With my colleague Odin Zackman, we created a set of mindsets and practices to help guide network weavers. Check out the beautiful, ecologically-grounded posters below. Feel free to use and share them, and let us know how it goes!
Click here to download a zip file (15 mb) of these images at high resolution or a pdf (2 mb) that contains them.
Many of us within the nonprofit sector talk about capacity every day or at least once a week. It’s a pressing need that never quite gets fulfilled. However, we may not have a very well-defined concept of what capacity actually means for our organization, let alone how to “build” it. Even worse, when we talk about the connection between networks and organizations, there may be some embedded assumptions about directionality. For example, we might assume that an organization needs to be strong in certain ways (like have a paid executive director) in order to participate in the network. But it might be the other way around: participating first in the network even with a volunteer director could help that organization build its capacities by connecting to resources, experiences, culture/expectations, etc. within a rich network. Some of the following articles are thought provoking, some of them help with definition, but for all of them, I suggest holding some of the following questions in your mind as you read.
Questions to keep in mind while reading:
What is capacity? How do we define it within our organization, our network(s)?
What is the relationship between organizational capacity and network capacity?
How do organizations and networks build capacity differently? How do these processes interact?
How is capacity connected to impact (fulfilling the organizations’ mission)?
There’s no consensus on definition of capacity building. However, “across all definitions the ultimate goal is to improve overall organizational effectiveness and sustainability.”
Collaboration helps according to GEO, “close the gap between pretty good performance and full potential.”
Doing capacity building in a networked way can help to prioritize specific capacities within an organization
Capacity building should be collective – creates opportunities for efficiencies of scale (See GEO report)
Technology is key for sharing learning across a diffuse network
“A growing body of literature suggests that when nonprofits employ a network approach to capacity building, they generate impact “at a scale exponentially greater than the sum of their individual parts” (Wei-Skillern, Silver & Heitz, 2014).”
Academic Article: Building Local Infrastructure for Community Adoption of Science-Based Prevention: The Role of Coalition Functioning (Prevention Science, 2015)
The research found no connection between coalition function and impact, but rather, found a relationship between coalition functioning + coalition capacities to enable impact.
“These results lend support to the importance of promoting the goal directedness, efficiency, participatory orientation, and cohesion of coalitions, but may also suggest that such efforts are only likely to lead to coalition achievements when they are leveraged to build member skills and external linkages to diverse community sectors.”
The practice of capacity building has changed – specifically related to impact investing and scaling – however our understanding of the term has not kept up
Need to distinguish between capacity and capacity building
“Capacity describes the skills and ability to make and execute decisions in a manner that achieves effective and efficient results. Capacity building is the process of developing those skills and ability.”
“We must acknowledge that, at their core, conversations about capacity are inherently infused with value judgments.”
Capacity building 3.0 as actualization, realizing relationships, seeing oneself within context/ecosystem; build org capacity as well as ecosystem capacity
“Organizations must ask, “What is our capacity to play an effective ecosystem framed role?””
CB3.0 isn’t encouraged through consulting or trainings. Need “targeted performance optimization”, includes change management support, tracking CB progress
“They will recognize how status quo structures, cultures, and practices can impede the success of capacity-building efforts”
“Over a five-year process, researchers tested these questions – in four different languages – on hundreds of nonprofit organizations around the world to develop a survey that would be useful regardless of nonprofit mission, size, age, or location.
“After analyzing results from around the world, we find that what is commonly referred to as “nonprofit capacity” should actually be thought of as “capacities.” Our statistical analysis suggested that nonprofit organizations might instead think in terms of eight capacities: financial management, adaptive capacity, strategic planning, external communication, board leadership, operational capacity, mission orientation, and staff management.”
