Thursday, May 27, 2010

Free Spaces

"If you want to change the culture of your organization, you've got to get the reformers together. They need a free space. They need time to coordinate outside the gaze of the resisters."

Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

It's strange to read a book about change without much discussion about social change and social movements. No references to Frances Fox Piven or Saul Alinsky. We see the world through the lenses of behavioral economics and research psychology -- in the workplace, classroom, home, hospital, village, relationship. And we see lots of change.

But suddenly "free spaces" make a showing in a section on "Rally the Herd." I recall Harry Boyte's book Free Spaces that built on the work of Sara Evans in Personal Politics: Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left and Lawrence Goodwyn's Populust Moment. Free spaces incubated and accelerated the populists, the civil rights and women's movements, and the neighorhood or citizen's movements of the 1970s.

Free spaces are just what the words suggest -- places and spaces where innovators and leaders build community, invent language and strategy, provide support and feedback, network, and incubate next steps. Out of sight. Safe from the powers-that-be. A bit fugitive.

Glad to know we still need free spaces. I wonder where the free spaces of today are?

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