Outward Bound Again

Nineteen years ago this week, I graduated from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, having studied Finance and Healthcare Administration. After two years of working long weekdays to crunch financial projections for huge hospital projects and working long weekends training for and leading Chicago Center Outward Bound programs for high school kids, I quit my “day job” and went north to Ely, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, to lead wilderness trips for the summer.

The plan was to return to Chicago and run corporate programs to support the youth programs, but the Chicago Center closed a month after I returned from Ely. With only two years of “real” work experience, I dared to be self-employed rather than unemployed — and that’s what I’ve been ever since. After corporate programs work, with New York City Outward Bound and Chicago Center founder Steve Proudman, I eventually lost any formal ties to Outward Bound.

That said, the picture atop this post is from the first Michael Herman Associates homepage, in 1998. When Katrina hit, I sketched out a community preparedness curriculum/plan under the heading of “Ready for Anything.” It’s still here in my draft blogposts, never posted because I realized that I was essentially recreating Outward Bound. Another time, as we stood reading HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s explanation of Outward Bound on the wall of an OB school in Scotland a few years ago, my wife, Jill, exclaimed “That’s what you do!”

And so it was an Outward Bound homecoming of sorts, as I worked with other alums this past weekend, to build raised beds for the students of Polaris Charter Academy to grow food this Spring. Polaris is one of 160 “expeditionary learning” schools that are grounding in neighborhood elementary and high schools the experiential learning principles of Kurt Hahn, refined through more than 60 years of Outward Bound wilderness practice. Polaris students, grades k-2 (so far), learn by doing. By getting out and exploring, finding out for themselves where food comes from, and where garbage goes. Learning to read and write and count and present in the process of exploring the World.

In many ways, from personal backcountry tripping and seventeen years of sole proprietorship, to my frequent framing of Open Space as a sort of wilderness expedition inside of organization, I really have been Outward Bound all along. To see my OpenSpaceTech and OpenSpaceWorld sites, I’ve certainly been educator. But I’m Outward Bound all over again these days — coming home from the wilderness, coming home to the wilderness, and wilderness coming home to Chicago, all at once. Confidence and Community. Ground touching ground. Breaking new trail in rugged old boots.

There is talk of two more expeditionary learning schools coming in Chicago. And of restarting the Chicago Center. I’m looking forward to an organizing meeting next month.

Inviting Education

I woke up this morning thinking about public schools, career path, and teaching… specifically, brain rolled around with the possibility of getting certified to teach school, while body rolled around with the possibility of breakfast. (This isn’t exactly new, I’ve been an educator at heart since my Outward Bound days, nearly two decades ago.) But then this comes in the morning emails:

Dear Friends,

I’ve decided to offer myself as a candidate for the Waters LSC as a community representative. I have been at Waters since 1991 when I enrolled my son Jamal here. I was elected as President of the first LSC and held that position for 5 years. I went back to school (NEIU) and received a interdisciplinary degree in Education, Ecology and Neighborhood Studies.

We partnered with the Center for City Schools at National Louis University and began an intense and well supported period of professional development for our teachers. That first LSC learned that education could be an amazing, rich, challenging, and joyous experience for children. It all depends on how a school teaches and what its philosophy of education is.

Parents were invited to workshops to let them experience what this educational vision was about: collaboration, sharing, valuing each voice, going beyond text books to original works and sources, opening the doors of our school and its classrooms to allow the community in, and the students out into the world.

We learned that the arts, real work, and world experiences, could be combined with the core disciplines of literacy, math and science, to give kids a rich, multifaceted education. We were a local, poor, low-scoring, no-special programs school that decided that our kids were an amazing gift, capable of great achievement.

The 1990s were an amazing time of partnering, support, experimentation and growth. Our scores rose steadily. But our school paid more attention to other more meaningfull assessments: student writing, problem solving, ability to work with others, recognition of “other intelligences”, and projects, projects, projects.

Since 2000 our schools have been under a barage of mandates to test, to teach to the test, to reduce student assessment to a series of data points. We need, as a community, to educate our selves about what is “best practice” in education, and support it in our school. We have to produce a countervailing pressure in order to protect our kids, teachers and administrators.

I am known at Waters mostly for my work in ecology. But, the ecology program was an outgrowth, a sprout and flowering of the ideas planted in 1991. It is what every parent wants for their child: the best, most rich learning experiences in a caring and safe community.

Let us hold on to this vision and learn together.

