Author Archives: Janne Flisrand

Sabbatical Update: An Invitation to Come Play

interactive reading group

It’s more fun to figure things out together. Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Stephen Murphy

It’s always more fun to figure things out together. I find it results in a better product, too.* In that spirit, I’m convening two sabbatical-related events.

The first is a clearness committee (facilitated by my dear friend Michael Bischoff). That tiny session is intended to help me understand and be more clear in how and where I will focus my work.

The second is a larger group workshop, which I’ve titled “Sabbatical Inquiry: Creating a Healthy Community” (facilitated by another friend and colleague, Lisa Negstad). You’re invited. In the last few weeks, it’s become clearer to me that I want to focus on building a healthy community, to be part of healing my city, righting wrongs grown from an imbalance of power, money, and access.

This clearly encompasses racial justice, transportation and land use, the health of our planet, affordable housing, policing and criminal justice reform, to include a few key topics. It also encompasses how they intersect. I see many examples of people working towards this positive vision of our city’s future. The work I want to do isn’t my work, it’s our work, and includes many people beyond us.

Because it’s our work, not my work, I feel a responsibility to invite (and I crave) input from you. The summit will be an engaging, facilitated session. (Also, four hours on a Saturday in May – but free lunch!)

If that interests you, consider joining us – or sharing it with others who might find it compelling. My personal goal for the summit is to understand how my work can support those larger goals of healing our community and rebalancing power within it.


*when the process is well-managed

Optimizing Network Design



Bicycles are the most efficient transportation ever invented. Image source:

This is part of an occasional series on network design

A network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. I use these two principles to help me remember, members’ needs come first. Participating should be fun and easy, like riding a bike.

But members’ needs aren’t the only needs — the network has needs, too. Optimizing the design of network activities is the only way to meet the needs of members AND the network. Riding a bike isn’t only fun, it’s the most efficient way to get around, looking at energy calories per mile traveled. Optimizing your network activity design does the same thing: each activity takes you further on less energy.


Design activities to accomplish multiple goals. It takes a lot of work to get people organized, or to execute a project. If you think ahead about your (and your members’) goals, you can design each activity or project carefully to leverage each thing you do to achieve several goals. 


In some of my recent work, we used a kumu network map (thanks to support from Greater Than the Sum). The map offered many benefits to both individual members and the network.  read more »

Why Network Design Matters

Successful networks are self-regulating and sustainable, like the water cycle. Image License Creative Commons: AIRS, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder,

Water Cycle, Image License Creative Commons: AIRS, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder,

This is part of an occasional series on network design

Successful networks grow into a (nearly) self-sustaining cycle. That’s what gives them the staying power and benefits that emerge out of networks. A self-sustaining cycle like the water cycle.

Networks work best when they foster a cycle of member generosity, reciprocity, mutual benefits, and natural alliances, all emerging out of and reinforcing personal relationships. That’s like the cycle of precipitation, runoff, plant uptake and transpiration, and other water flows in the water cycle. In this comparison, members are water molecules, moving independently through the cycle as energy and occasion warrants, interacting with other water molecules as well as the outside world (soil, plants, fish).

Networks will always take energy inputs to keep the system moving. The sun and gravity put energy into the water cycle, enabling evaporation, transpiration, wind, streams, and lakes. In a network context, network leaders or support staff are the sun and gravity putting energy into the network-system to keep things going.

So What?

Network design is critical to a network’s success. A network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. I use these two principles to help me remember, members’ needs come first. That said, the network’s need are important, too, and both need to be built into the puzzle-pieces of network activities. read more »

Network Design: Members’ Needs Come First

Colors for Holi on sale at a market

Each member brings unique skills and perspectives, and has unique goals. Image credit By Kamalakanta777 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This is part of an occasional series on network design

A network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. I use these two principles to help me remember, members’ needs come first

Placing members’ interests and needs at the center of your network’s design and your network’s activities gives people a reason to engage. It also helps everyone hold onto the shared purpose. It reminds conveners and support staff to make activities easy to participate in and useful.


Focus on offering people value and communicating how network engagement translates into value. There is a lot of competition for people’s time, so it is critical to make sure that activities are valuable for participants. If they are not, people will choose to invest their time in other places where it is more  helpful. Value can come in many different forms. Here are some common benefits I’ve seen draw members in: read more »

I’m Seeing New Possibilities

image of stairs disappearing into a house

Image Credit: Tom Simon

In my network-supporting work, I encourage others to take the time to reflect. I model that practice when I facilitate meetings and in my projects. Now, I’m diving in even deeper.

This spring I found a new door to walk through. My role with a big project came to an end, and I find I have the space to step back and reflect.

I just started a sabbatical. 

I’m using it to be intentional in refocusing my work. The expanse of possibility I see is exhilarating.

Over the next five months, thanks to the recommendation of my friend and colleague Michael Bischoff, I’m going to modify Appreciative Inquiry‘s model to slow down and consider my plan. I’m inspired by the invitation to “look at the best of what is, in order to imagine what could be,” (citation). It requires me to reflect, to inquire, and invites me to imagine.  read more »

Is this Still a Question?

Vox asks, “Can low-income housing be energy-efficient and affordable?”

