I love this new video from the Case Foundation about the power of social media for social change. The numbers illustrate how far the field has come in adopting social media, although not 100% adoption. The video reminded me of the classic video, “The Machine is US/ing Us.” I often used the video at social media workshops back then to generate discussion about how our world is changing. When I first got started with social media training (2004-2007), I often rain into a lot of raised eyebrows, crossed arms, and skeptics suggesting that “Social media is a fad.”
This was one of the reasons why I wanted to write the book, “The Networked Nonprofit,” with co-author Alison Fine back in 2008-09. I noticed a big change in 2010, the year the book was published. There were slightly less crossed-legs and arms and more curiosity and questions like, “What are the best practices?.” In 2012, while I still encounter a few skeptics, there is more often curiosity and questions about “How can we use a networked approach with more impact.” Does this signal that working in networks been become normal in the nonprofit sector?
One of my all time favorite Clay Shirky quotes: “When the technology gets boring, it becomes socially interesting.” Have networks become a more accepted way of working? We have witnessed the Twitter powered Arab Spring and more recently the intense backlash at the Susan Komens Foundation for withdrawing funding from Planned Parenthood and the uproar. From Occupy Wall Street to KONY 2012, we’ve witnessed how social technologies fuel and scale grassroots self-organizing. We’ve also seen networks of organizations and people work together to solve complex social problems. While online social networks may have become “air” as Charlene Li has say, I think the way we work with it – the competency of having a networked mindset is developing. More and more in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector are learning that being fearless is still a critical skill that needs further development.
The Packard Foundation has recently published a report commissioned from the Monitor Group called “Ideas Into Action: Reflecting on Three Years of Building Network Effectiveness.” The top six takeaways about network effectiveness from the report are:
- Combine network effectiveness with organizational effectiveness
Network effectiveness is clearly a distinctive set of behaviors and strengths for a leader or organization to build. But the approaches for building network effectiveness that this experiment supported were typically combined with more traditional organizational development activities.
- For consultants, networks expertise is an addition to standard skills
A consultant’s ability to build network effectiveness is clearly a distinct skillset—and of most value when used in concert with standard capacity-building skills.
- Low-technology settings require high-touch network facilitation
In areas where the use of high-tech communications is not yet widespread, working in networks can be slower and more time-consuming and require a more high-touch process for supporting the network. But the benefits remain substantial by comparison to working with one organization at a time.
- Peer learning builds capacity, builds network effectiveness, and enables collaboration
Not all capacity is best built through one-on-one consulting. Peer learning fills a distinctive and complementary niche: it helps grantees explore an issue that is central to their work, builds their overall ability to engage collaboratively, and also connects them with potential partners for doing collaborative work.
- Networks are proving their value to program outcomes
Network-based approaches have become central to the work of a number of program officers at the Packard Foundation. Each has discovered their own reasons for achieving strategic goals through network-centric modes of working.
- Field-building work remains critically important
The past three years have seen significant progress in the development of network practices and the level of interest among funders; but there is substantial work to be done before network effectiveness is considered an essential capacity to build.
The conclusion about investing in network effectiveness suggests that network capacity building will become an important part of the capacity building repertoire, but it is not yet mainstreamed.
The investigation into network effectiveness began in 2007, a moment when social media was starting to take off and the notion of networks as a vehicle for social change was just coming into focus. Over the past 5 years, network capacity building has become much more commonplace, although it is not yet mainstream. Looking forward, we expect there will be a point when specialized support, specialized consultants and specialized language won’t be needed. Building network effectiveness will be a common part of the capacity-building repertoire. We’re seeing seeds of this transition today, and OE’s work can be credited with making a meaningful contribution to that shift.
But we’re not there yet. We recommend that OE continue supporting network effectiveness in the many forms it has done in the past three years, including research to capture and codify the new practices. And that it do more work to bring those practices to program officers at the Foundation and wider audiences in the field, acting as an advocate and guide for using network strategies as a new avenue to impact.
You’ll want to read both the executive summary and the full report – not only do they contain a wealth of insights about network effectiveness, but also use data visualization techniques.
Has working in networks and with networks become a “mainstreamed” idea in your nonprofit?