Reimagining Partnership: Interviews with Reimagine Lab Fellows

Andrew Kolbenschlag Reimagine Lab Fellows

In January, we announced the Foundation’s call for applications for fellows to create new approaches to breaking the cycle of domestic violence as part of a “co-design lab.” I was lucky enough to be in the room for some of the early discussions about what would eventually become Reimagine Lab: Preventing cycles of violence, now and into the future

There was a slight sense of trepidation in those early meetings—would this work? How would it work?  The design lab process—selecting fellows and inviting them to develop new approaches and ideas for preventing domestic and family violence—was a brand-new way of working for the Foundation, and alongside curiosity and anticipation, it brought some anxiety. 

A realization quickly emerged, as though all of us were sharing a single thought: this will only work if we get the right group of people together. The nature of Reimagine Lab was such that we could only control so much—we’d need to trust our new partners to take an intriguing idea and bring it to life. 

When the applications began to come in, that anxiety dissipated. We had so many wonderful applicants—bringing a diversity of backgrounds, ideas, and experiences that reflects California's communities—that we could have selected “the right group” three or four times over. 

And when a few us traveled to Pacific Grove for the first lab (and met Reimagine Lab's 16 fellows), we quickly found ourselves again sharing a singular thought: we couldn't wait to see—and share—how the fellows' journey developed.  

In that spirit, I traveled to Sacramento last month for Lab Delta, the third official meeting of Reimagine Lab, to speak with some of the fellows about their initial expectations and experiences as well as their hopes for the remaining labs. Below are some highlights from those interviews. We’ll be sharing more as the labs continue to unfold (you can sign up for email updates here).

The Reimagine Lab fellows gathered last week in Berkeley for an Ideas Accelerator, which brought together representatives from California's domestic violence field, leaders from other sectors throughout society, and community member "user groups" to inform and inspire the fellows as they continue to develop their ideas. 

Evelyn Magana, Family Assistance Program

How has your experience at Reimagine Lab challenged your thinking about breaking the cycle of domestic violence? 

Coming to Reimagine Lab, I’ve had an "ah-ha” moment… I think I’ve noticed within myself things that I didn’t notice before. Yes, I do work in a domestic violence agency, but there’s a lot of things I wasn’t familiar with… a lot of things that I was blind to. Hearing the experiences and doing the research we’ve done, it’s helping me grow and see things a lot differently.

Did you have any reservations or doubts about taking on this experience? 

Not really. I’m pretty open to hearing things that I don’t want to hear—if you’re comfortable, you’re not going to grow. So you have to be put in uncomfortable places in order for you to grow and be able to help more. It’s hard to sometimes take in, but I think it’s important for us to be uncomfortable.

What has surprised you about Reimagine Lab? 

Everyone here comes from different backgrounds, so everyone’s concerns are different. So, I think that opens my mind more, to see everyone’s concerns brought to the table. And these are just 16 fellows, right? So, I can just imagine the concerns of everyone else in society.

Rain McNeil, California Rural Indian Health Board

How has your experience at Reimagine Lab felt different from your previous work to address domestic violence?

I think this type of approach gives me the opportunity to kind of throw things up against the wall and see what sticks. I’ve worked with domestic violence for a lot of years, but the programs have always been very restrictive… so this lab actually gives me an opportunity to say "what is out there that’s abstract in thinking and process that might actually work?"

What has surprised you about Reimagine Lab?

I think what’s been surprising for me is that when I think of domestic violence or interpersonal violence, I think of relationships—with the lab, what I’ve learned is that there’s a lot of systemic violence that adds to the problem. So it’s not just those interpersonal relationships that have violence… there’s a lot of violence in American culture, and that’s something that I never really wrapped my head around until the lab.

How would you describe the group of Reimagine Lab fellows? 

What I see here are kindred spirits who recognize the problem, see the solutions out there, or the lack of solutions. You’re not going to get rich doing what we do, so there’s a love and a passion there for helping those who don’t necessarily understand the problem and are suffering from it.

What are your hopes for the remaining labs? 

I want to pull some ideas from the Lab that are things we haven’t tried, especially around the issue of batterers and our avoidance to addressing them. We also need to address the idea that until we get men involved and men caring about the problem of domestic violence, we won’t see a lot of movement on the national level.

What do you want people to know about the work you're doing here? 

It’s very important that people know that what we’re doing is something new, something different. We’ve had 50 years of the same old domestic violence stuff—whether that be litigation, legislation, policies and procedures for agencies... We’ve done it, re-done it, and done it again the same way for the better part of 50 years. We’re looking for the different avenues. We’re looking for more effective ways to do what we do.

Rick Green, Community Member

What inspired you to apply to be a Reimagine Lab fellow? 

My background here is that at one point in time, I was a victim of domestic violence—of the entire cycle of domestic violence—to eventually becoming a perpetuator of domestic violence, to making a decision to make some giant changes in my life. I went so far as to even change my last name to take my new wife’s name—and that was something for me that was a very important move that I needed to make in my personal transformation. We have a 2-year-old son, and for me, breaking the cycle of violence is so unbelievably important, and I personally felt like I was making a lot of strides in that for my personal family. Being able to be part of this group kind of just blew me away, and I have this huge expectation and belief in what this group is doing, and I’m really hopeful for that to manifest.

What role do you think healing should play in breaking the cycle of domestic violence? 

Healing is definitely the route to go—I can honestly say that the punishments and punitive aspects of the judicial system are not what made me say "I need to make changes for my life." I think that the changes came from a place of healing and really taking the time to understand myself and my relationship with my family. And I think that would definitely be a better place to start, as opposed to the way things are being done right now.

What has surprised you about Reimagine Lab? 

What has surprised me is seeing how so many different people from different backgrounds… how we are different but more alike than not. My first day here, I thought "I’m not going to be in a good place," but everybody’s been so friendly and welcoming. I really feel like I’m part of the group and we can work together to make some really big changes.

Sharon Turner, STAND! For Families Free of Violence

What inspired you to apply to be a Reimagine Lab fellow? 

I looked at the application—and just the questions on the application, one was "what mythical character do you identify with?"… What application asks that, you know? So, for me, this was going to be different for how we approach this issue. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but if you’re asking me what mythical character comes to mind, you’re asking me to do something different—to get out of my comfort zone.

How has your experience at Reimagine Lab felt different from your previous work to address domestic violence?

This whole concept of human-centered design… how do you get into the shoes of the user and see the issue from that perspective, and then through dialogue with that perspective—and incorporating all of these different lived experiences—come up with activities and strategies for a long-term future? I am really hoping we get to figure out the user, build our prototype, test it, and come back to begin to refine it.

What has surprised you about Reimagine Lab?

The more we’re together as a group, and the more that this trust has been created, the more our more vulnerable selves come out… therefore, there’s a willingness to kind of risk the things you say only at 10:00 at night... (laughs).

What do you want people to know about the work you're doing here? 

We can’t solve today’s problems with yesterday’s experiments. And so, we have to figure out how to be in new experiments. I, for one, am very glad that there’s an effort in prevention. And what’s most amazing is the permission to think beyond outside-the-box.

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