The Front Porch

August 8, 2017

“I’m Harley Tabak, CEO of Jewish Home Life Communities, and one of the longest serving leaders of a Federation affiliate organization. I am very excited about the whole Front Porch process and the opportunity to bring many ideas and voices together. When I moved to Atlanta in 2004, meetings with colleagues occurred sporadically, so it was difficult to develop a collective and collaborative approach to common concerns and opportunities.  Things are changing now, and it’s all good!

With The Front Porch initiative, I am hopeful and enthusiastic that working together, and planning together, we’ll develop effective ways to build a stronger Jewish, and non-Jewish, community in Atlanta.”

– Harley Tabak

The Front Porch: Unlocking the (Incredible) Potential of Jewish Atlanta is a bold next step for Federation to explore in the most foundational way — and potentially reimagine — how it interacts with and supports Atlanta’s Jewish community. Beginning in August, and continuing through the spring of 2018, we will bring all corners of the Jewish community onto the Front Porch to help map our future. Our meetings will be organized into several platform teams. The teams will include historic community partners, Jewish thought leaders, donors, board members, and other professionals, but we are also inviting people who might think of themselves on the fringes of the Jewish world — people of all ages, demographics and political points of view. We will engage in deep dialogue, immersions in places that inspire and provoke (the edges of Jewish Atlanta and other organizations that provide insight to our most challenging questions), and reflection time, concluding with a series of prototypes—experiments that move us swiftly to action.

Take a look at our reading list for the challenging and inspiring pieces we are reading and listening to as part of our journey.

In the fall, we will be hosting several listening forums to hear from the community. We will promote these via email and on this site, so send us an email at thefrontporch@jewishatlanta.org if you want to be informed, or check back here.

Insyte Partners is our guide for the Front Porch work. Insyte utilizes a framework developed by Otto Scharmer and his colleagues at MIT called Theory U or “presencing”.  Insyte is based in Philadelphia, but the firm’s principals, Liz Alperin Solms and Marie McCormick, will be directly and intimately involved in the project, along with their ace project manager Grace Shim. Eric Robbins, Federation’s CEO,  is very familiar with Insyte’s approach, having used it at Camp Twin Lakes, which he led for ten years. The process produced remarkable results there, transforming the organization dramatically while preserving and significantly strengthening its commitment to its core purpose. When Eric left to become Federation’s CEO, Camp Twin Lakes was serving more children, more deeply affecting each one, impressively broadening its base of partners, and preparing staff and volunteers to be the kinds of leaders society so needs now more than ever. In addition to working with Camp Twin Lakes, Insyte has also done groundbreaking work with The Atlanta Speech School and Sheltering Arms in Atlanta, and with clients both Jewish and non-Jewish nationwide.

1. Why is Federation putting so much time and passion into re-imagining Jewish Atlanta and Federation now?
This is a pivotal moment in time for the Atlanta Jewish community — one we must seize. Federation is committed to reinvigorating Jewish networks throughout Atlanta by fostering partnership, energizing meaningful innovation and reasserting Federation’s relevant purpose in a time of rapid change.

This past year Federation’s professional and lay leadership has engaged in hundreds of conversations that make us optimistic about our Jewish communal future. Our optimism is fueled by the past experiences of Eric (Robbins) and Jodi (Lox Mansbach) and the enthusiastic support for this process by a large and diverse group of community organizations.

Over the past 100+ years much has changed in the world we live and for Federation and our Jewish community to thrive for the next 100+ years it is simply not an option to continue exactly as we have and continue to meet the community’s needs. Federation’s value must become clearer, more compelling, and relevant to a new generation. We must connect with—and tap into—the significant population of metro Atlanta Jews who remain unconnected to our mission and are unfamiliar with our programs and services. As Atlanta continues to grow, we need to be ready for the anticipated wave of new Jewish Atlantans who have grown up outside of Jewish communal structures and little idea of what we stand for. There is so much great work being done, and such an important message to convey!

We are not unique — Federations and Jewish communities around the nation are grappling with many of the very same issues of role and identity — as well as stagnating campaigns. Yet right now, eyes are on Atlanta because we, uniquely, have made a commitment to engage in this task together.

2. What will be the outcome of all this work?
The overarching purposes of this work are to:
• Articulate a common agenda, “theory of change” and strategic priorities to unify Jewish Atlanta, as well as activating the relationships and networks to pursue that agenda together.
• Establish a framework for nourishing innovation and social entrepreneurship and intrapraneurship in all our communities and geographies—through startups and existing organizations so we can creatively meet unmet needs in Jewish Atlanta.
• Choose an identity and value proposition for Federation that builds on our strengths, is relevant and meaningful for these times, and guides thoughtful re-imagining of all our work.
• Deepen collective leadership capacity to move into a future that is different from the past.
• Launch several promising prototypes—experiments in the new that move us in the directions we have chosen.