Photo of The Rose energy efficient apartments Image Credit Aeon

Photo of The Rose energy efficient apartments, just down the street from my home. Image Credit Aeon

They’re reposting from Ensia. The first sentence answers with an unqualified, “Yes.” Then they get to the interesting bit, asking why it’s so hard and, “How?”

After using Energy Efficiency for All research to lay out the cost-effective opportunity of 15-30% efficiency improvements, they explore financing, scale, policy, and standards.

As I read, I smiled to see my network-oriented colleague Jacob Corvidae quoted, highlighting some of what I’ve been focusing on.

As Coreina Chan and Jacob Corvidae of the energy think tank Rocky Mountain Institute put it, improving energy efficiency in low-income housing is “a wicked problem in a complicated field.” Many stakeholders — tenants, landlords, utility companies, creditors, and more — are involved, each with their own set of goals. The scale and size of properties varies greatly as well, so upgrades that make sense in one building may not in another.

A bit later, I was excited to a shout out to my work of the last 2+ years, I’m guessing from Jacob. Ensia writes,

New business models and strategies for encouraging adoption of energy efficiency-boosting retrofits are beginning to surface, thanks in part to the work of new forums such as the Network for Energy, Water, and Health in Affordable Buildings. In the forums, parties that otherwise might never talk to each other share information and together shape tangible solutions specific to their local context.

“The forums create fertile ground for stronger, unified answers for the energy and affordable housing problem,” Corvidae says.


Network Thinking Partner: In Interview by Beth Tener

This is cross-posted from Beth Tener’s blog.

Since 2014, Beth and I have had the pleasure of working together. She’s my coach/thinking partner supporting me in my role as a Network Weaver for a new national network, called Network for Water, Energy and Health in Affordable Buildings (NEWHAB.) Her consulting practice is New Directions Collaborative. She recently interviewed me as an opportunity to reflect on what I have learned and the value that the thinking partner role has for network leaders. Our work together is done through a video Skype every couple of weeks, plus she reviews documents, and connects me to resources, ideas, or people who could be helpful.

For background, what is the network you are working with and your role?

A lot of work is being done across the country to improve energy and water efficiency and health in existing apartment buildings. Partners involved saw the need for the energy and housing sectors to learn from one another and share learning across geographies to avoid working at cross purposes and to advocate at a larger scale. I was retained early on as a consultant facilitating development of a new national network focused on “collaboration between energy efficiency and affordable housing professionals in existing, multifamily housing occupied by low-income households…” That network has evolved into the Network for Energy, Water, and Health in Affordable Buildings (NEWHAB) and I now serve in the role of Network Weaver, with one other staff person who is a Network Administrator. read more »

Activating Informal Leadership Across a Network

Jessica and I facilitate (Image credit Kristin Johnstad)

Jessica and I facilitate (Image credit Kristin Johnstad)

Yesterday, Jessica Conrad, Community Manager with the RE-AMP Network and I shared some of our experience fostering leadership within RE-AMP and NEWHAB. We facilitated a discussion with a group of Twin Cities network weavers about why emergent, shared leadership is so important for high-performing networks, what conditions foster self-organizing leadership, and how to begin creating those conditions.

One of our activities was to create a Eugene Kim-inspired spectrum showing what success in a network looks like when it:

  • Has failed to create the conditions for informal leadership.
  • Is moderately successful at creating the conditions for informal leadership.
  • Is epic-ly successful at creating the conditions for self-organized leadership.

The failure descriptions started with burnout, festering conflicts, and nobody shows up. The epic success ended with momentum, new resources, inclusion, and sustainability.

Epic Failure

Epic Failure

read more »

We have Data on Apartment Building Efficiency in Minnesota

EnergyScoreCards Minnesota logo

For four years, benchmarking multifamily buildings in Minnesota was a big part of my work. At long last, the final report from that project is public.  (A summary of findings is here.)

Benchmarking takes the raw data of how much energy and water a building uses, and normalizes it by building size (and more), so that you can get apples-to-apples comparisons of how buildings perform.

The big take-aways include:

  • master-metered buildings saved energy and water!
  • benchmarking multifamily buildings at scale is possible (we really weren’t sure when we started)
  • hands-on support, delivered by a consistent account manager, made the benchmarking valuable to participants
  • owners used it for much more than just saving energy and water.

The team delivering the benchmarking services (Jon and Colleen at BrightPower, Billy and Pat at CSBR, and me through Minnesota Green Communities) executed diverse tasks along the way. We:

  • developed outreach materials
  • traveled CenterPoint and Xcel territory doing outreach, in person and by phone
  • created tools – checklists, worksheets, tips – to drive energy- and water-saving action
  • worked with Xcel to get data access
  • met with participants regularly in person and by phone to help them make use of their data
  • more I’ve forgotten over the years.

It’s exciting to finally be able to share what we learned!

NEWHAB featured in Stanford Social Innovation Review

Energy Foundation was invited to submit a blog for the Stanford Social Innovation Review on their current network efforts — and one of the two examples is the Network for Energy, Water and Health in Affordable Housing (NEWHAB) that I’m coordinating. The three key take-aways are:

  1. Invest on the front end to establish shared purpose.
  2. Trust distributed decision-making.
  3. Continue to invest in the network itself.

And, it announces the $100,000 innovation fund NEWHAB will be launching in 2016.