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Leadership and Networks Draft Synthesis: Bringing a Network Lens to Leadership & a Leadership Lens to Networks

We are working on the second publication of the Leadership for a New Era project on Leadership and Networks.  We just finished the first draft of the synthesis and are working with the writing partners to get it closer to the final publication.  We encourage you to share your ideas and feedback as well - you can add comments below or start a discussion on the Leadership for a New Era site.  We are also hosting a meeting on January 31st in San Francisco to explore some of the ideas and questions from the synthesis. Register Now!

1) Why this matters:

The 2008 presidential election campaign mobilized 13,000,000 Obama supporters, many of whom were first time activists. Some participated in small ways making cell phone calls from the privacy of their living rooms while others hopped in their cars and took off for new cities to play a major organizing role opening new offices. The campaign was able to generate over $750,000,000 with many small donations. The ability of the campaign to inspire, generate resources, engage and organize millions of volunteers has raised interesting questions about leadership, civic participation and how change happens. This campaign was not an isolated event. There are a number of examples of ways in which new technologies have transformed our ability to connect and communicate enabling us to increase the scale and impact of our work in previously unimagined ways through networks.

 

2) Who should read this report:

This report is targeting two specific groups. Those interested in strengthening:

 

1. Leadership on social change issues by increasing network competency

 

2. Leadership within networks by increasing leadership competency



Leadership on Social Change Issues

All who are stepping into leadership today, need to think and behave in fundamentally different ways to take advantage of opportunities that are significantly increasing our ability to coordinate and mobilize resources, people, and action with less infrastructure. Our previous biases and default systems for organizing are being challenged in the current environment by competition, limited resources, increasing complexity, the need for innovation and creativity. It will not be possible to tackle problems like global warming, increasing wealth disparities or access to basic human rights without embracing opportunities to expand our reach and influence with network strategies and tools.



Leadership in Networks

Networks have always been an expression of social interaction and exist because they produce some benefit to participants in much the way organizations have evolved as a way of developing and exchanging goods and services. Over the past decade a great deal of attention has been paid to the science of organizational management and recently, more attention has been given to the science of networks and how to successfully facilitate and grow a network. Can strong organizational management, or for that matter, network facilitation and development, be equated with strong leadership? These skills are often necessary but not sufficient for providing leadership. The Leadership Learning Community offers a definition of leadership as a process through which individuals and groups align themselves to take action on behalf of a larger social change purpose. To provide leadership within a network requires network competency and a number of leadership competencies that will be discussed in this report, e.g. an ability to understand how systems work, a commitment to equity, deep personal reflection, an ability to help hold a vision, action learning and much more.

 

To make a difference in an increasingly connected environment we will have to re-image the very notion of leadership and unlearn old ways of thinking about leadership and how we organize for change. This report will explore several questions:

 

  • How can we more effectively apply network strategies and tools to strengthen social change leadership?
  • What core leadership competencies do networks need to influence social change and create more social and community benefit?
  • How do organizations effectively apply network strategies and tools to achieve shared goals?
  • What leadership development approaches can cultivate network leadership competencies and help develop networks

 

3) The impact of current leadership thinking on our work in networks


What has (and could) keep those in leadership from embracing network strategies and tools?

 

It is important to take a close look at two important assumptions about leadership and social change that are challenged by the current success of networks: first, that leadership is the activity of individuals exerting influence over others; and second, that organizations are the most effective means for producing social and community benefit.

 

Our understanding and practice of leadership have been heavily imbued with a set of biases about the role of individuals in change that is very much a part of the dominant culture in the US. This has created a leadership lens that distorts the ways in which we understand and perceive change. The Aspen Institute describes the impact of individualism as “the belief that people control their fates regardless of social position and that individual behaviors and choice determine material outcomes.” Our focus on individual responsibility has caused us to make individuals central to stories of change that include many players. We unwittingly attribute the achievements of groups to lone individuals who are often elevated to heroic proportions. Many investments in leadership development focus on recruiting and investing in developing the skills of individuals with the expectation that with increased skills and knowledge they will run a more effective organization capable of better serving communities. The individual model of leadership historically associated with strong organizations is directive, top-down, and transactional.

