Network Design Principles

August 9, 2011 Leave a comment
network map

|Photo by cambodia4kidsorg||

For the past couple of years I have been involved in varying degrees and for varying lengths of time with a number of efforts around the New England region to build city and state-wide movement and infrastructure to achieve greater impact around a number of different issue areas.  Whether or not these efforts have expressly used the word “network,” (all embrace the core concept of multi-stakeholder collaboration), they are all trying to create, develop, or reinforce more inclusive, distributed, and efficient means of achieving significant systemic change.

Ultimately each of these efforts has steered clear of adopting an exact replica of a network structure that is working elsewhere, implicitly understanding my friend and mentor Carol Sanford’s mantra that “best practice obliterates essence.”  Instead, within and across these efforts they have been articulating some common “design principles” that guide their emergent and evolving structure.  Among these are some form of the following:

  • Form follows function(s)
  • Builds on/optimizes what already exists and what already works – “We don’t want or need another (uber) organization!”
  • Nimble and adaptive – able to evolve and change form over time, as needed
  • Inter-dependency – built on strength of relationships and overall connectivity
  • Optimizes diverse, decentralized and shared leadership/accountability
  • Maintains a “for the greater good” and “in service of the whole” perspective
  • Expands the pie of capital and other available resources throughout the system/network
  • Resiliency – would not collapse if political leadership turned unsupportive or one particular “party” disengaged
  • Efficiency – multiple points of access and pathways for communication and action
  • Learning – disciplined and ongoing reflection/capacity building/information sharing
  • Fun and getting to know one another in fuller ways

These are certainly not complete, but these seem to be resonating widely and informing rich and productive conversations.  What do you think?  What would you add?

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