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Why Experiment?

Linking STP’s internal experiments to their mission

In May, we presented a webinar focusing on Learning through Experimentation. Eugene and I outlined the experimentation process, and Jodie and Eden shared STP’s motivation and the practices that have shifted, challenged, and opened up their organization. This blog post situates STP’s internal experiments within the larger context of supporting and challenging a network of progressive leaders, drawing from what was shared in our webinar.

You can watch the webinar and learn more and read an overview here.

Here’s Jodie’s eloquent explanation of the motivations for learning through experimentation:

STP is building a functional cross-movement network of progressive leaders who think long term, share a common agenda, and can move to action together. At the heart of the network are 21 powerful movement leaders from across issue areas that have far-reaching influence and lead critical progressive institutions. Since 2010, we have supported them (the Wye River network) to connect deeply, build trust, strategize, experiment, and collaborate in ways that strengthen our power and unite our progressive voices.

This group of leaders include people like Mary Kay Henry (President of SEIU, the nation’s largest public sector union), Cornell Williams (President of the NAACP), Ai-jen Poo (Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance), Annie Leonard (ED of Greenpeace US), Ilyse Hogue (President of NARAL).

So Why Experiment?

Climate of Inequality Walls

Inequality is growing and climate change is worsening while racist rhetoric and hate is on the rise. In the face of that, the progressive movement has yet to secure the necessary power and alignment to overcome these daunting challenges.

We can’t expect to linearly scale and knock down wall after wall until we’ve reached the promised land. The landscape is too complex and dynamic.

We need to be tackling more than one wall at a time. We have to be trying many different things in parallel and learning from each other in real-time. We have to be agile and adaptive.

Right now, we’re not agile, adaptive and learning together. We often get in each other’s way rather than working in tandem. We don’t leverage knowledge and innovation from other sectors. Our approach to change is often reactive and haphazard. The structures of our  organizations don’t support the kind of innovation, coordination, and collaboration we need.

Even if we were to solve all of these collaboration problems, it still wouldn’t be enough. It’s not enough to work more efficiently. We have to work more strategically.

Our most promising leaders know all of this to be true and are finding the way, but they struggle to break out of old patterns. They lack the dedicated time, resources and expertise to invent new systems and structures, and to practice in new ways.

They want a network where they can experiment together,  develop new practices, and think long term.

We knew that rapid experimentation and learning was a big part of that answer.

We started by asking: How might we best support and challenge our networks to strategize and work together more powerfully and effectively for greater impact?

In service of that question we began a series of internal experiments (on ourselves) primarily as a way to help us develop a stronger point of view about what experimentation looked like and how to support it. It’s been a great ride, and we’ve seen some surprising outcomes.

STP continues to walk their talk. They have integrated experiments into their weekly team meetings and this summer have been testing questions including:

  • How might I feel less behind on quadrant 2 (important but not urgent) systems work? (Coming Up for Air)
  • How might we stay organized and connected so that our individual work is focused and productive and our team work is vibrant, fun and supportive of our best work? (It’s Getting Better All the Time)

Simultaneously, STP is focusing more externally to challenge and support their network and are using our learning through experimentation process as a frame. Stay tuned for updates on this process soon.

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