SELECTED EXAMPLES OF SYSTEMS THINKING WORK IN COMMUNITIES National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) National Congress of America Indians

worked with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation using Creative Tension Model, Hierarchy of Choices, and other frameworks. They created core values, purpose, vision, strategies, and tactics for their Policy Research Center. They are using all of those to guide their selection, design, and implementation of activities. However, the learning has been applied in numerous other contexts. For example, the White House asked them to convene a White House Conference on the economic problems facing Native Americans. NCAI refused—but they agreed to convene a White House Conference on creating a just and sustainable economic future for Native American communities, with several principles. First, federal agencies that deal with Indian Country would co-plan and co-sponsor the conference. Second, the conference would be based on the creative tension model—focusing on what they wanted to create for the future of Indian Country. Third, parts of the conference would be “open space” and little, if any, would be lectures from experts—either federal or Native American. The White House agreed. The conference was exceptionally successful, with a strong vision statement for economically vibrant Native American communities that was endorsed by Native Americans as well as federal agencies. The results beyond the conference included over $1,000,000 in unexpected funding being offered by federal agencies at the end of the federal fiscal year, “with the condition that the funds be used to advance the strategies for achieving the vision from the conference.” This was in stark contrast to previous conferences and earlier relationships. Dr. Jackie Johnson, a Native American woman from Alaska and Executive Director of NCAI, attributes these outcomes to using the systems thinking tools for an asset-based approach to planning and creating a shared vision. For more information see: and click on Core Values, principles, mission, vision—or “crafting a collective vision”

Iowa Food & Fitness Collaborative Iowa has used Creative Tension Model, Hierarchy of Choices, and Vision Deployment Matrix (a tool for creating a plan that connects vision to action). They have a structure that includes a “Vision Deployment Work Group”. That group volunteered to do in-depth work to translate the vision, created by a group of approximately 45 people from throughout their five counties, to an action plan that will result in systems change. Each month the VDM group meets to work through levels of the Vision Deployment Matrix, then takes that work back to the group of 45 for reflection, conversation, and to add their thinking. This sequence has been repeating for approximately 8 months. The results: a clear set of core values for the work, purpose statement, vision, and thorough system

analysis that is now being translated into strategies and tactics. Meanwhile, decisions made about applying for funding, initial activities, and priorities for action are being guided by the work in progress. The team of 7 VDM group members will all participate in the Systems Thinking in Action conference in Boston this November to hone their skills further. This is their leadership development activity. See attached documents from Iowa. Rural Dynamics in Montana Rural Dynamics (formerly known as Montana Consumer Credit Counseling Service) has a planning grant from W.K. Kellogg Foundation to create a just and sustainable economy for a four-state region that includes eastern Montana, western North & South Dakota, and northeastern Wyoming. This is a culturally diverse, economically challenged area that includes several Native American tribes. A team of WKKF staff worked with a group of 25 residents in the region to help them develop their systems change capacities in service of developing their plan. The approach included teaching key systems thinking frameworks and capabilities, while accomplishing work for their collaborative. Participants included the head of the Great Falls airport commission (she is also a law professor, was elected a state senator during the time of the work sessions, and founded/runs a camp for children of incarcerated people), young Native American Leaders (including one who was elected to the state senate during the time of the work, and was a former two-year intern for Senator Max Baucus), a county commissioner, school curriculum director, and people ranging in age from 18 to 74. This group spent 10 days together, spread over 7 months, using Creative Tension, Hierarchy of Choices, and Vision Deployment Matrix. Between sessions the participants went into communities throughout the region to conduct World Café sessions and hear from a large number of people about the future they want to create in the region for their children and grandchildren. They also provided feedback to each of the groups, summarizing their world cafes and helping them learn about the vision as seen through the eyes of others throughout the region. See attached document, as well as their website (sited on the attachment). Many spin-offs resulted: using methodology with the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators, refocusing the airport commission’s long-range planning process on the vision for the airport and surrounding community, engaging community members in planning for future housing, structuring faculty strategic planning at the local community college, incorporating the frameworks into the curriculum at the community college located in the Blackfeet Nation, to name but a few.


NORTHEAST IOWA FOOD AND FITNESS INITIATIVE Working Draft Core Values Healthier People/Stronger Communities Healthier people lead to stronger communities, which lead to healthier people, which lead to stronger communities…. Inclusiveness We believe that by taking advantage of the individual differences within our partnership group, we will affect policy changes related to healthy lifestyle that help all members of society now and for future generations. Stewardship We will maintain and improve the health of our communities through responsible utilization of our physical, natural, fiscal, cultural, and human resources. Innovation & Creativity Using innovative and creative approaches to a health lifestyle will help: • Educate the community • Improve physical fitness and healthy eating habits • Create economic growth in Northeast Iowa Empowerment We believe that access to good information and resources creates unlimited potential to improve life. Relationships We believe that honest, open, respectful relationships will lead to a spirit of cooperation and productive actions. Local Food & Wellness We value Northeast Iowa’s ability to provide locally produced food and wellness opportunities for all. Purpose: Quality Living Our collaborative provides the leadership needed to work with communities in Northeast Iowa to develop and implement a shared vision that includes access to locally grown foods and wellness opportunities for all, while having fun! Working Vision Statement Northeast Iowa is a unique place where all residents and guests experience, celebrate and promote healthy, locally grown food with abundant opportunities for physical activity and play every day. Healthier people make stronger families and vibrant communities.

Note: The NE Iowa Collaborative has also worked on the “desired future” portion of Vision Deployment Matrix, including mental models (beliefs, assumptions, theories about the way the world works) that will be needed to successfully achieve the vision, systemic structures (policies—both formal and informal—and practices) that would create the future we want, and the patterns that they will monitor to assure that they are making progress toward that future. They have progressed to assessing current reality in light of that desired future, and currently are identifying their long-term action strategies and shorter-term tactics, including appropriate sequencing. Because these are highly technical, I am not including those work products with this example. However, they are rapidly approaching the point where they will have completed a longrange action plan and will write their proposal.

For information contact Brenda Ranum or Ann Mansfield, the co-conveners for the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative Collaborative.

Using your input and with the help of some of our partners, we drafted the following Vision statement and Values that reflect our Plains Talks conversations. We believe that the Vision and Values represent our region, and they will guide us through out regional work. We feel fortunate that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation believes in us, our partners, and our regional potential. Thank you for your commitment to our region!

Karen Heisler
Director for Asset Development 406-761-8721

Community We understand that relationships based on honesty and integrity will raise the quality of life and we recognize that we are all interconnected. Accountability Each community member has a personal and collective responsibility to its function and every community has a collective responsibility to the region. Respect We embrace the diverse interests, strengths, and cultures that result when individuals’ rights to choice are respected. Capacity We believe that the region has the inherent vision, leadership, and resources to maintain sustainable rural communities. Hope

We see the power of hope in the positive possibilities for the future.

We provide programs and develop partnerships to help youth, individuals, and families achieve economic independence.

Understanding that rural life has value to the region and the nation, we are creating a region where all people have the opportunity to thrive in the community they choose where diversity is cherished, the environment is respected, and where community pride leads to rooted generations. We recognize the importance of regional interconnections, and we value personal, community and organizational relationships that are built upon integrity. We maintain a continual sense of pride and hope believing that both community and regional potential is being achieved.

See Especially, “Resources”, and “Plains Talks” & “Tribal Policy Roundtable”, all of which are direct outgrowths from the systems thinking work.

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