Conversation 2016

Breaking Through Cycles and Patterns that Block Us
March 30 - April 2


Social Impact Partners

Neighborhood Integration

3 to PhD

John Donovan
Metropolitan Group

Wendy Ellis

Logan Lynn
Trillium Family Services

Gina Nikkel
Foundation for Excellence in
Mental Health Care

Kim Scott
Trillium Family Services

Michael Ware
The People's Institute for Survival
and Beyond

Sarah Yanosy
Sanctuary Institute/ANDRUS

Jim Letts, MD
HealthEast Care System

Rev. Tim G. Nelson
HealthEast Care System

John Swanholm
HealthEast Care System

Kara Tomlinson, MD
HealthEast Care System

Diane Tran
HealthEast Care System

Michelle Cowing
Concordia University - Portland

Shawn Daley
Concordia University - Portland

Johnnie Driessner
Concordia University - Portland

Jacquie Gregor
Concordia University - Portland

Kevin Matheny
Concordia University - Portland

Chuck Schlimpert
Concordia University - Portland

Gary Withers
Concordia University - Portland

Group picture

Back row L to R: Jim Letts, Logan Lynn, John Donovan, Kim Scott, Kevin Matheny, Michael Ware, Gary Withers, Tim Nelson, and Johnnie Driessner. Middle row L to R: John Swanholm, Jacquie Gregor, Wendy Ellis, Gina Nikkel, Sarah Yanosy, Michelle Cowing, and Diane Tran. Front row L to R: Shawn Daley, Gary Hubbell, Kara Tomlinson, Ken Hubbell, and Marla Johnson. (Attending but not pictured: Chuck Schlimpert)


Conversation 2016 participants represented three groups existing groups focused on a significant community change initiative. To assist these groups, we provided an organizing framework for a big picture of their work. Recognizing the enormous complexity of their operating environments-the context of their collaborative efforts-we encouraged groups to use a whole systems lens to assess their environment. We invited groups to consider several questions as the bedrock of their collaborative effort-the source of nutrients for their collaboration. Those questions include:

  1. What is our deepest intention as leaders?
  2. How can we go further; what fresh posture is necessary?
  3. What capacities must we discover or enrich personally and among our family of collaborators?

Building on the clarity of those responses, we invited groups to "move up" to another set of questions, including:

  1. Where are the wisest strategies (leverage points) to create more lasting change in the real "feedback" situations that currently exist in our context?
  2. How could we work deeply to change the structures and mental models that are shaping all the patterns and events we are seeing?
  3. What unanticipated consequences are possible?
  4. How will we adapt fast and be nimble?

Only after clarity around the mental models and causal system feedback could the groups begin to identify/refine the best ways to organize the work for optimal impact. A key question emerged to assist the groups at this level of their thinking:

  1. What partnership models, collaboration processes and structures-or novel organizations-will produce great impact, stronger connections in the community, sustainable bridges across sectors, and increased opportunity and well-being?

Finally, we invited groups to explore what intended outcomes they were aiming for in the next five years and to articulate how the change work would unfold and what would have to change to accelerate impact.

Based on advance communications among the three groups, we discerned they shared a common focus, which became the framework for Conversation 2016:

A new space of collaboration, transformation of delivery and success metrics,
and expanded scale of impact.

Our gathering took off Wednesday evening with discussion following reception and dinner, during which, participants were asked to share with one another something they hoped to experience during the week and something they valued deeply about themselves that they expected to contribute to the dialogue at Conversation.


(Illustration by Ken Hubbell)

Groups had much of Thursday and Friday to work independently before reconvening to share their thinking with all assembled groups. Important each day was setting a tone and an intention for the day.

Thursday: David Whyte's Life at the Frontier: The Conversational Nature of Reality

Friday: portions of Rob Tercek's Television in a Time of Turmoil, specifically related to the all too common occurance of pursing your work with discipline and focus yet blind to the shifting environmental forces around you. This excerpt was followed by a group reading aloud of a Meg Wheatley's offering from her profound little book, Perseverance (2010):


It can take many years of being battered and bruised by events and people to discover clarity the other side of struggle. This clarity is not about how to win, but about how to be, how to withstand life's challenges, how to stay in the river.

We never learn to triumph over life, but we can learn that every defeat, every problem, every terror is a teacher that prepares us for the next hardship. And we learn to expect that there are always more difficulties ahead.

When this clarity emerges from our experience, what also emerges is trust in ourselves. We realize that we can cope and learn and grow from hardship and trials. We learn to accept difficulty and setback as part of life's normal processes. We cease feeling threatened by most things.

Instead of struggling or avoiding difficulties, we become people who know they can hold their ground even as the currents intensify and threaten to drag us under. We learn to sink our feet into the mud ever more deeply, because we know that more challenges are coming.

Once we've experienced life in all its dimensions-good, bad, hard, easy-life doesn't' seem so challenging. Every situation is what it is, sometimes lovely, sometimes difficult. Every situation is workable.

