An Accidentally Virtual Community of Practice

Communities of Practice tend to go awry when conveners and/or facilitators are not adept at the core conceptual components required for success, and the more often this happens in the philanthropic sector, the less likely participants are to enter the Community of Practice space in an open and optimistic way.

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Internal Validity

Earlier in the week, I asked my students, "When was the last time you intentionally read something that you knew in advance you would strongly disagree with?" I got thirty-five blank stares. And I wasn't surprised. Under what circumstances in our contemporary American society would they come across a reason to do that? When they see something they don't like, they swipe left and it's gone.

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Rich Knapsack, Poor Knapsack

I know that the folks I'm talking with in this session will generally be more amenable to charging for a fundraising event or even engaging in fee-for-service with some of their training materials than this one simple thing, which just happens to be the thing that we talk about all the time when we talk about economic inequality: Wealthy people have the money. We need it. How do we get it?

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Failed Relationships, Sweat-Soaked Spreadsheets, and Uncomfortable Patronage Promises: A Look at the Public Office Pathway

It may be hard to imagine what collective leadership would look like in an appointed or elected capacity, but some of us know leaders that operate just that way. I remember being asked to attend a small meeting years ago at a radical Bay Area grassroots organization. There were five other folks at the table, and I was surprised (and delighted) to see that one of them was a member of the Board of Supervisors. Later, I mentioned to the meeting organizer that I was impressed her org could just call up this big-city supervisor and get him to attend attend. She laughed and told me I had it all wrong – the supervisor had actually called the meeting; she'd just taken care of the logistics.

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Sisterhood Is Powerful, But So Is the White Racial Frame

(Thumbnail Photo Credit: John Floyd, 2017)

On the night of the panel, we had a good turnout, with the crowd including resident-advocates, nonprofit professionals, and several grassroots leaders from our own Commissions Training Program cohort. The panel discussion was going well and picking up steam when an older African American man in the back raised his hand and was given the microphone. "I have a question," he started. "Why are there no men on this panel?"

From my vantage point in the back, I watched reactions wash over the faces of everyone at the front of the room – Liberty Hill's white, female staff member, who was serving as moderator, and the four women to her left, all of whom were women of color. All eyebrows were up expectantly, including the moderator's, and the room was quiet.  

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Verstehen: Meaningful Understanding

Many would argue that a researcher's job is to control her subjective thoughts and feelings so as to avoid biased findings, but for others – including me – doing our best to enter into another's meaning-making is crucial to building and evaluating the potential impact of equity-focused work, the only work that really matters to me. In the evaluation field, this process is captured in techniques like Michael Quinn Patton's concept of "empathic neutrality" which he considers to be the middle ground between too much of either of the two terms represented in the phrase. 

The need to engage verstehen (or empathic neutrality) is equally important whether my "subject" is someone with whom I'm already inclined to empathize (like the young woman in the park) or someone with whom it is very difficult for me to empathize. And so it was verstehen that I called upon later in the week when I found myself in the backseat of a cab being driven by an outspoken white nationalist.

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Champion-Thinking and Managing Up

(Thumbnail Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Last week, I read a newspaper article announcing a well-funded initiative to combat a pressing social issue in San Francisco. The funding was a composite of private sources and the issue was one that a small number of local and unintentionally lean nonprofit organizations have been working on for decades.

I raised an eyebrow and commented off-handedly to a friend that I hoped that the new organization was making sure that long-time advocacy groups were at the planning table, since they were the ones who most understood not just the local terrain but also the root causes. My friend shot back with a surprising level passion, assuring me that the process would be authentic, that root causes would be central to all strategy, and that I the money would be well spent.

As we both dug in our heels, relevant details emerged.

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Better Together (Moving Really Fast and Strategically)

Yesterday, after weeks of struggle, House Republicans narrowly passed legislation to repeal and replace large parts of the Affordable Care Act. Senator Kamala Harris tweeted, "This bill isn’t just about medicine, it’s about our values as a nation. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and fight for that. Let’s go."

I'm with you, Senator Harris. Let's go! But, how? We can all agree that we must act quickly and strategically in the work we are doing right now to protect our communities, but the way forward is murky at best. Over the last few days I've been checking in with my clients, and in one way or another the conversation ultimately lands on, "What makes sense now?" As we've all pretty much figured out at this point, our "now" is wholly unlike any moment before.

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Jill of Some Trades, Master of Several -- But Trust Me, They're All Awesome (I Think)

Last year, I dialed back a bit on my consulting projects and committed to a full-time college teaching load.

My husband was relieved. Not because I'd be making more money (I'd be making less), but because finally, he said, "I'll be able to explain to people what you do for a living."

I had to admit that I felt the same relief. For several years, I'd been working on my own pretty successfully, but the least successful thing I'd managed was explaining to folks what I was doing all day that resulted in an actual deposits to my checking account.

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