April 30, 2012

Signing On with Copernicus

Do you remember Copernicus? He was the Renaissance era scientist/revolutionary who shook up conventional thinking by demoting Earth from center of the universe status to one of many planets rotating around the Sun.  I'm signing on with him now, rearranging things in my big thinking on small grants universe - moving funders from the center of my universe and moving everyday people and the groups they form for mutual aid and collective action into the center.  My telescope might still be focused on "Planet Funder" as it makes its way around my citizen sector sun, but it will also be focused on the other planets in my new universe - planets representing the people, places and non-monetary resources that citizen groups find helpful for moving their ideas into action and contributing to the vibrancy of their local communities.

This is not such a big deal in one way, since the big thinking on small grants world that I have been describing for several years is a world where funders strive to work from a "we begin with residents" point of view - leading from behind or by stepping back, investing in what everyday people identify as important and are willing to get behind with their own time, talents and resources.  But it is a big deal in other ways.

For one, this new Copernian universe puts the role of funders, and especially the grants that they make, in the right place - secondary not primary, in the back seat and not the front seat.  It also has the heat and energy to get things done originating from the right place - the citizen sector - instead of a foundation board room.  It's about a core set of assumptions about how change happens and what contributes to community vitality, with people connecting and moving plans into action around things that matter to them more important than a carefully detailed theory of change or a blue ribbon panel meeting of 30 people who have prestigious positions.  For those who believe that strengthening the nonprofit sector is the answer to addressing the challenges that our communities are facing, it is indeed as revolutionary as Copernicus' suggestion that the accepted picture of the universe at the time (earth in the center) just might be wrong.

What this means for this blog is that some changes are in the works.  I'm waiting for inspiration for a new name that is not so grant or funder-centric (and appreciate all suggestions!) and better reflects post-Copernian thinking, and will be moving to a new blogging platform that more easily allows others to join in this conversation with me.  In the meantime, I will be opening up the aperture on my blogging lens to catch and share thinking about questions such as:
  • What new language will help advance understanding about citizen space and what goes on there, and free us from using using inappropriate nonprofit language and models to describe and interpret a world that is fundamentally different from the nonprofit world?
  • How are citizen groups immunizing themselves from being hypnotized by visitors from Planet Funder and others who arrive with the better way or today's new tool?  And once immunized, what are they learning about building working relationships that make sense for everyone?
  • What are other "joining with Copernicus" people doing to build constructive bridges between the institutions and organizations where they work - funding organizations, schools, libraries, hospitals, governmental entities, businesses, non-profits - and citizen space.  And what are these inventors learning about resource sharing between citizen groups and their organizations?
  • What new pathways are opening up that are or have the potential to change the relationship dynamic between Planet Funder and those on the other planets in this new universe and citizen space?
I hope you will join with me in this exploration by adding on to the questions that might be worth exploring together.  Comments from co-explorers are welcome.