A Look Inside the Institute for Changemakers
Let’s Take a Deeper Dive into the Strategies, Issues & Questions at the Core of This Virtual Community of Change
Since the 2023 Summer Institute for Changemakers coming up in less than two weeks (starting on Wednesday, July 26th), I want to take some time to share more details about the Institute.
This summer’s Institute will be the third cohort in this series of programs designed to bring people together, strengthen our change practice, and build skills to effectively advocate for positive change in our organizations, institutions, and communities. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting all those who have been a part of the first two Institutes for Changemakers, and I know many of those involved have stayed connected to each other after the Institute’s ended (one of the best outcomes of these gatherings!).
Before we take a more detailed look inside these Institutes, just a reminder that registration is open now for the 2023 Summer Institute for Changemakers. You can find more details in this post, and register by clicking the button below. If you have any questions at all, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now let’s take a closer look at what each of the four weekly sessions will look and feel like during this Institute. These are core themes and strategies. Keep in mind that each Institute varies since I am responsive to the challenges & needs of each specific group.
Week 1: Exploring Our Relationship with Change
As we gather for the first session, I always like to spend time making sure that everyone gets to know each other. During all four sessions there are lots of moments where participants pair up or chat in small groups, but I like to do some rapid introductions on our first day, inspired by “speed dating.”
After that, we spend a chunk of time personally reflecting on the idea of “change” and what it means for each of us.
Uncertainty and change are here to stay, that’s just a fact of life. So I’m always interested in exploring our relationship with these forces and giving ourselves some space and kindness to unpack that relationship.
With everything always changing around us so rapidly, it can feel quite challenging to then be an advocate and agent for change in any aspect of your work or life. Right? Why on earth would we want more change? This is why I think it can be so important to hold space for our relationship to change, be kind to ourselves as we navigate our struggles with change, and build empathy for others’ experiences with change.
Some of the core questions we reflect on are:
How would you describe your relationship with change – right now, in this moment?
What change might be challenging or difficult for you?
What changes bring you joy?
In what ways are we changing the world around us, and how are we changing in response (even in the smallest ways)?
These questions form the basis for a simple but effective tool (see below) that you can bring to our own work practice, encouraging others around us to reflect on their own relationship with change. As human beings, we respond to change in very complex and emotional ways, so it’s really important that we better understand this and take a more human-centered approach to advocating for change.
Download this sample “Relationship with Change” worksheet from the Institute for Changemakers to use in your own change practice — similar to many of the strategy worksheets I share with Institute participants. Try this one out on your own — bring these prompts to your next meeting, share them with co-workers and colleagues, or introduce one of the questions at the beginning of your next volunteer training or board meeting.
Our first Institute session often ends by shifting to focus on the change we’re wanting to make happen in our own work. After all, one of the main goals of these Institutes is for participants to become better prepared to advance positive change in their own institutions, organizations, and communities. So we start thinking about change in our individual work contexts – a process we return to throughout the Institute.
Week 2: Navigating Barriers to Change
In our second session, we focus on several ways to identify barriers to change in our organizations and in our work, and go through some strategies to better navigate those barriers.
This second session is one of my favorites because it gives space for everyone to step back, unpack some of the assumptions they might be making about the barriers they’re facing, and develop a positive way forward.
During this session, I introduce several strategies that help us reflect on the stories we tell ourselves about change, and I encourage us to engage in more radical empathy through our change practice. I’ve been leading some of these exercises for more than 10 years, and I keep coming back to them because they are simple yet powerful. I look forward to working through these strategies once again.
As with each week, we also focus on how these strategies can be turned into action within our organizations and our own work.
Week 3: Bringing Human Connection to the Center of Our Practice
I am often asked about the single most important thing we can do to make real, meaningful change happen within institutions and communities. And I always think back to these words from writer and activist adrienne maree brown from her pivotal book Emergent Strategy:
“Relationships are everything.”
These words really form the core of our third session in the Institute. When we take the time to engage in meaningful and intentional processes of building and sustaining relationships, we can play a stronger role as an agent of change in our work. We are doing our best work when we’re developing and nurturing our relationships—it’s as simple as that.
But how can we keep this focus on relationships front and center in our practice? How can we stay grounded in a more people-centered approach to our work, and not let it get lost amidst everything we are trying to balance?
During this session, I introduce one of my favorite strategies for building support for change: Mapping Relationships. “Relational mapping,” as it is often called, is a form of rethinking our working structures. It’s an exercise that helps us to reframe the way we think about our work to go beyond the traditional organizational charts. It pushes us to notice the connections, relationships, and communities we have formed with other people, regardless of the rigid reporting structures and silos within our organizations.
When we work to move away from our emphasis on traditional org charts based in oppressive hierarchies and power inequities, and instead focus on the human relationships we have in our work, we can begin to transform institutions and the existing power dynamics.
We build off of this core exercise by thinking about how we can build communities of change in our work, and how to identify those who we might want to be advocating for change alongside us. We can’t do this work alone, so it’s vital to develop strategies for bringing others on board as we make change happen.
Week 4: Slowing Down and Taking Small Steps
As we gather for our fourth and final session together, we turn our attention to a really important and timely issue: burnout.
Burnout and overwork are probably some of the largest barriers to advocating for change within an organization, and this has gotten notably worse since the pandemic. In nearly every workshop I lead about organizational change, the issue of burnout and overwork comes to the forefront. Whenever we’re thinking about making change within our organization or work life, it can feel like we have to add more stuff onto an already-overflowing plate. But that’s not how it has to be.
In this final session, we think about what it means to slow down, prioritize our work, and make choices based on what matters most to us. As I’ve written about before here and here on Agents of Change, we actually can’t do everything (surprise, surprise), so we need to develop strategies that help us focus our time on our best work while at the same time ensuring that we treat ourselves with care and compassion. We practice some intentional breathing, and get a true sense of what it feels like to slow down and be present.
As this last session wraps up, we practice one of the simplest and most effective strategies for change: working through some small next steps. And rather than leave this four-week Institute experience feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work needed to effect big sweeping change, it is always my goal that everyone leaves with the makings of a practical, do-able action plan to advance the change they want to make happen.
Advocating for change is never easy – but we can do this together!
Transformation is hard, and it takes time. Whether we’re focusing on the internal work of transforming ourselves and the way we show up in this world, or whether we’re doing the external work of deeply transforming our institutions and organizations, it is never easy.
There is no magic button to make change happen overnight, nor a magic wand that will erase the complexities, challenges, and obstacles we face when advocating for change.
We have to break from old habits of thinking and dominant patterns of behavior, question the status quo, challenge the “business as usual” approach, and develop a new mindset for how we want to work and be in this world. None of this is easy, and we cannot do this alone.
We’ve got to be intentional about coming together, holding space for change, and recognizing our collective work together.
Join with others in this year’s Summer Institute for Changemakers, and be part of this experience.
Registration is open now, and the first session begins on July 26th. Sessions will be on Wednesdays from 1-3pm Eastern time.
Read this post for more details.
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