With support from the Knight Foundation through the Knight Community Information Challenge, community foundation leaders and their partners around the country are working to create more robust local information “ecosystems.” It was our privilege to get into the field to see what each of the four community foundations featured in the case studies is doing to promote information healthy communities.
Our eye for ethnographic detail helped to surface some of the real-life stories at the center of these efforts. Here is incontrovertible evidence that accessible, reliable and relevant news and information can enhance civic life and spark community change. Of course, we were particularly alert to the network building dimension in all of this. In addition to the local specifics about news and information, the cases also detail some basic network strategies that are relevant to any social change effort: how to create connections that open information pathways so that people can align and act. Which case most closely maps the challenges you face in your social change work? Any insights here that you might take forward?
December 14, 2011
Online fundraising has seen real growth in the last few years not only with services likes PayPal and NetworkforGood, but also through Facebook and Twitter campaigns. Have you asked yourself if this is a fit for your work? In this webinar we will provide examples of different types of online fundraising and the scenarios in which they were most effective with particular emphasis on collaboratives and networks. Creating social media policies and guidelines are also discussed.
Download the presentation slides Online Fundraising for Networks (PDF)
A recording of the 1 hour webinar will be available soon.
Idealware’s Social Media Decisionmakers Guide
Presenters: Anne Whatley, Cause Communications with Madeleine Beaubien Taylor, INC/Network Impact
October 19, 2011
When you’re evaluating a network, what are you looking for?
We recently submitted an evaluation proposal for a 7-year old network with more than 120 organizations spread across more than a half-dozen states. Without knowing much about the network we had to describe what we’d be evaluating, our analytic framework. It had 12 components, many of them specifically about a network, rather than an organization. It’s a framework we’d apply for assessing the condition and performance of any network.
Purpose: What is the network’s purpose? Is it being fulfilled? Has it changed over time? What other purposes are emergent among network members?
Value Propositions: What are the reasons that members participate in the network? Which reasons are most important to the members? How well do members feel their value propositions are being fulfilled by participating in the network?
Membership & Engagement: Who has been attracted to the network and who hasn’t that it would be desirable to have? What are the types of engagement in the network and to what degree do members engage in the network? Are the network’s rules/incentives for member engagement effective? Are there barriers that prevent/reduce member engagement?
Network Connectivity: What are the relationships among members? What level of reciprocity and trust has been built? What is being transacted between members? How has member connectivity evolved over time? What is the connectivity “shape” of the network (different patterns of connectivity—e.g., super hubs; multiple hubs; clusters) and how does the shape enable or block network efficiency and effectiveness?
Network Alignment: How well are network members aligned around ideas, goals, strategies, standards, and other guideposts? To what extent does alignment in the network influence members’ actions?
Network Production: To what extent has the network’s connectivity and alignment created conditions for collaboration/co-production by network members of, for instance, usable knowledge, policy change, services, or innovations. How well do network production processes function?
Other Network Capabilities: Which other network capabilities (e.g., network reach and resilience) matter to the network’s health—and what is their condition?
Governance: Does the network’s structure for decision-making enable members? Is it efficient and effective? Does it promote member confidence in and loyalty toward the network? What are the network’s monitoring and feedback loops and how well are they being used? What is the network’s resonance to members’ interests/actions? What is its adaptive capacity?
Business Model: What is the value chain within the markets and other contexts within which the network operates? What products and services—value creation– does the network offer? What is the network’s business model—revenues and costs—and how will it be sustained?
Operations: How well does the network enable members to benefit from the network through coordination of and communications among members, access to shared resources, working group leadership, and peer-to-peer exchange and learning? What staffing, mechanisms, and resources are in place? Which members do/don’t use them?
Strategic Communications: How is the network positioned with external audiences/stakeholders to achieve its goals? In what ways can the network’s external connections, capacities, and brand be leveraged for greater impact or to attract more resources?
Impacts: What measurable impact is the network having in achieving its purpose and goals? What impact is participating in the network having on the way members think and act? How can the network effectively measure its impact on a continuing basis—and use the information for improving its performance?
