Generating ideas, connections, and action

Talking about Networks and Power

Last month LLC held a Funders Learning Lab: Investing in Networks and Network Leadership. It was great to have people investing in networks, working with networks and leading in networks all in the same conversation about what we are learning.  We covered a lot of ground, much of which I am still mulling over.  Fortunately, we have very skillful partners and network sages, June Holley and Allen Frimpong, helping us to synthesize lessons from the meeting which we will be publishing soon.  In the meantime, I wanted to share just one of many provocative propositions that emerged from a fishbowl conversation.  Beth Kantor, LLC board member and well know blogger describes fishbowls in this article. The kick off question for the fishbowl that began with Curtis Ogden, Elissa Perry and Allen Frimpong as our first fish was, “How can network structures and ways of thinking and doing create social equity?”

Before sharing some of the ideas that surfaced in the fishbowl, I want to provide a quick introduction to some network concepts and turn conventional ideas on their head.  If you are familiar with these, you may want to skip the italicized section below.

In network analysis people look at network maps and describe the groups with dense connections who cluster at the center, the ‘core’, and the groups or individuals who are less connected to this group and are at the outer rim are called the ‘periphery’. There is a general acknowledgement that strong networks have both a strong core and a strong periphery because the core represents strong relationships and the periphery represents the potential of new ideas and resources from people and organizations who are most likely connected to other groups and issues. (See below.)

Fishbowl participants raised a critical question about the periphery. For example, what it means when people are cast as the periphery about who holds power in the network or how the culture and language of the network may reinforce who is on and remains on the periphery of a network.  One participant raised the question of the need to co-create the culture of the network paying attention to whether the culture we are inviting people into is the right culture.  A number of people joined the fishbowl to suggest that this will require new ways of looking at power requiring personal transformation and shedding norms and belief systems that are hard wired within us if we are to move forward.  As part of this discussion about culture and inclusion, Allen Frimpong suggested that we need to move beyond inclusion to collaborative solidarity.  I encourage you to read a blog post by Curtis Ogden about his reflections on the fishbowl conversations.

We would love to hear your thoughts about power in networks and invite you to stay tuned for a publication of lessons from this powerful meeting coming soon.