Networks Growth and Evolution
There are four basic stages to network evolution; Pre-emergent, Emerging, Established and Dormant. Assemble a small group of interested parties when working in a new area. Explore your approach using the three questions:
- What is this learning systems purpose?
- Who needs to be involved and how?
- How will you make sure this reduces inequality?
At other times, and this is often the case, there will already be some form of network or interest group in place. Consider these people "champions" of the future work. This needs time and commitment from everyone involved to redefine and re-purpose what may have been the norm for some time.
Adapted from Leading Networks in Healthcare
Once the network is established, it is worth considering who is doing what and what each individual brings to the group. It may be helpful to consider four key roles which help both establish and nurture networks:
- Connector/catalyst: the person who knows the people who might be interested in working together. Someone with a broad range of contacts and knowledge, not always tied to one particular organisation or area of work. They will spark the early 1:1 connections and suggest who else could be involved in the conversation as it evolves.
- Network Guardian: has an overview of the network and is able to provide direction on structure, what is needed, skills development, what communication channels are needed and looking to the future and anticipating next steps.
- Co-ordinator: provides crucial support infrastructure including organising group meeting spaces (face-to-face or virtual) and helping the whole group organise into smaller groups at certain times.
- Facilitator: brings people together and ensures everyone has an equal voice and opportunity to participate. Looks for opportunities to encourage others to take on roles, responsibilities and actions to ensure the group is collaborative and cohesive.
Adapted from June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook
It is worth noting that multiple individuals will occupy multiple roles at different times. Most people will take on more than one of these roles at different times.
It isn’t necessary but it can be helpful to raise awareness of these roles and encourage people to think about where their strengths are and how they might contribute to the group.
There are other roles that might be taken by various group members and these will depend on and change with the evolving structure and purpose of the network, for example:
- Expert: someone invited or joining to contribute specific knowledge, skill or experience
- Sponsor/Connector: someone who can bridge to another set of key people to further the work or expand the network membership (e.g. Government, other sector lead)
- Organisational representative: someone who participates in order to be a conduit to their wider organisation or disseminate the work of the group to their colleagues
- Participant: not everyone needs to have an active rtole all the time, sometimes people can contribute more than enough by just being present and contributing their wisdom, creativity and spark.