At the end of 2019, a collegue of mine, Rahmin Sarabi, and I conducted some design research with members of 2 networks to understand the underpinnings of self-organizing in those networks. We synthesized barriers, enabling factors, and different roles within these networks. Check out the full slide deck for more information:
Thinking about co-design embedded within a network presents additional challenges. Ideally a design team creates many spaces to engage in co-design – both online and in-person – that allow for maximum input and creativity as well as respond to shifting levels of availability/capacity to participate. What follows is a brainstorm I did with my sister Licia of the list of formations (groups within a network) that enable this. Furthermore, these formations can be organized from a central group, like a design team, or self-organized as they emerge from network members.
Small group that lasts for the length of the project to advise and provide context for the design work; similar to design team but broader
One person does a one-on-one, then takes on work to do other one-on-ones, or takes information to broader group; “train-the-trainer” might fit here
Large group comes together with potential breakout groups, usually in-person
An ad hoc group that meets throughout the duration of the project (or sub-scope within it) to provide planning insight
Selected group of projects that are funded for specific outcomes
A conversation between two people
Ongoing focus group
A representatively diverse group of people assembled to participate in a guided discussion about a particular product before it is launched, or to provide ongoing feedback on a political campaign, television series, etc.
Spreads the word about design process and reflections to rest of network
Pop-up focus group
A representative group of people that meets once to provide structured feedback on a specific topic
Seek external expert
Someone reaches out of core network for advice or thought leadership
Small group experiment
An ad hoc group that meets to engage with and provide feedback on a project, product, or part of it
A one-on-one with very specific outcomes
An online lecture with potential Q+A
Small group of people who meet regularly with specific outcomes in mind; could be called a committee.
Investing in land is reliant on historical and continued genocide, forced assimilation, colonization.
Commodification of nature
Capitalism rooted in colonialism erases or downplays the importance of land and “natural resources” as foundational to growth. One of the major ways to turn land into a natural resource is called commodification — or the process of turning something into a commodity by converting it from its original form to a value that can be measured in dollars.
Take a tree for example, a complex living being that can do many amazing things: turn what we breathe out into oxygen; produce a huge variety of delicious tasting fruits, nuts, syrup, and berries; provide a home for birds, mammals, and other animals; can induce a sense of awe in us if we pay attention (see: redwoods, live oaks in the south of the U.S., bristlecone pines that are 5,000 years old); I could go on. In his book Cradle to Cradle, architect William McDonough illustrates this point too:
“Imagine this design assignment: design something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, accrues solar energy as fuel, makes complex sugars and food, creates microclimates, changes colors with the seasons, and self-replicates.
Why don’t we knock that down and write on it?”
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that trees are – for a variety of reasons – magical.
Capitalism takes these magical beings and turns them into something that can be traded on a market – paper, lumber. Occasionally, economics can understand “environmental services” – more of the things that McDonough was getting at – the valuing of sequestering carbon, and then complicate the tree’s value, as well as make a stronger economic argument to keep it alive and healthy.
By the way, this is all reliant on a lot of separations within nature. Trees are separate from birds that live in them, separate from the soil and water and fungal networks that nourish them. We are separate from them.
So…commodification turns parts of nature into things that can be traded on markets, and made money from the sale of, based on an agreed upon value. “Raw materials.”
This relies on separating us from nature, from our other ways of relating, and the interrelatedness of its parts.
If you’re interested in any of these things, I highly recommend watch Tom B.K. Goldtooth’s video on Youtube:
History of the land under the United States
United States history is different than the history of the land that the U.S. currently occupies. Who was here before the “start”? How is their deep history erased by current narratives that start history at 1776? How does our understanding of the U.S. as one nation erase the hundreds of other sovereign nations that also currently inhabit this land?
“Counter to the western stories that we’ve been here 12,000 years, we’ve been here over 60,000 years, likely over 100,000 years, and there is a great deal of evidence to support that,” says Paulette Steeves, director of the Native American Studies program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
A more complicated understanding of history that many of us did not receive in school is necessary to understand the depth of relationship that indigenous people have had and many continue to have with this land currently called the United States for thousands of years. In contrast, the colonized period of this land is relatively small, a few percent of total peopled time.
