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Leadership and Networks Synthesis March 2011This is a featured page

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Note: This is the latest draft of the Leadership and Networks Synthesis. Please note that the writing partners are currently working on updating this version so this is NOT the final publication. The final publication will be released by the Summer of 2011. If you have questions please contact Deborah Meehan (deborah at leadershiplearning.org)

The Challenge of Leadership and Social Change

The complexity of social problems we face in the world today calls out for leadership on a scale and scope never before imagined. Global warming, poverty, and systemic violations of human rights require widespread coordination, collaboration, and alignment of effort to solve systems problems, and create global structures and cultures that insure the future of the planet and equitable access to basic human rights and dignity.

All over the world people and organizations are working for positive social change. According to WiserEarth there are more than “one million organizations and many millions of users who are activity working toward ecological sustainability, economic justice, human rights protection, political accountability and peace – issues that are systematically interconnected and intertwined.”

Despite this massive amount of effort, the fragmentation, duplication, and working at cross-purposes have meant little progress made on “wicked” social problems. No individual organization or institution can solve these problems alone no matter how large they are. We need to work together to find ways to direct our energy and resources towards a common purpose, to better connect and leverage our resources for greater collective impact, and to spread and adapt innovations quickly.

Imagine that we could reduce carbon emissions by 80% over the next 30-40 years. This is the scale of change we need and while there is early evidence that this is possible, it will require shedding deeply embedded assumptions about leadership, organizations, and leadership development that no longer serve us well.

Leadership: Our dominant view of leadership privileges the few in positions of power within a hierarchy who have the power to control resources and exert influence over others. Consequently, we attribute achievements of groups within and across organizations to individuals who are often elevated to heroic proportions.

Organizations: We believe organizations are the most efficient and effective ways to produce social and community benefit. Organizational structures created a form of accountability that made donors feel safer with their investments, so developing nonprofit leaders who would have greater capacity to manage and lead effective organizations became a priority. We have consequently invested a disproportionate amount of resources in building the capacity of organizations at the expense of other forms of social organizing. The current crisis of sustainability calls into question these choices.

Leadership development: We believe that if we develop the skills of individual leaders, they will create stronger organizations that in turn will produce better outcomes for communities.

This report presents the exciting potential that networks and new social technologies offer for catalyzing social change on a scale we have never seen in the past. To fully embrace this potential, we need to face the limitations of old ways of doing things, recognize the demands of an increasingly complex environment and embrace new ways of organizing.

A Snapshot: How network strategies and tools are increasing the impact of our social change work

Work on global warming is providing a glimpse of what is possible. RE-AMP, a network of 125 funders and non-profits have focused their efforts on reducing global warming initiatives in 8 states by 80% (from 2005 levels) by 2050, and it’s working! A case study produced by the Monitor Institute describes the impact of this network.

In the past few years they have helped legislators pass energy efficiency policies in six states; promoted one of the most rigorous cap-and-trade programs in the nation; and halted the development of 28 new coal plants.

This is just one example of how people and organizations through networks are increasing their capacity to innovate, extend their reach and tackle large-scale problems.
Here are some concrete examples of the ways in which network strategies are increasing our ability to have a huge impact on global social issues:

  • Scale: KaBOOM!, an organization that aspires to create a “great place to play within walking distance of every child” shifted to a network strategy to help people build 1600 “do it yourself” playgrounds in one year…more in one year than they had built in the last 14 years since their inception![i]
  • Influence: The ‘Story of Stuff’ a film developed to challenge an entrenched culture of consumption was conceived, created and shared as a network held resource. After 3 years it is still getting 10,000 views a day, has had 12,000,000 online views, been translated into dozens of languages and has inspired curriculum and art events to promote discussion about consumption.
  • Reach: In 1990, Women’s World Banking served 50,000 women with microfinance services. Ten years later it served 10 million by fostering a network of affiliates and associates that were themselves independent organizations. MomsRising.org has engaged millions of moms to share stories and advocate for policy change on family leave, health care, toxins, education and much more. 350.org organized 7000 events in 181 countries to build a global climate change movement to hold global leaders accountable to the latest climate science.
  • Grassroots Fundraising: Tyson Foods, in partnership with other organizations and leading bloggers like Chris Brogan, sponsored the Pledge to End Hunger. Free agents were encouraged to blog about the campaign and spread the word, resulting in nearly 5,000 pledges, and the donation of hundreds of pounds of food to local food banks.
  • Civic Engagement: The 2008 Obama campaign mobilized 13,000,000 supporters and generated over $750,000 in small donations. The campaign demonstrated the power of using social tools and social networks to activate citizens to use online tools to raise money, organize house parties, and coordinate canvassing and phone banks.
  • Creating and Spreading Innovation: The Minnesota Community Foundation partnered with Ashoka Changemakers on a social good contest that promoted innovative ideas for reducing childhood obesity. The network strategy used to solicit, judge and share ideas increased civic infrastructure by engaging organizational partners and their constituents throughout the contest process.