Mr. Lucky
(Pete Leki)

I’m inspired and wondering again, fully awake and a little bit hungry, for something other than breakfast. Maybe I should have been more specific last week in updating Inviting Leadership. Inviting Community might should have been Inviting Education.

The Casa Experiment: Mission Accomplished, and Next Steps

Big news from Theresa Williamson in Rio…

Catalytic Communities’ (CatComm) five-year experiment of launching and running the “Casa” community technology hub for leaders in downtown Rio has accomplished its mission!

…Community leaders from Rio de Janeiro and beyond found in the Casa the possibility to articulate themselves as a network and strengthen their local projects using digital tools.

Over the past 5 years, the Casa has served 1050 community leaders from 215 neighborhoods across the city of Rio de Janeiro. An additional 400 journalists, university professors and students, NGO activists and others have also shared in the space. And people from 23 of Brazil’s 26 states have attended events, not to mention 22 nations.

AND NOW… in 2009 CatComm will launch a new version of our CatComm.org website, where, in addition to searching for local projects from the four corners of the globe to serve as inspiration… community organizers will be able to participate in the likes of a “virtual Casa” – an online space for sharing experiences, capacity-building, fundraising opportunities, and dialogue with other leaders and volunteers the world over.

Go! Go! Go!

UPDATE: Theresa just pointed me to these pictures from OpenSpace1, OpenSpace2, and OpenSpace3. I did some coaching with her some time ago to get them started in Open Space. It does indeed make me a happy camper to see these results!

an inviting campaign

earlier this evening i saw an army veteran named cheryl, in tacoma, washington, post on the obama community blogsite a request for help in writing her own iraq story, in support of the story senator obama told in the debate last week.

i was impressed that she posted her phone number, and challenged by her obvious determination to get her story into writing. i paused… and then called this perfect stranger. i left a message, hung up, and wondered what would happen next.

in the meantime, i wondered who she was. clicked on her profile page. noticed that i didn’t have a profile, so started to fill that in. some minutes later, the phone rang.

we’ve had a bit of a chat now, and she’s got a bit of a line on the start of her story. we’re looking forward to chatting again tomorrow or the next day about what she comes up with — because she’s determined to get her story out.

THIS is what i think is so remarkable about this campaign, that people can connect in these simple ways. that people are so determined to give to this movement, willing to ask for help, and willing to offer to strangers.

this is why i think the deepest structure of this campaign is different. it is already supporting the way so many of us wish our government could be: of the people, by the people, and for each other.

i don’t think of it as supporting a candidate as much as being a member of a community, same as i am an active member in other LARGE communities. this one just happens to have as its purpose the future of the united states government.


Nope, not a new Obama website.

GOforChange.com highlights the people and organizations in Baltimore-Washington who are working for positive change. This is a place where people can come to get information, learn something unexpected, and be inspired to take action. More on Mission…

The posts are short. The pictures give colorful views of encouraging work. Interesting and relevant beyond their regional focus.

Radical Transitions

That’s the name of George’s and Jack’s newish blog. Radical Transitions: An intentional model for community building. I went a bit nuts in the comments there today, agreeing with Wasting Time Building Consensus.

In short, almost always, I find consensus to be oppressive. An arbitrary requirement that restricts individual action. I much prefer “Finding Consensus” to “Building” it. I prefer to find and focus on those things that we already agree on.

Those agreements, made clear just as they are — not necessarily made broader or deeper — can support immediate action, by anyone. Over time, as we find agreements, take actions, make contributions, we’re bound to make more agreements. We’ll also get more done.

Now I’m curious what else G and J have tucked away in their upcoming book.

The Substance of Revolution

Recent calls for “substance”, or more commonly criticisms of its absence, in Barack Obama’s speeches remind me of so many questions I’ve heard over the years about “How does open space technology lead to action?”

When 100 or 200 people create a working agenda of 50 or 70 cricital issues, take personal responsibility for leading those conversations, and pledge to bring back the notes to share with everybody — in about an hour — that IS action. We just have to know where to look.

