|GATE - 4/92 - Networking: Lessons and Hopes (GTZ GATE, 1992, 56 p.)|
by Hannah Schreckenbach and Peter Baz
The term "network" is not new. We are living since decades with telecommunication networks, radio- and television networks, traffic networks and nowadays also with computer networks to mention just a few. In our media (newspapers, journals, radio, tv., etc.) we are confronted with an inflation of the conception "network".
Moreover, since some years now "networking" seems to be the "inthing" in development work across the globe. We have, however, not yet been given a satisfactory explanation as to what networks really are, and therefore what networking really means.
I shall not attempt to analyse the meaning of networking. As someone who is actively involved in the work of a professional advisory service and information network (BASIN) I would, however, like to present some thoughts about the networking concept.
Networking in development work is described:
· as an important instrument for
technical or other cooperation,
· as a tool for resource mobilization and information dissemination,
· as a structure of activities,
· as a channel for sharing experience and knowledge,
· as a new forum for the expression of democratic principles,
· as an impulse for social movements (self-organisation and self-help instead of dependency on outside sources).
It has also been described as a new fashion for "jet-setting".
To me as an architect a net or network resembles a structural element or a structure. As such it should be understood that each "member" within this structure fulfills an equal task. It is either the link in the network or the joint (joining the links together). Any "forces" (to speak again in structural terms) are transferred unobstructed through these joints in all directions to a base or support. A network therefore is constructed or put together for a specific purpose:
- it collects
- it catches
- it carries
- it spans over a distance
- it covers something.
In order to be able to do this, the distance between the joints of a network has to be carefully calculated so that the links are not overstretched. The links themselves have to be of a strong material which also allows a smooth flow of forces in all directions (again I am speaking in "structural" terms).
We have seen from a network "structure" that the joints have to be of equal strength and the links of equal length. Any network, be it for the exchange of information and experiences, advice, for resource mobilization, for research coordination, for lobbying, etc. should be based on the same principle. This is the point where most of the problems encountered with networking start, because in terms of " networking" this means "giving" and "taking" on equal terms. Only "taking" will inevitably result in a gradual weakening of the network and thereby add another "dead" network structure to those already existing.
On equal terms
A free flow of information, an exchange of experiences based on own development activities in the field, the organization of workshops, seminars, symposia, etc. all require the necessary infrastructure (communication), logistics and financial provisions. We can see that in most networks concerned with development work or activities the initiative or the initial setting-up has been arranged by one organisation in one country or by a regional set-up in a region (e.g. the SADDC-Region, Southern Africa) or through regional cooperation (e.g. APPROTECH Asia).
We have to be realistic enough to understand that there will always be some members of a network who are more active or have easier access to funding sources than the others. In the initial stages of setting-up a network this may even be necessary in order to demonstrate to the other network members the desired benefits. But these members should not dominate the others and in due course attempt to equalize the base on which the network structure works.
From our working experiences with a professional network I can say that a network must have:
· a clear organization
· a structure which is not dominated by one member
· a functioning centre for coordinating its activities (or each member of a network should be able to act as an efficiently and professionally managed coordination centre on behalf of the other members),
· a pragmatic working system (which is praxis-oriented, interdisciplinary, process-oriented),
· a secure and long-term funding source.
When looking at these requirements one can see that most networks have such a structure. They are therefore formal networks and institutionalized in one way or another, which gives their structure a good foundation or those particular joints at which the net holds together. Many other networks are based on a loose collaboration for the purpose of achieving their set objectives.
In either case necessary preconditions for effective and successful networking are:
· complete trust and mutual respect among the members and a willingness to cooperate with others on equal terms,
· equal sharing of responsibilities and workload (based on operational guidelines),
· equal access to funding sources,
· pragmatic and realistic approach to the implementation of network activities,
· a strong emphasis on South-South resource mobilization assisted by a North-South input and South-North collaboration.
Networking in development work takes time and moreover a personal engagement and commitment of those involved over the normal working hours for which in most cases no bill can be presented to anybody. Each note of appreciation from somebody for whom the services of a network have been useful, however, makes it all worth the time spent on it.
Since some years now "networking" seems to be the "inthing" in development work across the globe.