What networks are and why they are so important now

A network is a collection of people, organizations or other entities that are connected to each other by some kind of relationship. Networks have always existed because people are social and form relationships with each other. What is changing is the scale and reach of our networks. Social technologies and tools are making it possible to connect people and organizations in unprecedented ways.

These tools make it possible to link with any number of people (irrespective of geographic distance), to access a greater diversity of perspectives, to accelerate the sharing of information, and to drastically reduce the costs of participation and coordination. That makes them well suited to facilitating progress on complex social and environmental challenges that require people and organizations to coordinate their efforts across traditional boundaries and sectors. (Working Wikily)

Kristen Rowe-Finkenbeiner remembers the days when you had to use the phone to call everybody about a political action and how much time that took. Now with the Internet, she recounts a story about how MomsRising.org found out they had a meeting with a State Speaker of the House on Tuesday morning, sent out an email blast to invite people to come, and had over 200 people show up to the meeting in the afternoon. The staff time to turn out 200 people in the days before the Internet would have been unimaginable.

Other tools like network mapping are changing our ability to visualize the webs of relationships between people and organizations in ways that enable us to identify leverage points for helping a network produce better outcomes, to build a sense of connection and shared purpose across a network, and to assess changes in relationships and collaboration over time.

Monitor Institute Case Study: Boston Green and Healthy Building Network

"An example like the Boston Green and Healthy Building Network illustrates the power of social network mapping in action. The Boston-based Barr Foundation had spent several years funding two sets of local organizations that advocated for changes in building codes and standards: public health organizations that saw unhealthy buildings as a root cause of many illnesses, and environmental groups that were focused on the energy efficiency and ecological impact of buildings. In 2005, a senior program officer at Barr recognized that while the “causes” of the two sets of organizations were different, the groups shared a common goal of setting higher performance standards for buildings, and they often approached the same government officials with similar requests. So Barr brought together the various parties in April 2005 to explore whether they could align their ef­forts, share information, and develop a more unified message for policymakers. Using information collected at the gathering, the foundation developed a real-time social network map of the people in the room. The map clearly showed two principal clusters of dots, one representing people in health organizations and the other primarily people in environmental organizations; it also showed that the groups were not well connected. Seeing the map of their fragmented network, the groups agreed to begin meeting together and eventually formed the Boston Green and Healthy Building Network. This network has increased connections and collaboration across the different groups and has improved access to, and relationships with, many key policy-makers in the city”.

We have all experienced some of these benefits in our work, increased access to experts and information; new ways of attracting resources; reaching new members/supporters; new ways of communicating with broader audiences. 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 non-institutional groups is a profound challenge to the status quo.”[ii] The Obama campaign is an excellent example of how these tools are put to work. Using web-based tools and community organizing, supporters were able to connect, contribute, and collaborate much more easily, efficiently, and faster than ever before.

Changing Our Organizational Mindset to Embrace the Power of Networks

Beth Kanter and Allison 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). Nevertheless, 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.

The crises facing many organizations today presents an opportunity. It’s easy to default to old ways of doing things and our assumptions about individuals and organizations are deeply entrenched. Without a strong commitment to developing a new network mindset, strategies and tools, we will miss the opportunities being provided by a growing understanding of how networks work and how they can be strengthened, and the development of new technologies making it possible to reach more people with less administrative work. By finding creative ways to help organizations evolve and connect resources through networks, we can enhance the social value of what the sector can accomplish by coordinating and aligning efforts. It’s not a huge stretch of creating something new, its about seeing what exists in new ways with a network mindset.

Networks coexist with traditional, hierarchical 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. Today’s organizational leaders need to be prepared to ask themselves, 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?"

(I am sure we can find good graphics for this).

