What Makes a Network Work?August 31, 2011 Leave a comment
It’s been my pleasure to partner with Beth Tener of New Directions Collaborative these past few weeks in support of the Vermont Farm-to-Plate Network as it evolves a governing structure to support its goal of boosting local food production by 5% in the next 10 years. As part of our work, Beth and I are designing and facilitating two convenings that feature stories of successful networks, tips for doing “net work,” and robust conversation about what will work best in support of Farm to Plate. One resource to which we’ve turned is the Working Wikily blog, which featured a post in May that offers additional insights into what stands behind the successes of the much lauded RE-AMP Network. In a discussion featuring convenor Jenny Curtis of the Garfield Foundation and consultants Rick Reed and Heather McLeod Grant, a number of points are made that resonate and merit consideration for leveraging the power of networks.
- Networks at their best are a a platform for promising and emergent ideas to find a constituency and supporters. Create conditions such that innovation can come from different places and levels without having the originators first prove themselves or put in their time. It’s about finding the best ideas that resonate with the network.
- “Self organizing is a great guiding principle and people still need hand rails.” While emergence is a powerful force in networks, it is important to put in place structures (people, roles, technologies) that enhance and catalyze self organizing. Think “design for serendipity.”
- People need multiple opportunities and modalities to connect and communicate, combining online and offline tools. Think about what are the best ways and spaces for people to share information, create and edit documents, pose and answer questions, get to know one another, coordinate efforts, make decisions, etc.
- Leadership is key and is ideally shared. At the end of the day, “somebody has got to raise their hand.” Think of the different ways to make room for and fill key leadership functions.
- There is no “outside” in networks, and so it is critical to include all sectors in the work from the get go. More often than not, it seems the business sector is overlooked or assumed not to be interested in these multi-stakeholder social change efforts. Challenge that assumption, keep reaching out, help bring in.
- Networks are about aligning self-interest with collective interest, not sacrificing the former for the latter. Help participants recognize and experience “the network bargain” – that they have more impact, are more successful and attract more resources as active participants in and contributors to the network.
Surely there is more. What would you add, extend, challenge?