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One year in, and we're learning a lot

by Chad Lubelsky The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

A few months ago I
posted our initial thinking and plans for evaluating RECODE’s systems change work. The post describes the complexity of evaluating systems change, and you can see our first steps here. And if you want to dig a bit deeper, check out Kathryn Meisner’s post about the site’s development.

So what are we learning about
how to affect change? Even in these early days, we’ve started to see some patterns.

Plan for your plan not to work – at least not how you planned it

Good planning is helpful and necessary, but when planning for systems change, system entrepreneurs would be well-served to read Henry Mintzberg and his writings on Emergent Strategy. “Instead of the deliberate approach, the emergent approach is the view that strategy emerges over time as intentions collide with, and accommodate, a changing reality” (Karl Moore, Ivey Business Journal).
Given that our very activities bring about a constantly changing reality, we need to concurrently and constantly adapt our actions and plans. Success in this context is deeply connected to our capacity to adapt, even if in the particular moment when nothing is going according to plan, it might not feel like it.

The way forward may feel more like a tightrope walk—where you are guided by your plan, but have tuned your senses to the opportunities and variables that are bound to arise in order to be open to emerging pathways that may be more fruitful and strategic than your original plan.
What’s more, it seems like the only thing we can confidently plan for is for progress to be slower than originally anticipated. A good plan should plan for all of this. And more.

Language matters

The terrain of social innovation and social entrepreneurship is both contested and new. As such, multiple schools have reported on the need to define and create common language as a starting point for supporting alignment between ideas and practices. Our chances for success increase the more mindful we are of advancing language that is inclusive of the diversity of the ecosystem
and includes working definitions that enables collective work and shared understanding.

We must also learn to question. Questioning language and labels is a critical part of understanding the intricacies and nuances of our work and necessary to ensure terms are not being ‘greenwashed’ into meaningless. RECODE’s Danica Straith reflected on this contested terrain in the blog post, (Not) Just Semantics.

Bring a compass, not a map

This is one we know already, but it’s worth repeating. The path to social change is poorly signposted and a challenge to navigate. Sometimes the best we can do is identify our North Star; the touchstone that guides our decision making. A North Star or touchstone are invaluable compasses for staying true to our original intentions, even and especially when we don’t know the way forward.
For many schools, enhancing student learning is their RECODE North Star.
What’s yours? We’d like to hear about what guides your work forward. Share your North Stars with us on Twitter and Facebook by using #RECODE1yr.

Nov 10, 2015 | Tags: , , , , , , ,