New Pathways | Houston: Project Update

Last month our EmcArts team wrapped up the Workshop component of the ongoing New Pathways | Houston program. This program, generously funded by Houston Endowment, gave us the opportunity to work with Catastrophic Theatre, Fifth Ward CRC, Galveston Historical Foundation, Houston Boychoir, Houston Early MusicSilambam Houston, and The Pilot Dance Project. Over the course of the workshops, the organizations spent time wrestling with issues of engagement, relevancy, and sustainability.

An incredibly talented group of seven local arts practitioners and independent consultants joined us in the Workshops as our Adaptive Facilitator Training Initiative (AFTI) cohort. Throughout the process Adaptive Facilitators worked alongside both EmcArts facilitators, and local Houston organizations engaging as participant-learners and small group facilitators. AFTIs selected their own complex challenge around a workspace for artists in the area, and also led organizational teams through exercises like Edward DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats. In later phases of the New Pathways program, AFTIs will facilitate alongside EmcArts facilitators, before taking on solo facilitation for organizations continuing on to our deep-dive Incubating Innovation program. Read more about the AFTI program implemented in Staging Change Toronto here.

The interactive Workshops were led by our Lead Process Facilitator Melissa Dibble, and Resident Artist Jacinta White. During the series of six half-day sessions we led organizations through a combination of artistic, theoretical, and experiential activities grounded in the situations and real issues of each organization. One participant noted: “It is always helpful to have a name for things – being able to identify something as a problem for an expert versus a truly complex challenge will speed us up, I hope.” Creating a shared language around complexity and challenges provides an entry point to developing organizational awareness about innovation.

Workshops also have the unique advantage of including many organizations across the sector, providing ample opportunities for cross-organizational learning and further building local capacity. “It was great to look at other organizations’ questions and talk with them about things,” one participant explained, while another noted the value of the “eagerness of participants” and the “support of [a] group of leaders to help us understand if we were on the right track” as bright spots of the program.

Applications for organizations interested in the next phase of New Pathways | Houston, On-site Organizational Coaching, opened at the completion of workshops in December, and we were thrilled that all seven organizations applied to continue on into this next phase of the program. Although our initial program design would have only allowed for six organizations to continue, the strength of each organization’s application led us to accept all seven into the Coaching phase.

On-site Organizational Coaching will provide an opportunity for organizations in the program to create and involve a larger “Working Group.” Working Groups are typically comprised of 15-30 stakeholders that include board, staff, artists, and other individuals that provide a diverse set of voices. Beginning in April, EmcArts facilitators and local Adaptive Facilitators will jointly lead these groups in practicing the strategies learned in the Workshops to assess their organization’s adaptive capacities, investigating internal barriers, identifying significant complex challenges, and carrying out another set of “small experiments with radical intent (SERIs)” to test emerging responses.

We are so energized by the hard work these organizations accomplished during the workshops, and look forward to continuing in Houston with On-site Organizational Coaching. We are thrilled that this sense of excitement and momentum has permeated throughout the cohort – and Coaching will provide an opportunity for that momentum to continue and expand. As one organizational leader explained,

“At the end of our workshop series we were very excited about embarking on a series of small experiments, but we need the rest of our staff and board to support and contribute to this next phase. Other members of our organization also need to understand the assumptions we are challenging and the complex challenge we have developed in order to develop and carry out successful experiments; however, this is new language that we are still learning so having an expert facilitator guide the transfer of the work we have done in the workshops is crucial. If more members of our organization are versed in the New Pathways method we can become an adaptive organization at all levels of the company.”

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