As to the history of the Revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the minds of the People . . .
—John Adams

Many Obama supporters might simply be thinking differently about politics, partisanship, and policy. It’s a different set of priorities, that includes the process, and the personal experience of the process. Words like cult and messiah are popping up, I think, because it looks so mysterious, as many are voting on the basis of criteria that simply don’t exist for some others. Jeff Aitken has some interesting things about Obama and self-organization and another post that includes this:

Catherine Austin Fitts warns us that we have a stark choice: we support the centralizers or the decentralizers. We support a centralizing economic system (the “tapeworm” economy, which has sucked 10 trillion dollars out of communities into globalized concentrations of wealth); or forge a decentralizing, community economics when we pull our investments (and those of our community’s institutions, like pension funds) out of the tapeworm and put them to work in our communities. The government is not coming to our rescue when “peak everything” leaves us to our own relationships with farmers and shoemakers.

The Adams quote comes from Fitts, and I’ve added her Coming Clean process, toward a financially intimate world, to the Practices Roll in the sidebar. If self-organization and Open Space are less centralized, more intimate, then is it fair to say that Obama is running a more intimate campaign and proposing a more politically intimate government? Not just “for” the people, but more “of” and “by” than ever before?

Permaculture Seminar in Chicago

Bill Wilson of Midwest Permaculture says Permaculture is a creative and artful way of living, where people and nature are both preserved and enhanced by thoughtful planning, the careful use of resources, mimicking the patterns found in nature (bio-mimicry) and a respectful approach to life. Thus embraced, these attributes create an environment where all may thrive for untold generations.

We’re intrigued. So Jill and I are signing up for the upcoming seminar here in Chicago. Join us?

Saturday, March 29th – 2:00- 5:00 p.m.
Hosted By: Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center
1246 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago

Fee: $50 Door -or- $35 with Pre-registration (by March 26, 2008)
To Register – Call Yoga Center: 773-878-7771 (MC/Visa)
You may call or email the center if you have questions.
The Sivananda Yoga Center is in the early stages of creating a permaculture design for their urban location.

Evening Meal and Discussion 5:30 – 8:00
Topic: Spirituality and Permaculture – Exploring the Connection?
Stay into the evening for an open discussion. Share your thoughts.
Suggested Donation for Dinner and Talk: $20

Opening Space on the Playground

…at Waters Elementary School. Chicago Public Schools and 47th Ward Alderman Schulter have each pledged $2 million for improvements. Inside and outside, to include saving the old fieldhouse as the center of the community classroom and gardens there, to depave the playground, and address parking, art, and other interests.

The school is already a thriving little hive of volunteer activity. When the institutions showed up with the money pot two weeks ago, my concern was that so much of the neighbors and parents talking to each other would dissolve into everybody talking through the designers, managers and other experts and money keepers at the front of the room.

So last week we convened three small openings on the playground, in the playground. Actually turned out to be sort of little world cafe gatherings with flipchart pages taped to the walls of the building. We asked people to talk about the past, who they are, how they got here, and how the school got the way it is. We asked them to talk about future, what they imagined and dreamed the place might be in a year. And we asked about gifts and skills and lingering questions, about how they want this whole process to turn out.

We’re feeding the results back this week, online and on the school bulletin board. And offering to convene more sessions, so that the community conversation isn’t overwhelmed by modern day institutional colonization, albeit very well-intentioned.

My favorite moment of the process so far? One child coming off the playground on the way into school stopped at one of our posters. “What does that say?” he asked. “Conversation #3…” his mom began, “What gifts and skills do you have that can help create the place you want here? What do you have to contribute? What do you want to know?” It’s working already!

Neighborhood Resources Published

I had three pieces published in last week’s Chicago Sun-Times, all focused on “plugging into” neighborhood activities in Chicago:

Get active! …Many hands make fast work of solutions to challenges on your street

Community policing focuses on doing good …Faith-based groups will take the lead initiating good deeds in neighborhoods

Points of entry aplenty …Links to neighborhood organizations and connections citywide.

This was great learning to do just before our big move, to a new n’hood, next week. Good resources for my fellow Chicagoans, too. And if you’re not in Chicago, you might be surprised by what our police are up to. See second link above.

Inviting Digital Inclusion

Sascha Meinrath sez…

Through the hard work of folks like Michael Maranda and many others, the Chicago Digital Access Alliance has formulated an extraordinarily useful 10-point statement of principles applicable to every city engaged in expanding digital inclusion. Tackling the multi-faceted nature of the digital divide, the CDAA has drafted a document that should be brought before all decision-makers before they sign off on plans to wire(less) their communities. Congrats to the CDAA!

All Agreed! Read the 10-point statement

And my question for Michael Maranda… So when do we get to email this to the Mayor?

