Networks for Social Change: Life on the Edge

September 4, 2013 Leave a comment

“Look to the growing edge!”

– Howard Thurman

Comoros: coral reef

|Photo by Derek Keats|http://www.flickr.com/photos/93242958@N00/5975110268/in/photolist-a7117y-emRe8S-dQqpqM-9php24-dQvZtC-8YMYMv-7zavYz-e1zkdz-aLCNuz-9MeCHk-9MfzYB-9MekHF-9Mho3b-89vnnr-9MfG9c-9Mhaow-9D8j3o-9Mehua-9Mh72m-aykWRY-cCSWHs-8MqWXJ-9LFCBt-9MiH7w-9Mh12x-93HasG-azHpQX-aXCs8V-ejaBn1-byQPHp-bkVXyG-byQQ5x-byQPJv-bkVXGC-bkVXGo-a6ZZM9-a6ZZzU-a6ZZqY-8NyJ6R-8NywQV-8NBWXy-8NysTX-8NBpXW-8NC1BU-8Nz18e-a6X98i-a6ZZ7U-8NyEJB-bkVXoL-bkVXwG-byQPMZ|

Edge has its advantages.  This is the finding of ecologists and other scientists looking at how peripheral spaces can provide adaptive strength.  For example, where different habitats meet, there is considerable fecundity and the extent to which there is more significant overlap there is that much more richness and species able to thrive in more than one setting.  Trees make interesting use of edge by maximizing the surface area of their root systems to find and take in nutrients in the soil.  We also know that innovation tends to happen where different disciplinary fields meet, and therefore through a porousness and openness to new thinking on the edge.

The implications for building movements and networks for social change are interesting.  As living entities, networks are defined by the quality of their edges.  Learning/action networks are necessarily bounded by a sense of purpose (inquiry and/or intent) and value proposition (identity).  The core of the network tends to be made up of those who are most connected to others in the network, as well as interested in and engaged in the work (albeit in some cases through exclusionary dynamics of power and privilege).  Those on the edge, or periphery, are less connected and engaged, while perhaps being more connected and engaged in other domains defining other networks.

Those on the edge bring considerable strength to the network, to the extent that they provide lessons about adaptation, a willingness and ability to play in different spaces, and have connections to other important domains.  This is not to say that we should intentionally marginalize others or outsource our own growing edges.  It is to say that we are well served to remember the vitality that resides on the edge, and to keep reaching out and considering how and when to invite in.

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