BIPOC Agile Stories: Diana Larsen shares Social Juctice Experience in Portland

EAFH-32: Diana Larsen, what is going on with Social Justice in Portland, Oregon?

Dr. Dave:

Hello and welcome to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave podcast.  I am Dr. Dave Cornelius, your host. 

My conversation today is with Diana Larsen the co-creator of Agile Retrospective and co-founder the Agile Fluency Model.  Let’s begin!

Dr. Dave:

You are the co-creator of Agile Retrospective with Esther Derby and now co-founder of the Agile Fluency Model, what are a few fun-facts that you would like to share about yourself?


Fun Facts? Perhaps some folks don’t know that I call myself @DianaOfPortland on Twitter for a few reasons. Though I grew up in Indiana and spent a few of my young adult years on the east coast and in California, I have always been drawn to Portland Oregon. After several false starts and visits as a teen and young adult, I finally moved to my “hometown” in the mid-1980’s and have lived here ever since. It feels like where I belong.

Dr. Dave Q1: How are you feeling about the social unrest taking place in Portland and the you United States?


It is such a mix of emotions. I feel chagrin that my privilege has supported my inattention to the reasons for the unrest for years. Though my intentions have been to support fully equality, equity, and inclusion, the impact of my actions has been focused elsewhere and inadequate. I feel anxious for the young people who are in the forefront of the protests and for the future of the city and our communities. I feel proud of the young Black leaders of this movement and of their persistence. They represent the spirit of Portland well…though historically and up until the present they have not been full recipients of its bounty. I feel unfocused, frustrated anger that our systems have been created such that they leave so many of our community behind and give others a jump off the starting line. I feel hope for a better future.

Dr. Dave Q2: According to historical reports, Oregon was founded on principles of white supremacy, it banned blacks from entering, living, or owning property in the state of Oregon.  How do you explain the support for the Black Lives Movement in Portland?


I can’t explain it. I’m not a sociologist.

The TV show Portlandia may have hinted at one answer. When the character says, “Portland is where young people come to retire,” he was only half right. Young white Millenials and GenZ’s have been drawn here. Decades ago, older activist hippie/yuppie-minded folks from the Boomer & X generations were drawn here. Perhaps for the natural beauty. Perhaps for the “Keep Portland Weird” slogan. People forget that Oregon has bucked the trends before. It was the only state where Eugene McCarthy (the anti-Vietnam War presidential candidate in 1969) won the Democratic primary by a landslide. Oregon is a state where people have stood up for their beliefs. For LGBTQA++ equality as well.

Those younger generation folks who have grown up with different, more inclusive media and community influences are finding their voices. Our Black young adult citizens have developed the skills and willingness to take leadership roles building on the role models of the Black Panther community leaders here in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Also, protests are not new in Portland. We have them as a regular response to what different groups see as events heading in the wrong direction. Wars. Economic conditions. Injustice of all kinds.

Those are some of my guesses. It’s highly complex, and it’s wonderful to see.

Dr. Dave Q3: Have you ever had a conversation with a black person living in Portland about their experiences and agile community participation and engagement?


Yes, a few. Though not with as many as I’d like and not often enough. Because my work has largely focused outside of Oregon, most of my conversations with Black colleagues about agile have focused more broadly on agile practice and practitioners across geographies.

Dr. Dave Q4: Imagine that we could use the five (5) stages of Agile Retrospective practices to understand the social injustice in Portland and Oregon as a whole, how would you facilitate the use of a retrospective practice to a group of agilest with limited or no experience with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)?


What an intriguing thought experiment! First thing, I’d find experienced BIPOC co-facilitators and hand the event off to them. (Similar to the action of the Agile Alliance when they brought in April Jefferson and Anthony Marcano.) Then I’d sit back and participate.

If for some reason I needed to stay engaged, I would work out how we wanted to collaborate with me in a support role. Inspired from Ibram Kendi’s book, “Stamped from the Beginning,” I might suggest a kind of timeline history lesson braiding BIPOC US-history with the participants’ personal histories, just to increase awareness and get folks on the same page. Then, I would work with my more experienced co-facilitators and their recommendations. My only guidance would be to follow the overall retrospective framework for the meeting.

