For episode fourteen of season two, Tim and Tuesday host a conversation with members of the NYC Administration for Children Services Operations Team where they reflect on the work so far, their learnings and their advice for those helping to lead large-scale change across a system.
Together, Tim Merry and Tuesday Ryan-Hart are THE OUTSIDE—systems change and equity facilitators who bring the fresh air necessary to organize movements, organizations, and collaborators forward for progress, surfacing new mindsets for greater participation and shared impact.
2.14 —— SHOW NOTES
- Tues: Today on the podcast, we have guests!! We have three members - Zachary Howard, Marc Santora & Cherika Wilson - of our Operations Team from a project, “Equity Throughout Our System (ETHOS),” we are working on at the NYC Administration for Children’s Services Workforce Institute.
- Marc: ACS Workforce Institute is a collaboration between ACS, which is a city agency, and CUNY, which is a city university in New York, and there are two layers of that - there’s CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Hunter Collage and so all those entities work together to provide training for direct service staff in child welfare and juvenile justice. We are impacting that system. We are training people to do that work. ACS is an agency of approx. 12,000 people and we work with 63 contracted provider agencies.
- Tues: There are about 24,000 workers that you are training that then move out to the families. That’s quite a reach.
- Zachary: Everyone in the Workforce Institute makes sure that it’s always on the table. We make sure our language is consistent and it becomes part of our everyday.
- Cherika: We have a highly disproportionate number of children of colour that are affected by and come into contact with the system and so as we go about doing our jobs, regardless of whatever part of the organization we’re in, that is something that we are constantly thinking about. How do we make sure that there is equity throughout our system for the families that we work with. This initiative [ETHOS] is part of how we really engage in that to move that work to the next level.
- Marc: We surround ourselves all the time with people who that is their work. We know that there is inequity in the system, we know that that exists and so we use it as a springboard to inform the rest of our work so we’ve done things like having a reflective process every couple of weeks, we’ve done racism trainings and this work that we are doing with The Outside is very much centred around that. It’s been 2+ years of us priming the pump to talk about this.
- Tim: In some of the early conversations, David would talk about ACS and the Workforce institute, as a whole, is positioned to lead transformation across the child welfare system… If the mandate is systems change through capacity building… how’s that feel? What’s it like to have that mandate and scope?
- Marc: We have really passionate people who this is their life’s work so that is a really good starting point for us because this is not just a job for most people; this is what they want to do with their lives. It makes it easier on one end but it also makes it harder because there are so many different directions that it can go in. Because we are three different entities working together as one, there are so many hoops that we need to jump through just to make things work and so there is so much passion but how do you put a process to that? That’s been the thing that has been the most difficult for us.
- Zachary: I’ve only been in this job a year and I struggled a bit not being closer to the families directly but I participated in the fiscal year retreat where we saw the numbers of learners and families that we affected and it made it easier to wake up in the morning to do the work knowing you are helping on such a large scale. There’s going to be trips and falls but you can trip to get back up to make it work, which is what we’ve been doing.
- Cherika: I think something the organization tries to do, regardless of your role, is connecting you back to your role. What is my sphere of control and influence? We make a commitment to this work every single day.
- Tues: What is the ETHOS project? What do the three of you tell the folks who are not in the Core Team?
- Marc: This is my third day in training with TO and yesterday, Tuesday you said “coming home is often the hardest thing to do.” I think that’s true for us. We are all really good at knowing this is what is wrong here and we couldn’t necessarily figure out how to bring it back to us and I think this is where this initiative started. How do we set up a system and structure that we can then push out? If we don’t have the system ourselves, how do we then tell other people how to do it? We wanted to not only tell them, but show them - model it - and I think we just couldn’t figure out how to do that because there are so many voices and so many people that have so much passion around how to do it and we all have the answers… how do we take that and make it all true and make it move.
- Zachary: When my co-workers ask who are The Outside and what do they do? I describe it as they come in when organizations want a systems change. They help organizations to pinpoint the issues or problems and then get everyone on the same playing ground and take these problems and move them to something successful. A lot of people are used to prescribed answers but with The Outside you delve deep into what is going on in the organization and move in that direction. I appreciate that you don’t work in the prescribed. It’s hard to get 30 people to talk and share their ideas in a constructive plateau to move forward.
- Cherika: As I think about it, I think the ETHOS initiative has given us the permission to take the steps and make the changes that we need to make sure that the walk matches our talk. TO has guided us through a process to help us figure out the answers and it’s been a really interesting, and sometimes challenging, road to be on and I’ve been grateful to be in the process.
- Marc: There is also an element of slowing us down. That is a thing that we don’t do well. Everything is results, results, drive, drive. This is making us practice not moving so fast and being more thoughtful around things that we are doing. In an outcome-driven environment, we’re not taking the time to think about things in the way that we should. This is giving us a platform and space to do it and it’s also feeding into everyone’s psychological safety in doing that.
- Tues: I want to pull out that safety piece. We had a moment with the Leadership Team where we had them doing a walk with their eyes closed. It’s quite a vulnerable space. What came out was that someone said, “I felt safe because I was with this person.” We didn’t do the things that would normally do to make a safe environment. People found their safety with each other. It felt like a really good learning moment.
- Cherika: What I appreciate about the work that you’ve [The Outside] done with us is that we have to commit to the same level of vulnerable and it makes a difference in terms of building relationship and building trust. We’re all figuring this out together.
- Zachary: When it comes to safety, between reflective process and Open Space, we are slowing down to have the little moments to build relationship and safety. I think we can work together when everyone is in the best mindset.
- Tim: Hearing all of you speak blows me away… some of the most significant and transformative moments happen between two individuals and somehow that ends up changing the culture of the initiative as a whole which ends up impacting the future of a system. You’ve all talked about matching our rhetoric with our action - truly beginning to behave how we would like the system to behave.
- Tues + Tim: I’d love for you to share something that you’ve learned through the ETHOS project? Or any advice that you’d give people based upon what you are learning.
- Marc: Be nice to yourself and each other and notice one another. Care for each other in the process.
- Cherika: Be patient and be okay with the questions and trust the process. Relationships are important. As you go through the work, remember to bring it back to the people who are not as intimately involved.
- Zachary: It’s okay to be uncomfortable - lean in when you are uncomfortable.
Song: "Paradigm of Lies,” by Zach’s band Ocean of Illusions
Poem: “Harlem” by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
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Find the song we played in today’s show—and every song we’ve played in previous shows—on the playlist. Just search ‘Find the Outside’ on Spotify.
Produced by: Mark Coffin @ Sound Good Studios
Theme music: Gary Blakemore
Episode cover image: source
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