Land as Investment
Investing isn’t just about money. All capitalism relies on commodification of nature and land and the genocide required to do those things as well as direct investment in land.
Wealth redistribution tends to focus on dollars and donation of money.
It’s imperative that our interpretation of investment be broadened to also encompass land. Investment in land doesn’t have to look like owning a real estate property, there are lots of ways to invest. And certainly all of capitalism happens on land anyway.
The process of commodification – turning trees into paper, into an abstract commodity that can be bought and sold – is the process of disconnecting ourselves from place, of literally uprooting ourselves and nature and abstracting it into something else. In its very nature, this is colonial — it is void of a sense of place, a sense of context, history, and connection.
There’s a strong connection to present-day gentrification and displacement – these are not new concepts. This is also super connected to the gentrification that’s happening around the country (and many parts of the world) as people move around. The idea that people are movable, easily displaced, that a value connected to a place will drive people out of being able to live there — rooted in racialized colonialism.
Land is not arbitrary. Things like “equal redistribution of land” or “land as commons” are colonial concepts that continue to erase deep relationships of indigenous people to *specific* places.
For a really basic idea of what I mean here, think about a place you call home. About how it smells, about the plants that live there and how they change over the course of a year. About all the people you are connected to in that place. That place can’t be anywhere, it’s a specific place to you with many histories. Multiply that by 20,000 years and then it might be similar to indigeneity.
One example of a land reparations project I’m familiar with locally is an indigenous women led project called the Sogorea Te Land Trust. It asks settlers on Chocheño Ohlone land to pay a “tax” to fund the purchase of land to be stewarded and used in ceremonial practices. There are several other indigenous led land trusts around the country.
I’m going to leave you here with a few resources, some questions to consider, and let you know some of the questions we’re currently holding as Regenerative Finance. Want to be in conversation with us?? Far out! Drop us a line.
A few days ago, I posted an idea on Facebook that I’ve been toying with. I felt it was a bold statement that spoke about power in a way that isn’t often talked about and about a word I hear frequently. Here’s the post:
The post garnered more traction than most of the thoughts, photos, videos, and shares I usually put up.
Two people asked a question kinda like this: if this isn’t the right word, what is something like this that we can do to achieve a similar purpose?
I hear that. There’s an underlying theme in inclusivity that I can get behind in the context of histories of marginalization: making sure more people are being heard. Recognizing this is based on: 1) an acknowledgement that the people in the room don’t represent the broader group and 2) a determination that this should be the case. Not only are two heads better than one, but more difference at the table can bring about different relationships to problems, solutions, and systems.
On the other hand, inclusivity presupposes that the existing set-up is completely fine and the only issue is that certain people either aren’t aware of the metaphorical table, aren’t educated enough about it, or for some other reason can’t make it. This assumption erases oppression and power.
By framing the question as [ why aren’t certain people here? ] rather than [ is there something about our underlying structure/dynamic/agenda/leadership that turns certain people off? ] locates the problem and thus the solution in totally different places.
The following 2 women of color have also blogged about the word in ways I’ve found useful in developing my thinking around it. I’ve culled some of the key quotes.
“Inclusivity” and “exclusivity” are politically meaningless without context and divert attention away from specific power dynamics. In common use, they are assigned inherently positive and negative values without specifying who is being included or excluded.
So why do so many people seeking racial justice, female empowerment, and queer liberation still choose to advocate for “diversity” and “inclusion”? They appeal to liberalism. They prevent oppression from being named. They prevent us from speaking truth to power. They make progress sound friendly to those in power.
The only way to prevent that is to name oppression for what it is; to speak truth to power. If a group is dominated by whites, men, and other privileged classes, don’t let that be reduced to a diversity issue.
When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we necessarily position marginalized groups as naturally needing to assimilate into dominant ones, rather than to undermine said structures of domination.
