Currently engaged in a number of state-wide and regional network-building initiatives focused on food, health and education system change, I am beginning to see some interesting patterns across efforts to build connectivity-based and more fluid movements for change. Watching these dynamics unfold, I can’t help but come back to one of our foundational frameworks at IISC, what we call the R-P-R Triangle, for all that it has to offer our thinking about network strategy and success.
This framework (see below) makes the point that any kind of collaborative endeavor is a multi-dimensional affair when it comes to the core determinants and definitions of success. Of course, many of us come to “net work” and collaborative efforts eager to see results, to work in new ways to have greater impact on the issues that we care most about. Without concrete results or “wins,” it is hard to keep people engaged and morale up. But results are just a part of the story, and the big results may take some time in coming.
“Thinking in terms of networks can enable us to see with new eyes.”
– Harold Jarche
A couple of years ago I teamed up with Bruce Hoppe, a very skillful and savvy network mapper, to do a network capacity building and analysis engagement with a national education organization comprised of a growing number of member schools. While the organization referred to itself as a “network,” leadership recognized that it did not necessarily intentionally leverage itself as such, or do so with great consistency. Furthermore, there was reported unevenness of understanding among member schools of what it meant to be a member of this network. So Bruce and I were invited in to work with the leadership team to see what might be done to grow network awareness, intention and activity.
In addition to doing some “thinking like a network” training and coaching with the core leadership team, we put together a network survey that yielded some interesting results. The survey was intended to surface how people in the network currently took advantage of the network, what they valued about it, and what other value they would like to see come from their membership and participation.
In analyzing both the pattern of responses and the network map that Bruce constructed, we were interested to see stories emerge of mediated and self-organized collaborations between schools. This included reports of information sharing, staff exchanges, and coordinated learning. This raised a few questions – Was network leadership aware of these collaborations? Were others in the network familiar with them? The answer was that there was some awareness, but this was not at all widespread. The hypothesis emerged that if examples of collaboration were more widely shared and celebrated, this might become both license and motivation for others to do so.
Something else that emerged from the network map were signs of various geographic clusters of schoolswhere there was relatively robust and/or growing communication and coordination. At the same time, there were schools that were in relatively close geographic proximity (in a state or sub-region of a state) where there was little if any interaction and exchange. Clusters in a network can become very powerful engines of collaboration, innovation and influence, both for members of the cluster and also the rest of the network. Leadership was invited to look more closely at the conditions that might be supporting interactivity in some clusters as opposed to others, and also to share examples of robust cluster activity with the rest of the network to inspire curiosity and connectivity.
Another take-away from the survey analysis was that there were clear (what we called) “champions” in the network, individuals who participated in many different virtual and in-person network activities at a relatively high degree of frequency. These super-users were identified as an asset to be further engaged to the extent that they might be ambassadors for the network as a whole, given their apparent enthusiasm. In addition, we raised the idea of creating a cluster of the champions, or a community of practice, that might exchange and prototype promising practices for network engagement.
Also related to this notion of champions was the discovery that the formal school coaching role that existed within the network could play a potentially powerful weaving function within the network. That is, coaches worked with multiple school leaders and often saw opportunities to make connections for the sake of peer exchange. However, this was not a formally condoned aspect of the coaching role. Leadership was invited to consider what it might look like to move coaches out of the role of highly customized support for individual schools and to do more generalized workshops and connecting of peers to ramp up interactivity, and support capacity, in the network.
Collaborations, clusters, champions and coaches-as-weavers – helpful isights from a network survey and map that we look forward to continuing to build upon and learn from, including how to leverage both virtual and in-person convenings to energize the network.
With inspiration from Nancy White – thank you! (and make sure to check out Nancy’s blog) – I have been returning to and reviewing the list of Liberating Structures created and collected by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless for application to some strategy development work with a couple of social change networks. As described on the website:
Liberating Structures are “easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust.
Liberating Structures are meant to foster enlivening participation in groups of all sizes, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone.”
