Complex, wicked problems are dynamic [and] require generative responses – learning, innovation, and adaptation over long periods of time.
– Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor, John Cleveland
Connecting to Change the World
Lynn Jennings, one of the best female American runners of all time, posts up in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom for a few months of the year as a running camp director. When asked why even some of the most committed, self-motivated runners seek out her camp year after year, her answer is simple: “Because we all get lazy.” We all need a jolt, a reminder of what all our training, day to day, is amounting to.
In the first meeting of Farm to Institution New England’s (FINE) Network Advisory Council this past winter, Executive Director Peter Allison instructed us Advisory Council members to be on the lookout in our mail for a book. Sure enough, a few days later – signed, sealed, and delivered – it arrived: Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing the Power of Networks for Social Impact.
I must admit, before I began reading, I was feeling comfortable in my understanding of the language, function, and importance of networks. All to quickly, I realized that like Lynn’s runners, I was in need of a boot camp jolt in my network training. So I kept reading.
Taken from the book, here are eight insights I will pass along so that we all keep our pencils sharp in the intentional act of building and participating in networks.
- Know the Network Difference. Networks have unique capabilities for achieving social impact that distinguish them from other forms of social organizing, and generative social-impact networks are particularly suited for addressing complex problems
- Design Thoughtfully. Social-impact networks can be thoughtfully designed from the start; you don’t have to fly blind.
- Connect, Connect, Connect. The foundation of generative social-impact networks is the connectivity of its members to each other, which can be cultivated by network weavers.
- Anticipate a Network’s Evolution. A generative network’s capabilities, complexity, and potential for impact increase as the connectivity of its members deepens and the structure of their connectivity evolves.
- Enable and Adapt. The growth and development of established social-impact networks depend on managing a set of inevitable challenges.
- Assess to Improve. Monitoring and assessing a social-impact network’s condition and performance is the basis for improving its impact.
- Revisit Design. Making an existing network more generative, with more engaged members and impact, requires resetting of key design decisions to boost members’ connectivity.
- Be Network-Centric. In addition to skills and knowledge, network builders hold a distinct net-centric point of view with its own rules.
Following the lessons and insights from the pages in his library, Peter and his team at Farm to Institution New England announced the launch of the New England Farm and Sea to Campus Network earlier this week.
We are proud to be a member of this new network – follow the link above to join us in being part of the learning, innovation, and adaptation needed in building a sustainable New England food system.