 

Over the past 10 years a new body of work has emerged that understands leadership as a highly relational and collective process. Increased attention to leadership as a process that emerges through dynamic interactions and relationships better reflects the reality of how individuals and groups connect to tackle complex problems. Researchers who have examined the role of social and racial identity point out that leadership emerges within the context of a group’s shared frustrations, aspirations and common motivations to take collective action (Ospina and Su). A leading scholar in leadership and complexity theory suggests

 

“Leadership models of the last century have been products of top-down, bureaucratic paradigms. These models are eminently effective for an economy premised on physical production but are not well-suited for a more knowledge-oriented economy. Complexity science suggests a different paradigm for leadership—one that frames leadership as a complex interactive dynamic from which adaptive outcomes (e.g., learning, innovation, and adaptability) emerge.”

(Uhl-Bien)

 

There is growing recognition that leadership happens when people make meaning of common experiences and act together across a number of differences and yet the leadership development field continues to invest heavily in leadership strategies that recruit and support individuals (as the graph below indicates). Supporting networks asks us to think differently about how to invest effectively in social and systems change.

 

Leadership and Networks Draft Synthesis - Leadership for a New Era


The Need for New Models of Collection Action:

 

Networks and organizations have always co-existed, although during much of the 20th century organizations were the privileged form for organizing resources and managing the delivery of goods and services. Even in the social sector, organizational forms prevailed. The nonprofit sector inherited and has maintained 20th century hierarchical organizational models that were needed for large scale coordination of groups in industry, e.g. for efficiently producing automobiles. Hierarchical leadership structures created a form of accountability that made donors feel safer with their investments. Money was invested in developing nonprofit leaders who would have greater capacity to manage and lead effective organizations. This led to some remarkable leadership achievements, but at the same there were unintended consequences: Staff often feel over worked. The real and perceived competition for resources undermines collaboration among organizations doing the same work. Success is often equated with growth and expansion that is not sustainable, especially in this current economy. As Clay Shirky points out in

Here Comes Everybody: Organizing Without Organizations

, a limitation of traditional multi tiered management business structures is that preserving the institution then becomes its most important job, even more important than its mission. This is seen in the crisis of sustainability in the non-profit sector.

 

If the nonprofit sector does not find creative ways to help organizations evolve and connect resources through networks, it will undermine the value of what the sector can create by coordinating and aligning their efforts. As we expand our leadership mindset to understand leadership as a collective process, more people are questioning the leadership assumptions that are embedded in traditional organizational structures and processes. For instance,

 

  • Are hierarchical structures the most effective way to ensure accountability in all circumstances?
  • When might trust and the quality of relationships established among people in groups be a better foundation for accountability than the exercise of authority?
  • Are organizations the best form for catalyzing new leadership and spreading innovation?
  • When might networks create more leadership opportunities and increase the reach of new ideas and practices?

 

Network forms of leadership increasingly coexist with organizational forms. In a recent blog post, Patti Anklam explained, “We have always had, and will generally always need, two forms of networks in organizations: the formal and the informal. The formal organization is represented by the (usually) hierarchical organization structure. The links, or ties, in these structures are reporting relationships. They represent commitments and obligations that go in both directions. Formal structures are essential for processes and tasks that require discipline, measurement, and decision-making. This formal organization provides the illusion of control; however it is the informal organization, the organization between the lines and in the white spaces that supports the scaffolding of the hierarchy. “How do we become smarter about how to use these forms in appropriate ways? How can organizational leaders create more space for network forms of leadership? How can leadership programs support organizational leaders to develop network leadership competencies?