Changing our leadership mindset to unleash the power of networks?

To support leadership in networks we need to move from our attachment to leadership as the behaviors of an individual and begin to understand leadership as a highly relational process by which individuals and groups align their purpose and action. The Leadership Learning Community describes leadership as a process through which individuals and groups align themselves to take action on behalf of a larger purpose, such as social change. Effective leadership within a network requires 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.

The opportunities that technologies (texting, social networking sites, blogs, wikis, etc.) offer us to have 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 and how it is different from leadership in organizations. The Monitor Institute describes some of these different leadership behaviors in a network that require a different way of thinking about leadership, a move from thinking about leadership as a top down direction to subordinates while leadership in a network requires a much more relationship oriented approach to engaging participants in a process through which an emerging alignment around purpose supports individual and collective action.

How does a network mindset challenge conventional leadership beliefs?

Beth Kantor and Allison Fine have based their book on the simple equation: Social Media Powers Social Networks for Social Change. They caution that we often miss the operative word: social and explain that while tools are important , it’s not about embracing gadgetry, it about embracing social ways of being.[iii] A prerequisite to behaving differently is to think differently first as illustrated in the following examples of changes in thinking, beliefs and values that are part of the network leadership mindset.

Generosity: Annie Leonard the creator of The Story of Stuff explains in an interview with Beth Kantor explains that a network mindset is all about sharing. The founder of KaBOOM!, Darell Hammond, acknowledges that they were not able to breakthrough on their mission of getting a playground within the reach of every child until they asked, “Why don’t we just give away the model? We can’t do everything anyway. If we give it away people can replicate it on their own." And as explained earlier, by doing this they produced more playgrounds in one year than they had in the prior 14 years. But Hammond’s approach is not a common thought process in the non-profit sector where good management often means protecting ideas as your competitive edge and niche to the point that organizational sustainability becomes more important than mission impact.

Letting go and trust: Darell Hammond and Annie Leonard had to give up a lot of control to authentically let others feel real ownership of their part in building playgrounds and helping to create The Story of Stuff. Leadership in an organizational context is often defined as central responsibility and accountability for the plans and results. To engage the power of network relationships means trusting others to do their part. Trust is a central value in network leadership. The people who grew 350.org into a global network of people, groups and organizations taking action gave up control over what the 350 events needed to look like. They deputized everyone who cared about reducing carbon emissions to take action. In organizations, it’s often assumed that the centralized action has the greatest inpact but networks are showing us the collective impact of self-organizing actions around a clear unifying purpose whether it is the reduction of carbon emissions or the election of a candidate.

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.

The above wheel of Network Leadership Competencies refers to the competencies needed to effectively lead within a network or to bring network thinking and skills to increase the impact of leadership in non-profit organizations. All of the competencies presume a network mindset and network literacy.

Connecting (weaving): Relationships are the foundation of networks. Lawrence CommunityWorks (LCW) is a nonprofit community development corporation working to transform and revitalize the physical, economic, and social landscape of Lawrence, Massachusetts. LCW’s goal is to create a new “environment of connectivity” where residents can more easily connect to information, opportunity and each other. Their belief is that if thousands of residents are induced to “get back in the game” of working together and taking leadership roles in Lawrence, they can truly revitalize the City. [iv](LCW website) 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. A key role of leading in a network (compared to an organization) is to find ways to weave connections and make it valuable to participate, e.g., that people/organizations are able to better advance their mission and address the challenge currently on their plates through a network approach. Without the mandate of an organizational hierarchy, network involvement is more fluid and needs to deliver value to busy people and resource-constrained organizations. MomsRising (give examples of the ways that they thank people). Networks are social and many network leaders are quick to point out, they should be rewarding and fun!

Organizing: Network Strategies and Tools: 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 the efforts of many individuals and organizations. In a traditional organizational model, leaders manage participation through action plans with prescribed roles; in networks leadership is more distributed and often self-authorizing as people and groups take on different roles, and advocate for action that will move the network 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. MomsRising describes the layer cake as a metaphor for provide multiple levels of participation and entry points. 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.