3. What is a platform and why 3 platforms?
Federation exists to meet the needs of Jewish Atlanta. So our work must begin by focusing on creating the conditions for Jewish Atlanta to be all that it can be. We want a high engagement strategy for achieving our purpose so that we tap the intelligence and energy of a broad spectrum of Atlantans. Each of our three platforms will engage a group of 20-50 people in a 9-12 month guided exploration. The first two platforms are:

• Platform 1: The Jewish Atlanta Ecosystem: Forming a Collective Impact Partnership
The “ecosystem” of Jewish Atlanta consists of many pockets of Jewish organizations, communities and people—sometimes working together and sometimes in isolation, sometimes synergistically and sometimes at odds with one another. This platform brings together a microcosm of Jewish Atlanta to see “from the whole” and strengthen the connections among us around shared purpose. This platform builds on the emerging body of knowledge around “collective impact”—the idea that society’s problems are too big for any one organization to solve them alone and require a common agenda, shared measurement strategies and a “backbone organization” to coordinate.

Platform 2: A Jewish Renaissance: Cultivating Social Entrepreneurship & Intrapraneurship
How can we create “fertile soil” for innovation and entrepreneurial energy in Jewish Atlanta? How do we tap exciting new initiatives going on around the country and/or generate our own homegrown social experiments—through startups and supporting the creative energy in our existing institutions? How creative can we be around Jewish food and agriculture, or about bringing the community together around Shabbat dinners? What are compelling new ways to deliver social services? How can we pray together across our differences, talk about our love of Israel even when we disagree with one another? How can we engage Jews of color, LGBTQ Jews, Jews with disabilities, Jews who don’t feel like they know enough to engage, Jews who love non-Jews or have non-Jewish parents, or Jews who want to put their tikkun olam energy outside the Jewish world?
The research on disruptive innovation compels us to look at these two aspects of Jewish Atlanta separately. Only after we’ve deepened our insights about the future of Jewish Atlanta can we begin to answer the questions about what Federation needs to be. That will be the work of the third platform:

Platform 3: Re-Generating Federation
The work of this platform is to articulate a clear and relevant identity value proposition for Federation. As that becomes clear, our work will focus on aligning our key processes and structures—donor stewardship, fundraising, philanthropy, allocations, community convening and more—so Federation meaningfully supports the Jewish Atlanta our community wants and needs.

4. Who is involved?
The Jewish Atlanta Ecosystem platform consists of about 50 professional and lay leaders from a wide array of Jewish organizations, as well as donors, and JFGA board and staff. Eric will be the lead professional representing this platform.

The Social Entrepreneurship platform includes another 50 current and potential Jewish social entrepreneurs from startups and within existing institutions, funders, innovators and JFGA board and staff members. Jodi will be the lead professional representing this platform.

The Regenerating Federation platform will consist of a cross-section of people who have participated in the first two platform, plus others.

Behind the scenes, a terrific Planning Team has been meeting every 2 weeks through Zoom with our colleagues from Insyte Partners (Liz Alperin Solms, Marie McCormick and Grace Shim—www.insytepartners.com) to guide the work. That includes:

David Abusch-Magder, Head of School, Epstein
Faye Dresner, Chief Program Officer from JF&CS
Lisa Galanti Rabinowitz, our board liaison
Ligi George, Federation Project Manager
Amy Glass, Federation’s Director of Community Planning and Impact
Renee Kutner, Federation’s VP of Marketing
Jodi Mansbach, Federation’s Chief Impact Officer and operational lead for The Front Porch
Shayna Pollack, a young emerging Jewish leader who works at Atlanta Regional Commission
Eric Robbins, Federation’s President/CEO.

5. What is the approach behind The Front Porch?
Our consultants at Insyte bring expertise in transformational change, using a framework developed by MIT economics professor Otto Scharmer called Theory U or Presencing. The key idea is that in times of disruption, where the past is no longer a predictor of the future, institutions require wide engagement and breakthrough thinking—learning from the future as opposed to just downloading old mental models of the past.

Similarly, there is a global shift from “ego-centric” economies (with heroic individual institutions) to “eco-centric” economies where the health of the whole ecosystem is valued as much as the individual organizations.

