Mastering the future
// By Christian Clansky
On April 24, we hosted the second Upswell Lab, again in our Upswell 2018 home base, Los Angeles.
This Lab built on the conversations that we started in February about the urgent issues facing Los Angeles today (read more about it here). We heard from changemakers across LA that the following issues are among the region’s most challenging: Affordable housing and homelessness / Criminal justice / Education / Environment / Health / Immigration / Workforce development / Youth development.
So, this Lab was designed to dive deeper into those issues, with changemakers working in collaboration with a diverse group of people to explore new perspectives and insights.
Sixty-five changemakers of every kind of mission gathered at the Skid Row Housing Trust’s Star Apartments, one of the many permanent and supportive housing buildings for formerly homeless individuals. We gathered on the second-floor deck at Star Apartments, a unique, open-air space that feels about as far from a dreary conference room as you can get.
Before jumping in, the group reflected on a series of reflections about the power of working together. For example:
We must address and master the future together. It can be done if we restore the belief that we share a sense of national community, that we share a common national endeavor. It can be done. — Barbara Jordan
Then, groups formed around the eight issues listed above and explored those issues in a new way, inspired by human-centered design and collective impact. Group members opened the conversation by sharing their own information and experience, then synthesized these perspectives to reach a shared understanding about their issue. Finally, the groups considered their issue from a new lens – thinking about the implications of values and assumptions, data, racial equity, and public policy. We ended the afternoon with time for networking and continued conversation.
Here’s are some of the insights that came from each of the small groups:
Affordable housing and homelessness | This group was inspired by our venue at Star Apartments and the lived experience of a group member. In general, the group felt that we know what works and what approaches are needed to solve homelessness, but it’s a matter of overcoming the existing mental models, stereotypes, and values related to this issue to marshal the resources and support needed.
Criminal justice | There is hope from the progress that has been made in California recently, but it’s not enough. As with other issues, funding is a major concern. Government makes choices about how youth-focused funds are used (e.g. prisons versus schools), and there are opportunities to invest in different ways to see different outcomes (community supports, prevention, quality education).
Education | Education is much more than what happens inside a K-12 classroom. Many of the insights from this group speak to the complexities of education: the intersectionality of race, class, and gender on students’ experiences; the importance of a holistic prenatal/cradle to college and career pipeline; and the role of the larger ecosystem (including family, community, and systems-thinking).
Health | Like the education group, the health group discussed the complexity and intersectional nature of addressing healthy communities – linkages to equity, social determinants of health, and connection to other social issues. There is hope in the growing view that health care is a civil right, rather than a negotiated benefit, although it can be challenging to build common ground in this political environment.
Workforce development | Data often doesn’t tell the full story on workforce development issues. Some populations aren’t represented in the data (e.g. people experiencing homelessness). Some of the metrics that get the most attention, like unemployment rates, can obscure deeper realities about what success looks like.
Youth development | The greatest energy and excitement came from youth leadership to address social justice and community issues and student-driven work or movements, like the March for our Lives. At the same time, there’s a fear that ambitions are high, the road is long, and that youth leaders aren’t taken seriously enough.
What did we learn?
Issues are not siloes. While it can be easier to discuss specific issues in separate groups, we were reminded of the interconnectedness of all issues in the room. We were surprised to see few people join groups to discuss hot-button issues like immigration and the environment, but realized that the groups discussing issues like youth development, workforce development, and health also touched on those challenges. We’re eager to continue thinking about how we ensure that issue-based conversations are focused while also representing the dynamic and connected nature of today’s social issues.
We heard that we need to keep thinking about the ‘who’ and ‘how’ in conversations about specific issues. A few folks shared feedback that more diverse presenters and participants (including more representatives from the community) are necessary to really understand and address key issues. We are also continuing to refine how we frame discussions about issues that have local and national relevance, and that can engage changemakers working both in LA and in other communities across the country.
Space matters. The open-air environment on the deck of Star Apartments allowed participants to enter a different mindset than a closed conference room. Our discussions were punctuated by the ambient noise from Skid Row, which ultimately enhanced the atmosphere, instead of detracting from it.
If you attended the Lab and the insights don’t reflect your understanding of the conversation, or you have other comments to share, please send us an email and let us know.
We heard that many changemakers who attended the first and second Labs are interested in continuing their conversations and staying involved in the Upswell planning process. We plan to reach back out to you with opportunities to do that soon.
We’re also hard at work incorporating the feedback from this Upswell Lab into planning for the third Lab in Detroit on May 22. We look forward to bringing conversations about issues like homelessness, youth, and education to another city and learning how we can make connections between cities like Detroit and LA.
Marie LeBlanc is a director at Independent Sector.