 

Beth Kantor and Alison Fine make a compelling case for the opportunity to strengthen today’s nonprofits with network strategies and tools in their book, The Networked Nonprofit. Many organizations are learning to “work wikily” with greater openness, transparency, decentralized decision-making and distributed action (Monitor Institute) and are therefore better positioned to adapt to dynamic and changing environments and respond to crises (Heifetz et. Al). This being said, however, many organizations are finding it challenging to adopt a network approach to leadership, and leadership programs are not supporting organizational leaders to develop those skill sets. Our approaches to leadership development can either reinforce default organizational behaviors and the status quo, or contribute to preparing leadership to mobilize more people with fewer resources by cultivating a network mindset that encourages the use of network strategies and tools.

 

Why are networks important now and what is a healthy network?

How are networks today different? In their article “Working Wikily 2.0” the Monitor Institute explains that, “…networks are fundamentally changing the way we work and live.” Networks are not new and have always existed as a function of our basic sociability. As social creatures we have always formed relationships within family structures, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and identity groups. These relationships exist between individuals, among individuals within groups, and between groups themselves. In the 1980s the term ‘networking’ became a popular way to describe an individual’s ability to form personal relationships within and across groups to advance one’s career or business interests. Coalitions have long been a part of social movement building. During the civil rights movement, coordination and alignment among diverse groups and organizations, e.g. students, labor, churches, etc. were critical for the movement to be successful.

 

Networks are taking on new significance among those who are committed to social change efforts for several reasons. While networks have always existed, new technologies have created new opportunities. It has become easier to communicate, form groups and take action without traditional organizations. We are seeing concretely how changing technologies are making it possible to mobilize resources (people and money) more quickly and easily using social media. The Obama campaign is an excellent example. Using web-based tools and community organizing, supporters were able to connect, contribute, and collaborate much more easily, efficiently, and faster than ever before. The campaign invested in creating the collaborative platform (mybarackobama.com) but its use was driven by his supporters. As Clay Shirky explains “Our electronic networks are enabling novel forms of collective action, enabling the creation of collaborative groups that are larger and more distributed than at any time in history. The scope of work that can be done by noninsitutional groups is a profound challenge to the status quo.”



What is a network?

 

According to June Holley in the Network Weaver Handbook, “networks are sets of relationships and the patterns they create.” She goes on to note that “these patterns influence the quality of communication and the likelihood of collaboration.” We are learning more and more about how networks support communication, collaboration, collective action, and innovation, and how to intervene in a network to strengthen it. Networks have two basic elements, nodes (people and organizations) and the connections between them, ties (Fine and Kantor).



[Note: add powerpoint side on network patterns]

Hubs in networks have one or two people with most of the connections. Hubs are important because they have the capacity to weave the network by connecting people they know. The process of network weaving transforms the network from a hub and spoke pattern to a more web-like pattern with a core and a periphery.

 

The network core represents the strong bonds among a group of people who have a shared purpose or vision. They are the most engaged members of the network. A strong core means that people can come and go and the network remains strongly connected. A network with a vibrant periphery is more likely to form connections with people in other networks. The periphery of the network offers opportunities for growth and expansion (Fine and Kantor) Networks have strong ties at the core, and weaker ties at the periphery. Social media gives us new tools for nurturing the weaker ties among those at the periphery of our networks.

 

The use of mapping tools to visualize networks enables us to assess the network’s overall health. Strong networks have clusters formed around affinity (shared goals, identity) that are linked to a diversity of other clusters. The grouping by affinity creates strong bonds and trust while the diversity supports new ideas, resources and innovation. Unlike traditional organizational structures where information flows down through multiple layers of management, a network is characterized by many indirect connections and shorter communication paths. While particular individuals or organizations may have some prominence in a robust network and help strengthen groups or catalyze relationships between groups, it is the connections that are powerful not the individuals who formed those connections.



4) Leadership in Networks

 

Why do networks require a different kind of leadership and what does it look like?

 

The opportunities that technologies (texting, social networking sites, blogs, wikis, etc.) have created for us to have many to many connections and conversations among unlimited numbers of people with lower costs and coordination, requires leadership behaviors that are unfamiliar and maybe even counterintuitive to people and groups who have exercised leadership in an organizational context.

 

By looking at successful networks and their leadership we can learn more about leadership as a collective process and specifically about what leadership looks like in a network context.