As a web developer / techie / nerd myself, I’ve frequently found myself in spaces dominated by nerdy, white, cis-, straight men. Possibly because of this, becoming acutely aware of who is in the room, who is taking up space, and who isn’t is something I do by default. In response to Kyra’s point of not “reducing it to a diversity issue,” there are very well known and documentedreasons that women aren’t equally represented in technology. To say that the conference organizer (for example) just didn’t know enough women, or the women were busy, etc, fails to recognize systemic ways in which women have been excluded from tech, forced out of it, harassed while persevering in it. (Perhaps that’s why more women are freelancing.)
Next, let’s hear from Virgie Tovar, MA is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. Here’s what she says on her blog about inclusion:
The word “inclusion” is a buzzword in political organizing that typically indicates some vague understanding that something just isn’t right here. The idea of inclusion is typically thought of as an innocuous way of discussing the perceived lack of meaningful engagement by people who are experiencing the greatest impact of the political issue at hand. But I don’t think it’s an innocuous idea. I think there’s a lot embedded in that word, and so I wanted to give you three reasons to rethink the idea of inclusion.
Here are snippets of Virgie’s reasons:
“First, embedded within the idea of “inclusion” is a kind of white supremacist/heteropatriarchal/thincentric/ableist framework or epistemology – the presumption that thin people need to create space for fat people […]”
“Second, any movement that engages heavily with reinscribing dominant aesthetics – or respectability politics – is not going to be of interest to marginalized folks who see that dominant aesthetic as problematic and violent.”
“Finally, and – in my opinion – most importantly, is that the word “inclusion” presumes the maintenance of that movement’s current leadership with the understanding that these “included” people will become absorbed into that movement without any radical rehaul of its current hierarchy.”
At the end of her post, she poses 2 amazing questions for people who see inclusion as a need:
1. What do the people who see inclusion need or want from the inclusion of people who are not well-represented? I think this is an incredibly important question for organizers to ask themselves. We all kind of know that a lack of poc or big bodies or trans folks is an indication of a failure, but do organizers desire their inclusion simply as evidence that they are not failing or is there some greater desire to be in service to people who are experiencing the greatest impacts of marginalization? 2. Is the individual or group who is seeking “inclusion” ready to change up the agenda, the political tools they use, or the hierarchy of leadership?
So. What do you think – is inclusion a word you use frequently and a process you undertake? Or do you think it reeks of a liberalism that seeks to maintain existing power structures?
To the extent we are concerned about ushering in a future that looks different than today, we must not only understand how power operates, but seek to shift and democratize it. (I’m using this handout from powercube.net to ground my understanding of power.)
Network mapping inherently illuminates power.
Network mapping and/or analysis inherently seeks to bring to light several kinds of power. Here are several ways it can include power:
Demonstrates where capacity and resources exist in a group of entities
Visualizes previously invisible patterns, structures, and dynamics that existed but of which we were unaware
Elucidates relationships and pathways for exchange; help understand how things flow through a set of entities (and where they don’t flow)
Surfaces gaps like who’s not being represented by providing an overview of a set of entities
Supports an understanding of these things as they change over time so we can reflect transparently (rather than anecdotally) on improvements or regression
Network mapping is different and broader than power mapping.
My understanding of network mapping differs from power mapping (for example, see MoveOn’s Community Power Map Guide) in a few ways:
It’s not necessarily about a campaign victory; network mapping can address power over the long-term in heterogeneous communities
Doesn’t have one/few explicit target(s); rather, takes a broad approach to understanding power dynamics within a larger group of entities
Network mapping is broader than only looking at power. Taking an example of clustering for power mapping from MoveOn’s page, we can think of several other useful ways of understanding a network, and view those side by side.
“Decolonization, which we assert is a distinct project from other civil and human rights-based social justice projects, is far too often subsumed into the directives of these projects, with no regard for how decolonization wants something different than those forms of justice.” (pg. 2)
Reading this article shifted my perspective in 3 ways:
Really? Beginning to think about how decolonization is different and not overlapping with other social justice frameworks.
Beginning to think of how I and we want to alleviate our guilt – or “move to innocence” – around the violent issues that come with being a settler, benefiting from it, and continuing to perpetuate settler colonialism.
