Evolution of Underlying Agreements for a National Transformation

by Annabel Membrillo Jimenez, Senior Fellow, Institute for Strategic Clarity, and Global Steward, Vibrancy Ins, and Ruth Rominger, Director of Information and Network Design, Collaborative Networks Initiative, Garfield Foundation

What do you need to be truly collaborative? There are many different answers to this question.  In this case, we gain insights from the journey of a national project in the US using the Strategic Clarity system analysis and Ecosynomics framework to develop an answer.

In 2013, the Garfield Foundation put out a call for groups who wanted to build networks to address a complex issue using a systemic approach. One of the proposals received was from a group of six organizations who joined forces to propose a network to ramp up decades of pioneering work on getting toxic chemicals out of our products, homes, workplaces and communities. Together, these partners founded the Cancer Free Economy Network.

Even though there are several things still in development, the network was able to evolve from the noun level to the verb level. Some agreements were present in the conversations from the very beginning, because the Foundation’s program was based on at least two main principles to increase the impact of the emergent project. Those principles were systemic thinking and collaboration.  The Collaborative Network motto is “Thinking systemically & Acting collaboratively.”

A lot of intensive dialog and co-design was done with network leaders to identify their desired main outcomes and the process of engagement for every network and cluster meeting.

Another big agreement was to pursue an ambitious, far-reaching, trans-generational goal (North Star Goal) as the Network’s inspiration to act. Everybody recoginized the central purpose of the work of the Network.

Along the way, other key agreements necessary for the implementation phase matured. And still other agreements continue to be part of the learning journey for this network.

A big shift in the network can be represented by the following five core agreements on how this network is operating:

  1. Short term projects with local impacts (3-5 years) – Long-term strategies with national impact, supported by a set of interconnected strategic projects and initiatives (20-25 years).  The evolution of strategic conversations between network members went from looking for overlaps among perspective and current projects that might expand individual efforts and collaboration in existing work, to looking for long-term projects with broader impacts. Network members’ first evolution was going from the usual action driven approach to a wide search for solutions that apply to the transformation of the whole system.  
  2. From Network participants’ with similar mindsets to a wider range of network participants mindset (organizations and individuals).  In 2013, a group of six organizations formed the network. In 2016, the network includes over 80 organizations working in different parts of the system. They are working together to develop interconnected strategies to transition the economy away from a reliance on toxic substances that cause cancer and other diseases, to a new system that promotes healthy and safe alternatives for all. They put their reputations on the line to recruit a carefully selected group of experts with different voices and perspectives, the first unusual suspects appear in the Network in 2014, but 2015 was the year were network willingness for including different perspectives took an important role for the evolution of the work. At the beginning of the year one of the main indicators was the percentage of representatives from minority populations (people of color, African American, Hispanics, etc.). That evolved into really working towards an openness to engage in real dialog to understand others and to look for a balance in representatives of different gender, age, fields, people of color and cultural minorities.   CFE Project Timeline
  3. A conscious search for being systemic thinkers – Collaborative Network with co-benefits culture and systemic strategic alignment across stakeholders.  In this network, members work with other stakeholders across the system to find “co-benefits” or complementary goals, to build the power to achieve shared stakeholder goals.  The systemic, long-term network goal means developing a deep and long-term commitment to reinforce each other’s work, and to learn and adapt together. Members started to grasp the concept of collective intelligence and found ways to living toward it.
  4. Self-organizing network with little technical and coordinating support – Network coordination and development mechanism at the service of network evolution.  At the beginning of the year, there were many situations created by not having clear roles, or clear decisions making agreements on how to work together. This brought many confusing times especially for newcomers, either new network participants or new advisors/facilitators of the process. Through time this improved radically, a lot of Network development mechanisms were introduce, including an online community, and more coordination for the process.
  5. Powerful individual or group stories – Powerful, aligned network story and actions.  Network members have their heart in the North Start Goal. Most of them have very emotional personal stories and when they shared those experiences, it touched the heart of their colleagues. However, the work of the Network goes beyond that, it is a bigger gesture. Through the work of the year, the Network built up a powerful collective story that gave them an aligned message and also an aligned set of pathways to explore together.

A very interesting and fast network evolution can be seen in the agreements maps of one year to the other.

If the CFE Network can hold in its essence the emerging agreements in a conscious way, they will discover the next gesture and steps to move toward an industrial transformation in the country. And there will be another story to be written to share what they will have achieve. 

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