IPI Reports: Large-Scale Planning for Large-Scale Change: The Girl Scouts is one of the largest leadership organizations in the world, serving three million girls and one million adult volunteers. The venerable old institution, founded in 1912, had stultified over the years and realized that it was suffering a mid-life crisis. It needed to re-invent itself in a big way.
Every three years, the Girl Scouts hold a gigantic national convention, focused on both the governance of the organization as well as on the gathering of thousands of girls. At one of the conventions, then new CEO Kathy Cloninger had a vision for transforming the organization and developing a Core Business Strategy that would modernize the movement. This CEO was willing to take risks to bring a radically different approach, using this large gathering to engage the members in the development of the Core Business Strategy.
Christine Whitney Sanchez, a lifetime Girl Scout herself, was brought in to design a process for building the internal capacity for large-scale, strategic conversations and to facilitate the largest Open Space meeting ever held in the USA. The most exciting part of this work is the vibrant volunteer community that forms to do all the work and the number of individuals who have breakthrough experiences along the way. A part of what happens when self-organization unleashes people’s passion for transforming a movement they love, Sanchez says.
As more than 14,000 Girl Scouts began to gather in Atlanta for the convention, 1,700 delegates from local councils met in an airplane hanger-sized space in the Georgia World Congress Center. Sitting in seventeen concentric circles with a 75 foot open space in the center, the delegates created their own meeting agenda on the spot in response to the question: What would our governance structure look like on a national and local level if it met the test of being efficient, decisive, and action oriented?
They began with a moment of silence. Sanchez walked out on the floor, choosing not to be elevated above the audience. Sanchez moved within the inside of the circle to signify the unity of the group.
This meeting was an example of how collective wisdom can be gathered to produce thinking that transcends what individuals or small groups can produce alone,” explains Sanchez.
Julie Murphy, Senior Director of Strategy at Girl Scouts USA, made sure that the wisdom from the convention was embedded in the Core Business Strategy moving forward. Years later, Sanchez and Murphy teamed up again at another Convention.
“Julie and I are mindful of how our relationship is a metaphor and a model. We symbolize the collaboration between the formal organization and the grass roots of the Girl Scout Movement. Our respect for each other provides the foundation for transparency, flexibility, honesty, accountability, innovation and appreciation that permeates our work and the teams we work with, reflects Sanchez.
Sanchez sums it up: an open-hearted community formed as we used the engagement methods to actually do all of our work, developed a self-organized project design, cultivated virtual practices for connection and bonding, and supported distributed leadership.In the end, large-scale change results from grassroots viral action.