Posted in Networks

February 24, 2010

Networks for Creating Change

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|Photo by Philip Bouchard|http://www.flickr.com/photos/pbouchard/2826560107/sizes/m/|

I just had the great fortune of spending seven days in Dakar, Senegal (and traveling back and forth to it). An amazing trip – and the two twenty hour travel days gave me time to really dig into the book “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives” by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler.? I read it within the context of doing work in Senegal on a project that’s global in scope – and also thinking back to many of the other initiatives I’ve worked on.

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February 17, 2010

Who Are We Affected By?

Connected

I’ve been reading, with great fascination, the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler — and I read a fascinating article in the New York Times yesterday morning about the rise of the Teaparty Movement across the US.  And I’m fascinated by the intersections.

I’d heard about Christakis and Fowler’s research a while ago – when they announced that things like obesity and love move through networks.  Upon closer reading, I’m fascinated that there are, generally, three degrees of influence.  That we are affected by our friends (one degree), by the friends of our friends (two degrees) and by the friends of their friends (three degrees).  Beyond that, there’s not much that’s measurable.  But at three degrees of influence, we are deeply influenced by a large number of people! And it’s who are in many ways local to us (though certainly that is changing). Read More

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January 22, 2010

The Generation Gap

Having just come off the holidays, when family members are likely to be gathered around as captive (and hopefully not tortured) audiences, we experience those stand-out moments of the highly anticipated and often dreaded….intergenerational conversation.

And if you’re like me, you realize that although these conversations on issues we care about  are often hard, emotionally charged and possibly frustrating Read More

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January 11, 2010

Being Googley

jeffjarvisquote

|HamiltonHughesDesign|http://www.hamiltonhughes.com/blog/?p=1139|

In IISC’s first mailing of the year (sent, as is our tradition, in the form of an old-fashioned postcard beautifully designed by Kristen Hughes) we quote Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? on the front of the card with his oft-repeated words: “Do what you do best and link to the rest”.

In the accompanying copy, we interpret that phrase as a powerful strategic directive for the sector:

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December 15, 2009

Networks and Collaboration

Part 3 of Three Lenses for Collaboration

The second lens through which the Interaction Institute for Social Change looks at collaboration is the lens of networks.  I think about this as one of the most important interventions on the sector, the shift from an organization centric paradigm to a network paradigm.  The good news is that this shift is already happening; the even better news is that this shift calls for stronger and deeper forms of collaboration.

In the recent Convergence report, LaPiana consulting identifies the fact that “networks enable work to be organized in new ways” as one of five converging trends that will redefine the social sector.  It is important to understand that while there is a close relationship between new social technology and our capacity to work  in networks, the shift to a network paradigm is not just a technological shift – it is a different way of organizing how we work together, a different paradigm for collaboration.

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November 17, 2009

Critical Yeast

My friend Arthur Romano does a very good job talking about John Paul Lederach’s concept of “critical yeast.”  We at the Interaction Institute for Social Change have been deeply influenced by Lederach’s book The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace.  Our network-building work is informed by this idea that since we are connected in networks, it is in fact possible for what seems like a tiny minority to significantly affect the whole.

I am appreciative of Arthur reminding us that this age of connectivity significantly enhances our potential to be that critical yeast.  He is very clear that the hard work of building authentic relationships is as important as ever – there are no short cuts in this work, but there are more powerful frames.

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October 27, 2009

Twitter's Power to the People

I just finished reading “Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter” by Steven Levy on this month’s Wired. This is the stuff movements dream of!  How many times have you been a part of the “leadership” conversation? Or the eternal question on the problematic role of the charismatic leader?  Who should really be in charge?  What is organic or truly democratic?  Who has the power?  What type of power?  And how is power distributed?

We often say that one of the key attributes of networks is that you have to give up control.  And little by little we are learning that this giving up of control is a new discipline of leadership, something we are having to learn after being socially trained into the command and control fantasy.  From this perspective, by creating a space that organizes and runs itself, the people of Twitter have accomplished something that we movement builders can only dream of – so I think it’s worth taking a closer look.

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October 27, 2009

Twitter’s Power to the People

I just finished reading “Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter” by Steven Levy on this month’s Wired. This is the stuff movements dream of!  How many times have you been a part of the “leadership” conversation? Or the eternal question on the problematic role of the charismatic leader?  Who should really be in charge?  What is organic or truly democratic?  Who has the power?  What type of power?  And how is power distributed?

We often say that one of the key attributes of networks is that you have to give up control.  And little by little we are learning that this giving up of control is a new discipline of leadership, something we are having to learn after being socially trained into the command and control fantasy.  From this perspective, by creating a space that organizes and runs itself, the people of Twitter have accomplished something that we movement builders can only dream of – so I think it’s worth taking a closer look.

