What is Practicing Connection? (S.3, Ep.6)

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About this episode

In this episode, Jessica and Bob discuss the concept of “practicing connection” and the podcast and other programming that have emerged from it.

The episode marks a new name and look for this podcast and the creation of the Practicing Connection initiative which brings much of the Network Literacy team’s work together and offers a place to continue our exploration of  practices that make people feel more connected and empowered.

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Transcript

[music]

Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together, to improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. Here to start the conversation are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.

Bob Bertsch: Hey, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining us for this episode. It’s great to have you along, and it’s going to be a little bit of a different episode. We’ve had so many episodes lately that have been interviews, which has been so great by the way to learn from people throughout this year. For this episode, you’re just going to hear the two of us talking a little bit because we’re going to be talking about a little bit of a change to the podcast, really just the name and a new initiative that Jessica and I are starting to pull some of our work together into one piece.

We’re going to be talking about the term practicing connection and we’ll talk about a little bit as just a concept, like what does that mean? We’re also going to share details of this new effort that I mentioned to bring some of our projects together under that name. What that means for the podcast is that the name and the logo as you might have already noticed are changing. We’re no longer the practicing connection in a complex world podcast. We’re just going to be known as the Practicing Connection podcast. Even though the name and the logo are changing, the purpose of the podcast is not going to change at all.

We’re going to continue to explore personal and collective practices that empower us to work together, to help each other and our families and our communities to improve our resilience and readiness still in that rapidly changing complex world that used to be part of the part of the title. The thing that’s going to be a little bit different, I think is we’re going to try and be more intentional about connecting you as a listener to the podcast, to some of the other projects that we have going on that have the same purpose of developing those personal and collective practices.

We’re going to share more about those projects later but first, why don’t we zoom out a little bit, Jessica, and just talk about this term practicing connection, which has been a part of our work for a little while is going to become an even bigger part of our work.

Jessica Beckendorf: Yes, I think one of the things that might be really useful right now is to talk a little bit about where we started. Bob, I’m wondering if you can take us through how we started, how the OneOp Network Literacy team started so that we can explain where we’re at now and where we’re going.

Bob: Yes, sure. On a relatively warm day in Charlotte, North Carolina now, think back, put yourself there but that is where we started, a group of us, mostly, folks who were working in cooperative extension across the country got together. We really launched what was then known as the Network Literacy Community of Practice, which eventually became part of the Military Family’s Learning Network, which now is known as OneOp.

When we started, we were really focused on social media and digital literacy even though the idea for the group for Network Literacy was really based in concepts of network science, that idea of connecting people in networks and the idea of connecting people in networks was specific not just for the sake of doing it, but because of the belief that would produce benefits that we weren’t going to get from organizing people in hierarchies. That was the focus.

Even though that was at the center of it, what we ended up doing a lot of, because this was 12, 13 years ago now, people weren’t super familiar with the tools that we might use to build networks that were not local, networks at a distance, so social media, collaboration tools like Google Drive and things like that. We did a lot of training and talking about a lot of those tools. That’s where it started.

Fast forward a little bit for a few years and more people have become familiar with those tools, with social media, little bit more digital literacy in the organizations among professionals and things like that. We changed gears. We just completely flipped. We turned internally. We started to focus on OneOp as a network, the OneOp Network. How could we improve that network? How could we measure the effectiveness of that network and then improve it? We did a lot of change in that area. We did that for about four years. We did some social network analysis and did work internally on the OneOp Network and we started to began turning outward again.

This is where it’d be great to bring you and Jessica because this is about the time when you actually came into Network Literacy.

Jessica: Yes, it is. I actually met a couple of people who were in this Network Literacy Community of Practice while I was avoiding writing my master’s thesis so I took a class through Northwestern University, I think it was. It was a free massive open online course and I ended up, of course, gravitating toward a couple of the people who I think were a part of Network Literacy, is it from the beginning? Steve Judd and Karen Jeannette. What ended up drawing me to it besides avoiding writing my master’s thesis is I’ve been spending all of my career in community development and I’ve seen a lot of initiatives.

When people come together and collaborate, I’ve seen initiatives go well, and I’ve seen one person throw a wrench into the whole mix. I started to become really curious and interested in the kinds of relationships that result in community and community change because my whole career was based on changing communities. I actually came into this project with an outward lens since my career really has been based on the idea of community change and people coming together to support each other and to support the people that they serve.