A key insight of Theory U is that the success of an intervention depends on the “interior condition” of the intervener. The quality of attention of the people within a system is a very important, though invisible, driver of successful change. This includes:
• The way leaders think—their assumptions and mental models
• The way people relate with one another, and
• Collective willingness to let go of the old so that new structures, practices and alliances can emerge.

Whereas many planning processes engage in ideas or concepts alone—the approach behind The Front Porch is one of social mobilization—engaging the people within a system to inquire deeply into their world and to act collectively around an understanding of their emergent future that they all have had a hand in uncovering.

The diagram below illustrates levels of responding to change. Most work around change stops at Level 2—redesigning policies, processes and structures. This is what is typically referred to as “re-engineering,” of which about 70-80% either fail, disappoint or break the budget. Theory U systematically gets to Level 3 and 4 change, reframing thinking and regenerating communities to act from a shared and powerful future vision—one that is attuned to the context.


In addition to describing the nature and depth of change, Theory U is useful for articulating a change process:
• On the “left of the U” (Sensing) we clarify core questions and key assumptions and immerse ourselves in environments that provide insight and inspiration. Decisions typically aren’t made here.
• At the “bottom of the U” (Presencing) we create the conversations and the quiet needed for collective inner knowing to emerge and to be crystallized into “bold” statements of shared intent.” The central questions at the bottom of the U are “Who am I? What is my work?”
• On the “right side of the U” (Realizing) we engage head, hands and heart to translate intent to action through prototypes, implementation, infrastructure and accountability systems.

6. What is the timeline for The Front Porch?
Planning for The Front Porch began in the spring of 2017 and we expect to have direction and several promising prototypes by the spring of 2018.

The timeline for each of the 3 platforms will align with the five stages of the U below, with co-initiating beginning in late August; sensing through community dialogue interviews, learning journeys, special events and listening forums in the fall and early winter; articulating our common agenda in presenting retreats in early 2018 and launching prototypes in April of 2018.


7. What is the time commitment people are making to The Front Porch?
Each was asked to commit to three to four 1-2 day meetings from August through April. In addition, each will participate in small group “Learning Journeys” according to their interest and availability in the fall and winter months. Everyone has also been invited to do some “summer reading” and dialogue interviews to understand others’ point of view and bring that insight back to The Front Porch. Our total time estimate is about 50-80 hours over the year.

Our experience is that most people find these experiences to be fun, enlightening, and some of the most authentic conversations they’ve had. Past participants who have worked with Insyte have shared with us that the process, participants and overall experience helped them see their professional work or business work in a whole new way. That’s the upside!

It’s a big commitment but that’s what’s needed to break through the challenges before us.

8. How will other people get a voice who are not on Platform Teams?
We expect about 50 people, plus or minus, to participate on each Platform Team. There will be many other forms for others to add their voices and to learn together—through community forums, participation on learning journeys and dialogue interviews. Our intent is to make a place for everyone on the Front Porch.

9. How will we shift from planning to implementation?
There are many answers to that question, but one important one is that we will encourage teams of people to launch “prototypes” of the new in the spring of 2018, and we will offer a “Prototype Boot Camp” to create a structured environment for people to design, test and iterate their prototypes.

What is a prototype? A prototype is a preliminary model that addresses the trickiest parts of our vision— the first tangible expression of an idea—testing a “minimally viable product or process” and iterating based on feedback. We use prototypes to move quickly to action and to gain understanding of how something might work, from the people we most want to impact. Prototypes allow us to redesign and refine the model based on the feedback we hear. At this point, we can’t know what prototypes will emerge from The Front Porch. That’s what we will discover together.

10. Why Insyte Partners and what is their approach?
For over 15 years, Insyte Partners has been collaborating with clients in the non-profit, for-profit and public sectors to innovate and take daring collective action. They have a proven track record for creating the conditions for thoughtful and productive conversation and bold experimentation. Their change efforts focus on the individual, the organization and the larger ecosystem. The framework that unifies their work comes from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, which was developed at MIT after interviewing over 300 leaders of profound change in a variety of disciplines (www.presencing.com). Learn more about Insyte Partners.

11. If I have more questions whom should I contact?
David Abusch-Magder david.abusch-magder@epsteinatlanta.org
Faye Dresner fdresner@jfcsatl.org
Lisa Galanti Rabinowitz lisa.galanti18@gmail.com
Ligi George lgeorge@jewishatlanta.org
Amy Glass aglass@jewishatlanta.org
Renee Kutner rkutner@jewishatlanta.org
Jodi Mansbach jmansbach@jewishatlanta.org
Shayna Pollack shayna.pollock@gmail.com
Eric Robbins erobbins@jewishatlanta.org

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