say “oh cool.”

Innovation operates in a different dimensionInnovation identifies and executes a solution to a problem or need that most do not even realize exists.  The ipod and iphone were innovative.  They changed our access to music (ipod) and ability to manage large amounts of information at our fingertips (iphone).  More importantly, they changed the way that we think about our relationship to information and data.  I maintain that without the iphone, the current quantified self movement, which hopefully will transform health and fitness in positive ways, would not exist.

I also think there is a difference in the level of execution, discipline and perseverance between creative and innovative.  I think of myself as a very creative person.  I can think of ten great ways to try something new or design a system to accomplish a task.  However, my failings come in my ability to think harder, look differently and persevere through boredom and frustration to be truly innovative in identifying a need or articulating a solution that defines an undefined problem, or changes how or whether we think (or act) about something.

 The distance between creative and innovative is great and requires three important qualities.  The first is focus and perspective.  These are two sides of the same coin.  We must be able to focus on an issue or task to see its minutiae and to endure challenges.  I think of my nine-year old friend Charles who can sit for hours and make original origami and I think that someday he will have the patience to wade through complex problems and see them in a new light.  At the same time of seeing the detail, a person has to have perspective on the scope of the issue and understand where it fits, or cteetertotteran fit in the larger context.  Achieving both of these things can be like running across a teeter-totter, bumpy.

 The second quality is the ability to see the problems.  One quality that I often don’t like about myself is that I can have a glass half-empty mindset when looking at almost anything.  Although I maintain that this is my saving grace in terms of coming up with new solutions and not settling for okay.  I am confident that this quality will help me be innovative.  And I have learned how to wrestle the inner-critic when I need to, especially as a manager.

The third quality is endurance and comfort with ambiguity.  Individuals working towards innovation have to be comfortable with long periods of being lost and not being able to quite put their finger on the problem.   True innovation takes a great deal of poking, prodding, defining and re-defining a problem and a solution.  In our world of instantaneous everything, I think the patience and ability to be comfortable with unsolved problems will become more rare, yet more valuable.

Institutional Change Through Quilting

By | September 27, 2013 | 0 Comments
Coalitions working for Institutional change have to hold a metaphoric quilting bee

Coalitions working for Institutional change have to hold a metaphoric quilting bee

I absolutely LOVE quilts.  I love them for their physical beauty as well as for everything they symbolize.  I love the idea of re-purposing fabric, bringing disparate pieces together and, creating a functional and aesthetic item that should last for generations.  Lately, I have been thinking about how coalitions can be like quilts. 

 

Over the past week I have worked with school reformers from local education advocacy groups when we gathered at Los Angeles Education Partnership offices to see and learn about their excellent work. I am also meeting with community members, educators and cultural resource professionals in North Carolina where I am giving a presentation on Coalitions working to change Institutions.

flag quilt

 

I am lucky to have a depth of experience in coalition work through my years working on environmental justice issues where I published, Righting the Wrong   which is about local government’s role in partnering with community stakeholders to address environmental justice issues. I have also worked in Dayton Ohio and Washington DC on a range of community issues.  Most recently, I am working with a coalition of education advocacy groups that are improving education outcomes in their communities.  Their roles can be difficult because they are both critics and defenders of public education in this period when there are so many paths called reform. 

 

Like my education partners, I believe in the power and purpose of institutions but also believe that they, like all of us, need to evolve over time.  Below are some of my thoughts about working with coalitions to effect institutional change.  These are based on a presentation that I gave at: NC Folklife Institute’s 2013 Statewide Folklife Summit, a gathering of cultural resource and community partners. 

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Coalition work to effect institutional change, is like quilting in that you have elements that you need to bring together for a lasting outcome. The cover itself, the most visual aspect of the quilt, is comprised of disparate parts and pieces, woven from different fabrics, that have to be pieced together to create a whole.  Often times, the fabrics alone would not complement or align, however, when pieced from a community of fabrics, the diversity of colors and textures enriches the outcome. While the cover is the most visual aspect, the quality, function and durability of a quilt depend on piecing, quilting and binding the components together.  This metaphor is apt for successful coalition building where you have to assemble stakeholder interests into a shared picture and then use the tools and resources available to successfully join the disparate parts for a functional, durable outcome that reflects the culture from which it came.

 

WHY WORK WITH INSTITUTIONS?

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