Category Archives: Network Design

Network Design

Jump in! Inviting Work Group Design

 

(Image of two women about to swim in frozen lake.)

Come on in!                               Image Credit Nikolay Dikiy – Купаца!, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15265087

 

This is part of an occasional series on network design

A network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. That’s why designing work groups well is critical to meeting both members’ and the network’s needs.

Over the years, goal-setting and iterative design have helped me develop work groups that make it easy for people to jump in, where participants shape and own the work, and where each group is a jumping off point for a more interesting and useful next round.

Principles

Set goals for your groups, and design to them. Then, use iterative design to improve what you’ve designed. Don’t wait to act, but act in small low-risk ways. Design quick cycles of action, building in time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve it (or set it aside if it’s the wrong approach). Reflecting lets us embrace failure as a learning opportunity. This shift changes feelings of guilt and the tendency to blame into a tool to achieve the ultimate goal. It helps us be brave enough to take risks, to move ahead without certainty.

Example

Most recently, I designed small, short-cycle work groups using an iterative process. read more »

Network Design

Action = Permission + Ideas

returning a volleyball

Return the Ball to the Network Members

This is part of an occasional series on network design

One network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. Another is navigating that the network has needs, too. Resources are limited, and finding ways to meet members’ requests without overburdening those resources is another part of network design. There are easy ways to bump the requests back to members and invite them to take part in organizing the network game.

Principles

Look for and offer win-win solutions, and embrace limits.  People want to participate, they want to contribute and do their part. But they don’t always notice what they can do. Give people permission to act. Harness people’s energy, and then point them in a productive direction.

Look for solutions beyond the obvious choices. This often requires naming uncomfortable issues and being clear about what options are viable. Limits often help people innovate and find third-way solutions.

Example

A colleague mentioned her just-starting network members are eager to get going, but she’s still trying to figure out the people to support the network. Several members will be gathering at conference, and they asked about doing something there. And, she won’t be there to organize. read more »

Network Design

Optimizing Network Design

 

bicycle

Bicycles are the most efficient transportation ever invented. Image source: http://kaboompics.com/one_foto/498/bicycle-handlebar

This is part of an occasional series on network design

A network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. I use these two principles to help me remember, members’ needs come first. Participating should be fun and easy, like riding a bike.

But members’ needs aren’t the only needs — the network has needs, too. Optimizing the design of network activities is the only way to meet the needs of members AND the network. Riding a bike isn’t only fun, it’s the most efficient way to get around, looking at energy calories per mile traveled. Optimizing your network activity design does the same thing: each activity takes you further on less energy.

Principles

Design activities to accomplish multiple goals. It takes a lot of work to get people organized, or to execute a project. If you think ahead about your (and your members’) goals, you can design each activity or project carefully to leverage each thing you do to achieve several goals. 

Examples

In some of my recent work, we used a kumu network map (thanks to support from Greater Than the Sum). The map offered many benefits to both individual members and the network.  read more »

Network Design

Why Network Design Matters

Successful networks are self-regulating and sustainable, like the water cycle. Image License Creative Commons: AIRS, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder,

Water Cycle, Image License Creative Commons: AIRS, the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder,

This is part of an occasional series on network design

Successful networks grow into a (nearly) self-sustaining cycle. That’s what gives them the staying power and benefits that emerge out of networks. A self-sustaining cycle like the water cycle.

Networks work best when they foster a cycle of member generosity, reciprocity, mutual benefits, and natural alliances, all emerging out of and reinforcing personal relationships. That’s like the cycle of precipitation, runoff, plant uptake and transpiration, and other water flows in the water cycle. In this comparison, members are water molecules, moving independently through the cycle as energy and occasion warrants, interacting with other water molecules as well as the outside world (soil, plants, fish).

Networks will always take energy inputs to keep the system moving. The sun and gravity put energy into the water cycle, enabling evaporation, transpiration, wind, streams, and lakes. In a network context, network leaders or support staff are the sun and gravity putting energy into the network-system to keep things going.

So What?

Network design is critical to a network’s success. A network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. I use these two principles to help me remember, members’ needs come first. That said, the network’s need are important, too, and both need to be built into the puzzle-pieces of network activities. read more »

Network Design

Network Design: Members’ Needs Come First

Colors for Holi on sale at a market

Each member brings unique skills and perspectives, and has unique goals. Image credit By Kamalakanta777 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18624345

This is part of an occasional series on network design

A network leader challenge is remembering the network isn’t most people’s first priority, and it shouldn’t be. I use these two principles to help me remember, members’ needs come first

Placing members’ interests and needs at the center of your network’s design and your network’s activities gives people a reason to engage. It also helps everyone hold onto the shared purpose. It reminds conveners and support staff to make activities easy to participate in and useful.

Principles

Focus on offering people value and communicating how network engagement translates into value. There is a lot of competition for people’s time, so it is critical to make sure that activities are valuable for participants. If they are not, people will choose to invest their time in other places where it is more  helpful. Value can come in many different forms. Here are some common benefits I’ve seen draw members in: read more »

Facilitation Network Design Network Weaving

I Asked a few Questions; Wisdom Appeared

Lessons Learned

Credit: Kathy Choh of Management HQ

As we develop NEWHAB, we’re using short cycles of doing followed by reflection to quickly try out strategies and either make them better or decide they aren’t the right ones for us. Six months ago, we started our second round of “work groups,” having learned from some struggles on the first set.

When I solicited co-conveners then, I shared a summary of expectations:

  • approximately monthly work sessions with work group members,
  • share agendas for work group calls prior to meetings,
  • share notes, relevant information, and deliverables from work group sessions,
  • identify specific outcomes or deliverables for the work group (shaped by co-conveners in partnership with the work group) in the first month,
  • in the sixth month, suggest possible next steps for the conveners who will follow you and sharing useful information with them.

At the end of the six months, to reinforce the importance of reflection and learning from experience, I also asked each pair of co-leads to do a short phone call with me. I had a short list of questions.

  1. What was the most useful thing I did to help set up your group?
  2. What is your most proud outcome?
  3. What have you learned? What tips would you share with future group co-conveners?
  4. What could we (the network supporters) have done differently to be more helpful?

The conversations were wonderfully rich — and offered bonuses beyond the learning (I’ll share more about those in a future post). There were four big themes that emerged in all the conversations. read more »

Facilitation Network Design Network Weaving

Structuring Chaos to Create Action

Novice volunteers got 100 people to Bikes and Brewvies - despite snow

Novice volunteers got 100 people to Bikes and Brewvies – despite snow

All-volunteer organizations are tough.  There is often a small core of volunteers ABSOLUTELY committed to the project, wanting help, and wondering where the help is.  That certainly applied (and still applies) to the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition where I volunteer.

We’re working to engage more people, and we ARE engaging lots more people.  Of course, with more people we are more ambitious so we still want more help.

Last winter, the Coalition wanted to organize more events — rides, happy hours, tabling — places where we could connect with new people and engage potential supporters and members in new ways.  Of course, none of our existing volunteers had the time to make things happen, so I decided to try and Make Something Happen. read more »