Network Protection

March 27, 2013 1 Comment
Tree Aid

|Photo by TREEAID|http://www.flickr.com/photos/53871588@N05/5726759624|

This post is not exactly about an insurance policy, at least not in the traditional sense.  Picking up on the metaphor of last week’s piece on “Network Gardening,” today we bring focus to how we can protect the early growth of networks for social change.  Protect them from what?  The temptation to jump to action too quickly, leapfrogging the “problem conversation,” the tendency to want to institutionalize everything (what a friend calls “incorporation fever”), naysayers, exclusionist practices, and the heavy hitters who are used to getting their way.  

Like almost any living entity in its infancy, networks are quite vulnerable, especially when they appear to be somewhat formless and without clear direction.  Here are some thoughts and observations about what can help protect the critical early phases of network development.

  • A strong convening/network design team.  This team understands that its role is to, at least for the time being, hold the center on process and create space that sets the tone for net work.  In essence, this team becomes the protector of the soil, trying to create the right ingredients to nurture new kinds of conversation and fruitful collaboration.  This includes careful work to invite an appropriate mix of stakeholders, and to frame opportunities for interaction.
  • Skillful facilitative leadership.  Leadership in networks takes different forms at different times, and certainly at the outset having skilled facilitators who are able to “hold the space” and steward productive conversation is of utmost importance.  This kind of leadership is not necessarily about being “content” leaders or “experts”, driving to put their ideas forward and foremost, but holding space for diversity and divergence and for collective intelligence to emerge.
  • Working agreements.  These are principles that network participants create and agree to as guidance for how they want to be with one another in the spirit of collaboration and “net work.”  Examples include, “be okay with ambiguity,” “agree to disagree,” “remember the larger cause for which we are here.”
  • A spirit of hospitality, generosity and transparency.  There is nothing like leading by example.  The extent to which convenors, design team members, and facilitators can model openness and a giving spirit, this can help build trust in people and patience with the process.  This includes playing the good host by inviting people into a comfortable space and “feeding” them in different ways, via food, music, fun activities, etc.
  • Ongoing education and development.  This is another way of feeding people, by setting up opportunities for them to learn something new each and every time they participant in the network.  This might be by way of making available new information, inviting people to share insights and challenges with one another and to reflect on what they are taking away from their network interactions.  And from a facilitative standpoint, inviting people to note their own growth and development following each gathering of the network (“What has moved for you today?  Where are you now that you were not when we started?”) can yield important awareness.
  • Say “thank you.” Every time I thank people for their good and important work when facilitating a network gathering, you can see evidence of the truth behind Mother Theresa’s words, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in the world than for bread.”

What else woud you add?

 

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