Looking Back to Move Forward by June Kailes
My interest is in the future because I’m going to spend the rest of my life there.
- Charles F. Kettering, American inventor and engineer
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has many of taking stock of our successes and failures over the last decades. As I think about lessons to apply and how they might propel us forward into a better future, I remembered an “IL 2020: Building a Strong Foundation in a Rapidly Changing Environment.” workshop, held August 10th – 12th 1998 in St Louis. Working as a contractor with ILRU, I was the originator and organizer. Some independent living centers had been in existence for over 20 years. Workshop participants represented individuals new to the movement as well as seasoned people from the United States, Japan, and the Mariana Islands.
In this article, I urge us to take new and renewed action. I ask us to think about how to plot a new way forward by taking a look at the IL 2020 workshop’s intent, results, findings, shortcomings, and a link to the workshop ‘s report and slide deck.
Call to Action – Plotting Our Way Forward
Much has happened since the IL 2020 workshop, our wins and losses as well as the good, bad, and ugly. It’s time for many of us to do this again with our local, state, national and international organizations, partnerships, and coalitions. It’s time to reflect and thoughtfully plot elements of the path forward for the short, mid and long term, so the future just doesn’t happen to us.
Thinking in the future tense means making better decisions, developing better strategies, and drafting better policies for today and the best outcomes for tomorrow. “The future lies before you, like paths of pure white snow. Be careful how you tread on it, for every step will show (source unknown).”
John Schaar, the political theorist, puts it this way,
The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.
Alan Kay, American computer scientist, said
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Both people are right! Go forth and use these documents to incorporate the parts that work for you and to revise and refine the parts that need improvement.
IL 2020 “Building a Strong Foundation in a Rapidly Changing Environment.”
Here’s what I wrote as an introduction to the workshop:
In the face of unprecedented change and tumultuous challenges, it is possible to discern potential directions. Moreover, there is more than one possibility. But without a way to proactively understand change and chart a course for the future, communities and organizations run grave risks in a fluctuating world.
Unfortunately, by the time issues appear on the radar screen of most organizations, a crisis is usually underway. And that limits the options for creative responses and sends the cost of confronting the challenges skyrocketing.
To thrive in the face of rapid change and high uncertainty, we must look far enough ahead to recognize essential trends that will become vital to our interests — before they become problems or crises. Only then can we develop robust strategies to take advantage of new opportunities and avoid potential pitfalls in the new millennium.
Based on these beliefs, we crafted these workshop goals:
- Encourage IL leaders to stretch far beyond the status quo and advocate for systems change, way beyond the typical muddling through the barrage of day-to-day “urgent” tasks and demands,
- Create a forum to focus further than current services and advocacy,
- Provide a distraction-free, accessible, and comfortable environment to explore, create and communicate the trends and forces shaping our future, and
- Reach consensus on key strategies for achieving our preferred future for independent living — a vision quest!
Process and Results
Approximately 65 people attended IL 2020. Our overarching purpose was to develop and communicate a consensus vision and strategies for the Independent Living Movement through 2020. We wanted to clarify the movement’s vision, values, mission and goals. Our shared values included:
|Equity||Informed Choice, and|
These values almost anyone can accept as critical to a meaningful life. When thinking about the barriers and challenges our society poses to people with disabilities, these values become even more critical to realize our desired future. These are still significant values that haven’t changed.
We spent some time writing letters to our great-grandchildren, acting as if we were living in 2018 and reflecting on what had changed in 20 years. These letters were poignant and personal. Many were idealistic about how much had changed. I was thinking, “What if these letter-writers re-read what they wrote now? Would they say that their visions had come true?” My guess is they would not. Out of the letter-writing process, however, we did draft a vision statement:
IL Movement Vision Statement
A world that respects all people, values diversity and guarantees choice, freedom, personal power, equal access, communication, and justice for all.
Nothing wrong with this vision. We just have a long way to go!
We focused on “how” we could realize our vision using three possible scenarios. Unfortunately, we never pushed ourselves (nor did the facilitator) to reach an actual consensus on any organizing principles. As a result, it is probably safe to say that each person who attended the summit left it with their unique understanding of our vision and mission.