We're fully in the river and we're learning how to keep our heads above water.

Saturday: Derek Sivers' TED Talk How to Start a Movement

Each of the groups fully leveraged their time together, gaining insight and clarity about their collaborative work. Ever so briefly, what follows is an indication of what the groups were up to.

Social Impact Organizations: Kim Scott invited together a group of national leaders to lean into defining and modeling the creation of social impact organizations. This newly assembled group of change agents came to Conversation to find the spaciousness to create the next and hopefully logical iteration of the not-for-profit organization - the Social Impact Organization. With healthcare transformation a national focus, and with the need to create a culture of health, wellness and prevention, today's singularly-focused mission organization is ill-equipped or structurally organized to meet the needs of entire communities. These leaders recognized a common impetus for their collaboration is a need to move healthcare "upstream" with a focus on prevention and services that are embedded in community. They felt it is abundantly clear that one of the major barriers is the not-for-profit sector itself, whose focus on mission, or more to the point, programs and services, may actually limit its ability to find relevance at a time when whole community health is the goal.

Recognizing the causal influence of racism and oppression, poverty, systemic disconnection, lack of access to opportunity, and pervasive environmental toxins, this group sees the need for an integrated, holistic approach of working in and with community in new ways. Using Conversationas a design lab for social impact organizations, an early goal emerged: foster equity and resilience in our communities to eliminate disparities in health and well-being; strengthen the social fabric, catalyze economic investments with cross-sector partners, and an empowered, engaged community.


Snapping clouds

Social Impact

Neighborhood Integration - HealthEast Care System: John Swanholm and Diane Tran represent a community change initiative focused on optimal health and well-being on St. Paul's East Side neighborhood. Recognizing that the excellent, compassionate, and culturally-competent care HealthEast offers within its clinic and hospital walls may only impact up to 20% of community health outcomes, this collaborative effort seeks to understand HealthEast's role in partnering to improve health starting where residents live, work, and play. The central catalyst to this community collaboration effort started when HealthEast CEO, Kathryn Correia, joined the system four years ago and helped spur development of a new vision of "optimal health and well-being for our patients, our communities, and ourselves." The focus on communities, coinciding with emerging research about the social determinants of health as well as healthcare reforms demonstrating a move toward "pay for performance," catalyzed internal interest in understanding how HealthEast could play a role in changing poor and disparate health outcomes as well as innovate for sustainability into the future.

Swanholm and Tran were joined by strategic thinking partners from within the HealthEast system, all of whom have been playing an active role in clarifying and integrating the purpose of this community collaboration. Key questions emerged for this team, including:

  • How might we begin to apply initial learning from the community collaborative to internal HealthEast system strategy development and deployment?
  • What other entities or resources from across the system can begin to initially align with this emerging way of thinking and acting in order to begin integrating neighborhood/community-based approaches into HealthEast's practices?
  • What do we imagine HealthEast would look like in 20 years if we are successful in seeding these new ways, mindsets, approaches?

How do we fully embrace the anchor institution mission?

Left panel Center panel Right panel


3 to PhD - Concordia University: The community surrounding Northeast Portland's Faubion School is ground zero for our collaborative effort, which we call 3 to PhD. Note: 3 refers to life from the 3rd trimester of inception through [P]ursuing One's [H]ighest [D]ream.  Scattered across North and Northeast Portland in the largest catchment area of any Portland K-8 school, many of Faubion's families live in pockets of concentrated poverty and relative isolation in a community that lacks a defining central hub. Faubion School serves one of the most diverse student bodies-and also one of the most vulnerable. With a child poverty rate nearly 10% higher than the district-wide average, and with 81% of students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, many families struggle to provide for their children's most basic needs. Nearly 20% of students are estimated to be homeless, and many more live in public housing and mobile home parks.

In response to the challenges confronting Faubion's children and their families, 3 to PhD will establish a corridor of opportunity in the Faubion School neighborhood, using education as the fulcrum point for improving the health and economic opportunity of the wider neighborhood.  Comprehensive in its reach, 3 to PhD aims to provide a seamless continuum of supports for children that foster equity and promote their success and well-being from 3 (first 3 trimesters) to PhD (pursuing one's highest dream).

As Phase I (construction) of the 3 to PhD funding campaign draws to a conclusion and opportunities for innovative programming initiatives come to the fore, our collaborative seeks to initiate a conversation across the university community (faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, board members, church officials, volunteers, friends, decision makers and dreamers) that will shape the environment and opportunities for the future of Concordia University. At Conversation 2016, we sought to focus on the Concordia University segment of this larger collaborative and the maximization of the potential that literally numbers in the thousands of potential participants from faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, board members, church officials, volunteers, friends, decision makers and dreamers.

End picture

Concordia circles


Thank you to all 19 participants and our three advisors:
Ken HubbellMarla Johnson, and Gary Hubbell