When you think about OneOp for instance, we’ve got these different concentration areas and they are working to support service providers who are out there supporting families and supporting their clients. To me, that’s a huge part of how community change starts to happen is when you’ve got these networks of support.

Bob: When we’re talking about networks, that’s really what we’re talking about. There’s complexity in the world and especially the issues that we all share are complex and that one of the things that has been written about complex issues is some people say they’re not solvable. You have to just continually address them, and that a good way to do that, to effectively address them, lessen their negative impacts and things like that is to do so from multiple perspectives, and then doing it together so that– Because no one organization, no one person, no one government can solve these problems and the big–

There’s a lot of them that we all face here, but the easy one for all of us, I think to bring behind is climate change. There’s just so many effects that are going into what’s happening with our climate. That just one solution is just we’re not just going to widget our way out of it, “Hey, I created a new gadget that will end climate change.” It’s just not possible. The only way to–

Jessica: There isn’t an app for that?

Bob: There’s not an app for climate change. Here’s the idea, right? How do we see complex issues from multiple perspectives and start collaborating with each other to identify solutions for addressing these complex issues? The answer to all of that is connection. The department of defense recognizes that military family readiness and that specific issue is a complex one and by defining the Military Family Readiness System, department of defense had given us a way to address that complexity.

The way DOD defines the Military Family Readiness System is that it’s the network of agencies, programs, services, and individuals, and the collaboration among them that promotes the readiness and quality of life of service members and their families. It’s this network of agencies, not just the service providers in that are employed by the branch services, not just social workers in the communities, not just clergy, it’s all of this together. It makes sense–

Jessica: It’s complex?

Bob: Yes, it’s complex and that’s how we address readiness and resilience and quality of life of service members and their families. It makes sense when you consider about 75% of military families live off of an installation.

Jessica: When we say in communities, it’s not necessarily just at all of the big bases everywhere. There are military family members in your community.

Bob: Yes. Because of that, whatever you’re doing in your community, especially if you are a helping professional, that you are part of the community of care supporting military families, and of course, everyone else in your community. Whatever it is that you do, if it’s volunteering for your church or leading a youth group or any of that, you probably have military family members that are participating.

That means you’re part of the Military Family Readiness System. That really became a powerful idea because of those two words that came up in the Military Family Readiness System definition, network and collaboration. Going back to our, how and why we work, Jessica. That means relationships. You don’t have networks without connecting people. In our view, you don’t have collaboration without meaningful relationships between the people who are collaborating.

Jessica: When we think about the Practicing Connection programs or whatever we want to call that, the Practicing Connection initiative that all of the work that we’ve been putting out there, we see this as helping service providers by doing things like offering content and sharing practices that would support building relationships and building relationship skills like trust and communication. Those things are really needed for effective collaboration of all kinds, but for effective collaboration with federal and non-federal entities that serve military families.

Like you said, Bob, if you haven’t thought of yourself as somebody who serves military families, the thing is, you probably are, or could be, or you’re at least part of this network. Even if military families haven’t sort you out and sort your services out, you’re probably part of this network.

Bob: I don’t want to make this concept so amorphous that it doesn’t have a definition anymore, but it gets back to– I’m sure it’ll come up again. Just this idea of networks and connection and resilience, right? Part of our resilience, a large part of our resilience, some people would say the majority, or most of our resilience comes from external factors. Having a social support system is a huge part of resilience.

We’re all probably part of it, at least one person’s social support system, even if we’re just that person’s friend, but especially, if we have roles as social workers or financial advisors or counselors or some other kind of thing, some other kind of service-oriented job, either as a paid job or as a volunteer. Military families fall into that definition of everyone. We all need social support for our resilience.

Jessica: That’s really another thing that I think is a goal of ours, is to try to raise awareness among service providers of the role that they can play in linking informal and formal networks that promote things like resilience.

Bob: Then seeing that, being aware that you’re in there as a member of the network and what you can do to help improve the connectedness. Some of the things that we think that Practicing Connection will be able to do and focus on is helping us all understand our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others and how that scales up to the wellbeing of a community. This reminds me a little bit of our eight ways to cultivate communities and times of change, and the work that we did on community resilience last year. You can still find that work on our website.

Jessica: Nice job dropping in that free resource

Bob: That’s right. Promo. I got to get a short promo in there for that, but that’s the idea. Obviously, we get excited about this. I’m trying to reign myself in from going on all these tangents, but this idea that this stuff scales up is an important concept. That’s why a lot of times you’ll hear us talk about the individual work, which is something else that practicing connection supports is supporting you to do the individual work necessary to prepare yourself to address the varied composition, diversity, and demographics of military families and the military family service providers that we’re all working with together in the military family readiness system. That personal work, we think scales up.

