Coming Together as a Community Through ManyOne

Studio/E is one of those rare places where people of all stripes are invited in and then are further invited to drop all their defining labels at the door. It’s an effective way of producing meaningful learning. We say it frequently, but only because it’s so true – If you want to learn and grow you can’t hang out with people who know what you know. And those labels too often get in the way.

While this is a useful prescription for nearly every sector, we can’t think of one that needs it like our public sector does; especially regarding those who hold elected office. Thus, a number of years ago we started partnering with Studio/E member Dean Phillips and the Phillips Family Foundations to create the ManyOne scholarships.

ManyOne places bi-partisan pairs of legislators into the greater Studio/E family. As part of our cohort program, they get to know one another on a first name basis, learn together, and learn how to approach the challenges facing our communities with exploratory strategies. Consequently, our ManyOne members get to spend meaningful days with people who care more about them personally than their political labels and offices.

Over the years we’ve grown the ManyOne family. But we wanted to do more. So recently, we did just that. In partnership with our dear friends at MZA+Co and the Citizens League (both of whom we’re also proud to call part of our Studio/E family) we produced our very first ManyOne Learning Lab – hosted forums illuminating complex issues surrounding public challenges while exploring possibilities without immediately leaping into policy positions.

Our first ManyOne Learning Lab foray was to a create a bit more communal wisdom around the issues of Criminal Justice Reform. The Studio/E Clubhouse was packed with a wide diversity of people who make it their business to work in and around those issues. Yes, we had democrat and republican ManyOne members (as well as a number of legislators who aren’t part of Studio/E… yet) but we also hosted judges, a police chief, a mayor-elect, defense attorneys, prosecutors and social justice activists. A wide spectrum indeed, but here’s one thing that everyone had in common: no one was satisfied with the current state of affairs.

The conversation was framed from two perspectives: 1. You can’t defend your thinking and learn at the same time, and this was intentionally designed to be a learning opportunity; and 2. Criminal justice isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s a dilemma to be constantly and better managed. With these in mind, what emerged was inspiring. There was generosity, curiosity, empathy and deep respect flowing throughout the afternoon.

In our mind, however, there were even greater strides met. People from all over the diverse spectrum of criminal justice stakeholders connected with a desire to work together differently. How do we know that?The happy hour scheduled after the conversation lasted nearly twice as long as planned, and we saw plenty of people handing out cards to one another, making coffee dates, and engaging both around the conversation and otherwise with energy and enthusiasm we hadn’t predicted.

Learning isn’t a destination. It’s a journey and we are incredibly proud and grateful for our Studio/E ManyOne scholars. These policy makers, along with the rest of the crew that gathered at our Clubhouse, set out on a future pathway of improving criminal justice. There are better ways of approaching that than merely swinging left and right. It’s time to explore our way forward and make meaningful change, together.

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