Why Networks Fail
The following article looks at the reasons why a network
failed. The article, titled The Impact of Regional Development Programs on
Indigenous Minorities, by Jean Michaud, originally appeared in IDRC
Networks: An Ethnographic Perspective, by Anne K. Bernard, International
Development Research Centre, 1996
This review of the Regional Development and Indigenous
Minorities Network in Southeast Asia (RDIMSEA) studies the impact of regional
development programs on indigenous minorities in Thailand, Continental and
Insular Malaysia, and the Philippines. RDIMSEA was an externally conceived
network that grouped NGOs, academics, and a coordinating office.
The RDIMSEA network had a difficult and troubled existence
from the start. A major source of confusion was an early change in key
personnel. The main initiators of the network quit and were hastily replaced by
individuals with no previous working relationship. This was likely the most
important factor in the subsequent problems that were experienced. The project
was concerned with the participation of representatives of indigenous minorities
and attempted to involve researchers who were themselves members of the minority
groups. Efforts to recruit membership from minority groups met with limitations
of language, insufficient levels of education, absence of administrative and
political structures with which to work, and, generally low interest in the
venture. It is likely that the initial motivation for many participants was
primarily their own interests. When questioned about taking part in this
network, none expressed any excitement about actively cooperating with other
components of the network. Because this network was not internally grown, it did
not receive the necessary push from enthusiastic recipients to become an
operational and durable network.
The regional nature of the project also presented some
problems. Linguistic, cultural, religious, political, and economic differences
existed between the researchers and the minority groups and an important
cultural gap existed between the members themselves. The network wrongly assumed
that organizations studying similar people were similar. Networks imply that
groups must work with each other. The wider the gap between participants, the
more difficult the building of cohesiveness, and the more likely the development
Major conclusions and recommendations of the study
1. The project failed to define a specific role
for the coordinator of the network.
2. There was a lack of common understanding, about how the
network should operate, a lack of transparency, and there was competition with
3. A focus on a single ecoregion, or on groups with closer
cultural identity, would have been helpful.
4. Active participation of indigenous minorities in the
research process and in decision-making could have been more clearly addressed
in the project.
5. A mix of institutions in the same project requires a
genuine mutual understanding of basic similarities and differences between
components and requires discussion between participants.
6. If networks are to reduce workload among participants,
instead of increasing it, this may only occur after a certain amount of time is
invested by the participants. Fragile organizations may not have the necessary
energy capital to be able to wait for the intended results. The
network mechanism therefore must be developed in close conjunction with the
realities of its prospective members.
7. Coordination is always a key issue in a network. A lack of
coordination was singled out as the main reason for the collapse of the
8. At the earliest stages of discussion, all potential
participants should have an opportunity to meet and express their motivations
and expectations. Donor representatives should take the initiative to discuss
with all participants.
9. Two key questions were not addressed when the network was
conceived: What is the utility of networking as a specific form of action in
this context? What is the operational value of a concept such as
indigenous minorities in Southeast Asia?
Source: IDRC Networks: An Ethnographic Perspective,
by Anne K. Bernard, International Development Research Centre,