The process of networking
is important, including the development of a network culture in which members
come to realize an awareness of themselves as part of a group, sharing a common
purpose and mutual rights and responsibilities. That culture needs to be
acknowledged, supported and nurtured as much as the reasons and content of the
network itself because it is about people trying to find a way to work together
against a common threat.
Having clear goals is an important
condition for a networks success. It should be noted, however, that few
networks, if any, begin life with clearly defined goals. It takes time to build
consensus among members on what the goals should be. Accordingly, during the
start-up period of a network it is only reasonable to expect some ambiguity in
the networks stated goals. This situation is fine as long as the goals
provide a focus for the networks activities and serve as a reasonable
basis for others to join the network. Moreover, during the start-up phase of a
network it is important to acknowledge that at this point in the networks
development the goals need to be refined and to encourage the membership to be
active in this process.
No network can be all things to all
people and all organizations. Be realistic and begin with those who want to
participate in a process. Although it is important to be inclusive, it is
equally important to remain pragmatic. It can be strategic to begin with a core
group of organizations who feel comfortable with the goals and process at the
beginning by concentrating your energies and resources on those who do want to
work together. Otherwise there is the danger of trying to satisfy everyone, and
in the end, the network pleases no one. However, this should not be viewed as a
way to exclude organizations that may be more difficult to integrate. Sometimes
some organizations just need more time to see the benefits of the network before
they commit to it themselves.
Networks may go through phases that
reflect a change in members interests, changing priorities, or quality of
leadership. Differences and disagreements among organizations may become
stronger than the common goals that originally brought them together. Networks
may weaken or dissolve as a result of these differences. However, this does not
always have to be seen as negative: sometimes networks do form and fade away,
membership does rise and fall, and goals and objectives do evolve.
Networks need to be flexible. Members
will put more effort into a network when it has potential for meeting their
needs. It is important to allow for change in network priorities as
members own priorities change. It is also important to plan for these
changes with regular reviews of the mission statement and goals.
It is vital that the network is not in
competition with its members. For example, some members may have specific skills
and specialties, and their involvement in the network can benefit all members.
However, if a network tries to carry out activities, which a member could
equally well carry out, it may be in competition with its own members for funds,
people, resources and influence. Competition between the network and its members
can readily lead to the demise of the network.
Network members need to have a clear
understanding of where ownership of the network lies. For instance, members must
feel that they are contributing to the ongoing development of the network. If
members do not feel that they own the network, their commitment to
the networking process will be weak.
An egalitarian relationship between
members of a network must be maintained. It can be damaging if any one member or
group of members dominates to the exclusion of others. Some networks experience
problems when the larger members are favoured over the smaller members. Every
member needs to feel that their voice is as important as the other members.
Many networks do not have sufficient
funds to support an effective administration. In lieu of hired help,
the expectation is that the networks administrative functions will be undertaken
by a volunteer work force. While this idea may be practical in a context where
funds are scarce and spare time is a luxury, it doesnt always work.
Volunteers are often busy with their paid jobs and generating incomes, and only
get to the voluntary activities when they have time.
A networks membership, whether
individual or institutional, cannot depend solely on support from donors. Those
attracted by a networks potential to assist them with their aims must be
prepared to contribute, financially or otherwise, to help it function
efficiently and effectively. This is a real test of the networks viability: can
it exist, even informally, during the periods when donors or funders are
difficult to attract.
Communication is a common problem.
Disseminating critical information, answering queries, soliciting input to
decision-making and developing collective strategies all take an enormous amount
of time. There needs to be a commitment of staff time and funds to cover these
communication costs. In addition there is the problem of unreliable
communication infrastructures, e.g. poor telephone connections, equipment
breakdown, and lack of technical support. It may take days to get a message
through to an organization, while those on the receiving end may feel they are
being left out. Both sides can feel frustrated. Dont let this discourage
you. Building an effective network takes time and patience by