Knowing yourself, practicing self-reflection, practicing mindfulness, these things are the start of the ripple for lack of a better analogy, a less hack need analogy, and that they scale up or they ripple outward into your personal relationships, your individual personal one-on-one relationships, to your collaborations, to your teams, to your advisory boards, your Parent Teacher Associations, all of that work and all of that spirals out to your community, and we think to the broader world, the broader globe.

Jessica: Let’s change up our conversation here and share a little bit about where practicing connection came from, because thinking about all the things that we want to help with, this could just as easily be called Leadership Development or Group Collaboration, Professional Development. That would be a terrible name, but let’s talk about why we chose Practicing Connection.

Bob: Well, you can start because I think as we were preparing for this conversation, I went on and on about what it means and all this other stuff, and you’re like, “Well, wait a second. We got help from our colleagues.” That’s how we really came up with it. I was like, “Oh yes, that’s right. Why don’t we start there?

Jessica: Yes. That’s exactly what happened. Frankly, even before we decided to do a podcast, there had been talk about doing a OneOp-wide podcast, something that was all-encompassing that would provide some deeper thoughts, some professional development. We talked to our colleagues, like, “What do you want? What would make it feel like this was from OneOp? What would make it feel like– What kind of content needs to be put into a podcast like this? What do you want people to feel like when they see things like the name or when they listen to the podcast, what do you want people to feel like?

There were a lot of things we talked about, but in a nutshell, they wanted something that would inspire people to act, that would inspire them to grow, to think deeper, and they wanted it to feel welcoming. When you and I were talking about names, we had talked about having words in there about collaboration or having words in there about relationships and building relationships, community, all these words came to mind. Then when we thought about the core elements, we thought practice, people actively being able to practice what they’re hearing about, and we do end almost every episode with a specific practice, something people can try if they’d like to.

We thought that at its core, connection is where it starts, and we always use the term, “fractal.” Connection happens here. From here, it branches out and grows.

Bob: It’s so easy for me, and I assume other folks might be similarly inclined to focus on building relationships, building a network. That says to me something that is relatively finite. Even though it might go on years and years and years, it has a beginning and end. There’s an endpoint in mind and it has, I’m going to use the word active. I want to be careful because I don’t want practice to be something that is considered the opposite of that, that is passive, but the idea what we’re building something, you and I are building a shed in my backyard, we’re going to have a beginning and an end. We’re going to have some raw materials we’re going to be actively doing that, might take some breaks or whatever [crosstalk]

Jessica: Some perfect end, there’s some perfect way that it will end or there’s an outcome that can be considered perfect versus other outcomes.

Bob: That’s a great point. Yes. I think that’s why I think the word practice is so right. What we’re talking about here is that these practices don’t have a perfect outcome. That there is no end point when we’re done practicing. Maybe the easy, analogy that comes to mind when we talk about practice is things you actually practice a musical instrument or a sport or something like that. Like basketball fans, LeBron James doesn’t stop practicing. Is it like, “Oh, I’m perfect now don’t need to practice anymore.” It’s something that continues and that you build on.

Jessica: Yes. I’m so sorry but what comes to mind and you’ve said this many times from Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset, we always like to say it’s about getting better, not being good at something. It’s about always striving to be better. I just heard this recently from a friend too, and I wish I could recall the source, but she said that she was reading something recently where they just said, “If we could all commit to just being better.” I know that that makes it sound like it’s a deficit.

We’re coming from a place of we’re not good now, but that’s not what the sentiment was. It was really about if we’re always striving to be better, and in this case, we always say, “It’s about getting better, not about being good.” I think that puts us in a good– it’s in a good place for growth. Which is what we’re ultimately hoping to help people with.

Bob: Yes. I agree. I think the other thing that practices when I think about this too, is that they can be used or that they’re there for you anytime that you need to use them. Not like when you have a focus. Oh, I have to do this practice right now, because this meeting’s going to be planning X and so I’m going to use this practice. You can use them that way, but the point of them being practices is that you can benefit from them any time. You have some unexpected time in your day. Do some mindfulness practice or you’re faced with something that really challenges your thinking or your emotions. Maybe I’ll do some deep breathing practices or and I kind of focused in that area, but it doesn’t have to be that.

