Dimensions of Network SuccessApril 29, 2020 4 Comments
Currently engaged in a number of state-wide and regional network-building initiatives focused on food, health and education system change, I am beginning to see some interesting patterns across efforts to build connectivity-based and more fluid movements for change. Watching these dynamics unfold, I can’t help but come back to one of our foundational frameworks at IISC, what we call the R-P-R Triangle, for all that it has to offer our thinking about network strategy and success.
This framework (see below) makes the point that any kind of collaborative endeavor is a multi-dimensional affair when it comes to the core determinants and definitions of success. Of course, many of us come to “net work” and collaborative efforts eager to see results, to work in new ways to have greater impact on the issues that we care most about. Without concrete results or “wins,” it is hard to keep people engaged and morale up. But results are just a part of the story, and the big results may take some time in coming.
Networks in particular lift up the critical nature of connections, or relationships, in meeting our grand goals for social change. These relationships are necessary so that there is greater reach, more clout, and sustainability built into our efforts. They are also key to fostering emergence, new thinking and ideas that would not come for individuals or homogeneous groups. Relationship-building strategy is an absolute must to net work, not an afterthought or window-dressing. Change begins and ends with relationships, and a big part of systems change is re-wiring and bringing greater depth (trust) to existing patterns of relationships. This is worth noting explicitly as we design network strategy so that talking and interacting is not simply seen as “shooting the breeze” and “breaking the ice.”
And relationships, or the kinds of relationships we seek, do not simply happen. This is where process comes into play, the “how” of the work we do. As we imagine the ends of our net work in terms of the results and relationships we want to see in the world, it is important to design at least some of the doing in such a way that it aligns accordingly. Who do we need to bring together? What boundaries do we need to bridge? How do we bring people together? What are the key conversations we need to have? What structures, resources and roles will support this work? These are especially vital questions to answer as we are in the beginning of and making key transitions in networks.
I have also noticed how the R-P-R triangle has some interesting parallels to the following matrix from Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor, which lays out a typology of networks for social change.
I think of these less as types and more as modes of networks. All networks rely on connectivity (or relationships) and benefit from intentional weaving. Some will strategically align themselves under a banner of shared vision and/or goals, and rely upon strong process facilitation to do so. Others will move in coordinated fashion to action to achieve more concrete results as a collective.
I do not think of these as existing in any kind of developmental order, such that one always leads to the next. It all comes down to what the network wants to do and what circumstances demand. The same goes with the Results-Process-Relationship framework – purpose and context determine focus, which is dynamic and shifting.
So where are you in your network building efforts? How do these frameworks help you in thinking about how best to move forward?