Posted in Networks

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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June 23, 2009

The Barr Fellows

I knew a few Barr Fellows before I started doing the kind of work I do today. I knew a few of them before they were Barr Fellows, and so I also knew them after. It was in this nonscientific way that I was able to observe some of the subtle and not so subtle shifts that were happening among my friends – the fellowship had an effect on them and on their work. Conceptually, the idea behind the fellowship was something that I could understand, network theory and the power of relationships already made intuitive sense to me.

Check out the Barr Fellows Program for a formal description of the effort. But to risk oversimplification, the fellowship is about taking a diverse group of amazing leaders in Boston’s social sector, rewarding them with a sabbatical, connecting them to one another and exposing them to social innovation in other parts of the world.

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June 9, 2009

The Hub

Emergence is an interesting thing; one might even argue that it is the most naturally occurring of all things – couldn’t we say that the universe itself just emerged and keeps emerging? As we approach the limits of the best laid out planning processes we could come up with we begin to face the fact that a world of increasing complexity cannot be managed like it is a big machine that will produce predictable and measurable outcomes. In this increasingly complex world some of us are seeking ways to align ourselves with the process of emergence, to foster and facilitate it, to serve it with sharp intentionality and to let go of command and control fantasies.

Here is where “The Hub” comes in. I had the pleasure of visiting “The Hub” in São Paulo and I find myself deeply inspired. Emergence Theory demands locality, it proposes that local micro-interactions are foundational to the emergence of new systems. “The Hub” is about co-location, it provides a physical space that is meant to “facilitate unlikely encounters” among people concerned with social change and social innovation. “The Hub – São Paulo” provides a beautiful creative space that is open, flexible and stimulating. Small teams or individual social entrepreneurs can make it their full-time home, or they can arrange to rent space there anywhere from 5 to 100 hours per month.

These social innovators may be focused on anything, and ideally on different things. In fact, given that the “The Hub – São Paulo” is still in start-up mode, I have learned that some of its tenants do not even have an explicit social mission. A space like this, without walls or fixed desks is a space where previously unthinkable projects can emerge, it is an ideal space for the intersection of fields that makes “The Medici Effect” possible – this is how innovation happens.

Hub Hosts are a lot like network weavers. Yes, they take care of details like shared printers and internet connections, but they also work to interconnect tenants using the space. Tenants are encouraged to host events and information sessions where they can share what they are working on and what they are learning. “The Hub” is a truly vibrant space where socially committed individuals can experience life in a network and begin to shed their organizational constraints. “The Hub” is just one response to the need for new forms of human organization, but it certainly is a great one, it is the sort of place from which a new world can emerge.

What other efforts to apply network theory do you know about?

For more on The Hub:
Creating an Ecology of Social Innovation

from the Kosmos Journal

For more on Emergence:
Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale

by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
by Steven Johnson

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June 2, 2009

Draw It Out

“The explosion of creativity in the Renaissance was intimately tied to the recording and conveying of a vast body of knowledge in a parallel language: a language of drawings, diagrams, and graphs-as, for instance in the renowned diagrams and sketches of Galileo.”

-Michael Michalko, Cracking Creativity

So I’m not Galileo, but there is something very powerful about the use of images in seeking a common language to work with complexity. Check out the set of drawings we used in a recent learning meeting. We are trying to understand the relationship between advocacy coalitions, local groups, the State, and investing in Network Building capacity. Can you put the story together?

mnaa-diagram

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May 19, 2009

Learning and Living Networks

I’m intrigued by the idea of living systems and so I spend a lot of time thinking about what it is that gives a network a life of its own. If I’m convinced of the need of decentralized structures and in the power of self-organization then I have to concern myself with what it is that motivates networked efforts to take on a life of their own. When I look at my own experience of life in a network I understand that learning is a key motivator for decentralized self-organization.

To be specific: I want to learn the best way to apply the logic of decentralized structures to movement building efforts.

In order to do this: I read, I experiment, I share my learning, I become engaged in relationships with others who want to learn the same thing.

People who are engaged in a quest for something that they are passionate about come together of their own volition. I am part of a network of friends who are people interested in movement building and social transformation, we come together to socialize as well as to problem solve and learn together. In order to keep this network alive we most often have to overcome obstacles like being too busy working in some social change nonprofit!

So my own experience of life in a network demonstrates that the desire to learn about something that you are passionate about is great fuel for decentralized self-organization. But there is one more layer of nuance here. Among my group of friends we are not doing the kind of learning that is defined by some specific quantity of knowledge being transferred from one head to another, we are engage in the type of active learning that informs creative action.

So there is learning, but there is also something about creative power. But that’s a topic for another blog.

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