Network Bridging: The problems of fragmentation in the nonprofit sector are widely recognized as are the limitations of trying to solve interconnected problems by focusing on one issue, for example, providing education on healthier lifestyle choices will not be effective in communities that do not have access to safe places to walk or healthy foods. Still, people in nonprofits find it difficult to break out of their silos, lacking the time, resources, and mindset to reach out to others. As a society we are divided along many lines of race, class, gender and other isms and yet adhere to an ideology of individualism that does not acknowledge context and holds to the ideas that individuals with powerful visions can bootstrap change. Leadership will need a whole systems outlook, ability to see interconnections and the patience, commitment and collaborative skills to build bridges across organizations and societal divides. 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. As in the case of Boston Green and the Health Building Network, it is important not only to connect people but to understand who needs to be connected within the network and at its margin (periphery) to insure the diversity of experience and perspectives that will support creativity, innovation, reach and impact.

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. MomsRising celebrates the mistakes that can be put to bed and move their work forward with what they refer to as joyful funerals? 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. Leadership, plans and action in a network emerge through doing and learning. 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.”[v]

Systems Thinking: Efforts to take on societal problems like climate change, poverty or class and racial disparities, require a deep understanding of how systems work and perpetuate themselves. It is not possible to understand class, culture and power and how to work on behalf of social justice without paying attention to how opportunity structures that play out along racial and class lines are reinforced by systems. Looking at interactions among multiple factors that influence system performance is critical for identifying leverage points for change. In the RE-AMP project the first course of action for the organizations and funders was to begin by understanding the system they wanted to change. They mapped the system to identify 4 key levers necessary to change the system, i.e. stop the building of coal plants, retire existing coal plants, replace coal generated electricity with renewable power and reduce electric consumption through efficiency. Working successfully outside of a single issue orientation or organization will require big picture thinking and analysis. (maybe include the map) Recommendations for unleashing the power of networks:

Challenges to supporting the adoption of network strategies and tools.

Over the past several decades, a field of organizational development has matured to support and strengthen organizations tapping a diverse set of strategies: customized technical assistance from consultants who can address a host of good management practices, non profit support organizations that offer a wide variety of classes, there are training curriculum and materials, a robust resource of online and hard copy books, manuals, and how to guides, leadership programs focused on cultivating strong organization, and capacity building grants to support organizations in the adoption of stronger management practices. Comparatively speaking the field of network development is quite nascent. To prepare individuals, organizations and groups to take advantage of network strategies we will need a proliferation of resources to support a dramatic paradigm shift and adoption of new practices. Much can be learned from the experience of organizational development about the need for network consultants, customized technical assistance, training programs, curriculum, books and workshop materials, etc. Learning a new mindset will also require new ways of learning and developing these skills that could include communities of practice, experiential learning environments supported by leadership programs, open space conferences and the use of collaborative learning technologies like world cafe.

10 Things you can do if you are developing leadership and networks:

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 and listed in the directory to support people with independent initiative to learn, many prefer and 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) for current leadership programs that reach tens of thousands of people to support their participants in developing a network mindset. Leadership development programs are an important venue for people and groups interested in leadership to better understand networks and how to use them.

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, described in the RE-AMP project as “the big hair audacious goal of an 80% reduction in electrical pollution." Many leadership development programs are designed to strengthen individual skills that will improve organizational performance. There is usually the hope that this will result in specific or general community changes that 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., make sure that every person in this country has access to good health care, quality education and a safe place to live), we will seek out the organizing strategies that support ambitious change agendas.

Develop a network mindset: A leadership program or training can incorporate the introduction of a network mindset into their curriculum. Help participants understand why networks are important and why they should take advantage of network approaches to the work and what that means. It’s important to provide opportunities for individual and group participants to reflect their current ways of behaving, understand new ways of working, what has to shift in their assumptions about good management and make meaning of their experiences together.

Understanding How Networks Work: 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 can support network growth, purpose and impact with network skills like weaving and bridging. We now have the tools to see network or systems using social network analysis. This is important since we are accustomed to to seeing organizational charts while networks are invisible. These tools have helped people learn to work in networks more effectively as they see and understand the importance of formal and informal structures, weak and strong ties and the importance of affinity and diversity as demonstrated in the story of the Boston Green and Healthy Building Network. With a map you can explore questions like these:
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?

Help participants 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. and provide technical support and a safe space to practice with them and discuss the ways in which new technologies can help them to achieve their mission. There is usually a learning curve but the payoff can be big. Using the right social media tools in the right way can mean accomplishing more in less time and often with fewer resources. The leadership in RE-AMP and KaBOOM! had to commit themselves to learning and becoming comfortable with new tools to advance their work.