 

Networks are reaffirming basic principles of leadership as a collective process:



Network Bridging and Connecting (Weaving):

Ties, connections, and relationships are at the heart of a network. Networks depend on trust and reciprocity; accountability and responsibility are not enforced through rules, rather people become accountable to one another and the larger network by building authentic connections based on empathy and a love for humanity that can see beyond divisions and differences and appreciate our interdependence. This means moving from the traditional paradigm of a leader managing followers (or employees) to accomplish a task to one in which leadership invests in social capital to sustain long-term change efforts and expand allies with a commitment to social change work. This means paying attention to the process of network weaving, e.g., introducing people, facilitating conversations, reaching out to new people and making people with different points of view feel included. It is important not only to connect people but to understand who needs to be connected within the network and at its periphery to insure the diversity of experience and perspectives that will support creativity, innovation, reach and impact. As one experienced network weaver pointed out, paying attention to the process of building relationships also means making the experience fun!



Organizing:

Leadership with the capacity to use and adapt network tools will be able to more effectively coordinate and mobilize people and organizations around a common cause. To take advantage of easier ways to organize and coordinate social change action, leadership will need to become adept in using use social media to engage, support and coordinate efforts around a specific cause.

 

In a traditional organizational model, leaders manage participation through action plans with prescribed roles; in networks leadership is more distributed and is based on people and groups taking up roles that move networks in a desired direction. Participants throughout a network align their actions with an understanding that small and large contributions aggregate to produce a larger collective impact. Organizing means creating multiple entry points for people to find ways to do what they can and feel valued (Traynor). This also requires a fundamental shift away from the idea that leadership is the domain of an individual with special skills and training to one that recognizes that leadership exists in everyone.



Experimentation and Learning:

The complexity of systems creates opportunities for broad experimentation and learning to find what works to create the conditions for social justice and social change. For instance, a group of students experimented with a different ways to engage people in climate change before coming up with 350.org. Leadership that embraces risk taking, openness and commits to continuous learning and integration is more likely to produce social benefit and transform the status quo. In traditional funding models for organizations, short-term results are required for continuous support often undermining bold experimentation which depends on learning from failure. Action learning is a hallmark of a vibrant network where plans emerge and action is adapted in response to experimentation with many ideas.

 

A second critical component of learning is learning about self. Bill Traynor of Lawrence Community Works shares his reflections about the personal learning and reflection one must do to be effective in a network.

 

The leader has to genuinely participate in the environment in order to deploy herself appropriately

. The challenges of this way of being are profound, and those challenges start with a fundamental reflection about who you are as a person and how you move through the world: how you exhibit fear, react to change, deal with letting go of power and ego. How you listen and observe and the keenness of your instincts for both conceptualizing and synthesizing. How you hold onto or let go let go of strongly held convictions about what is right and what will work. All of these things are of course rooted in the essence of who we are as people.

Systems Thinking:

Efforts to take on societal problems like climate change and poverty require a deep understanding of how systems work and perpetuate themselves. Looking at interactions among multiple factors that influence system performance is critical for identifying leverage points for change. David Stroh’s article on Leveraging Grantmaking: Understanding the Dynamics of Complex Social Systems) Networks provide an opportunity to connect people and organizations across systems experiment with interventions that can produce systems change (UProcess reference). Working successfully outside of a single issue orientation or organization will require big picture thinking and analysis.

 

Leadership and Networks Draft Synthesis - Leadership for a New Era

Networks are injecting new leadership ideas and behaviors:

In addition to reaffirming our understanding of leadership as a process the experience of networks are illuminating additional qualities of leadership that are expanding our understanding of strong leadership in an increasingly complex and connected world.

 

Transparency:

In a traditional organizational context, information and planning are often concentrated in the hands of a few, the upper tier of management who are presumed to possess the skills and knowledge needed to ensure organizational success. When a broader group is engaged in taking actions in support of an organization’s mission, there is the potential for more wisdom and creativity, and better outcomes. Openness and transparency about vision, plans, resources, and decision-making are essential for creating the conditions for network growth and progress on the causes the network has organized around. When transparency is openly practiced, trust grows. Openly sharing information and seeking input from others begins to transform the culture of competition that has fragmented the social change ecosystem. As organizations become more transparent, accessible and understandable to people on the outside, the walls between inside and outside become more porous. Ideas and resources flow more freely, engagement increases, and creativity is sparked.