Dr. Dave Q5: What would you hope to learn from the retrospective outcomes?


One focus I would suggest: How can we create more effective cross-cultural (including across “races”), collaborative, working relationships and communication in our agile approaches? This includes questions like: Where are they happening now? What conditions foster them? What kind of leadership fosters them? How can we increase the energy we give them? How can we fan those sparks of energy into warm, illuminating campfires?

Dr. Dave Q6: I am going to go out on a limb here.

The Agile Fluency Module uses Objective, Measure, and Value (OMV) to help leaders define what is important to produce a measurable outcome.  Describe how you can help the agile community leaders to work toward identifying and prioritizing initiatives that would improve social justice.


What an interesting discussion that could be!

First, we help by staying in inquiry, staying curious, sitting with the questions; for example, where do we find those effective working relationships I described above? 

Then, what kinds of new actions and behaviors would we like to accomplish by fostering more of them? (a list of objectives)

Next, if those actions and behaviors become commonplace, what would we observe in our workplaces? What would we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel that would tell us they were present? (a rich description of measures)

Further, what societal, cultural, and organizational benefits would we expect to flow from this? (value)

Finally, what investment in our future will we need to make this potential future a reality? What are a few, first next steps? What do we hope to see from those? On what cadence will we check our progress and choose the next steps, and the next, and the next, and so on?

Dr. Dave Q7: What would be some of the initiatives that you would like to see identified and pursued?


I’d love to see more open space technology conferences convened across many communities on many aspects of making the objectives of the Movement for Black Lives more a reality…and extend to other BIPOC groups and communities.

I’d love to see an acceptance by white folks (including, possibly especially, me) of feedback about the impact of our missteps, micro-aggressions, and blatant injustices. Which would include being more skilled at receiving such feedback with grace and acceptance about our ignorance. There’s no shame in not knowing. We all have things to learn. I’d love us to celebrate those opportunities for learning more about how to be in community together. “How Fascinating” and the improv “failure bow” have a great role to play.

I’m excited by and curious about what an America that values and celebrates its many diversities could look like, what it could feel like to belong to, what new traditions, holidays, and daily routines might emerge. Realistically, I doubt I will experience it fully in my lifetime. If I could perceive ongoing progress, that would be enough. You know how devoted I am to continuous learning and continuous improvement. Ha!

Dr. Dave Q8: What is your hope for the role of agile practitioners in enabling social justice in the workplace?


I hope that every agile practitioner, no matter what their role, will contemplate what their choices could mean to BIPOC, climate change, ethics/AI, and the many other challenges we face.

In particular, I hope my agile colleagues across the US and around the world will take action to change workplace habits, policies, and processes that inhibit the growth of diversity, equity, and inclusive behaviors with and for co-workers and clients. I hope we will all learn to speak up as bystanders to injustice, to become better allies and accomplices, and to move into active engagement when needed.

My experience with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as just one example, showed me that when we make things better for the disregarded, overlooked, and discounted among us, things become better for all of us. I trust that will be true for the new policies and actions that arise from these times as well.

Dr. Dave:

Thank you for listening to the KnolShare with Dr. Dave podcast.  I always walk away from my encounters and conversations with Diana prompted to seek more into the topic we were exploring. I hope this learning experience will also prompt you to seek more and discover how you can contribute to positive experiences for BIPOC lives.  It does not take much, all we need to do is to tap into our own humanity.

You will find the Agile for Humanity Social Justice and Impact series on the “KnolShare with Dr. Dave” podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify.  The Agile for Humanity Social Justice and Impact series is also on the following websites:,,,, and also    

Look for the Sharing Blacks, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) stories on the Agile Alliance website under the webcast 

Music by: Kayanna Brow-Hendrikson

Copyright 2020 KnolShare and Dr. Dave Cornelius

Until next time, Be well, stay safe, and connect soon.