If we want to see communities where people are fully engaged, participating in their own lives and their own futures, what would it look like if that was modeled everywhere – starting with our own organization?
This is a question that has been in the making at Creating the Future since the initial decision, before we even had a name for this organization, that we would make all our major strategic decisions by engaging others in those decisions.
From there, engaging about “major strategic decisions” became engaging about anything meaty our board or staff was considering. It became posting our minutes online, and making sure those minutes were not the legal minimum, but instead showed the flow of the discussion.
We began blogging every decision. How should we design X program? Does it make sense to do a fundraising campaign? What should our conflict of interest statement include? All the issues most organizations decide internally, often behind closed doors, we have blogged openly, scouring social media to then bring people into the discussion – and then rooting our decisions in what we learned from that engagement.
From “Engaged Decision-Making” to “Fully Engaged, Period.”
The more open engagement became “just how we do things,” the more we began applying that thinking to everything we did.
As our board continues to grow and add new members, we considered what “deeply engaged and participatory” meant for us as well. Our meetings tackle such meaty subjects, taking the time to discuss every aspect of this work, as we do our best to model thoughtful, effective, generative leadership. To work in that manner requires that the size of the board be big enough for diverse thinking, yet small enough to be able to all share our thinking.
Which led to our having guests at every meeting, who are invited to fully participate in the discussions as if they were on the board – a way of having a constant stream of deeply engaged participation from a broad variety of sectors and cultures and countries and viewpoints. (We’ll be blogging more about this, as it has been an immensely rewarding experience, but you can see what one of our guests shared about this effort here).
We vowed to seek funding in a way that builds deeply engaged partnerships – not the transactional “silent financial partnership” that is currently the norm in social investment of all kinds. We vowed that if our mission is in part to make funding more effective in creating strong, healthy communities, that we will infuse that mission into our own funding relationships.
We will ask our funding partners to walk alongside us, learning together and experimenting together and transforming together, to accomplish something together that neither of us can accomplish on our own. We envision a stone soup approach to partnership – a gathering of riches where we all are better for having joined together – rather than the typical power-laden relationship of “funder and grantee.” And whatever comes of that, we will share openly, as we learn together.
As engagement and participation began to be our board’s reflexive response, it wasn’t a far stretch to suggest that all our planning work should be done as live streamed events, where anyone could watch and learn and yes, even participate in a text chat along with us. That a funder who wanted to fund such an effort would be invited to participate as a full member of the planning team – to make changes in their own work, and not just help plan for Creating the Future’s work (fully participating meaning bringing your own soul to the table, for all that might make possible for everyone present).
And yes, we’ll be blogging more about this, too.
The Inside Story
This progression didn’t happen as a prescription – a mandate to be transparent for the sake of transparency or external accountability. It happened instead as the natural extension of our mission – to be a living laboratory, to openly explore, and most especially, to ensure that others could learn from what we were learning as well as what we were modeling.
Instead of a spirit of stewardship of resources, it came from a deep sense of stewardship of the future of our world.
And it didn’t happen overnight. It came from lengthy exploratory discussions. It came from giving ourselves time to explore, and to get accustomed to new ways of being, and to then put a toe into deeper exploration.
As we experienced what it made possible to engaged all meaty decisions, it felt natural to expect funders to bring their all, to fully participate in a real partnership.
Which led to it feeling perfectly natural that we would have fully participating guests at every meeting.
Which led to it feeling perfectly natural that we would do all our planning live in front of anyone who wanted to watch or participate – our community/global impact plan, our marketing / communications plan, and yes, our resource development plan.
Busting down the walls. Fully engaging the wisdom in the room – and acknowledging that for our particular mission, the “room” is the world.
Which leads to this question…
What if everything we do is fully engaged?
What would it make possible if we assumed that everything Creating the Future does is open and engaged and participatory, in the broadest meaning of that word? What would it make possible if we assumed open and engaged as the default, making private decisions and actions only when circumstances truly necessitated being closed?
We put our first toe into this question several months ago, as the board considered its Executive Session Policy. Now, though, we are at the brink of something far more powerful than a narrow policy. We are at the precipice of a way of being that could change everything – for our own organization’s work and far beyond…
What would it make possible if our board meetings were streamed online, where anyone could watch and add comments / ask questions / join the discussion in text in real time? What would it make possible if that was then all posted to YouTube, where anyone could watch?
What would it make possible if our internal trainings – the kind of trainings that boards and orgs do all the time, from orientation to “how to talk about the mission” to graduate discussions – were all streamed live online and then posted to YouTube for anyone to see?
And what’s the worst that could happen if we busted down the walls, and engaged every activity live online, in person, in front of anyone who wanted to watch?
As with everything, your thoughts will help shape our actions. Which is just one of the many things being openly engaged and participatory makes possible.
Many thanks to all the people we love, whose photos dot this post.