Posted in Networks

November 21, 2014

Network Development: Reflection is Key

Photo by Neal Fowler

It probably goes without saying that learning requires reflection. This holds true for individuals and groups, and yet what I find is that many collaborative efforts can fail to build adequate reflection time into their work. Often it seems that reflection can be cast aside in favor of “getting stuff done” and because, “There is so much to do!” And ironically, what can ensue is an overall and ongoing sense of impatience and frustration that “we aren’t doing anything or enough.” Experience shows that when people in networks and collaborative change work do pause to reflect, there is much value to be gained.

The other day I worked with the core team of a regional network focused on food system change, and we took time to reflect on what the past couple of years of work have yielded at individual, collective and systemic levels. People offered up their own reflections, as well as those garnered from informal interviews with others in the network. The result was eye-opening, affirming and provided a collective boost. What we agreed is that considerable and important development has occurred over time, including: Read More

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October 29, 2014

Freedom and Unity: VTF2P Network Turns 4

“Our success is built on partnership, sharing success and sharing credit.”

- Sec. Chuck Ross

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“The mojo is in the motto.” With these words, Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross opened the doors and conversation on the fourth annual Vermont Farm to Plate Network convening last Thursday in Killington. Each of the past four years Secretary Ross has brought some critical words of encouragement and motivation to this fall convening, and by invoking the state motto – “Freedom and Unity” – at this year’s opening he seemed to hit the right chords at a critical moment in the evolution of the network.

In 2011, Farm to Plate launched to great excitement and some anxiety as it positioned itself as a cross-sector collaborative network to carry out a strategic plan to double local food production in Vermont in 10 years time, contributing to job and economic growth as well as food access in a state that sees high rates of poverty. Since then, as both Ellen Kahler of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (the backbone organization for Farm to Plate) observed and remarked through a plenary retrospective, it has managed to find its collaborative footing and grow significantly in numbers (more than 300 organizations strong). And importantly, it has seen real results in terms of direct, indirect and induced job growth resulting in 9,000 new jobs in the agricultural and food sector in Vermont. Furthermore, success is evident in individual members using network goals to inform and align their organizational goals. Read More

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October 22, 2014

What is Network Strategy?

Slide1The above graphic is something that I recently created, borrowing heavily from the good work of Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor, to help convey what is meant by engaging in “network strategy.” One of the challenges we’ve encountered in working with different networks is helping people to understand the difference between strategy development and network development. I try to meet this challenge, in part, by showing how they are not so different, or at least, that they are intimately connected. The diagram is also designed to help people get beyond some of the either/or thinking that we encounter. For example, it’s not that we have to choose between decentralized self-organized action and more formally coordinated collective action. It can be both!

So here’s what the graphic is meant to convey. First of all, network strategy is grounded at a fundamental level in creating (strategic) connectivity, by building linkages and trust between key stakeholders and perhaps unusual bedfellows. This can be done by convening people; sharing stories, data and other forms of information; co-creating knowledge; learning together, etc. Part of the value of this connectivity is that it can lead to orthogonal thinking and bolster individual network participants’ efforts in the shared domain where the network is focused. What also may ensue is self-organized action between those who are meeting one another for the first time or getting to know one another better (see the arrow to the left side of the triangle). This is all well and good and is something that networks should try to track. Read More

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October 21, 2014

Why Equitable Networks?

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Readers of this blog know how much promise we at IISC see in networks to bring about greater depth and breadth of change in our country and communities. At the same time, we do not see networks as a panacea. In fact, there are good reasons to be vigilant about “net work” to ensure that it does not exacerbate the very conditions we are trying to remedy, especially when it comes to social inequities.

We have previously referenced the report from the Aspen Institute, The Power Curve Society, which considers the broad implications of a globally networked economy that allows greater ease of transactions. In this technologically accelerated economy, the report states, wealth increasingly and problematically concentrates in the hands of a few rather than spreading itself out across the larger population. This seems to be a natural emergent phenomenon of not just the unchecked networked economy but of many networks. As Kim Taipale notes, this is a paradoxical result of “network effects,”

“Freedom results in inequality. That is, the more freedom there is in a system, the more unequal the outcomes become.”

This is because of something known as the “power-law distribution” that takes hold on open platforms, as wealth flows to the “super-nodes,” a phenomenon sometimes called “preferential attachment.” Read More

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October 8, 2014

Networks, Sensing and Surface Area

Nerve-Cell-4

In recent work with a couple of different leadership development programs, I shared a few stories about organizations that failed to recognize the value of informal networks within and beyond their formal boundaries by choosing to see themselves primarily through the lens of the “org chart” and fixed roles/job descriptions (what I sometimes call the “stay in your lane” approach).  In these cases what was lost was the ability to access greater organizational potential and intelligence.  If we think of organizations as living entities, then our connections within and beyond those cellular walls might be thought of as vital nerves or sensors.  When we fail to acknowledge or even cut these connections within, which often represent the pathways through which work actually gets done, we may stymie or destroy critical flows and functioning.  And when we fail to see and leverage how people in all roles are connected beyond the organization, then we reduce not only the potential contribution of each individual, but the overall surface area of the organization that might otherwise attune it and help it to respond to larger systemic opportunities or threats.  Which is why increasingly people are seeing mechanistic and fixed organizational roles as “irresponsible” – they do not allow people, individually and collectively, to effectively respond to circumstances and activate around that about which they care most.  So the invitation is to think and act more like a living network.  What are you doing to build greater sensitivity and surface area in your organization or change effort?

