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Questions on Repeat

One of the practices from my time in conventional classrooms that still serves me is that of listening for signs that I wasn’t clear enough in communicating. One such sign is when I’m getting the same questions repeatedly; sometimes it means our group isn’t practicing listening very well yet, but 98% of the time it means I need to pause, rewind, and get us all on the same page.
The same questions have been popping up in my email for a bit over a week now, regarding agreements and definitions across the ALC Network. This makes sense: part of the reason I got involved in the Network reset over the past year was that we’d developed processes and patterns that were out of sync. We’d also worked hard to anticipate what our growth would look like and create processes that would serve it, but the reality that emerged was (of course) slightly different than we imagined. 2017 brought an invitation to breathe, assess, sort through our clutter, and start readjusting. What I’m hearing in 2018 is that the mixed messages–some of our tools had gotten outdated and some hadn’t–and lack of guidance where tools had gone offline altogether have been disorienting for folks who are newer to these conversations.  We–the first and second generation ALFs who have been looking beyond our individual projects for the past few years–didn’t communicate clearly. So this blog post is my pause-rewind-realign offering. It’s intended as a conversation [re]starter for our current ALF community, a reflection of where we have been, and currently are, rather than a proclamation of any carved-in-stone Truths. I copied these wordings of the questions from @liliana.
1.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) for new ALCs?
Organizations that identify as ALCs are expected to sign up for membership in the ALC Network via our website. We ask for an annual contribution of $95 per project, and we put their ALFs in conversation with ALFs from across the network upon receiving their sign-up form. There isn’t a specific set of agreements listed on the membership sign-up page yet, but the hope is that anyone who reads our website and pays for a membership is doing their best to root their project in our philosophy. When we were small enough that all new projects were in conversation with other projects (and how-do-we-run-this-network conversations) during the year then gathering together in North Carolina over the summer, our relationships were strong enough to orient each other. Having evolved into a more decentralized, linguistically diverse, and far-flung coalition, we clearly need to re-imagine our onboarding process. I’m hoping those folks invested in these questions can channel some inspiration and insight into making that happen in the next few months.
In terms of dealing with challenges and conflicts, new (and all) projects are encouraged to ask the community for support as needed, either on Slack or by emailing someone they trust or joining a call…whatever works for them. When someone has a concern about an ALC operating in a way that’s out of integrity with our principles, they have tended to first check-in with the community in question and then to talk to folks at more established ALCs (so ALC-NYC and Mosiac usually, so far). We haven’t needed to create a more formal process yet, but I love that the process that seems to be emerging echoes our conflict resolution process that we use at ALC-NYC and among ALFs. I imagine a more formal process would just make that echoing intentional and explicit.
Since there is no formal contract, there is no formal ‘here’s how to get out of your contract,’ but organizations that have opted not to be/become ALCs just let us know. They are taken off the map, have their access to our docs and internal communication channels changed, and are expected to stop using our branding.
2.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) for new ALFs?
Same as above.
3.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) to setup ALCs?
Same as above…We’re really into processes and agreements that are both light and effective enough to work across contexts 😉
4.  What is the agreement and procedure to break the agreement and deal with challenges (conflicts or so…) to organize ALFs?
The network reflects ALCs in relationship. An ALC’s existence and relationships reflect the work of that community’s ALFs. We are responsible for supporting each other, self-organizing, and holding each other accountable. This community is ours to care for.
Agreements for ALFs, beyond the implicit work-to-facilitate-in-ways-informed-by-our-philosophy, used to get listed on our ALF Community Mastery Board (and likely will once again, someday soon). The main agreements are to be respectful of people, mindful of their time, and intentional about how you engage. We have lots of notes about what ALFing from ALC principles looks like, and individual ALCs will have their own agreements for facilitators in their spaces.
When there is a challenge or conflict with an ALF, we follow our conflict resolution process. It’s outlined on the Newbie page and matches the process we use at ALC-NYC with our school community. First, whoever is having the problem talks to the person they’re having the problem with (after taking some breaths and deciding what it is they want to communicate). If the problem persists, they ask another ALF for help talking to the person. If the problem still says a problem, the ALF having the problem convenes a Culture Committee. The parallel practice in other settings is calling for a Circle. In ALC settings, a CC is a gathering of trusted community members committed to supporting conflict resolution efforts and tending the well-being of the community. With kids at school, this usually looks like a group spending some time in a literal circle to talk through the situation; with adults across the network, there is more often an initial group call and then a series of follow-up calls. Similarly to how we practice honoring the decisions of those who attend meetings we miss, we practice honoring the decisions of those attending to CCs we’ve missed.
When an ALF no longer identifies as an ALF, they just have to say so.
5.  What is the agreement about photos? videos? 
Under the agreement to respect each other is the expectation that where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy they will be asked for consent before being recorded. Since by definition consent is specific, informed, and reversible, they need to know what plans there are for sharing the recordings and they need to be able to withdraw consent. Remember there may be additional legal considerations for recordings including minors.
6.  What is the agreement about contacts?
We established communication agreements for the ALF community in 2015 during a change-up meeting. These are recorded on our ALF Community Trello (a tool that fell out of use when people stopped attending the calls it held the notes from) as: “Keep posting relevant to the charter of the tool, no spam (irrelevant or inappropriate messages); Respect each other; Email directly to individuals when reply all is not relevant; During calls, default = mute mic unless you are the person speaking.” So essentially, communications should honor our principles of respecting each other and each other’s time.
Through aligning with the ALC philosophical roots, ALFs commit to trust-building, caring without controlling, and contributing to a culture of generosity…practices that shape how we show up in our relationships. Since how we communicate also impacts the nature and health of our relationships, many ALF trainings include sessions about how we talk and how we listen. ALFs will have different favorite resources and guiding reflective questions. Some of mine are on the Favorite Resources page of this blog.
