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July 18, 2022

Shaping Change

“…I thought that we would spend about a year in transition, after which we’d hit some magical moment of homeostasis and hum along for awhile. Seven years later, I’m still waiting for that moment, and have come to realize that transition is the work. I used to think it was an artifact of the work, but have come to understand that leading through times of transition is actually our work.”

Akaya Windwood, (2014)


In this post, the Educopia staff and Board are sharing a joyful message about our process for developing and holding a collective vision for the future, and how we are shaping change towards that reality. 

Educopia staff undertook a significant organizational development process starting in 2020. We were in a moment of acceleration, having received the largest grant award in our history while expanding our portfolio of partners and affiliated communities to include groups that were explicitly committed to social and economic justice. It had only been two years since we published the Community Cultivation Field Guide when our staff doubled in size. At this moment, Katherine Skinner was beginning to purposefully name the organizational risks of retaining a single executive director for too long, and started to plan her departure from her role at Educopia.

The momentum brought on by this series of changes sparked an iterative organizational development process which is now an organizational practice—a way of beingwhich ensures that we are holding a collective vision of the change Educopia hopes to make in the world. 

Our organizational development process began with a series of interviews with staff members. During these sessions, recurring questions and pain points surfaced regarding our rapid growth and how it outpaced existing processes and cultural practices. We identified four key areas where we needed to build shared understanding: Research, Organizational Health, Consulting, and the Community Cultivation Framework. We formed corresponding working groups for each area and designed interactive sessions for the 2020 staff retreat. Each session provided an overview and structured a conversation with the team about the most pressing questions pertaining to their area and framed our other retreat discussions. In partnership with Alex Hildebrand from Learning for Action, we situated ourselves in the information landscape, articulated scoping for our core programs, and determined that collective priorities for 2021 would include internal communications, documenting workflows and roles for research and consulting project design, and prioritizing staff development. 

Our internal communications initiatives throughout 2021 centered on our weekly team meetings as strategic opportunities to build shared understanding. We identified formats for our meetings that would allow full participation on shared topics of interest for everyone on the team, including community cultivation case studies, real-time strategic planning sessions, and co-creating culture discussions. 

As our 2021 staff retreat grew closer, we took stock of our real-time strategic planning framework and committed to naming the ways in which oppressive systems were showing up in our organization. Partnering with Luis Alejandro Tapia from the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute, our intentions for the 2021 retreat included building trust and connection, practicing self-reflection as a key component of Educopia’s organizational life, and discussing specific structural supports that would bring us in closer alignment with our values. 

Looking ahead to 2022, we narrowed our attention on our organizational vision for equity; staff and board development; strengthening Educopia’s operational infrastructure; practicing emergent strategy through functional interdependence; and building up our consulting program in order to move towards more earned, unrestricted revenue.

So far this year, in the midst of a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) world where we continue to face global health crises, hate-motivated violence, personal loss, and attacks on civil liberties, our Board and staff have managed to move the needle on all aspects of our strategic vision. 

 Our Board President, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Board member Adele Vrana, and staff member Jessica Meyerson are collaborating with Tracy Kunkler and Dee Washington from Circle Forward on a Board development series, which has just completed. This series has engaged the Board in fulfilling three intentions: 

  1. developing a shared understanding of the Board’s role in an organization that centers equity and Community Cultivation; 
  2. developing agreements about board culture and the shape of the relationship with staff; 
  3. defining the process for selecting new leadership. 

As part of the leadership review underway, our Board and staff will engage in conversation with organizations that have a shared leadership model in place to identify the conditions for healthy and effective shared leadership; reach out to Educopia’s Affiliated Communities, our project teams, and our clients to bring their voices and perspectives into this transition; and assess the strengths, skills, and experiences that are needed to govern and lead in a VUCA information landscape.

Educopia’s Board and staff share an understanding that the means by which knowledge is produced, shared, and made accessible/accessed over time has vast implications for the future of our society. And, if the core assumption underlying many current investments in knowledge infrastructures is that these investments will lower barriers to access, (thereby increasing diverse representation in new knowledge produced globally), then those engaged in advocating for and resourcing these investments are faced with two mutually reinforcing challenges:

  1. Systemic oppression is the air we breathe, and change is both necessary and possible. Organizations need support to work in ways that meaningfully center equity in collaboration, and that elevate personal transformation as prerequisite to field-level, sector-level transformation.
  2. There is a lack of support structures to ensure the development of critical competencies for sustainable networked solutions — a necessity for addressing the size and scale of most major challenges in the information ecosystem today. 

Educopia’s work is directed at supporting collective action towards a healthier, more equitable information landscape. While our external work is the most visible — consulting, research, and community cultivation that applies our deep expertise in digital curation, scholarly communications, sustainability planning, facilitation, organizational development, and stakeholder engagement. Our internal work is our engine of transformation

While concepts (values, principles) and frameworks can be powerful alignment and accountability tools for collective work, it is the depth of our relationships and the degree to which we trust one another that determines their efficacy. We are turning our community cultivation model on ourselves and learning each day, with humility, on how to be in “right relationship” with one another and change

We invite you all to join us on this journey and to follow along as we share our process and experience openly and transparently in this space.