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October 2, 2014

How Networks Can Change Systems

At this point a couple of networks with which I am working have reached or are reaching the three year mark in their formalized existence. By many accounts, this is a milestone and inflection point worth noting, as these initiatives have built significant connectivity (depth and breadth) and alignment (shared sense of common identity and direction) among key and diverse actors. Furthermore, there has been a real proven capacity of these networks to meet individual self/ organizational interests in terms of learning, new partnerships, and a broader community/marketplace of support. And there is a growing appetite for and interest in how this all adds up to significant system change. Another way of framing this is people are wondering how they can activate the next level of the system to bring all of their interactions to a place where there is greater abundance, opportunity, and impact. Read More

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September 30, 2014

Poetry for Collective Impact

Image by Dominic Alves

I have a practice in most of the networks and collective impact efforts I support, which is to offer poetry at the opening and closing of convenings. I’m struck by how impactful and important people have said this can be for them. In fact, just recently a very well-respected member of the public health community was compelled to say that this is exactly what is missing from the movement, more poetry and artistic expression!

“Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

-Lucille Clifton

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September 24, 2014

The “Right” Network Form?

Network

Photo by Jenny Downing

 

Every now and then we get the question about what is the best way to structure a social change network, to which the most frequent response is, “It depends.” Case in point, in a past post, I offered examples of three different network forms growing out of the same region (New England) in a similar field (food systems). These forms that have evolved in three states have largely depended upon the initial framing question for the change effort (how to tackle food insecurity vs. how to grow the agricultural economy vs. how to achieve food justice), contextual factors (political dynamics, what already exists, who is engaged), and resources (not just funding, but certainly funding) available. And since the writing of that post, each has evolved, more or less significantly, in line with new challenges and opportunities. Some of the take-aways from this align with the lessons of moving from a more mechanistic to a regenerative outlook –

  • start where you are with what actually is,
  • avoid buying into “best practices,” and
  • expect and even desire it to change as you go.

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September 16, 2014

Networks and Regenerative Thinking

“Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found…. Local life may be as much endangered by those who would ‘save the planet’ as by those who would ‘conquer the world.’ For ‘saving the planet’ calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know and thus will destroy the integrity of local nature and local community…”

Wendell Berry

Spiral Fern

I’m grateful to the mentors I’ve had who have introduced me to regenerative thinking, an approach that aligns with a living systems view of life and a network way of working, as opposed to one that is more mechanical in orientation.  To be clear, mechanical thinking has its place, but less so it seems in the unpredictable and complex world of social change and working with social systems, including networks.  Yet there still seems to be a fair amount of it out there, underlying various change tactics and wholesale approaches that may be otherwise well-intended.  The problem is that few seem willing to slow down to examine the roots of their chosen efforts, to lift up for closer inspection how their thinking may or may not be in alignment with what they are really after. Read More

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September 10, 2014

Social Velocity

Running water

Photo by Guy Renard 25

 

My friend Joel Glanzberg is a constant source of provocation and insight. The way he sees the world, through a living systems and pattern-seeking lens, is not only refreshing but unnerving in that it is evident how simultaneously critical and rare his perspective is. Joel is great at helping me and others to see beyond objects and structures to underlying patterns and processes, and how these are what animate living systems. Read More

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August 11, 2014

Structure Begets Collaboration (or Not?)

Structure

Photo by Synopia

A number of readings I’ve come across lately reference the important consideration of organizational structure and how it encourages or discourages collaboration.  In a post from last week, I highlighted the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux, which focuses on “evolutionary (Teal) organizations” that embrace an ethic of self-organization to facilitate more purpose-driven, holistic and responsible engagement on the part of organizational members.  In order to encourage self-organization and intrinsic motivation, these entities adopt less formally hierarchical and fixed-role structures in favor of fluidity and networked leadership.  According to Laloux, this brings more timeliness and relevance to the inner workings and responsiveness of these organizations. Read More

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July 30, 2014

Reinventing Our Collective Selves

“Re-examine all that you have been told . . . dismiss that which insults your soul.”

- Walt Whitman

Butterfly

Developmental theory is the source of some good healthy discussion within the Interaction Institute for Social Change.  On the one hand, some point out that the notion of “stages of development” has been used to classify and oppress people, especially when theories come from privileged and powerful purveyors, are overly deterministic and linear, and do not account for cultural location and variation. On the other hand, some point to the “empowering” notion of evolution and development that can help liberate people from fixed and mechanistic views of the world and humanity.  I had this all very much in mind as I read Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux.  Laloux brings developmental and so-called “integral theory,” including the work of Ken Wilber, into the palpable realm of organizational practice and through his research, posits an evolutionary trajectory from aggressive (Red) to bureaucratic (Amber) to achievement-oriented (Orange) to culture/empowerment-oriented (Green) to self-actualizing/authentic (Teal) organizations.

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