One practice, since you promise sharing practices, Jessica. One practice that I’ve done a long time. It’s just a relationship-building practice, which is when you think about somebody, do something about it, even if it’s just a text or a quick email, just saying, “Hey, I was just thinking about you. Hope you’re okay.” It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be an invite to a new collaboration or a great idea that you had or a new book that you need to share, but just that. That’s the thing that’s just like, “Hey, I can do on the fly.” On the spur of the moment.

That’s why I think practice is important because practices are that way, we can bring them out at any time and not just in these particular contexts where we’re trying to “build something”, “learn something” whatever the case might be.

Jessica: Well, then if practice is a huge part of what we are trying to help people with, then let’s talk a little bit about this Practicing Connection initiative. Again, this is about bringing all of our work under this umbrella. Even though we’ve been marching, as we’ve shared with you today, in this episode, even though we’ve been marching this direction for a while, this is a more solidified version of what we’re currently calling is the practicing connection initiative. We’re going to share a little bit about the projects we have currently and maybe a couple of our hopes for what we’d like to do in the future. Projects we have currently I mean, this podcast is a really big one.

Bob: Number one on the list.

Jessica: Yes. Number one on the list. We have the Practicing Connection community, which is admittedly currently an email list. That’s currently what it is. It’s a monthly newsletter but we’ll share a little bit about some of our hopes for that in the future and in a moment, Bob, do you want to take the last couple?

Bob: Yes. We have the podcast in the community and invite you to sign up for the community if you haven’t already, Jessica’s underselling it, it is a monthly email, but-

Jessica: I am underselling it. I’m sorry,

Bob: -it’s got a lot of great information in it. Now, who’s selling? Right now, who’s backpedaling? It’s great. Hopefully, it’s a way for all of us in the Practicing Connection community to find a rhythm together, we’re all hopefully seeing the same stuff on a regular basis. Maybe then that will give us a foundation to leverage that into some connection between folks and folks in the community as well.

Jessica: There are opportunities in it also to connect back with us and stuff like that. You’re right. I was underselling it and it’s not because I don’t believe in it. I just want to be very clear, it’s because I often am writing the emails and I have an issue with imposter syndrome as many of us do. So please go on.

Bob: It’s an aspirational community. The other part of the Practicing Connection initiative and work is our Twitter account. We have a brand new Twitter account it’s @PracticingCxn. Our abbreviation for connection, so PracticingCxn and you can find us on Twitter there, and of course, the link will be in the show notes. I think that is a big deal for us and it gives us a central place to share all of the stuff that’s going on here and then hopefully for you to share too.

If you want to use either mention us @PracticingCxn in tweets that are connected to this idea of Practicing Connection, or use a hashtag #PracticingCxn. Then we can get a little bit more of a conversation going. Help us scaffold up that community as well. The Twitter account is the other thing. Then in the building networks for resilience, learning experience, where a lot of this work started, that was our first programming piece to the Practicing Connection work that still exists out there.

You’re welcome to engage in it. We did a little revision during the pandemic in 2020, but we also are planning a little bit more of an overhaul as well. This change, not just to the podcast name, but this idea of a full initiative is, having that umbrella for existing work. Also, the things that we want to do in the future. Jessica mentioned growing the community more and providing. Making that more of a space where people can interact with each other. That’s definitely, something that we want to pursue.

Then we’re always exploring additional learning opportunities going forward and always interested in your feedback too, in terms of what kinds of things would be helpful to you as we find our way into the future under this banner of Practicing Connection.

Jessica: I think that’s all we’ve got for today. We hope you’ll join us in Practicing Connection, as we explore practices, to help us feel more connected, empowered, and inspired, Some of the ways to get started, I think Bob has mentioned some of them, but let’s just summarize them. You can subscribe to the Practicing Connection podcast pretty much anywhere you listen to podcasts, including audible by the way, you can join the Practicing Connection community. We’ll put the link in the show notes how to do that and you can follow @PracticingCxn on Twitter, or you can #PracticingCxn when you tweet. That’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for joining us in this conversation. We’d also like to thank our announcer Kalin Goble, Hannah Hyde, and Terry Meisenbach, for their help with marketing and Nathan Grimm, of course, who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. Finally, thank you so much for joining us. We hope you’ll join us again soon. In the meantime, keep practicing.

Kalin: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute Of Food And Agriculture, US Department Of Agriculture and the office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department Of Defense under award number 2019-48770-30366.

[00:31:03] [END OF AUDIO]

United States Department of Defense logo, a partner of OneOp
United States Department of Agriculture logo, a partner of OneOp