7.  What is the agreement about money?
Money! It’s not the only form of wealth or the form we necessarily care most about. It’s also necessary so our ALFs can eat, pay rent, and keep sharing support with folks whose doors are too far away for us to go knock on.
ALC members are expected to contribute funds annually to keep the shared resources we use to cohere the network online and updated. Most of our resources are open-source under the Creative Commons license that asks folks not to use our work for personal profit, to share as we share, and to give attribution where due.
When we find ourselves with enough money to cover our expenses reliably, we’ll need to convene a work group to decide how to manage what’s left. It’ll be fun…but we’re not there yet.
At the moment, Tomis and I are the people watching our finances, which are managed through our 501c3 nonprofit. You can ask us for information and updates at any time.
8.  What is the agreement about the decision taken by the board?
Since ALFs are the network, we make decisions about our agreements, processes, and culture. We used to tackle big questions all together at retreat weekends, summer gatherings, and monthly calls. We also have encouraged those feeling inspired to take on the role of coherence holder for whatever project they care about and invite others to join them in forming a ‘work group.’ We’ve had work groups form to create reports, survey ALFs, and plan retreats. Our last working group ran through spring 2017, and it was open to those invested in defining-the-network kinds of questions. It fizzled out when folks schedules changed over the summer, though I host a monthly network-themed call to make sure there’s still an opening for folks who want to try to bring that work group back.
Aside from the network that is and acts, there is an organization–the ALC Network–that’s a nonprofit registered in North Carolina. Between its inception in 2014 and the start of its reset in 2017, the board of this nonprofit met a few times a year to check in on the health of the organization, make sure paperwork//roles were in order, and review finances.
The current board continues to honor the legal responsibilities of a nonprofit board, and we also have decided to give as generously as we can in the role of what I hear Quakers refer to as an ‘Oversight Committee.’ When the ALFs previously tending the network ecosystem flagged in the fall of 2016 that our culture was in need of a reset and our practices needed to be realigned with our principles, Mercer and I committed to join whoever from that original crew was ready to work on this project with us and start what would clearly be a rather involved and challenging process. By the end of 2017, the folks coherence holding for the reset were also the folks remaining on the Network board: Tomis, Mercer, and me.
The role and composition of the board is set to change through the next few months, but legally a board is responsible for ensuring the actions of an organization are aligned with its mission and making decisions that prioritize the well being of the organization. So while we practice–and are committed to practicing–decisions being made by and for ALFs, technically the board has the power (and responsibility) to block decisions that would endanger the organization or put us out of integrity with our mission.
9.  What is the agreement about drive documents?
Drive is one of our communication tools! Follow the communication agreements outlined above (or updated ones, as those become available).
Access to drive is granted to member ALCs, with the expectation that they will be responsible about who they add/remove from their communities. Most work is licensed through Creative Commons. Please use shared resources mindfully and contribute to them generously.
10.  Who can be called ALF?
Who indeed…At the first ALF Summer gathering, we came up with a system of levels, the requirements of which were outlined in rubrics, which aspiring and practicing ALFs moved through using a series of forms and peer reviews. We were trying to accomplish many goals with one tool: give people guides for self reflection, set a norm of groups entitling each other based on their experiences of each other, clarify the expectations attached to different roles, protect the meaning of the title ALF through some kind of check system, and generate documentation so we could check who our ALFs were.
The rubric we made for basic “Am I an ALF?” peer reviews is still relevant as a tool for supporting ALF self-reflection and for communities or workshop groups practicing Peer Reviews. It’s here: ALF Personal & Peer Review – PeerReviewForm
But, to borrow Ryan’s words, there was never going to be just one path to becoming an ALF. Not if we were truly dedicated to open-source sharing and empowering communities to grow ALCs adapted to their contexts. At our East Harlem flagship, we relate to facilitation as a practice. You know you’re a facilitator when you catch yourself facilitating and others relating to you as an ALF. More interesting for me than locating the moment one “becomes” a facilitator (or an artist or equestrian or a reader or or or) is the journey that unfolds from that point on. When we talk about our past and future selves, we sometimes talk about my “baby ALF” days or about Mel “levelling up.” We were just joking last week about the “next level” NYC ALF skills of knowing where there are restrooms along a field trip route and what to have in your bag when taking groups of kids on the subway…which probably are not ALF skills at all for folks most other places 😉 We give regular attention to our personal and team facilitator-ing, checking our well-being and looking for ways to better support each other’s growth. We can all confidently identify as ALFs at this point, trusting our depth of experience and knowing our community would gladly vouch for us, and we’re on to that fun game of “Oh! You’re an ALF, too? What kind? Where are you at in your journey?” from a place of sincere curiosity and commitment to replicating in network relationships the care and support we practice here with each other.
Checking in about this blog post (I loop our crew here in on almost all of my network business, and I’m so grateful to trust their thoughtful feedback and suggestions even when our here-at-home business is already a lot), we talked about how our practice, sharing, and helping grow new ALFs gives the world modeling that we hope will both help people answer this question and develop folks’ ability to sense when someone calling themself an ALF is out of integrity in doing so. Rather than stress about what a few million strangers may choose to call themselves and how to control that, we’re focused on offering illustrations of the role that set root/principle-aligned expectations and inspire desire to come play at our level. Which you should; it’s a delightful, infinite game.
Feeling inspired to organize an ALF call to update the CMB? To craft our ALF agreements into a mini manifesto of sorts to put at the top of our ALF webpage? To gather a work group to upgrade our new-member-onboarding-process?
Do it! Message me if there’s any way I can support you <3

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