Network Tipping PointsOctober 10, 2012 Leave a comment
A couple of weeks ago I put the following question out into the Twittersphere – “What leads to tipping points in networks for social change?” While I did not get any direct responses, I had a number of people say they were curious to hear what answers came back, and then my own brain was activated to look for movement towards greater impact in the networks with which I am involved in various ways. I also have been in touch with other network capacity builders about their observations. Clearly there is no silver bullet for rendering networks more effective, but there are some key ingredients and rites of passage that seem to come up in most. Here is what I’ve seen and heard:
- Different parts of the network start at different starting points, and therefore will have different progressions. Accepting this can be vital to keeping key players in the network game. And it is helpful to establish some common benchmarks to bring all Working Groups, for example, up to speed. This can come in the form of setting deadlines for selecting a strong facilitator, providing support around team building, doing an initial stakeholder analysis to make sure the “right” people are engaged, and surveying the landscape of what is already going on and what gaps exist. As groups get clear on these, we see greater cohesion and confidence take hold.
- Greater momentum is achieved when networks are able to validate multi-dimensional aspects of success. The dichotomy of talking vs. doing is generally not helpful. Looking at the important strategic elements of results, process, and relationships acknowledges the critical areas for adding value and aggregating impact via net work.
- Seeing the whole, not just the center, is another key for amplifying impact. When networks get focused exclusively on the impacts of their formally organized/coordinated activities or the impact of the core steering and working bodies, it loses site of the innovations on the “periphery,” the partnerships and innovations that are spurred on by interactions throughout the network.
- Sharing good information and data can be tremendously galvanizing. We’ve seen network mapping, systems mapping, and the pulling together of inter-sectional data sets to be enlightening and motivating for network members, who are often not given the chance to see more of the whole and see themselves as part of the whole.
- We often observe people standing back as networks launch, curious but perhaps skeptical. And we have noted that a tipping point happens when more of the network shifts its stance from asking, “What do I get from this network?” or “How is this different?” to “What can I give to this network?” and “How can I help to make this different?”
- The shift above is encouraged by creating more open and receptive spaces for people to show up and share their questions, aspirations, and stories. Not only does this feed the speakers, but also the listeners, and the network as a whole, encouraging a culture of robust cross-fertilization.
What else? What have tipping points in social change networks looked like, and what has contributed to these?