October 19, 2011
Several years into the effort, membership and activities are robust in a city looking for renewal.
John Heiss, coordinator of the Greater Detroit Network of Social Innovators, reports on recent strategy developments as the network approaches its Fourth Annual Summit (November 12):
- Building Connectivity Among Network Members–Monthly meetings that generate collaborations and projects among members.
- Social Venture Business Development–Identify potential investors for promising triple bottom line business development; support deal-flow due diligence; and build capacity of management teams for these businesses.
- Learning Community of Social Innovators–An annual summit or conference for 80-100 people on social innovation/entrepreneurship topics, and a set of business planning courses.
- Sector-Based Network Hubs–The Network has developed several sector hubs or affinity groups for investors and participants, in Food Systems, Construction, Energy Efficiency/Building Retrofits, Deconstruction, Social Media/Marketing, Workforce Development and others. The hubs are “production centers” where social sector, public sector and private sector firms come together to pursue business deals and transactions on a broader scale than individual social ventures. The hubs seek to spawn ensembles of social innovation. For example, Food Systems is working on emerging growers, food entrepreneurs, urban agriculture, cast-iron cook-off, processing facilities, farmers markets) that investors and members will pursue.
October 19, 2011
When the community is the network, as it is in Lawrence, Massachusetts, design follows a few simple rules.
For more than five years we’ve tracked, cheered on, and worked with one of the most intriguing community-based networks in the U.S.—the 5,000 member strong Lawrence Community Works. In a case study several years ago we wrote about the origins of the grassroots network, its early growth, and contribution to rejuvenating Lawrence, a failing industrial city in Massachusetts. Since then, we’ve been impressed by LCW’s disciplined application of network thinking to organizing low-income families.
Recently we heard Bill Traynor, leader of the team that has built the network, share some of the lessons they’ve learned. “The challenge at the beginning was to create an environment rich enough and valuable enough for people to create the value they wanted to create.”
- The network was designed to offer many different value propositions to residents—access to programs for adult literacy or Individual Development Accounts; community organizing efforts; networks for youth, and more. “What works for engaging people is to have a lot of different things going on; people have choices and feel a connection, an identity, with that environment.”
- The network was designed for easy entry and easy exit by its members. “It’s a loose membership, which is a more modern, organic way for people to engage… You need to have environment in which people can come in and out. Membership is a choice, not an imperative or a burden.”
- The network’s evolution has been managed to allow form to follow function. In too many community organizations organizational turf and other concerns get more attention than creating value for people. “Who is the lead agency, who decides what, who we are trumps what we do. There’s too much structure, too many presidents. That environment is way over built.” The network provides an alternative to these unattractive dynamics.
October 19, 2011
For social change, it’s not weak tie vs. strong tie networks, it’s both–and digital tools can make a difference.
Malcom Gladwell’s recent piece in The New Yorker, “Small Change,” generated immediate buzz among members of the Network Building Community of Practice that the Barr Foundation, the Interaction Institute for Social Change and Network Impact have helped to convene in Boston. In these exchanges, you will find no shortage of arguments that challenge Gladwell’s assertion : “…the revolution will not be tweeted.” No shortage either of examples that qualify Gladwell’s equation: digital = weak ties = ineffective social movement.
The examples are important because they show how social change objectives are often met by activating multiple network strategies at the same time or over time. Digital tools may serve some parts of the work more effectively – but, in our view, that can hardly be decided before the fact.
In our work with the Massachusetts Inter-Agency Council for Housing and Homelessness, we see advocates reaching out through weak ties for new insights and ideas about “housing first” strategies and working in close knit clusters to develop particular interventions (e.g., around prevention, diversion and rapid –re-housing). In our work with rural advocacy networks, we see and promote points of intersection between bounded issue- or place-based rural nets and the open and emergent networks of rural advocates that have a cross- sectoral or national scope. Finally, we see lots of evidence that effective policy efforts link policy wonks and strategists in bounded networks to activists in large unbounded networks and that digital tools have a place in all of it (from NING to Facebook).
