Have you ever heard the story of the blind men and an elephant? It’s a story that’s often used as a metaphor to understand complex systems and networks. Each person within the network (or touching a different part of the elephant) sees or feels it a different way.
Having worked with several movement networks at various scales, I’ve noticed that sometimes, things that are called networks, but they don’t always feel like a network. How do you know what you’re working with is a network? And what would that feel like?
Below, I’ve put together a table that describes a few characteristics that I see as important in a network, what it feels like when they’re present, and what it’s like when they’re not present.
For a more diagnostic approach to answering this question, check out the Monitor Institute’s Network Diagnostic tool.
We’re in the process of creating a network reading room, but here are a few introductory resources to get you started in the meantime:
- The Dawn of System Leadership (Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2015)
- Co-leadership framework (Leadership Learning Community)
Generative spaces, culture of emergence
- What The Hype Behind Embracing Failure Is Really All About (Fast Company)
Collaboration, sharing of work
Network-level perspective held by many
- Why social network analysis? (Leadership Learning Community)
- Smarter Philanthropy for Greater Impact: Rethinking How Grantmakers Support Scale (SSIR)
Internal communications ecosystem
Commitment to strengthening the network
- Creating Culture: Promising Practices of Successful Movement Networks (Nonprofit Quarterly, Winter 2013)
- Network Weavering Handbook (June Holley)
(Featured Image credit: “Blind Men Appraising an Elephant by Ohara Donshu, Edo Period (early 19th century), Brooklyn Museum” downloaded from the Wikipedia page.)