Understanding Networks is Critical for Change Leaders

When you spend time down in the details of network structures, processes, software tools, data collection and analysis, and academic paper processing, it can be difficult to translate some of that back into direct and meaningful action.

This case study from the Stanford Social Innovation Review called "Networking a City" (image is from the article) is an excellent example of how critical it is to understand networks as a means toward the various greater good ends that many of us are pursuing. We love our cities and think that they can be better. We love our communities of all kinds and see where they don't quite deliver what they might. Intractable challenges persist despite major investments of time, talent, and toil. Enter the gardeners of networks, people who understand that conditions where connections begin or are fostered or are enriched can lead to all kinds of good things.

In particular, the insight that there are different kinds of networks is well worth noting. The authors point out that different purposes require different kinds of networks. Connectivity networks are more open, exploratory, and adaptive to the interactions of the people in them. They are not oriented around goals like a alignment network would be nor are they making the change directly as might be the case with an action network. Just as a living organism has many kinds of interacting networks, our social and institutional interactions function in many distinctive ways. Easily forgotten, this is a vital point to remember in the churn and challenge of life within and among organizations.

This approach would work well in the think tank community, in cities where social service agencies are actively working build community capacity, and many other non-profit or charitable sector areas of action. I think a more modest approach could be run as well at smaller scales suited to local needs and limits. This is well worth thinking further about and developing more models from. Kudos to Interaction Institute for Social Change and their leader, Marianne Hughes.

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