Sticking with our original vision, we worked on possibilities using these three scenarios:
- SAME: Things stay the same but get a little better
- WORSE: Things get worse, and our strategies must address these “dark days”
- IDEAL: Things improve through transformation
We discussed possible trends and forces. We considered the strategies we would need to follow to achieve our preferred future, our vision. Look at these results and assess where you think the movement is today in comparison:
SAME: Things stay the same but get a little better. For even the smallest of improvements, we would need to
- Get outside the IL community to strengthen relationships among non-IL groups;
- Encourage individuals to work more and become more integral parts of their communities
- Create a virtual center for independent living, a community where anybody can access information when they need it; and
- Make sure that people with disabilities – not regulators – define what their mission is.
WORSE: Things will get worse. If this happened, examples of “dark days” could include:
- No or a lack of effective IL leadership
- Severe economic decline; downturn causes depression; increased suicides
- Government gets larger; institutions shut down; social benefits are cut off
- Many poor nations are in a “death spiral”
- Fewer rich people and far more poor people
- Cyber wars with political parties, governments, banks and industry, non-profits
- Intolerance for people with disabilities
Strategies we would have to employ to correct or fix these problems would be:
- Hold governments to greater accountability; change Federal and state laws; redirect funds to self-directed programs
- Increase models of self-sufficiency in the community
- Develop new IL leadership
- IL is recognized as a “think tank”
- Birth a new social order is born; people connect with their communities and form new definitions of disability
- Put computers in the hands of everyone; increased access to resources via world wide web; effective training
IDEAL: Grassroots change where things improve through transformational experiences. Our strategies for this type of future would include:
- Identifying leaders who have a new ethos seeking consistency between what they value and how they behave
- Expanding possibilities through the internet; global communication; using various media to get attention
- Educating youth about IL history; recruiting youth into leadership roles
- People with disabilities and civil rights laws protect everyone
- Using the disabled community’s power to make positive change through voting and political representation
- Building coalitions with older populations and other groups
Issues that continue to resonate
One major issue that permeated the two-and-a-half-day workshop was the internal struggle within independent living centers regarding systems advocacy versus service provision.
One center director said that much of the staff in her center are “comfortable” with being a service provider. “It would take a long time for us to change our message or focus, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.” And in rural service areas, there are fewer resources, making service and, thus, survival, the primary issue.
How do we change this mindset? Has it become entrenched in how CILs see themselves today? Will it take new leadership to re-imagine the possibilities? That’s what we were trying to do in 1998!
What strikes me now is how difficult it was for so many of us to imagine what was likely to happen in 20 years. How, even with a good vision statement, we may not have developed ourselves so that we could tackle the more significant, systems issues.
As a raging incrementalist who is never very patient, I always ask why didn’t we achieve more? We are in a different place now for lots of reasons. I want to tackle this examination of the past to move towards a better future. So, it is time for many groups to take this on again so we can have a 2050 we want, need, and deserve!
I don’t want to repeat what we did in 1998 because there were things I didn’t like about the event. Putting people into generational groups did not add to our knowledge of how to move forward. It felt like we were stereotyping based solely on age. And there was a portion of our time devoted to categorizing what kind of a leader each of us is: visionary, analyst, planner, or manager. That too felt like pigeon-holing and didn’t hold up in practice; it was too theoretical and not helpful. There seemed to be too much academic futurism theory dominating what could have become a real call to action
Putting aside the results of the 1998 event, we need to re-start a new thought process using something like a “future search conference.” [An actual Future Search Conference usually occurs in-person with a limit on the number of participants to no more than 64. See http://futuresearch.net/about/whatis/.] Many centers for independent living and some Statewide Independent Living Councils underwent future search conferences in the 1990s and thus some folks will be familiar with the process.
If any of you are reading this who attended “IL 2020,” I would like to read your reflections on this workshop. What are your reactions to my thoughts?
What could you do to engage others in a healthy and expansive examination of the future we want, need, and deserve? The COVID-19 experience presents many windows of opportunities to create our preferred future. For example putting in place incentives for independent living centers to be involved in the frontlines of protecting, addressing and maintaining the critical health, safety, and independence of the people with disabilities in emergencies, combating the institutional bias via creating robust new home and community based models, and tackling work disincentives and taking full advantage of the numerous telework models. I urge as many groups as possible to engage in such processes. There is no better time than now. Please leave a reply in the comment section below or contact me l firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edition 1: 06.11.20