Network Competency:

Successful leadership in an organizational context requires a sound grasp of good management; successful leadership in a network context requires core network competencies addressed in Steve Waddell’s work on Global Action Networks.

 

Patti Anklam refers to network literacy in a recent blog post as “the language and tools [leaders] need to be able to discern and describe network activity, the insights they need to understand network structure, and an appreciation for the vital yet often subtle tasks of managing a network’s context.” Some core network capacities include the ability to:

 

  • Create and hold space with a clear sense of purpose
  • Weave the Network
  • Nurture trust and reciprocity
  • Reach across boundaries
  • Bridge differences
  • Encourage self-organizing and self-authorizing
  • Leverage tools for connection and coordination
  • Align action
  • Provide multiple points of entry and engagement
  • Model leading with a network mindset

 

5) Recommendations for developing leadership with a network mindset and skills

 

Make a commitment to large scale change:

To take advantage of the opportunities to coordinate the efforts of vastly more people it’s necessary to understand that more is possible and set higher sights and expectations. As the earlier chart demonstrated, many investments in leadership are being made to strengthen individual skills to improve organizational performance. Larger community changes are often not identified or monitored. We need a revolution in our beliefs and behaviors. If we believe we can and must do more (e.g., reduce carbon emissions significantly in the next few years), we will seek out the organizing strategies that support ambitious change agendas.

 

Provide opportunities to develop network thinking and learn new tools.

Becoming adept at applying network strategies and using tools requires a commitment of time to learning. While there are a lot of great resources available to support people in this learning who want to take it up on their own, there are some who would benefit from more structured opportunities to learn with others through more formal training programs, seminars, workshops, and leadership development programs. It is also possible (and necessary) to cultivate a network mindset among those running current leadership programs that reach tens of thousands of people. Leadership development offers an important opportunity for people and groups interested in leadership to better understand networks and how to use them.



Develop a network mindset

: There have been a number of great books and resources that are designed to bring a network mindset to leadership operating in a variety of contexts, especially organizational contexts included in the bibliography and listed on the Leadership for a New Era website. A leadership program or training can introduce a network mindset and provide opportunities for groups to experiment with new ways of working and make meaning of their experiences together. Leadership programs or communities of practice that create safe space for critical reflection and learning that changes behavior and cultivates new attitudes.



Understanding Networks

: In addition to understanding why networks are important, leadership and training programs can help participants to understand what a network is, what makes a network healthy, and how leadership supports network growth, purpose and impact. This means understanding the importance of formal and informal structures, weak and strong ties and the importance of affinity and diversity. It is possible with social network analysis to help people and groups demystify what a network looks like, what nodes, hubs, and clusters are and how they connect. This understanding is essential if those in leadership want to be proactive in strengthening networks.



Learn to work with new social media tools

: The range of social media tools and how to use them can be daunting to people and groups when they venture into this new terrain. Social media use in the nonprofit sector is very uneven, often based on generational differences. It is important to introduce basic tools: social networking sites, wikis, twitter, blogging, Flickr, etc. In the context of a leadership or training program, participants can be introduced to new tools and given the space and technical support to practice with them and discuss the ways in which new technologies can help them to achieve their mission. The exploration is both practical and philosophical. A recent report, Social by Social (Gibson et al. n.d.), outlines a series of important leadership considerations for understanding what technology means and how it should be leveraged:

  • “People make technology matter”: Technology is a great ally in the collaborative process, but it is a supporter rather than a driver. Ideas and relationships are far more important than the technology that supports them.
  • “Know your limits”: While technology is a great tool to help groups brainstorm, connect and even execute ideas, it has its limitations.
  • “In user-centric design, everyone is right”: Adapt your technology and tools to meet the needs of the network participants.
  • Focus on the early adopters of the technology – they will become your evangelists.
  • “Failure is useful”: Learn from the good and the bad – what worked and what didn’t work.

