Connections 2018: Experiments in Organizational Innovation
The 2018 issue of Connections, edited by KF director of strategic initiatives Melinda Gilmore and KF program officer Randall Nielsen, focuses on experiments in organizational innovation. Kettering’s annual review of its research has explored the question, how can civic organizations work in ways that are aligned with a democratic citizenry? The issue highlights innovations in organizational forms intended to encourage the development of networks of self-directed experimentation and learning. Some authors explore ways to change the protocols of existing institutions, and others describe designs of new forms of organizations.
Kettering president David Mathews frames the issue in the context of Kettering’s yearlong focus on the role that institutions should play in our democracy; in particular, the foundation has been looking at institutions that are experimenting with what it would mean to align their work with the work of citizens. He argues that “building and perpetuating institutional cultures that support democratic experimentation is crucial, particularly at a time when democracies and hope-to-be democracies around the world are facing . . . systemic problems.”
Former executive director of Grassroots Grantmakers Janis Foster Richardson asks, “What does philanthropy have to do with everyday life for ordinary people in a community?” In her article “Listening to Place-Based Philanthropies at the Edge,” Richardson discusses foundations that put place at the center of their interest and focus on strengthening civic capacity.
Kettering program officer Brad Rourke and Kettering senior associate Alice Diebel report on learning from an initiative with participants from the Cooperative Extension land-grant system in 13 states. Participants worked in their surrounding neighborhoods and communities to encourage citizens to find ways to shape their future using democratic practice. They created two common deliberative frameworks that community members in each state used; one was focused on rural community questions (2014-2017), and the other on urban community questions (2016-2018).
Abby Straus is board president of the Northeast Economic Development Association (NEDA) and president of Maverick & Boutique. Straus tells the story of NEDA, a 63-year-old membership organization that has spent the last several years reinventing itself to be more relevant and useful to people who care about the economic vibrancy of communities throughout the Northeast. They discovered their purpose doesn’t lie in solving problems for their members, but rather in connecting them to each other and to the solutions they create together.
Cristin F. Brawner, executive director of the David Mathews Center for Civic Life, describes the organization’s approach to its work, which aims to increase active citizenship, community collaboration, and effective decision-making in Alabama. Over time, this center has shifted the way it works so that the organization is not a hub but rather part of the connective tissue that builds networks of interaction in communities.
Lisa-Marie Napoli, director of Voices for Democracy and Civility and associate director of the Political and Civic Engagement Program at Indiana University, shares examples of her center for public life’s work in Bloomington, Indiana, which focuses on addressing difficult problems in the community with a wide variety of actors, including community, university, government, and nonprofit groups.
Byron White is the executive director of StrivePartnership and a vice president at KnowledgeWorks, as well as a Kettering Foundation senior associate. In the article “Collective Impact from the Inside Out,” White explains how StrivePartnership works closely with practitioners that are interested in pursuing more effective engagement between institutions and communities, particularly related to education and youth development.
Kettering program officer Phillip D. Lurie writes about recent research with the Citizens’ Accord Forum (CAF), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Jerusalem that works to build a shared society in a sustainable democracy in Israel. A new insight has led CAF to pursue an issue-based approach to addressing conflicts. Much of the article draws on interviews with participants and puts the work in their own words.
Executive director and founder of Kindred, Laura Wilson Phelan, describes Washington DC-based Kindred’s efforts to provide space and structure for difficult conversations that will build trusting relationships among parents from diverse racial and economic backgrounds to address the longstanding educational inequity in their schools.
Tendai Murisa is the executive director of the SIVIO Institute in Zimbabwe, a new organization organized around the idea that there are initiatives citizens are already engaged in that influence democracy. Murisa considers the ways in which a new organization can act as a kind of learning center nurturing democratic practices that are citizen driven and citizen focused.