Inviting Aspen Again

aspen daily news

We did a second round of Open Space, 10am to 3pm, on the Entrance to Aspen on Saturday. Another 50 people showed up, reviewed the posters summarizing Wednesday’s conversations, posting another dozen or so issues. The focus was more squarely on asking the questions and bringing ideas that might “change the conversation” in the direction of resolution.

Where Wednesday had seemed to be focused on establishing positions, among perhaps a dozen or more different possible solutions, Saturday’s conversations were more about connecting and cross-pollinating. Several people remarked that they had changed their positions as a result of Saturday’s conversations. Skeptics from Wednesday offered that they were grateful and heartened by the quality of this second round.

Going forward, the City of Aspen will help keep the newly-spirited conversations going with a kit they call a ‘meeting in a box’ which will offer informtion, discussion questions, and citizen comment forms to anyone in town who would like to host a conversation on this 37-year-old question of what to do with the highway coming into Aspen. Then on April 12th, they’ll host and evening of keypad voting on questions that will be shaped by all this community conversing.

Saturday’s conversations were perhaps “less focused”, but that seems to be just what was needed for folks to soften their positions and start to listen and connect with others’ ideas and interests. After 26 ballot initiatives, this year might yet deliver real resolution to this question.

I worked with Claudia Haack on this one and together we wrote a nice set of finishing questions. These might be my new default set for closing circles. We asked participants to reflect on these things and then offer one short comment, maybe just one line, what might be their response to a friend asking “So what happened at that meeting, anyway?”

  • What was your experience here?
  • What are you taking away?
  • What did you learn? Any a-ha’s?
  • What was strange or different here?
  • How might you/we keep this going?
  • What new or next questions might make a difference now?

Meanwhile, I can also report that I skied all afternoon at Snowmass on Friday. Great snow, freezing cold (zero degrees, before counting the wind) outside, toasty warm in old hacker gear, no wrecks, but totally wore myself out. Some serious motivation for making body stronger this year.

Inviting Aspen


This was the scene last night at the high school in Aspen, Colorado, in the first of two open space meetings to address a set of transportation issues that has generated 26 ballot initiatives in 37 years. This is the kind of space that you do the opening, unplug the microphone, and keep it with you, just in case. Participants posted 27 issues, which after combinations generated 18 working sessions. The Aspen Times (photo) and Aspen Daily News both had good things to say about our progess on their front pages this morning. We’ll have another round on Saturday.

In the meantime, today was my first time on skis in 10 or 12 years. Let’s just say that nobody skied the Greens at Buttermilk as hard as I did today! Hoping to make it a big Blues day tomorrow at Snowmass.

Inviting Digital Literacy

Michael Maranda is doing short interviews with people on the street, asking them what they know about the Chicago citywide wifi proposal, where they get their news, what they know about the internet, and how they use it.

This is all part of his work locally, statewide and nationally to cultivate digital literacy, otherwise known as bridging the digital divide. He’s organizing 77 community groups citywide to make sure that the citywide wifi contract will serve ALL of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

He’s posting the interviews at YouTube. I guess, in a few days, he’s going to post the one he filmed with me earlier this week — so go look now before that one posts! And Michael — I think your demographic sampling is a bit off!

Inviting Comfort

From the Christian Science Monitor…

Previous school shootings, notably the 1999 murders at Columbine High School, have led to calls for any number of useful, preventive measures, such as tighter security, more federal gun control, antibullying training for young children, more parental vigilance in communities, and closer screening of wayward students. And perhaps, as a result, many shootings have been prevented.

Those Old Order Amish who live a secluded life near the school at Nickel Mines, Pa., have a different idea. Their faith in the power of forgiveness led them to invite the widow of the nonAmish killer, Charles Carl Roberts IV, to the funeral for four of the slain girls. One Amish woman told a reporter, “It’s our Christian love to show to her we have not any grudges against her.”

This isn’t surprising. It is common for the Amish to invite car drivers who have killed one of their community members to the funeral. Such a compassionate response reveals a belief that each individual is responsible to counter violence by expressing comfort – a sort of prayer in action.


Inviting Structures for Neighborhood Improvement

Mike Morin shares an interesting, practical, (and concise) neighborhood-based approach to rearranging our economic systems. He proposes a new structure, what he calls a Neighborhood Improvement Fund (a local sort of mutual fund), as the core of the shift. He favors equity unions over micro-lending arrangements, suggests a list of core operating principles (ideals), and outlines the basic structure and function of a Neighborhood Improvement Fund.

