Most people are natural networkers, but it takes real know-how and skills to develop and grow networks that achieve large-scale social impact.
Led by Madeleine Taylor, an anthropologist and network consultant in Boston, and Peter Plastrik, President of Innovation Network for Communities, Network Impact is accelerating and spreading the use of networks to achieve increased social impact. Working with a variety of real-world networks–advocacy and policy-change networks; social service production networks (e.g., homelessness prevention); regional networks of innovators; community networks for grassroots leadership development–while studying network theory and best practice, Taylor and Plastrik deliver a number of consulting services for start-up and underway networks. View our current and past clients and projects.
We help network builders create, strengthen and sustain networks for social change.
Network Start Up and Design
What are the many issues you have to address in starting a network? How do you get clear about the purpose of the network and its structure? What are your options in deciding network membership, value propositions, and coordination? How should the network be governed? Most network startups anticipate some, but not all, of the critical design questions they will have to deal with. It doesn’t have to be that way.
How do you make sure that your network is increasing its essential connectivity among members? What about expanding the network–what are your options and the pros and cons? How do you make sure network members are getting the value they want (and that will keep them participating in the network)? Once a network starts and has some experience under its belt, it’s time to look ahead and plan its development.
Coordination and convening of a network are just two of the management tasks that need attention as a network evolves. And if they’re not done well, the network can quickly lose its momentum. Other management tasks: helping members maintain connections with each other; supporting projects network members decide to undertake; and monitoring the health of the network. Each task requires the network to have specialized know-how and capacity–which it can acquire by coaching network members and staff or buying services for the network.
Network Communications (internal and external)
What infrastructure is needed to support a network’s communications? What are the best ways to use a network to reach key audiences? How can networks integrate “Web 2.0″ tools with other communications approaches? By selecting the right mix of tools and strategies for internal and external communications, a network can increase its effectiveness and impact.
Network Monitoring and Evaluation
How should you assess the health of your network? What do you measure? When and how do you measure it? First, you must recognize that assessing a network’s health is not the same as assessing an organization’s health. It’s far more critical in a network to measure and monitor the connectivity that members have with each other and the degree to which the members feel their value propositions–the reasons they are a part of the network–are being fulfilled. Second, you must recognize that a network’s wellbeing is multi-faceted and can’t just be assessed by looking at one factor. What’s needed is a scorecard with, say, a half-dozen assessment categories for ongoing monitoring and, from time to time, a deeper look into what network members are doing with each other. For a more formal evaluation, special understanding of the dynamics that drive network success is essential.
Investing in Networks
As more foundations/donors recognize the potential of using network approaches to increase social impact, they run up against many questions: How should they design their investments in network building? What expectations should they have? Who in the network should they deal with? How will they evaluate the network’s performance? What do they need to know about the evolutionary path of networks–and about how to manage the risks of network building? Does investing in networks look like investing in organizations? In short, foundations have to become network-savvy if their interest and investments in network building are going to pay off.