Systems analysis skills

: Systems thinking and analysis does not come naturally, especially to those that have focused their social change efforts on specific issues, but it can be learned. The Sustainability Institute and Lead International in the environmental field have led the way in developing tools, games and curriculum that help those in leadership to take a larger systems perspective of how things work and how to disrupt systems. Systems thinking curriculum can be incorporated into current leadership programs or offered as training components as part of organizational and network capacity building efforts.

 

Provide Opportunities for Action Learning:

Action learning accelerates understanding networks and the use of new tools. In a supportive community a group can experiment and learn more quickly together and strengthen network strategies. Networks, communities of practice and leadership programs all can provide a supportive and structured context for action learning and reflection. A Community of Practice of can support learning among people facilitating networks in a variety of contexts and different stages of development. This not only strengthens the practice of participants but contributes to better understanding the art and practice of network weaving.

 

Catalyze New Networks and Strengthen Existing Networks:

Claire Reinelt and Bruce Hoppe in their article “Social Network Analysis and the Evaluation of Leadership Networks describe different kinds of networks that have been supported through leadership development strategies, peer networks, organizational networks, field-policy networks and collective leadership networks. Some of the networks form organically and emerge while others are intentionally created or catalyzed. This article offers case studies that illustrate how leadership programs can be used to facilitate bridging across networks within a specific region or in a field of practice by creating the conditions for trusting relationships to develop and shared commitments and goals to emerge.

 

Very few leadership programs have thought about how a network lens or strategy could support them is achieving their purpose. Some programs like the Barr Fellowship and the Impact Brokers program have thought about who they are recruiting with an intention to catalyze networks in a specific region or around policy issues. In fact, if there was an intention to use a leadership strategy to help bridge different networks using a social network map could identify network bridgers and spanners to facilitate network growth.

 

Many leadership programs are now realizing that their alumni pools may be untapped networks. Without a network mindset and strategy for unleashing the power of these networks alumni organizations may remain at the very early stages of network development, e.g., small emergent clusters organized around affinity. If alumni organizations remain attached to their identity as fellows of a particular group they may miss the opportunity to reach out beyond the fellowship group to weave connections between the networks in which they are already situated and the networks that other fellows are part of in their day to day work. As more leadership programs adopt a network approach we will more likely see interesting networks emerge from these programs.

 

Evaluate Networks:

Asking different evaluation questions is critical for achieving large-scale change. Historically, leadership development evaluations focused on evaluating the knowledge and skills of individual leaders. Leaders were asked to self-assess their learning and changes in behavior. With growing recognition that social and systems change depend on effective networks, more network methods of assessment are being developed.

 

Some tools like The Monitor Institute’s “Network Effectiveness Diagnostic and Development Assessment” and the “Network Health Scorecard” developed by Peter Plastrik and Madeline Taylor, provide groups in a network with a framework for collectively assessing their health and effectiveness.

 

As the leadership development field focuses more attention on how to develop leadership competencies within networks or a network mindset among organizational leadership, it will need to answer questions like:

 

  • What are effective strategies for cultivating leadership competencies in networks and/or a network mindset among organizational leaders?
  • What do effective leadership development efforts look like that facilitate and grow networks to achieve a shared purpose?
  • What leadership strategies are effective at scaling network effectiveness in different contexts?
  • What impacts do networks have on social and environmental justice issues, like changing health status in a low-income community, improving air quality, ensuring economic and family success?

In their article “Social Network Analysis and the Evaluation of Leadership Networks” , Bruce Hoppe and Claire Reinelt focus on what questions to ask, and what methods to use to assess network health, connectivity, and network impact. Social Network Analysis is one tool that can be used to understand connectivity in a network, and to assess the patterns of relationships that exist in the network. Network maps help networks visualize themselves as a network and can spark conversations about how to strengthen the network’s capacity for reach and influence. Some questions a network analysis can answer include:

 

  • Where are groups in a network that care about or work on similar issues?
  • Who are the people that bridge across different groups in a network (e.g., network weavers, or bridgers)?
  • How well does the network facilitate the flow of ideas, resources, and energy for making a difference together on some issue of shared concern?
  • How does the network successfully extend its reach and influence?