One of the ways that we prompt conversations about what tools may be suited to what purpose is by drawing a simple graph: four quadrants; “online” and “off line” are poles on the x-axis; “strong ties” and “weak ties” are poles on the y-axis. When you start to locate effective network-based social change initiatives on the graph, you’ll find that it’s a mix. Very few networks we work with (or can think of) are concentrated at a single pole.
January 4, 2011
Taking your network’s temperature regularly is easy—and helps to inform continuous improvement of the network’s effectiveness.
When the 14 organizations in the Southwest Rural Policy Network met in November 2010 to discuss how well their network was doing, they didn’t just share their latest impressions. They had data stretching back nearly a year and a half. Since June 2009, as part of their formal work plan, they had self-assessed the network five times using a Network Health Scorecard. The assessment covered four essential categories: the network’s purpose, performance, operations, and capacity. The process only takes a few minutes after the network’s quarterly meeting—but reveals a great deal about how network members judge the network.
In November, Joyce Hospodar, the network member who chairs the network’s evaluation committee, summarized the scores—on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being low/5 being high—for the past five quarters: Purpose scores were holding steady. Performance scores peaked the previous spring. Operations and Capacity hovered around 4.0, but dipped recently.
Interestingly, when network members also scored where they thought the network’s health was compared to a year earlier, the ratings were all substantially higher than at the outset.
The scorecard is a tool, one source of evaluative feedback a network can use to gauge how well it’s doing and what sort of improvements might be useful. “Note,” says network coordinator Mikki Anaya, “this assessment only measures one aspect of the SWRPN’s effectiveness—the capacity/organizational efforts of the network.” A different evaluation will look at the network’s policy advocacy activities.
The one we developed has a total of 22 questions divided into the four categories. Several networks have adapted the questions to better reflect the specifics of their network. But in any case, the evaluative process is the same:
- Identify key indicators of the network’s well-being
- Regularly collect data from the members
- Analyze the data and share it with members
- Determine what changes are needed
Kudos to the members of the SW Rural Policy Network for picking up on this tool and incorporating its use into their network practice.
November 17, 2010
Even donors who get why funding networks makes sense have concerns about the specifics.
The good news is that philanthropy is increasingly aware of the changing landscape in which they make investment decisions and is adopting strategies for increasing impact that include “activating networks.”
From the Monitor Institute’s recent (and excellent) report, ”What’s Next for Philanthropy”
Simply stated, philanthropists operate today in a stressful, rapidly evolving, networked, and interdependent world. Although the individual grant is the typical unit of analysis for most foundations, the success of any grant or organization is rarely sufficient to move the needle on a complex problem. We have all felt the irony when successful programs are lauded while the system they aspire to change continues to fail. Funders are well positioned to support connectivity and to coordinate and knit together the pieces of a network of activity that can have impacts far beyond the success of any one grant, grantee, or donor. And advances in network theory and practice now allow funders to be much more deliberate about supporting and participating in networks and in thinking about how the collective impact of a coordinated portfolio of grants can produce more significant change.
Some foundations are getting smart about funding networks and are communicating lessons learned to the wider philanthropic community (among them: the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Packard Foundation, and the Barr Foundation.
Still, many perceived challenges remain. Typical donor concerns – reasons donors may be hesitant to fund network efforts- include uncertainty about fiscal arrangements and accountability; the upfront investments needed for network development; and issues related to network operations and evaluation.
Typical Funder Concern: Who gets and manages the money?
What This Is About: Donors may only be permitted to fund nonprofits which qualify under regulations of the United States Internal Revenue Service.
Possible ways to address this concern: This is not necessarily a reason for a network to form a 501c3. But it is a reason to select a qualified fiscal agent with a track record of managing foundation grants.
Typical Funder Concern:Who is accountable for results?
What is this about: Networks are perceived to be more flexible and fluid than most organizations. Donors wonder how networks who will account for emergent decisions and actions
Possible ways to address this concern: In addition to educating funders about the advantages of network adaptation, networks may wish to prepare and share MOUs as well as network plans and budgets
Typical Funder Concern:Up front time and resources
What is this about: Creating a firm basis for effective network action may require considerable investments of time and money. It is not easy for donors to make long term flexible commitments in a results-oriented world.
