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A screenshot of Trevor Haldenby and Alexandra Tamiko Da Dalt in a virtual meeting.

For this month’s blog post and to welcome in the New Year according to the Gregorian calendar, Alexandra Da Dalt (former DIA Board President) talks with Trevor Haldenby (current President) about the past, present, and future of governance and Board work at DIA. This is a unique look at how the organization is evolving from the perspective of our Board Members.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As this meeting was transcribed from a recording using machine learning technology, there were occasional misinterpretations of what we said. Where sufficiently amusing, I have left them in as helpful (and playful) reminders that no story is told or re-told without interpretation, iteration, and (deep) learning. Given Trevor’s tendency to talk, the below example is amusing and appropriate – his comments represented over 70% of the word count. In addition amusement, it seems mistranslation can also provide us with a helpful reminder of the importance of balanced listening in dialogue!

Example: “Hi, I’m Alex, the outgoing board president; and this is Trevor, the incoming word president.”

Alex: Trevor, I’m so thrilled that you’re stepping into the role — it’s really, really exciting for the next stage of DIA. What and how are you feeling about moving into this new position?

Trevor: Thank you, Alex! I am feeling an appropriate balance of terror and excitement stepping into the role. The most persistent concern when it comes to taking on a position like this is “Who was the last person doing the job, and how do I measure up?” Well, Alex, you were really, really good at this role. Your charisma, care, skills, and intelligence are such great fits with the values and needs of the organization, and I have always felt like you succeeded in bringing an abundance of your personal style and substance to the job.

Over the past 18 months, the DIA Board has changed quite a bit — we’ve tightened up our size and scope, we’ve exchanged roles and accountability between you and I as Director and President, and we’ve also brought on a new Director we’re so excited about in Jen Lawrence [Jen is crafty as a fox when it comes to telling her story, so I hope we’ll hear from here on #thisisimaginationatwork soon]!

During that time, we have evolved from a program-engaged Board to a governance-focused Board — positioned to advise DIA’s CEO Jenn Chan and craft the Policies, Processes, and Practices that will set the organization up for success in fulfilling its vision and mission: imagining more equitable futures.

In many organizations of DIA’s size, this change might be seen as a down-shift in the creativity and contribution of the Board to the organization’s growth… but in our case I believe the opposite is true. At DIA, I believe Governance is where some of our most promising opportunities for systematic innovation await. Building equitable governance models, just financial operating protocols, and imaginative relationship dynamics with our partners needs to be part of our WHAT and WHY, not just our HOW. Administrative mechanisms such as contracts, IP agreements, and business plans are themselves high-potential opportunities for imagining and designing more equitable futures, not just the means to a traditional program-delivery end.

Alex: I love that. I definitely felt the same way as you described, stepping in. I have a different history with the organization, because I started as a volunteer. I was helping out with  The Stories Of Us workshops, transitioned from there to the Board, then pretty quickly transitioned to the Board Chair role! I was very, very nervous stepping in, but also excited — Jenn Chan was also stepping in as CEO at the same time, so I also had the chance to benefit from being in kind of similar-but-different moment of transition. Now we are again at a new stage of the organization, but being led by someone different who has been with the DIA since basically the beginning.

DIA” was interpreted many different ways by the AI transcription tool — we are surprised to find ourselves easily confused with the DEA and CIA, and the emphasis we put on bringing humanity to governance means we might make an iffy DAO…  

Trevor: Indeed! When I joined the DIA board, I had just closed a design studio called The Mission Business after 5 equally amazing and challenging years. We were a small organization, not unlike DIA, doing exciting work in experience design and speculative futures. Like many small and creative organizations, our story had chapters that hung together on suspenseful successes, as well as those filled with failures (some way more fun than we thought they’d be). It was at that time that Jenn asked for my help on the Board at DIA. I believe she was eager to leverage some of my fresh experience in growing a corporation but in a not-for-profit context.

In the time since I joined the Board, I have mostly been working with large public and private sector organizations on complex problems as a strategic advisor. Big organizations and small have similar problems — but DIA has a far better chance to take an equitable approach to working on those challenges than many larger organizations do, and that excites me.

Alex: The organization’s future really is this marriage of the nuts-and-bolts things we need to do to keep everything running, with an imaginative and equitable approach applied to everything we do. I look forward to seeing how you use the thoughtfulness, wisdom, and wit that you have brought to our Board conversations to this new role and the organization’s growth. When I think about how far our CEO Jenn Chan has come since stepping into the leadership role, I am amazed. I’m sure she wouldn’t want to hear me saying that…

Trevor: Jenn is known for not particularly enjoying praise, so perhaps I’ll put my foot in my mouth (another of Jenn’s favourite things) and try to frame it as an unflattering compliment: “You know, you’re right, since she took the CEO role Jenn has become SO much more intense about proactively harassing me on deliverables further ahead of deadlines than she used to! I think that might be suitably spicy to make it past her compliment defences, a Trojan Horse to get the praise through! Oh dear, Jenn is going to find this super annoying, for sure.

Alex: Seriously though, as we wrap up let’s take a pause to look at what’s happening and acknowledge how fascinating the sets of opportunities are that we and DIA have access to.

*Alex and Trevor briefly close eyes, then Trevor peeks then quickly closes to see if Alex has closed her eyes or not, but at the same time Alex also peeked, so now both of us are just staring silently at each others pixels via our laptop screens. As we clumsily fill the sudden space, The Transcription AI makes some truly out-there assumptions about “Pterodactyls, Cherries, and Grace Jones moving the world.*

Trevor: Thank you SO much for making the time for this, Alex. And thank you again for your inspiring work as Chair and President these last few years. I am so grateful that as we exit our “toddler years” as an organization, we are holding as tightly to our sense of play and creativity as we are to our learnings about the privilege and responsibility of our practices. This is imagination at work!

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