Aligning Work at Various Scales

With Google maps or Mapquest, one can zoom in to the level of a city block or zoom out to see how that place that relates to the geography of a city or a region. In working for change within complex systems, we similarly need to be able to work at multiple levels and see how these fit together, e.g., from an individual project to an organization to a network to a large scale system. We are used to thinking about work in teams and in organizations, yet, when we get to the level of cross-sector collaborations or large scale systems it gets harder to conceptualize and understand how all the levels fit together.

Therefore, in planning strategy and organizing and aligning work, it is helpful to have a framework to distinguish these different scales. The more clearly we can see how work at each scale relates, the more strategic we can be about leveraging the connections, thereby creating more transformative change.

When I recently received a copy of the annual report of the Northern Forest Center, I appreciated how they had used a simple framework of elevation to clarify their work at various scales. (See page 3) The Northern Forest Center works in a networked way in the Northern Forest region (across NY, NH, VT and ME) to help its communities benefit from forest-based economic and conservation initiatives. Here is how they defined the scales of their work:

  Provide long-range regional leadership, coordination and strategy as a framework for numerous initiatives across the Northern Forest. Example of work at this level is to participate in regional and national public policy coalitions and coordinate Northern Forest participation and initiatives.
  Bring together multiple strategies, partners, and resources to generate tangible community and ecological benefits. Examples of strategies at this scale are coordination of a regional effort to identify new sources of capital and a pilot project to coordinate projects across a geographic region.
On the
  Work with individual communities, businesses and organizations on projects that find new ways to use and benefit from their forest resources. Examples of projects are creating new ways for tourists to offset carbon emissions, investing in 36 wood product manufacturers to catalyze innovation, and 14 biomass projects to help various organizations and homeowners acquire biomass heating systems.

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