Tag Archive: form

September 12, 2018

What’s Our Job?: Getting Clear on Network Functions

Network

Image from Sharon Mollerus, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

 

As I’ve worked with a variety of social change networks to launch or transition from one stage to another, I’ve been guided by the following formula:

Form follows function follows focus

My experience is that many groups and initiatives can get very concerned about structure – How will we make decisions? Who will be members? What is expected of them? What do they get in return? These are important questions, and they deserve a fair amount of time tending to them. What can bog many groups down at this stage, however, is that they have not sufficiently sorted out the functions of the network, how it creates value, if you will, which has important implications for form. And if the group is not clear on its focus (purpose, animating goal, mission), this can be that much more perplexing.

So I’m spending more and more time with networks sorting out their core “jobs,” with a few additional guiding mantras, including:

Do what you do best and connect to the rest.

The value proposition of change networks in my mind is that they add value to a broader landscape of activity, not that they come in and try to take over. Even if this is not the intent, groups can spend little time figuring out what already exists “out there,” what efforts are underway, what other collective efforts are operating. This lack of awareness risks creating unnecessary and unhelpful duplication and competition. Read More

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September 24, 2014

The “Right” Network Form?

Network

Photo by Jenny Downing

 

Every now and then we get the question about what is the best way to structure a social change network, to which the most frequent response is, “It depends.” Case in point, in a past post, I offered examples of three different network forms growing out of the same region (New England) in a similar field (food systems). These forms that have evolved in three states have largely depended upon the initial framing question for the change effort (how to tackle food insecurity vs. how to grow the agricultural economy vs. how to achieve food justice), contextual factors (political dynamics, what already exists, who is engaged), and resources (not just funding, but certainly funding) available. And since the writing of that post, each has evolved, more or less significantly, in line with new challenges and opportunities. Some of the take-aways from this align with the lessons of moving from a more mechanistic to a regenerative outlook –

  • start where you are with what actually is,
  • avoid buying into “best practices,” and
  • expect and even desire it to change as you go.

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June 24, 2014

The “Right” Network Form?

Network

Photo by Jenny Downing

 

Every now and then we get the question about what is the best way to structure a social change network, to which the most frequent response is, “It depends.” Case in point, in a past post, I offered examples of three different network forms growing out of the same region (New England) in a similar field (food systems). These forms that have evolved in three states have largely depended upon the initial framing question for the change effort (how to tackle food insecurity vs. how to grow the agricultural economy vs. how to achieve food justice), contextual factors (political dynamics, what already exists, who is engaged), and resources (not just funding, but certainly funding) available. And since the writing of that post, each has evolved, more or less significantly, in line with new challenges and opportunities. Some of the take-aways from this align with the lessons of moving from a more mechanistic to a regenerative outlook –

  • start where you are with what actually is,
  • avoid buying into “best practices,” and
  • expect and even desire it to change as you go.

Read More

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March 27, 2014

Process IS Where Change Happens

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Photo by Crunchy Footsteps

 

Process can sometimes get a bum rap in our work, as in: “I’m not a process person.  I’m action-oriented.” This attitude can become a source of considerable frustration, and yet, I get it.  Some people are tired of what seems like endless talk that gets them no where.  And yet to translate this kind of seemingly circular conversation (what Chris Thompson has referred to as co-blaboration) as “process,” as opposed to action, does a disservice to what is essential to the work of social change.  No, I’m not talking (only) about talking.  I’m talking about how it is precisely at the level of process that we can make truly profound change. Read More

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August 9, 2011

Network Design Principles

network map

|Photo by cambodia4kidsorg|http://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/5483312300/in/photostream|

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: Read More

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May 15, 2009

Without Form, and Void

During my first year of seminary, I took a Practice of Ministry class in which a series of guest lecturers came to share of their practical experiences from several years in the pastorate. One speaker, whose words I will never forget, was the Rev. Conly Hughes, Jr. of Boston’s Concord Baptist Church. His words of wisdom for a group of neophytes were to illuminate the importance of the pastor’s “ministry of presence”, coupled with her “ministry of absence”. He shared that while it is vital for any conscientious pastor to shepherd in such a way as to be visibly attentive to the day to day, mundane, core issues affecting a community of faith, it is also key that the pastor keeps watch so that her consistency of “presence” does not overwhelm, overpower, nor overbear in a way that stifles the leadership of others, hampers the community’s exercise of agency or which, frankly, allows her to be taken for granted by the people. (At least that’s how I recall the insights I gleaned from his very wise words).

Fast forward: a few years ago, when upon familiarizing myself with Interaction Associates’/Institute’s facilitation methodology, I came across the principle of “Balancing Form and Void”: Creating “Form” is providing participants with a framework or approach for moving toward achieving the desired outcomes. Creating “Void” means stepping back and allowing for open space in the room, both verbally and physically. I immediately noticed the reference to the Biblical text, which comes from the first Creation narrative in the Book of Genesis:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was[a] on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (NKJV)

As is often the case for me with what I believe to be a Living Text, I gleaned a new insight into its meaning, informed by these pastoral and facilitation contexts: Void – or open space, if you will – as a precursor for even God’s most creative, most productive, most awesome works to…(yep, the “E”-word): emerge.

And so, whether it’s the virtues and vices of “presence”/“absence” in ministry, or the balancing act of any good facilitator vis a vis the “form” and “void” of group processes, I am thinking a lot these days about what this has to do with leadership effectiveness, blind spots (i.e., our ability to discern between what the moment/season/organizational growth cycle calls for), and its connection to organizational possibility, potential, and re-creation.

Co-creators, please — enLighten my world.

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