Inviting the Great Turning

Weekend of September 30th, David C. Korten, author, veteran, engaged citizen, speaks at various local places and times.

David Korten’s, When Corporations Rule the World, was one of the first books to articulate the destructive and oppressive nature of the global corporate economy. Now, ten years later, Korten shows that the problem runs deeper than corporate domination—with far greater consequences.

In The Great Turning, Korten argues that corporate consolidation of power is merely a contemporary manifestation of what he calls “Empire” — the organization of society by hierarchies of domination grounded in violent chauvinisms of race, gender, religion, nationality, language, and class. The result has been the same for 5,000 years, fortune for the few and misery for the many. Increasingly destructive of children, family, community, and nature, the way of Empire is leading to environmental and social collapse.

The Great Turning
makes the case that we humans are a choice-making species that at this defining moment faces both the opportunity and the imperative to choose our future as a conscious collective act.

via Nurul Eusufzai

Inviting Good Neighbors to Register

I met Cheryl Honey earlier this week at the international Transformative Mediation conference in Minnesota. She’s the creator of something called Community Weaving and the Family Support Network. Taken together they are a wildly ambitious — and effective — application of Asset-Based Community Development.

Cheryl and friends have created a site that allows anyone to register as a good neighbor and add skills, abilities, interests, experiences and other contributions to a national “resource treasury.” The treasury is searchable by geography, interest, skill, need, and many other ways — but only after you register.

I just registered myself in Chicago, and was able to find several others here to connect with. One of them is even listed as a facilitator of Open Space. I’d like to see the C3 leaders start registering here, too. There is a special designation for groups and we could use that for C3.

Inviting Individual Actions to Meet

Some of us are talking now about the invitation to a Chicago Summer 2007 conference that would be the extension of our Giving Conference in 2004 and Omidyar Member conferences in 2005 and 2006.

In writing the invitation, I suggested we focus on what it is we’re interested in, and who we *would* invite, rather than the groups of people that we think *should* be there. Too often, *should* begins as a fantasy and ends up as the excuse for NOT acting, not inviting. Better to focus on what we already care about and the people we already know or really want to meet and connect with.

Here is my interest and what/who I’d like to invite in Chicago:

…i’ve just finished the city’s conservation corps training. i’m giving a lot of attention to food, transportation and water practices. i’m also thinking about the nature of practices and habits. i’m still interested in a less visceral way in philanthropy and education.

i’m most interested in spending time with a group that would be willing to identify, share, expand and strengthen the body of things they are doing that seem to be part of the ‘solution.’ everything from turning off lights and faucets to conserve, buying organic, recycling, to organizing new foundations or community projects — or growing old ones, blogging and connecting other ideas, homeschooling, housing coop. whatever. i’m just into hearing more and more about what others are doing NOW that seems like it must be part of “the world we want.”

when i first went to outward bound, winter mountaineering in colorado, the told us it wasn’t about ‘survival’ skills… but about learning to be comfortable and easy in strange, quite often harsh, conditions and surroundings. that’s what i’d like now… to be with a bunch of folks who are good at a bunch of things that SUPPORT LIFE. i’m interested in things that help us feel more alive, as individuals and communities. how can we unfold more life and power out of the things we already have, already know, and already are doing? what are the simple things we can do now or next, to cultivate more LIFE — to be more comfortable and easy in the world we want?

i’d be most interested in spreading an invitation around chicago networks that i’m connected/ing with and at the same time having our central question or theme (different from design or outcomes) be something that is universal enough that many might choose to come from afar. giving, more good things happen, personal power and action, community connections… the sorts of broad themes we’ve had in the past work for me because i could be working on growing and inviting a chicago group of people and still invite and include friends and colleagues from afar. to the extent that any local group(s) would grow and prosper, it could be a easily replicated elsewhere.

My own proposal for theme: ALL AT ONCE.

more and more, we are being asked to do many things at once — not just multi-tasking, but be aware of many different views and realities at once, to function in conflicting roles, to accept conflicting realities, and change many habits… ALL AT ONCE

what are the issues and opportunities for practicing all of the things that we need to do personally and socially to cultivate and support more and more LIFE in ourselves and the world, working and living together to create the world we want. all at once is for all the things we do… and all the groups and networks in which we do it. what if we could do and gather all of those… ALL AT ONCE?

Would you join ALL AT ONCE? …or propose something else? You can join the planning conversation here. The bit about interests and theme comes up later in the thread, about here.

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