Generating ideas, connections, and action

Evaluating Network Formation: Webinar Follow-Up

I was honored to host a webinar with my wonderful colleagues Kim Ammann Howard and Melanie Moore on The Promise and Perils of Supporting and Evaluating Network Formation and Development.  We got some great questions during the webinar.  Here are some follow-up reflections on three topics.

Trust in Networks
Trust is one of the foundations of collaboration. Leaders need to trust one another to take risks together to try something new. Leaders must be able to surmount differences, cross sectors to work together, and avoid serious conflicts.  Here is some of what we think trust looks like in the Barr Fellows Network:  (thanks to Gibran Rivera and Kim Haskins for their input.)

  • Fellows sitting together in meetings and being  genuinely happy to see one another when in the past they sat on opposite sides of the room and did not trust each other.
  • Fellows keeping faith with their personal commitments.
  • Fellows going to each other for advice and conversation, and knowing that  person “has your back”.
  • Fellows, individually and collectively, using their power wisely for the benefit of the whole community.
  • Fellows lending their names to each other’s projects, and vouching for those projects to their friends and colleagues.
  • Fellows offering advice and recommendations that strengthen each other’s projects.
  • Fellows spending time together as friends.
  • Fellows sharing vulnerabilities and tears.
  • Fellows having patience and giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
  • Fellows knowing when not to collaborate in order to protect their relationship.

What does trust look like in your community leadership networks?

Collaboration Stories
Collaboration stories enable us to track what Barr Fellows are doing together over time.  We identify strategically connected leaders who are passionately bringing together ideas and resources in new ways to transform the social sector and the leadership DNA of Boston.  We learn about these stories from retreat notes, word-of-mouth, emails, media articles, blogs, and interviews.

We have focused on these stories so far:

  • The neighborhood leader who develops bonds of trust with his former competitors (who are now fellows) to be allies in community transformation
  • The organizational leader who transitions to network leadership, and attracts other fellows around a vision to transform the funding of projects in neighborhoods and communities
  • A cross-sector cluster that comes together and works their networks to win approval for an innovation school that will be the first dual language high school in Boston
  • A neighborhood transformation project that starts with a state-of-the-art community garden thanks to trusted advice and collaborative support from a network peer
  • An urban neighborhood transformation project that attracts federal dollars because it can leverage relationships and assets from across the network

For each story we seek to capture the catalytic moments that cause a shift of perspective or new way of thinking, or critical connections that bring resources together to make something happen that couldn’t have happened before.  We also track the outcomes and community benefit.

Here is one example:
In her recent reflections entitled occupying a larger world,  Pat Brandes describes how the Fellowship Network enabled critical connections that led to taking an idea to create the first dual language high school in Boston and turned it into reality.  The Margarita Muniz Academy, an innovation school within the Boston Public Schools is scheduled to open in September 2013.  

What methods are you using to evaluate the emergence of collaboration in your networks?

Return on Investment
Often people ask what is the “return on investment” from putting so many resources into relationship-building. How do we know that investing in building relationships has long-term pay-off for the city, and how would we calculate that?

Some quantifiable measures that can be tracked include numbers of people served by new schools, centers, and other programs, the additional $$ leveraged, resources saved by connecting assets in the network, better outcomes for children and families in the neighborhood.  

The stories of collaboration are also compelling evidence of the value of investing in relationship building, and what happened as a result.  

What measures are you tracking, and what stories are you collecting, to make the case for investing in relationship-building?