Learning to hold incommensurability, unsettling as it is.
First: Understanding our “moves to innocence” is part of interrogating our privilege
“Directly and indirectly benefiting from the erasure and assimilation of Indigenous peoples is a difficult reality for settlers to accept. The weight of this reality is uncomfortable; the misery of guilt makes one hurry toward any reprieve.” (9)
Understanding our own privileges often brings up a lot of guilt associated with our part in oppression. As part of human nature, we want to alleviate this guilt – to get to a state of cognitive consonance – we want to feel better! Things like developing a critical consciousness (ahem) of privilege/oppression, donating money to a cause, dedicating your career to it, claiming a distant (perhaps not real) native ancestor, are actually “diversions, distractions, which relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility, and conceal the need to give up land or power or privilege.” (21)
These are what Tuck & Yang call “moves to innocence,” ways we can rid ourselves of this pesky thing called guilt.
“Settler moves to innocence are those strategies or positionings that attempt to relieve the settler of feelings of guilt or responsibility without giving up land or power or privilege.” (10)
However, these strategies don’t actually remedy the thing we’re feeling bad about.
In particular, we can see our moves to innocence, engage with them, and transform them:
“We provide this framework so that we can be more impatient with each other, less likely to accept gestures and half-steps, and more willing to press for acts which unsettle innocence…” (10)
In other words, our guilt carries potential. Guilt is actually good in that it tells us that we know something’s wrong! However, most of our strategies to alleviate guilt claim to be finite — I donated, I’ve done my part, now I can resume whatever I was doing — and don’t really address the wrong we feel. On the other hand, the uncomfortable position of guilt is home to rich discussions, new ideas, and hopefully, transformation. It reminds me of a quote I just read:
“Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody.” – Susan B. Anthony
Learning to embrace these very real feelings that come with privilege is important and necessary in moving toward decolonization.
Second: Decolonization is not a subset of social justice: “incommensurability is unsettling”
“The promise of integration and civil rights is predicated on securing a share of settler-appropriated wealth (as well as expropriated ‘third-world’ wealth.)” (7)
Tuck & Yang point out that much of social justice is based on the existence of a settler colonial state. Often, remediating the wrongs done to many people of color, rely on colonialism.
In particular they point to three movements that neglect decolonization or turn it into a metaphor. Here are simple summaries:
Third world decolonizations we often forget about what is happening and has happened here (where ever that is) in order to focus on imperialism/colonialism globally or abroad, elsewhere.
Abolition of slavery and deconstructing the prison industrial complex rely on taking land from natives to give to previously enslaved peoples.
Critical pedagogies like place-based knowledge situate our experiences upon land but do not move to include land itself as active, only as receiver/passive.
For each, Tuck & Yang provide the start of a “bibliography of incommensurability.”
Further, they suggest that real solidarity and collaboration arise from acknowledging our differences rather than smearing them together in order to construct makeshift coalitions:
“We argue that the opportunities for solidarity lie in what is incommensurable rather than what is common across these efforts.” (28)
“We offer these perspectives on unsettling innocence because they are examples of what we might call an ethic of incommensurability, which recognizes what is distinct, what is sovereign for project(s) of decolonization in relation to human and civil rights based social justice projects.“ (28)
Third: Now what? Holding incommensurability, guilt, and other unsettling feelings
“An ethic of incommensurability, which guides moves that unsettle innocence, stands in contrast to aims of reconciliation, which motivate settler moves to innocence. Reconciliation is about rescuing settler normalcy, about rescuing a settler future. Reconciliation is concerned with questions of what will decolonization look like? What will happen after abolition? What will be the consequences of decolonization for the settler? Incommensurability acknowledges that these questions need not, and perhaps cannot, be answered in order for decolonization to exist as a framework.
We want to say, first, that decolonization is not obliged to answer those questions – decolonization is not accountable to settlers, or settler futurity. Decolonization is accountable to Indigenous sovereignty and futurity. […] The answers will not emerge from friendly understanding, and indeed require a dangerous understanding of uncommonality that un-coalesces coalition politics – moves that may feel very unfriendly.”