Possible ways to address this concern: In addition to educating funders about network developmental cycles, members may wish to pursue some activities that yield quick tangible results.
Typical Funder Concern: New skills needed
What is this about: The set of skills that support development of networks, such as network weaving, are quite different from those for developing organizations.
Possible ways to address this concern: Sources now exist that describe the fundamentals of effective network practice. Networks can also offer examples from their own experience.
Typical Funder Concern:Knowledge capture systems
What is this about: Funders want to learn from their experience supporting networks but may not know themselves what to look for. They wonder if the knowledge capture systems that a network employs will surface lessons learned that are transferable to other networks.
Possible ways to address this concern: One way to address this concern is to develop robust knowledge capture systems (see below: How to evaluate)
Typical Funder Concern: How to evaluate
What is this about: Some donors may not support networks (or support networks at higher levels) because they believe it is difficult to measure a network’s impact.
Possible ways to address this concern: Ways to assess a network’s impact and evolution include network mapping, network health monitoring and other specialized network evaluation approaches.
November 11, 2010
Networks, like organizations, wrestle continually with the question of how to keep going. But networks, by their very nature, require different kinds of care and feeding and are presented with unique financial sustainability challenges.
If you are a network with social change mission, your principal resources are likely to come from a combination of sources, including: operating grants, member fees, project fund raising, earned income and/or in- kind contributions. Here’s a description of each source:
Source: Operating Grants
What this is: Grants from donors to cover network operating costs (e.g., coordination, communications, F2F meetings )
When & Why: Funders who play a role in convening a network may underwrite the network’s operating costs for an initial period. But longer term donor commitments – beyond one or two funding cycles – are typically more difficult to secure.
When approaching any donor, be prepared to make the case: What do you achieve as a network that individual member organizations could not achieve alone?
Source: Member fees
What this is: Fee that individual members agree to pay to support network operations (e.g., Annual Membership fee)
When & Why: However small the overall contribution to network budgets, networks should consider this strategy. Member fees signal to outside donors that members are committed and that they derive value from their participation in the network. Some networks use a sliding scale for fees, to address differences in members’ ability to pay.
Source: Project/program grants
What this is: Funds from donors that are project- or program- specific
When & Why: Most donors will support network projects/ programs that are in line with their own mission and strategies, rather than backing network operations.
Projects grant funds can be used to pay part of a network’s general overhead costs.
Source: Earned income
What this is: Fee for service; sales of products produced by network
When & Why: When a network’s members produce value for others (individuals or organizations) it may be able to charge a fee. For example, information products and analysis can be sold.
Source: In-kind contributions
What this is: Non-monetary contributions from members, whether in the form of sweat equity or the result of more formal network agreements.
When & Why: Individual members with specific capacities may enter agreements to provide resources (e.g., space or services) as in-kind contributions to the network.
Many networks calculate the value of in-kind contributions and add this to members’ fees when reporting members’ total contributions to donors.
October 5, 2010
Intentionally managing members’ connections can strengthen your network.
A network’s connectivity–the number and quality of links between nodes, and the structure of those links–changes over time. To support a network’s development, network stewards intentionally manage this evolution, instead of just letting it happen.
A year ago, we started working with a start-up national network with about 60 members. The connectivity among members, which we measured and then, using special software, mapped graphically, was fairly low–not a surprise since it was a young network. But there was a core of about 11 members who were more densely and intensely connected to each other. The network maps, which place the most connected members at the center of the map, revealed this core of members, as well as those members at the periphery with few connections to others. As a result of the connectivity analysis the network stewards initiated activities aimed at increasing connectivity.
A year later–we just reported in a “state of the network” presentation at the network’s annual meeting–the connectivity building efforts have been a great success. The average number of links among members more than doubled. The intensity of links–what members transact with each other–also increased substantially. And new network maps revealed that the core of highly connected members also more than doubled–even thought there had been a 33% turnover in network membership. Now 25 members form the core or central hub of the network. All of these changes indicate strengthening of the network, revealed and made visible to the members through the use of network mapping.