Interest is growing in finding better ways to document network impact and network results. Networks that are clear about their purpose and focus on measuring their results are much more capable of achieving success. One example is the action and results networks created through an Annie E. Casey Foundation funded program at the University of Maryland, Leadership in Action, that was deigned to align leadership efforts to impact population level results. Their collection and use of data enabled groups to monitor their progress, and better align efforts to drive towards a specific result such as Increasing the percentage of children entering school ready to learn.

 

Evaluating network results and impact can be measured using population level data collection sources, and through story gathering about changes in how people are working together and what differences that has made in their communities. New tools are being developed to expand the scope for understanding collective impact (FSG) .

 

We will not achieve the change we seek if we only learn about individual and organizational leadership. We need evaluation approaches to help us learn about how to influence systems, field, and population level changes; and better align our efforts to bring about the scale of change we seek. Answering these questions is critical to generating resources for investing in networks and leadership.

 

Fund Networks:

The ability to understand, support, participate in, lead and weave networks will be a critical capacity for social change in this century, and growing numbers of funders recognize this. The Monitor institute is currently facilitating a community of practice for funders who are intentionally supporting and working through networks, The ‘Network of Network Funders’ has 20 grantmakers in the core group, 40 more who participate in their online workspace, and countless others who want to experiment in this space. Philanthropic support for networks and network leadership is not yet a mainstream best practice. It’s still a ‘next practice.’ Most efforts to support networks are somehow linked to process –e.g., building and weaving relationships, network strategy development. Here are some of the ways in which funders are investing in networks at different stages of a network’s evolution:



When trying to understand networks*, support:

  • Mapping—of social networks, of issues, of funding flows


When knitting networks, support:

  • Network weaving: one or multiple people who are dedicated to making and strengthening connections throughout the network.
  • Network in-person connectivity: gathering space, travel, food, and coordination costs; facilitation.
  • Network on-line connectivity: online infrastructure, network technology stewards (someone who facilitates use of technology to share information, coordinate or learn together).

When organizing or growing networks, support the ‘knitting networks’ activities, plus:

  • Network strategy development.
  • Core funding (e.g. ongoing maintenance of infrastructure, staff salaries).
  • Innovation funds (support for small projects emerging from the network).
  • Evaluation and building network capacity for ongoing learning and adaptation.


When transforming or transitioning networks, support:

  • Evaluation and network strategy development.

 

Investments in overall network health and development, like those above, are also often an investment in the network’s leadership. There have been few targeted efforts to invest in the development of network leaders or weavers to date, but some exciting prospects are unfolding. A group of eight funders, led by the Packard Foundation, has launched a 12 month community of practice for network weavers that will be facilitated by, June Holley, a well recognized leader in network weaving.

 

6) Conclusion:

 

The health of the planet for future generations is at risk and the increasing wealth gap has created a country in which many people cannot find jobs, attend good schools, live in safe neighbors, own homes or afford health care. We have entered into a new social environment where everyone who cares about these issues has an opportunity to work in new ways that can engage and activate many more supporters for their cause. As Clay Shirky points out, “There are thousands of experiments in new social forms going on every day, as people who want to gather together, try capabilities that have only recently become ubiquitous…Our social tools are dramatically improving our ability to share, cooperate and act together. As everyone from working biologist to angry air passengers adopts those tools, it is leading to epoch change.” Leadership of social change efforts can sit on the sidelines wondering if networks are a fad or embrace this opportunity and develop a new network mindset. As this publication points out, this is not easy. It will require us to question what we think we know about leadership and organizing. It will require us to step into unfamiliar territory and experiment with new ways of thinking and new tools. We offer ideas, resources, and tools for helping leadership to scale their social change by taking advantage of network thinking and strategies. This work is still emerging and we invite you to help by sharing resources, experiences and your own learning.