Generating ideas, connections, and action

Hypotheses about Networks

In a recent LLC Funders and Evaluation Circle meeting on Evidence-Based Practice and Leadership Development, we explored whether forming and testing hypotheses about leadership and leadership development might lead to stronger evidence about what works.  We wondered whether we could be more strategic about where we invest in leadership by testing our assumptions, and using more  rigorous and relevant measurement techniques and evaluation tools to support our learning.

Coming off of this discussion, I launched into interviews with the leadership of one of the oldest biodiversity networks in North America.  Thrity years ago a network formed to collect data about  the continent's biodiversity. A network of partners at the state and local level all agreed to collect biodiversity data the same way.  This remarkable network created a data system that has significantly increased the capacity of agencies and decision-makers to acess relevant data when making decisions about land use, transportation projects, and much more in order to conserve and protect the continent's flora and fauna.  The fact that data is comparable across the entire continent makes inquiries possible at multiple levels, e.g., local, regional, state, and continental. The integration and comprehensiveness of the data make it enormously valuable. 

These are tough times for biodiversity programs since many of these programs are funded by state budgets. There are also leadership challenges; many professionals are nearing retirement age,  there is a  weak pipeline of next generation leaders, and the status quo is not sustainable.  As we embark on a network assessment and development project with the lead organization, we hope to learn a lot about how networks reinvent themselves for the next generation, how network leadership transitons, and how networks adapt to changing environemnts. 

While working on this project, I began to articulate some hypotheses about networks that I believe to be true based on previous research and experience.  I'm curious whether these hypotheses resonnate with your work. 

  • When networks expand and become more inclusive, they foster innovation and strengthen sustainability.
  • When networks span boundaries, their efforts align and their collective influence and power increases.
  • When networks learn from emergence, they become self-organizing.

What are your hypotheses about networks?  What have you learned from your research?