Flexible formations for networks

Thinking about co-design embedded within a network presents additional challenges. Ideally a design team creates many spaces to engage in co-design – both online and in-person – that allow for maximum input and creativity as well as respond to shifting levels of availability/capacity to participate. What follows is a brainstorm I did with my sister Licia of the list of formations (groups within a network) that enable this. Furthermore, these formations can be organized from a central group, like a design team, or self-organized as they emerge from network members.

Advisory group
Small group that lasts for the length of the project to advise and provide context for the design work; similar to design team but broader
One person does a one-on-one, then takes on work to do other one-on-ones, or takes information to broader group; “train-the-trainer” might fit here
Large group comes together with potential breakout groups, usually in-person
Design team
An ad hoc group that meets throughout the duration of the project (or sub-scope within it) to provide planning insight
Innovation fund
Selected group of projects that are funded for specific outcomes
A conversation between two people
Ongoing focus group
A representatively diverse group of people assembled to participate in a guided discussion about a particular product before it is launched, or to provide ongoing feedback on a political campaign, television series, etc.
Outreach team
Spreads the word about design process and reflections to rest of network
Pop-up focus group
A representative group of people that meets once to provide structured feedback on a specific topic
Seek external expert
Someone reaches out of core network for advice or thought leadership
Small group experiment
An ad hoc group that meets to engage with and provide feedback on a project, product, or part of it
Structured interview
A one-on-one with very specific outcomes
An online lecture with potential Q+A
Working group
Small group of people who meet regularly with specific outcomes in mind; could be called a committee.

Network Mapping and Power

To the extent we are concerned about ushering in a future that looks different than today, we must not only understand how power operates, but seek to shift and democratize it. (I’m using this handout from powercube.net to ground my understanding of power.)

Network mapping inherently illuminates power.

Network mapping and/or analysis inherently seeks to bring to light several kinds of power. Here are several ways it can include power:

  • Demonstrates where capacity and resources exist in a group of entities
  • Visualizes previously invisible patterns, structures, and dynamics that existed but of which we were unaware
  • Elucidates relationships and pathways for exchange; help understand how things flow through a set of entities (and where they don’t flow)
  • Surfaces gaps like who’s not being represented by providing an overview of a set of entities
  • Supports an understanding of these things as they change over time so we can reflect transparently (rather than anecdotally) on improvements or regression

Network mapping is different and broader than power mapping.

My understanding of network mapping differs from power mapping (for example, see MoveOn’s Community Power Map Guide) in a few ways:

grid from Danielle.
MoveOn’s power grid
  • It’s not necessarily about a campaign victory; network mapping can address power over the long-term in heterogeneous communities
  • Doesn’t have one/few explicit target(s); rather, takes a broad approach to understanding power dynamics within a larger group of entities
  • Network mapping is broader than only looking at power. Taking an example of clustering for power mapping from MoveOn’s page, we can think of several other useful ways of understanding a network, and view those side by side.

Network map credit: Valdis Krebs, copyright 2013 from http://orgnet.com/contagion.html.

Collaboration, Coalition, Networks: What’s the difference?

I’m sure you’ve heard of these three words, but what do they mean if they’re used interchangeably? Read on to learn the key differences between collaborations, coalitions, and networks.

At its most basic, collaboration just means working together. In non-profit lingo, collaborations generally include things like information sharing, program coordination, and joint planning (source 1). Two or more organizations get together and have a limited interaction, achieve a mutually beneficial goal like jointly planning an event or learning from each other. Key characteristics of collaborations:

  • a few organizations
  • limited in time
  • not necessarily formalized in any way
  • may be around a shared, specified goal

Can you think of any collaborations you’ve recently been part of or heard of?

Usually formed for a specific, common goal, a coalition involves a group of organizations that get together, share responsibilities, and may disband after achieving their goal. Coalitions exist to bring broader attention and action to a large goal that affects many stakeholders. For example, if a coalition formed to pass or prevent legislation, it would have more leverage than an individual organization, because it can reach more people, access greater resources, and bring different perspectives to the strategy. Often, coalitions are short-lived and end after successfully accomplishing its goal. Key characteristics of coalitions and alliances:

  • multiple organizations
  • usually limited in time
  • usually have a specific goal
  • varying levels of formalization
  • may have a specified convener or facilitator

What goal, larger than your organization’s mission statement, would be best achieved by a coalition?

A network is a set of organizations with diverse relationships, strengths of relationships and trust between them. One way to think about it is like an ecosystem – there are different types of actors, but they work together – some more closely than others. Collaborations and coalitions happen within larger networks. As June Holley writes, in her Network Weaver Handbook: “networks are different than organizations: there is no boss who can fire members if they don’t do their job, there are no weekly staff meetings to ensure that communication and learning are taking place, and there are no teams or departments to organize the work and distribute funds.” Key network characteristics:

  • multiple organizations,
  • no necessary convener,
  • evolve over time and persist beyond goal,
  • not necessarily formal or intentional, but can be,
  • may exist for specific goal, or for broader support function

Armed with the knowledge of the differences between collaborations, coalitions, and networks, what is a good next step for your organization to strengthen its relationships? Will you choose a time-bound partnership, facilitate a group toward a common goal, or get to meeting and greeting new peers?

List of sources used: 1. La Piana Consulting, The Partnership Matrix 2. June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook