Network Governance

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

|Photo by Lee Adcock||

A few of us at IISC have been talking recently about network governance – trying to gather what we’ve learned about what kinds of governance structures have worked with networks.  It’s sparked a lot of questions – and I had the great fortune of meeting with the amazing Jessica Lipnack recently to ask her advice about what she would suggest.  For those who don’t know Jessica, she and her husband Jeff Stamps have been working with and studying networks for over 30 years and have literally written the book (actually the BOOKS) on networks and working with virtual teams over these many years.

So I went to Jessica (over a great lunch) and explained that I’m working with a globally dispersed group – and asked her advice, asking, “what kind of governance structure would you suggest we consider for this kind of work.”  Her response, elegant and simple as always, was to pay special attention to two things – and to do everything possible to get those right.

First, she suggested that we work hard to understand the kinds of decisions that would need to be made – and to create the simplest possible structure to make those kinds of decisions – nothing more.  And second, she said that we should strive for as close to full transparency as we can achieve.  To share information about how the money is being spent, how staff time (if any) is being used, notes from all meetings, etc.

I’ve been wondering as well whether the kind of governance needed depends on the kind of network (as described by Plastrik and Taylor).  Is the governance structure needed for a network that allows for easy flow of information (a connection network) different from what’s needed for a network that aligns people to develop and spread an identity (an alignment network) and different again from what’s needed for a network that fosters joint action (a production network)?  What else affects the kind of governance needed?

In “The Networked Nonprofit,” the new book by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine about running nonprofit organizations using a network approach, they describe nonprofit boards learning how to share information online, joining a public online social network, creating an open invitation to board meetings, posting draft agendas online, training board members in social media and network weaving, meeting somewhere new, and sharing information and data.

What’s your experience?  What have you learned about network governance?  Is there other advice you’d add to what Jessica suggested?

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  • Gibran says:

    I like the common theme! Seems like clarity about what you are trying to do and very, very, very high transparency are precisely what allow a network to self-organize around a shared purpose. I imagine that finding ways of “tagging” all sorts of items across multiple platforms makes it easier for people to know what is happening.

  • Curtis says:

    Very timely post, Linda. Thanks. And I really hope others will jump into this conversation. I have been working with a number of multi-organizational networks, some calling themselves coalitions, others collaboratives, and still others using the “network” moniker. All seem to be looking for “network effects” in terms of working together – spreading innovation, extending influence, tapping smarter solutions and complex problems, etc. And all are struggling with the structure and governance questions. On the one hand, there can be a knee-jerk reaction to create very traditional structures that privilege those that you can imagine would tend to sit at the center table. On the other, there are those that tend to remain open and undefined and can create frustration and diminish value in the eyes of certain participants. Finding just the right structure that facilitates decision-making and communication, and that is also mindful of power dynamics, seems to be the key. In a paper I’m reading on the topic of network governance, the authors define three kinds of governance form: shared governance, lead organization, and network administrative organization. The appropriate form is determined by the degree of trust in the network (current and desired), the number of a participants, the need for consensus and for network-level competencies. And of course, these may be in flux. So the question is who is monitoring these conditions and then helping to make the appropriate shifts?

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