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August 13, 2009

Keeping Our Eyes (Not Just) On the Prize

Thanks to Sean Stannard-Stockton for introducing me to this video.  He referenced it while writing about the risks of being outcomes-focused in philanthropy.  It’s a great reminder to keep ourselves open to what we aren’t looking for.  It may also provide some insight as to why networks bend our brains, at least those parts that are singularly focused on results of a linear cause-and-effect kind.  The social capital and new forms of self-organized action that are the result of network building activity are not always the first things that appear front and center on our screens.  Rather, they may appear in the background, on the periphery, or in the spaces where more concrete images meet.  And yet, there is little doubt about the potential of net-centric approaches for social impact.  Time to adjust our eyes from the isolated (old paradigm) prize.

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August 11, 2009

Network and Community

As I prepare for my work with the Young People’s Project, I’ve been re-reading Building Community in Place. It is one of my favorite pieces by Bill Traynor of Lawrence Community Works. YPP has engaged Root Cause in a a rigorous Business Planning Process that is meant to take the organization to the next level. And IISC has been asked to partner with Root Cause and assist with the network-builiding aspects of the process.

As I prepare for what I’m sure will be a challenging and exciting process, I look back on Bill’s insights on network building (thankfully, LCW is an organizational partner in this process!) and his following quote really stands out:

“A network is best understood as an environment of connectivity rather than an organization in the traditional sense. At its best, it is an environment that is value driven and self-generating, where control and decision-making is dispersed and where being ‘well connected’ is the optimal state for any participant. Networks are established in order to create efficiency and optimum value for its participants – with only as much infrastructure as is needed to create effective connectivity. Read More

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June 30, 2009

It's Like a Computer Model

Network Theory and Social Technology have become so tightly bound that it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about networks for social change without having one of our nonprofit-types freak out about technology, learning curves, accessibility, etc. I have been looking for ways to sift through the distinctions in a way that salvages core network lessons for movement building; here is some of what I’ve come up with:

  1. The network approach works offline as well as online (it is a logic, not a technology)
  2. We should move from an organization-centric paradigm to a network-centric paradigm (our organizational structures can evolve in this direction)
  3. Our leadership models must evolve in order to handle decentralization (deemphasize control and emphasize connection)

I have been using a “rocket building” analogy. Building a rocket is too expensive for us to just start building at random. Instead, we first build a computer model of the rocket, there we adjust for all sort of variables, the pull of gravity, energy needs, the best types of material, etc. We see how it works on the computer, and then we build it.

Similarly, we could not have dared to build an offline world that allows for as much decentralization and self-organization as the online world does. Our current organizational structures – from the state, to the corporation, to the foundation and the nonprofit – are too strongly cemented. Breaking down organizational walls and internal hierarchies would have put too much at risk.

The online world has provided an unprecedented space for large-scale experimentation in new forms of organization. It has become our own computer model and it is showing us amazing things about what is possible not only online but also offline. Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine has gone as far as calling this The New Socialism. And while I’m sure that Marx is turning in his grave, what I continue to argue is that an entirely new paradigm is finally emerging and that it is through our participation that we’ll actually have a chance to shape it.

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June 30, 2009

It’s Like a Computer Model

Network Theory and Social Technology have become so tightly bound that it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about networks for social change without having one of our nonprofit-types freak out about technology, learning curves, accessibility, etc. I have been looking for ways to sift through the distinctions in a way that salvages core network lessons for movement building; here is some of what I’ve come up with:

  1. The network approach works offline as well as online (it is a logic, not a technology)
  2. We should move from an organization-centric paradigm to a network-centric paradigm (our organizational structures can evolve in this direction)
  3. Our leadership models must evolve in order to handle decentralization (deemphasize control and emphasize connection)

I have been using a “rocket building” analogy. Building a rocket is too expensive for us to just start building at random. Instead, we first build a computer model of the rocket, there we adjust for all sort of variables, the pull of gravity, energy needs, the best types of material, etc. We see how it works on the computer, and then we build it.

Similarly, we could not have dared to build an offline world that allows for as much decentralization and self-organization as the online world does. Our current organizational structures – from the state, to the corporation, to the foundation and the nonprofit – are too strongly cemented. Breaking down organizational walls and internal hierarchies would have put too much at risk.

The online world has provided an unprecedented space for large-scale experimentation in new forms of organization. It has become our own computer model and it is showing us amazing things about what is possible not only online but also offline. Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine has gone as far as calling this The New Socialism. And while I’m sure that Marx is turning in his grave, what I continue to argue is that an entirely new paradigm is finally emerging and that it is through our participation that we’ll actually have a chance to shape it.

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