Cultivate systems analysis skills
: Incorporate systems understanding of issues of class, culture and power. Those who are providing leadership in networks or bringing network strategies to their work in organizations will not support work to reduce global inequalities without understanding the structures and systems that perpetuate inequalities. 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.

Integrate 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. Leadership programs not only strengthen the practice of participants, but connecting people in a network community of practice also has the benefit of building relationships among people who are more likely to maintain those connections to weave their respective networks.

Integrate a conscious strategy for networking your graduates into your program design: 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. Being intentional from the beginning will increase the success of your program’s network. As a positive example, 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.

Help your graduates stay connected to each other and each other’s networks: 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 clusters of graduates organized around their class identity, social ties, geography or issue interests. 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. It is possible to help your alumni use network maps to reveal the strengths and gaps in current connections so they can grow their networks.

Evaluate the impact your graduates are having through network strategies and tools: Ask different evaluation questions to benchmark progress you are making on large-scale change. 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). This effort to cultivate a network mindset, network weaving skills and better use of tools is relatively new. You can document, through your experience, what is working and share it. You can also use before and after social network maps to understand how relationships in a network have changed as a result of your program.

10 Things you can do if you fund leadership and network development

Connect with other funders who understand the importance of a network mindset: 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. Philanthropic support for networks and network leadership is not yet a mainstream best practice. It’s still a ‘next practice.’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.

Fund network mapping: It is possible to map social networks, of issues, of informational flows, of connections, and of funding flows. Investing in social network maps can help reveal fragmentation and support leveraged work among organizations who have now seen the natural interconnectedness of their efforts as was the case in the RE-AMP or the Green Boston and Health Building Network.

Develop a creative approach for funding network weaving: There are costs involved in network weaving that often cannot be absorbed by any one organization in the network. Foundations can play a role in bringing important resources to this work. The Barr Foundation and Hunt Alternative Fund have invested in network weaving through leadership development programs. There is a great return on network investments, although there are not many strong models for supporting this work:
  • One or multiple people who are dedicated to making and strengthening connections throughout the network.
  • Networks also require 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).
Provide network capacity building and technical assistance: Like organizations of the past 20 years, networks need care and nurturing to reach their full potential. Some of the same strategies will be helpful in the network development field to help networks with network strategy development, social media assessments, training in tools, and fund development.

Invest in tools for measuring and strengthening networks: 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.

Support learning about how to strengthen network leadership: As leadership programs, capacity builders and technical assistance providers focus more attention on how to develop leadership competencies within networks or a network mindset among organizational leadership, we need to ask and answer questions across a variety of experiences that will accelerate learning about the impact of networks and how to strengthen them:
  • What are effective strategies for cultivating leadership with a network mindset and the ability to use network strategies and tools to increase their impact?
  • What impact are strong bridging and weaving leaders having on network results?
  • 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?
This type of learning can be supported by investing in cross program evaluations, communities of practice, convenings to capture what have been referred to as "next practices," those practices with evidence of success that point to where the field needs to move to maximize the impact of leadership investments and strategies.

Network impact evaluation methodologies: Evaluating the impact of networks, and investments being made in networks and network leadership competencies, requires new approaches that move beyond the self-report of individuals to approaches that monitor changes in the condition of a target population, new levels of civic involvement, changing the discussion and resulting policy initiatives in a field like health reform. It is important to develop and use methodologies that incorporate the use of data to better track these types of changes, new incorporate the use of new tools like social network mapping that reveal changes in relationships among participants and that help to identify the stories and impact of collaborative work.

Develop training materials, curriculum and tools: A number of books have been cited in this report that will be helpful to self-motivate individuals and/or collaborative work groups. There are a number of natural delivery organizations (hundreds of leadership programs, management support organizations, and associations) that could reach nonprofit leaders if they had the training curriculum and tools to integrate into their current leadership/management offerings.

Invest in strengthening network leadership: 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.


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 neighborhoods, 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 and 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.

What we mean by “network” and common network terms:

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).
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.

[i] Breaking New Ground: Using the Internet to Scale Social Change.
[ii] Clay Shirkey, Here Comes Everybody: Organizing without Organizations
[iii] Kantor and Fines: The Networked Non-profit.
[iv] LCW website
[v] LCW website

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