Change can never happen on one level. Each transformation has a ripple effect on everything else that we do.
There is no single path to change. Each organization has a culture, a history, a staff, a set of spoken and unspoken values, a way of communicating and a system that reinforces all of these things. By following the links below you will read about five different organizations and our process together. You may find yourself on these pages or you might simply get a sense of how flexible and adaptable the work can be to your organization and your situation.
Action Learning: Becoming the Change
Action learning is a continuous process of learning and reflection, supported by colleagues, with the intention of getting things done. Through action learning, individuals learn with and from each other by working on real problems and reflecting on their own learning experience. Adult learning theory suggests that adults learn best when they are provided with new information and concepts, opportunities to reflect and increase self-awareness, and meaningful activities through which they can apply the new concepts and skills they have learned in a supportive environment.
Action learning is specifically well suited for the successful completion of complex projects involving multiple constituent groups with many necessary and sufficient outcomes. Action learning projects are designed to engage participants in projects that stretch their knowledge and skill base, while providing real time concrete application opportunities to achieve necessary organizational outcomes to advance strategic goals. Given the complexity of integrating an equity lens into everything an organization does, an action learning approach is well suited to address the needs of creating and reinforcing deep intercultural learning and systems change.
Impacting Change on Multiple Layers
When working with foundations my focus is on three different layers of interaction and impact: the foundation client’s internal organizational goals and culture, the foundation’s interaction and impact on the nonprofit sector that their funding impacts, and the foundation sector as a whole. The more that foundations understand their own internal culture, how to utilize their multiple resources and sources of power, and the nature of the change they want to produce in the world, the more they can target their assets and extend their influence to achieve equity outcomes for our communities.
Creating Tangible Outcomes
An example of work with the philanthropic sector is my design and facilitation of a foundation sector learning community focused on developing intercultural competency. The learning community consisted of eleven foundations that agreed to work together specifically on embedding diversity, inclusion, and equity in their organizational DNA in order to transform the impact of philanthropy in their region. The action learning community was based on Mahatma Gandhi’s premise that in order to be an effective agent for change, individuals and their organizations must become the change they want to see in the world. This project created an action learning community that supported these foundations to identify and implement specific action steps to address racism and other forms of institutionalized forms of oppression within their own organizations and then shift their strategies to increase community impact.
Peer Action Learning Network (PALN) Case Studies
Building an Inclusive Church
A faith-based organization with a mission of building a more inclusive church asked me to facilitate their strategic planning process to intentionally transform their work from providing spiritual sanctuary and denominational policy revision into a broader context of building a faith-based movement for progressive social change.
Linking Faith, Commitment, and Action
I began the process by interviewing key stakeholders including church leaders, congregants, and community members to reflect on and give input to the organization’s explication of their theological and values-based worldview that would underlie all of their future activities.
A report summarizing these results was then utilized by the board and staff of the organization at a multiple day strategic planning retreat. This retreat produced commitment to a new organizational mission, vision, and core strategies that resituated the organization within a broader social justice movement.
Finally, I worked with the staff to create a step-by-step implementation plan that translated the new mission, vision, and broad strategic directions received from the board into an actionable community organizing workplan that included measurable outcomes and benchmarks. I continue to support this organization through coaching on the workplan’s progress. Because the organization’s new strategic plan was integrally connected to the core faith principles and deeply held values of their church, the mobilization potential of the organization’s strategies increased significantly.
Closing the Achievement Gap
I have worked with many different kinds of educational organizations from institutions of higher education, to K-12 schools, to community-based education. One K-12 project involved working with a collaboration of thirteen different school districts that had come together to actualize the goals of state mandated desegregation in a large metro area, and decrease the achievement gap for students of color across their districts.
The collaborative supports two Alternative Learning Centers which are focused on developing a rich multicultural curriculum and inclusive learning environment for their diverse student body. For the last four years, I’ve been part of a multi-racial team leading comprehensive inservice training for the staff in these schools.
Comprehensive Staff Development
We began our process with an overall assessment of the schools, examining the intercultural competence of the staff and exploring variables such as attendance, discipline, grades, family involvement, staff diversity, and so on. This assessment led to a multi-year training strategy focused on providing all the staff with a shared foundation of intercultural competency.
Every year, the team grows stronger in their trust of each other, their degree of cultural knowledge, and their intercultural skill set. In addition, the team members have also deepened their understanding of the factors contributing to the achievement gap, and they are working together towards a broader vision for addressing this gap.
This work includes focusing intensely on curriculum development, intercultural communication skill development, and classroom management strategies which honor the diversity of the students in their classroom.
While we were conducting these staff development efforts in the collaborative’s two schools, the team of diversity leaders from each of the thirteen districts realized that it would be useful to create a common theory of change as a way to improve their collaboration, and consider best practices for their work together. The group negotiated a shared understanding of the collaborative’s desired outcomes and the various pathways, strategies and practices which would produce their envisioned change.
This work helped the collaborative define their best practices in a way that strategically linked their practice to their overarching goals. As a result, a number of districts began to position their work in a much larger context of social change in public education as connected to the issues of race, culture, class and community development.
Responding to the Needs of Diverse Consumer Groups
A large corporation’s Financial Services group asked me to help them understand how to best serve the diverse consumer groups who visit their urban retail sites. They were aware that their informational and marketing materials about their financial products were written from a predominantly white and/or mainstream understanding of financial service. They also understood that mere translation of their material into other languages would not suffice to serve their consumers’ needs and drive business.
Analyzing, Learning, Implementing
To address this issue, I designed an intercultural action-learning project. Action learning is a continuous process of learning and reflection, supported by colleagues, with the intention of addressing real problems facing an organization and getting things done.
The project began with a team assessment that included the Intercultural Developmental Inventory (IDI) and market and consumer research that included exploration of specific cultural meanings of concepts such as purchases, cost, value, money, credit, and debt in a number of targeted market segments. The teams also conducted site visits to particular geographical areas to gather insights through community visits and consumer interviews at a number of their urban retail sites regarding consumer interests, their buying habits and the kinds of financial services that would best address their needs. In processing the interviews, team members examined their own value systems, assumptions, and explored some of the differences they encountered and the information they gathered.
This project led to the creation of new financial services products aimed at more thoughtfully and respectfully engaging with the range of consumers the corporation is hoping to reach.