In reviewing the various structures, I’ve pulled out and added to a list of strategic questions that could be offered in concert with different group processes (World Cafe, Open Space, pair shares, fishbowls, individual reflection, etc.) to open up possibilities … Read More
Photo by Randy Read|http://www.flickr.com/photos/randyread/3583187019|
In an article in Fast Company, entitled “The Secrets of Generation Flux,” Robert Safian writes that in these uncertain times, there is no single recipe for success. Safian profiles a number of leaders who have been relatively successful at riding the waves in different ways, and notes that they are all relatively comfortable with chaos, trying a variety of approaches, and to a certain degree letting go of control. This resonates with our experiences at IISC helping people to design multi-stakeholder networks for social change. For example, even in a common field (food systems) and geography (New England) we witness different forms emerge that suit themselves to different contexts, and at the same time there are certain commonalities underlying all of them.
The three networks with which we’ve worked that I want to profile here exhibit varying degrees of formality, coordination, and structure. All are driven by a core set of individuals who are passionate about strengthening local food systems to create greater access and sustainable development in the face of growing inequality and climate destabilization. They vary from being more production/economic growth oriented to being more access/justice oriented, though all see the issues of local production and equitable access as being fundamentally linked and necessary considerations in the work.
Image from Taro Taylor – https://www.flickr.com/photos/tjt195/30916171
The concept of leadership has been undergoing an evolution. In this “network age” there appears to be both an expanding appreciation that leadership has always been about more than the singular heroic individual, and that going forward, leadership really must be much more of a shared endeavor.
In our collaborative consulting work at IISC, leadership (or what we often call Facilitative Leadership) is about “holding the whole,” thinking expansively about the state of a given complex system (community, economy, ecosystem, etc.) and paying attention to what will be required to ensure resiliency and/or change for more equitable and sustainable benefit. In these situations, the traditional top-down images of leadership fall far short.
Network leadership is at best a dynamic, diverse, more decentralized and multi-dimensional phenomenon. Many of those with whom we partner at IISC understand this implicitly, and we have found it important to help them be more explicit about this by clearly delineating the roles that leadership can embody in a collaborative/networked change endeavor. Read More
I’ve spent time the past week reading through Networks that Work, a handy and concise resource for developing organizational networks, written by Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO of Community Partners, and Myrna Mandell, Ph.D. The book lays out some very helpful pointers for more formally constructed networks. I have highlighted 10 pointsbelow that resonate with our experiences at IISC around supporting organizational networks for social change. My comments and extensions are in italics: Read More
“Ultimately if we are to avoid failure in the most critical work of this century, the deepest reaches of our beings must be brought to bear in honestly reevaluating and shifting the most basic structures of our society.”
The following is a textual recapturing of a Pecha Kucha-like presentation that I gave at an ARNOVA Pre-Conference Session in Hartford, CT two weeks ago. This was part of a 3-hour interactive conversation, co-designed and facilitated with Dr. Angela Frusciante of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, focusing on the power of networks for learning and social change, primarily with academic researchers and philanthropists.
At the Interaction Institute for Social Change, we are in agreement with Professor john a. powell when he points to the need to consider and make fundamental structural changes in our country and communities for the causes of greater social justice and sustainability. Read More
Our friends at Third Sector New England (TSNE) have released an informative report about learning networks. From 2004 to 2012, TSNE and clusters of nonprofit organizations joined in a grant program designed to further social change through building relationships and sharing insights that enabled them to better work together to achieve common goals. The resource, entitled “Funding Learning Networks for Community Impact,” includes interesting explorations of the stages in the development of learning networks and the roles and functions that are key success drivers for nonprofit networks. There are also wonderful and resonant quotes throughout from participants of the Capacity Building Fund (CBF) about the power of and key contributors to effective networks, and I wanted to share a dozen that really jumped out, while strongly suggesting you consult the entire report: Read More
In her new book, futurist Marina Gorbis references an inspiring passage from a document created in 2007 that supports the values of the Institute for the Future (IFTF):
“Valuing open collaboration, independence, and the ability of anyone to rise to the endeavor, we draw on network leadership models that provide a platform for self-organizing structures. The value of these self-organizing structures is that they can act quickly, responsively, and creatively from the edges. The guiding concepts in this view of leadership are openness, self-election, continuous prototyping, robust platforms, and low coordination costs. Leadership skills focus on community building, consensus building, mediation, commitment, and humility.”
In a rich and recent conversation about the upgrade of our very popular course, Facilitative Leadership, IISC deliverers addressed the question of which main points to instill through the addition of a new and framing segment on systems thinking. I offered the comment that we need to be sure to say that systems thinking is not monolithic, that there are different schools of thought and approaches within the field, and that we must also be clear about what our underlying cosmology is regarding systems thinking. Read More