Tim Dutton is the change agent behind Unite Pinellas, an organization that grew out of the 2015 Tampa Bay Times series, Failure Factories. That series sparked a coalition of forces to join together to address issues of equity, not just in education but across sectors. Dutton was brought on board as executive director in January 2018 with more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit world. Dutton and Unite Pinellas are taking a structural approach to equity, and implementing a three-pronged approach to change our systems as we know them.
Years in St. Pete
Organizations involved in
I live in Lake Maggiore Shores, and I’m involved in that neighborhood work. Population Change Learning Community, Anchor Collaborative Network, Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance.
What gets you out of bed every day?
I think there’s a really good chance that this community could impact issues around equity – fairness and justice if you will. There seems to be a readiness for that. That’s really important in terms of the likelihood that something can happen around those issues. i don’t think there are a lot of places that have chosen to gather around that as a focus or organizing principle. Especially around public policy, institutional practices, and talking about issues of equity. The fact that this place seems ready and eager and open to that change seems pretty stimulating.
Why St. Pete?
It’s a real city. I’ve lived in places that are smaller. Not only smaller, but this place has the diversity that creates for the capacity to generate creative answers and solutions that are cross-sector and cross-scale and take advantage of the diversity of thought that generates better outcomes.
What is one habit that you keep?
For about a year now, I get up early and do meditation/mindfulness. It’s really just sort of listening to your own thoughts in a guided manner. Mindfulness feels like a little bit of time when I can think about what matters to me. I don’t want to delude you into thinking this is decades worth of work, I do think that I’ve learned that if I make certain structures I’m a little bit more efficient and I like that.
Who are some people that influence you?
My dad, my mom too, but my dad in particular. My partner Allison, clearly the smartest person I know. My kids. Beyond family, John McKnight, created the Asset-based Community Development Institute that focuses on how change happens from the inside out. Peter Block, a guru in organizational development, as he’s gotten older, he’s focused on how change happens in community that have largely been left out of economic power.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
I have a couple. Abundant Community, which thinks in terms of neighborhood as a unit of community change.
Asset-based Community Development – focuses on the reality that everybody’s glasses are half-full and half-empty. But you can only do something with the full half, and everyone must bring their full half together.
Peter Block’s concept of using questions instead of statements as a way of creating change. “What is it that we can do together to make things better?”
If one is seeking out a solution to a problem, it’s not just about having really smart folks there. It’s also about having people most directly impacted by the issue equally participating in the development of a solution. “Content experts” and “context experts.”
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
Well, I don’t know about the magic of three years but I think when I started doing the work here, I wasn’t fully aware about the readiness of coming together around an issue like equity in this community.
Focusing on issues that relate to Unite Pinellas. There are three or four tangible next steps around equity issues. An intentional effort to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, specifically in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Nationally these sectors are not very diverse or inclusive and we have a chance to focus resources around making that happen or facilitating that in some way.
The second area is convening people who have been most impacted by equity-related issues alongside policy-makers to help create really good solutions. Finally, pushing out additional information about equity and how to impact it.