Defining Networks

Using networks to support learning differs from traditional hierarchical or governance structures. It is less likely there will be a group overseeing the work or a network of representative leads. It is more likely there will be a self-organising group of people with significant interest in the agreed topic. The person initiating the network can influence who joins the group and their roles. Diversity of membership increases creativity.

Networks will feel different to typical ways of working in health and social care. Networks are about joint decision-making, shared responsibility and leadership. To get the most from the group remove "levels of control". No one person or organisation can impose direction or actions or coerce individuals into something they do not volunteer for. A person can only influence, suggest and steer the network from their own perspective. Spread of knowledge is not dependent on a single source and this unity of knowledge encourages a safer space for honest contribution.

The defining characteristics of networks include:

  • Cooperative structures
  • Interconnectedness
  • Diversity of membership
  • Distributed leadership
  • Reciprocity and exchange
  • Common purpose
  • Instability
  • Adaptability
  • Sharing of knowledge


Adapted from Effective Networks for Improvement (citing Malby B, Mervyn K)

When a networked, collaborative approach is achieved then ownership, engagement and participation rates can be much higher than with other approaches.

When all individuals are valued and trust their peers the sharing of learning, knowledge and support increases. This provides the platform to create a system that learns for itself and can become a longer lasting and self-sustaining way of continuing improvements into the future.