How can we start and hold spaces within ourselves for this unsettling feeling without moving straight to a way to alleviate our guilt?
How can we hold spaces that are problematic at a group level that create discussion and do not end with something that claims to be a solution? In other words, how can we create spaces that also hold unsettling discussions, and even the “dangerous understanding” that comes with it?
This document was created to serve as an introduction to the ideas of colonization and provide a glimpse into what decolonization means. In particular, it is useful in broadening our thinking about classism beyond Marxism to also include indigenous people and their struggles. It’s not exhaustive. Please (please!) share your thoughts, questions and suggestions!
A little by way of background
Generally, in social justice circles, I hear Marx’s ideas as one of the primary and fundamental ways of understanding class-based oppression. To put it simply: classism exists because certain people take advantage of others by exploiting their labor. That profit is only possible when labor is under- or not paid.
However, this perspective continues to invisiblize native struggles: it ignores how nature and land get turned into natural resources and commodities to be traded. These are huge parts of how profit gets generated within capitalism! Furthermore, the violent transition from nature to natural resource isn’t a quick and easy shift, but rather often requires dispossessing native people, severing connections with land that have (in many cases) existed for several thousand years, and constructing histories that do not include these struggles. For example, in thinking about any natural resource, is it part of our consciousness to include just where it comes from? Where did the tree live that became a piece of paper?
For work around undoing classism to be successful – to move to a more just, equitable society – we must not only think about how people are turned into workers to be exploited, but also how trees must be turned into natural resources to be exploited and how natives must be erased to control land. What follows are a few entry points into further understanding about these dynamics.
1) Learn about which people lived where you do before you did. What are they called now? What name(s) do/did they have for themselves? What were their crafts, social structure, homes, types of food? Are there any descendants still around your area?
I’m sure you’ve heard of these three words, but what do they mean if they’re used interchangeably? Read on to learn the key differences between collaborations, coalitions, and networks.
At its most basic, collaboration just means working together. In non-profit lingo, collaborations generally include things like information sharing, program coordination, and joint planning (source 1). Two or more organizations get together and have a limited interaction, achieve a mutually beneficial goal like jointly planning an event or learning from each other. Key characteristics of collaborations:
a few organizations
limited in time
not necessarily formalized in any way
may be around a shared, specified goal
Can you think of any collaborations you’ve recently been part of or heard of?
Usually formed for a specific, common goal, a coalition involves a group of organizations that get together, share responsibilities, and may disband after achieving their goal. Coalitions exist to bring broader attention and action to a large goal that affects many stakeholders. For example, if a coalition formed to pass or prevent legislation, it would have more leverage than an individual organization, because it can reach more people, access greater resources, and bring different perspectives to the strategy. Often, coalitions are short-lived and end after successfully accomplishing its goal. Key characteristics of coalitions and alliances:
usually limited in time
usually have a specific goal
varying levels of formalization
may have a specified convener or facilitator
What goal, larger than your organization’s mission statement, would be best achieved by a coalition?
A network is a set of organizations with diverse relationships, strengths of relationships and trust between them. One way to think about it is like an ecosystem – there are different types of actors, but they work together – some more closely than others. Collaborations and coalitions happen within larger networks. As June Holley writes, in her Network Weaver Handbook: “networks are different than organizations: there is no boss who can fire members if they don’t do their job, there are no weekly staff meetings to ensure that communication and learning are taking place, and there are no teams or departments to organize the work and distribute funds.” Key network characteristics:
no necessary convener,
evolve over time and persist beyond goal,
not necessarily formal or intentional, but can be,
may exist for specific goal, or for broader support function
Armed with the knowledge of the differences between collaborations, coalitions, and networks, what is a good next step for your organization to strengthen its relationships? Will you choose a time-bound partnership, facilitate a group toward a common goal, or get to meeting and greeting new peers?