Networking Issues and Challenges
Roger Drew, Projects Director, Family AIDS Caring Trust,
Zimbabwe, has been involved in several AIDS networks in the Southern African
region. This article presents the authors assessment of key factors which
influence network development and the dynamics between network members.
How can we define a successful network? Perhaps as one that
it is seen to be of benefit to its major stakeholders. These would include
members, funders and regulatory bodies such as government. What challenges might
a network face in trying to achieve this?
A network will face problems if the stakeholders have
differing visions for it. For example, the funders might see the network as an
advocate with government whereas the members want it to raise funds for their
individual organisations. Often the vision is not clearly articulated. Each
stakeholder simply assumes that the other shares their vision!
Networks should identify their key stakeholders and what
their vision for the network is. A network will only succeed if it has a
well-focused vision to which all the stakeholders agree. Networks should
restrict their stakeholders to people who share their agreed vision. This may
involve refusing some resources and/or limiting membership. Having a clear
vision will avoid stakeholders having unrealistic expectations of the
Dealing with Conflict
Conflicts may occur within a network for a number of reasons.
Competitive relationships between members and inter-organisational
politics may affect the network adversely. Decisions may be made for
politically expedient reasons rather than with a view to making the network more
Examples of decisions which may be influenced in this way
include location of secretariat offices, choice of sites for
workshops/conferences, representation on the decision-making body, etc.
There needs to be a way of dealing with conflicts within the
network. However, at times, the problem may be something that is larger than the
Communication is a major challenge to all networks,
particularly when distances between stakeholders are very great and
communicational infrastructure is very poor. As one of the major goals of many
networks is to improve information exchange, there is a need to give this issue
special attention. Particular issues to be considered are:
frequency, content and
quality of newsletters
frequency and purpose of
sub-divisions of the network into
programmes to improve
Problems will arise if key stakeholders feel that they are
excluded from the decision-making process. Different processes may work for
different networks and for the same network at different times. It is important
that the process be clearly defined and reviewed periodically.
Finances affect networks in a number of important ways.
First, networks need financial resources to function. These may be sourced from
members themselves or from an external body. It needs to be recognised that the
organization providing funds will have a powerful voice in the dealings of the
network. As a result networks should choose their funders carefully.
Secondly, in resource poor settings, organisations and
individuals may be attracted to networks in order to benefit financially.
Failure to recognize this may result in frustration and unmet expectations.
Finally, networks need to establish systems for handling
finances. This may be difficult as the network has other priorities and people
involved in networks may lack management skills. Failure to do so may result in
financial mismanagement or fraud. Networks using donated funds may face very
high expectations from donors in this area.
Management of Change
Networks do not remain static. They change as do the
situations in which they operate. A successful network will be able to adapt to
changing internal and external environments.
One of the major changes experienced by a network is when it
employs its first member of staff. This is usually motivated by a recognition
that volunteers are unable to cope with the increasing workload. However, in
most cases the workload on volunteers actually increases when staff are first
employed and the nature of the work changes. If volunteers are unprepared for
this the result can be disastrous. Inadequate thought is often given to
conditions of service and related issues. The respective roles of volunteer
committee and staff members need to be