Network Building AS Strategy

August 7, 2013 Leave a comment

At IISC we like to define the success of collaborative change efforts in multi-dimensional ways.  In particular, we make reference to results, process, and relationship elements.  Results are what we typically think of as the “measurable” outcomes of a change undertaking – policy change, livable wage, job creation, healthier communities, etc.  Process has everything to do with the how of the work – how we approach our change efforts, the steps we take, how work is shared and by whom, and with what spirit.  Relationship is about both the quality of interpersonal connections as well as how people relate to the work itself.  From what one might call an “old school” mindset, there is an assumption that process and relationship are only important insofar as they help to achieve results.

In a network age, however, we are beginning to understand that the how and the who are not simply means to an end but ends in themselves.  In this sense network building is viewed as hard core strategy and potentially as system change.  For example, change related to food systems (addressing issues such as local health-promoting food access) is facilitated in part by an understanding of and targeted shifts around currently defined boundaries of the network that underlies the system.  Who is viewed and treated as legitimate stakeholders?  Who “owns” different aspects of the system?  Whose values shape the way the system operates?  Network building is about redefining who and what matters, and who defines who and what matters, the rules of the game, underpinning design principles.

Furthermore, current systems are held together by networks of exchange that define what has value and who gets what value and under what terms.  Shifting these patterns, by focusing on the number and nature of connections, can yield fundamental change.  In this sense, network building is not simply a “so that” relative to social change, it is sound and substantive strategy for shifting social arrangements.

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