This video is from a local site in Louisville, part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's "Making Connections" initiative Part of the Making Connections core approach uses (offline) social networks. You can read more in this series of five reports that looks at the definitions, research, power, practices, and insights relating the impact of social networks on family strengthening and community change.
Last week, as part of my work at the Packard Foundation as visiting scholar I had the opportunity to participate in a face-to-face convening of the "Network of Network Funders," a community of practice facilitated by the Monitor Institute. The focus was on learning about "Network Effectiveness" and the specific topics included strategies for network impact, approaches to evaluating networks and tools for accelerating and assessing network impact.
A peer learning environment requires creating a safe space for conversation. This is why the session started with a discussion defining confidentiality. I'd sum up the confidentiality rule as sensitive information shared in the room should not be shared outside of the room. It is a "What happens Vegas, stays in Vegas" rule if any internal politics or grantees names are mentioned.
I wondered whether the more general learnings about network effectiveness and evaluating networks would be considered confidential? I've been exploring the line between open/closed networks or communities, particularly online learning communities. It isn't black and white. There are definitely some shades of gray.
I asked if I had permission to blog or tweet general insights? We had a brief discussion clarifying what was
"bloggable" and what was not. I was asked a fabulous "skeptic" question, "What is the value that 'live tweeting' offers? My perspective:
- Live Tweeting forces you to be succinct so when I tweet, it is a form of notetaking and it alters the way I listen. It makes my listening and learning more effective because I'm looking for synthesized bits of wisdom to share.
- Live Tweeting allows other people who may not be in the room to respond to questions or share resources. It may deepen and enrich the discussion.
I welcome skeptical questions about social media because it gives the opportunity to openly discuss concerns. This leads to better understanding of networks and social media and more effective adoption of the tools and network practice.
The "live tweeting" use the had tag #netfunders and I was not the only person in the room contributing tweeting from the convening.
My key learnings:
- Bill Traynor's rule that you need to mandate that every network meeting have someone new join the meeting. This is important to keep the network fresh and growing.
- Networks have different purposes. Some identified include:
-Advocate for Policy Change
-Coordinate resources and services
-Learning Networks - Develop and share best practices
-Get to Scale
- Network purposes adds another layer of clarity. It helps a network get more specific with the work flow which maps to different online collaboration and social media tools. This can help you make better decisions about use of tools. One factor that is important to consider is how a network introduces online tools that can support self-organizing - whether the network does it work behind a password protected area or openly on the web or someplace in between.
- We worked in small groups by network purpose. I gravitated to the learning network discussion. My three ah-ha insights:
- When thinking about learning networks, keep in mind that there are different stages of network: ignition, connection, alignment, and production (See Peter Platrik's thinking)
- The pork chop factor and the potluck supper. The pork chop factor has to do with the motivations of individuals who participate. Why are they motivated? It is important to know the individual value proposition. The pot luck supper is a wink and node to what I learned from Eugune Eric Kim a few weeks ago It is the idea that trust building and relationship building is important to informal learning networks. As @eekim said, "Relationships are built over meals."
- Open/Closed and how it impacts the learning. How, where, and when do you move the fence to bring in new people to the learning network without disrupting the safe shared place and trust.
- As part of a presentation about the Making Connections program, I watched the above video documenting the work of the Making Connection sites in Louisville and its social networks approach. This slide show demonstrates the powerful outcomes that a social network offers and how/why relationships are important. Using visuals to document a network's outcomes - whether photos or videos - is incredibly powerful. Sometimes written words and numbers simply can not not describe the transformative effect.
- A new (to me) concept: "Network Vibrancy" a term that Sanjeev Khagram from Iscale introduced. I think it means that things you don't expect to happen take hold. There is a deep quality, reciprocity, and self-organizing. Network Vibrancy adds to the many challenges of measuring the social impact of networks. Real time monitoring and rapid learning opportunities are key to creating vibrancy. I want to take a deeper dive into the techniques for real-time monitoring and see if there are methods for rapid learning opportunities.
- I had the opportunity to finally meet June Holley face-to-face. June is the guru of network weaving and I finally had an opportunity to deepen my learning about the art of network weaving from the person who invented it. (I will share this in a separate blog post in a bit as I'm savoring the learning like sipping a fine wine.) This is yet another example of a person that I have followed through their blog or Twitter ant trails, but had never met in person. Yet, through reading and interacting with her online through Twitter I trust and respect her.
- The discussion on evaluation of networks was illuminating. There are many challenges to assessing the impact of networks. There are different measures for different types of networks and stages of work. One big challenge is that we don't have the tools for assessing emergent, complex, non-linear, rapidly changing systems. "It's like changing a tire on a moving car."
- Network assessment happens at three inter-related levels (and this is part of what makes it challenging). The three levels include:
Connectivity: What is the nature of relationships? Is everyone connected who needs to be? What is the quality of these connections? Does the network effectively bridge differences? Is the network becoming more
interconnected? Wat is the network's reach?
Network Health: How healthy or vibrant is th enetwork along multiple dimensions (participation, network form, leadership, capacity, communications (technology), etc)
Outcomes: What progress is the network making on achieving its intended social impact? (e.g. policy outcomes, innovative products, etc) How do you know? (Put another way, Network X made Y happen)
- Network evaluation should be part of an ongoing process of rapid learning and adaptation. Learning from evaluation needs to be shared and used by network, but not end up on a shelf. The network needs to conduct self-evaluation that helps it improve the way it works.
As part of this gathering, I had the opportunity to facilitate a small group and test some frameworks for thinking about how to incorporate social media and online collaboration tools for closed networks. I came away feeling that it is important for people to touch the tools. I also came away with an interest in more direct learning about online collaboration and project management tools that allow for self-organization and getting things done in smaller groups. I also came away with a sand box learning plan with some colleagues.