March 23 Webinar: Hawaii Community Foundation Peer Assists on Balancing the Tension between Emergent Network Impact and the Desire for Tangible Progress

Bob Agres, network weaver for Hawaii's asset building network, will join us for this conversation.

Presentation material:

Discussion Highlights:

Context about the WaiWai network & funder
  • Waiwai is a movement-building initiative. WaiWai means “to enrich” through shared resources, not just money (e.g., economic self sufficiency, empowerment, and asset-building).
    • The funder, Hawaii Community Foundation, was pushing on idea of WaiWai as a network – and staying away from words like coalition –to emphasize that there are multiple entry and exit points.
  • From a previous network-centric initiative (Youth Matters) the Hawaii Community Foundation learned that:
    • It’s hard for the network to gain traction when there’s no cohesiveness among group members and participants are unlikely to go think their organizational needs.
    • Investing in weaver is been important, but it’s very important to find the right person and give them the right tools to weave the network.
    • As networks grow, it’s harder to achieve efficiency; there’s a trade-off.

Having explicit conversations about purpose
  • Initially, the funder facilitated a lot of discussion to gain clarity between the funder and participating organizations around the question “What are we doing this for? What do we hope to get out of it?”
    • While people join the network for different purposes, it was important to have a shared understanding of the purpose of the network.
    • It was important to include the “boots on the ground” in the discussion on purpose, because the funder was trying to move issues from the grassroots- to the policy- to the practice-level.
  • The funder then facilitated a second set of conversations around the question, “What does the network need?” This conversation was guided by the agreed-upon purpose of the network.
    • As a result, the funder ended up adopting a much broader / longer term framework than what they originally started with and/or are accustomed to.

Using the Network Lifecycle Diagram
  • When the funder started funding / providing support for WaiWai, they needed to know where the network was moving—this was different from a typical grant that was marked by certain milestones / performance indicators. They used the network lifecycle diagram as a tool to help guide the conversation.
  • While the network was in the growth stage, the funder was mindful of the fact that different clusters in the network were at different stages of development, and needed different types of support.

Network structure (slide #8)
  • As the WaiWai network grew, clusters starting to emerge more clearly, moving toward a core / periphery model of net structure. This evolution brought to the forefront questions about network structure and governance.
  • Currently, the network is organized around geographic clusters (i.e., by island); there are also issue-area clusters and a state-wide organizing structure.

The role of the funder (slide #9)
  • Sponsor: The funder actually started sponsoring the initiative a couple of years ago, playing the typical funder role (e.g., providing grant money for research & policy development on asset building, funding a demonstration project with Maurice Lynn Miller, and providing support for a convening). Initially at least, building and supporting the network was not an explicit part of the funder’s role; rather, the funder supported different elements of the work as they came up.
  • Coach: The funder is not only a sponsor, but also an advisor—the funder and network weaver often discuss what the network would need next. While the weaver has been a major player, several other people and organizations have played key roles at various times.
  • Catalyst: The funder helped the group develop a road map that is the theme by which the network holds itself together—this value proposition is important for moving the network forward to the next stage.

Power dynamics:
  • Funder participation is very helpful, but the power dynamic has to be carefully facilitated. This is a role for the weaver / facilitator.
    • It’s important for the funder to find a happy medium: “encouraging the group by emphasizing the importance of their work and then getting out of the way and letting the group really work with each other.”
    • There are times when the funder could not be active participants in the network, as their presence threatened to shift the conversation or stifle people’s ability to say what they want to honestly.
  • The funder provides an annual grant, sets up general agreed-upon activities with the weaver, and allows him or her to work out the details with network members.

Success factors (slide #10)
  • At the beginning of the initiative, the funder encouraged the network to choose 6 platforms or issue areas. “Right from the start, we wouldn’t have supported the initiative if we didn’t like the big overarching goals they brought forth.”
  • Network members who have energy around certain issues cluster together, get the ball rolling, and then attract resources—this makes it easier for the funder to figure out where to invest resources.
  • Currently, the weaver discusses with the funder where the interests of the group lie, and then funder and weaver have a more strategic conversation about how to work on that particular issue area (e.g., children’s savings fund).

  • Timeframe: How long can the funder support this work? The program officers need to make a pretty compelling case to internal committees and the board for why to continue to support this work.
  • ROI: How to quantify and show ROI within a certain timeframe? This is sometimes runs counter to what the network is trying to do.
  • Messaging: As the network grows, it’s difficult to align network needs / to continue to be clear about why we are doing this work. Despite the fact that network members are coming from different contexts, the network is focused on asset building. There’s a need to help the network understand and then articulate this.
  • Weaving: It’s important but difficult to continuously grow the weavers so that the network has strong nodes.
  • Generational gap: There needs to be more cooperation across generational lines. While it’s difficult for people who are not digital-natives to understand how technology can complement what they already do, digital natives may not understand the human, relational process of network work.

How to approach understanding impact in a way that fulfills both the NW needs and foundation needs? What are some network- and policy- level indicators that funders can leverage?
  • The funder attempted to tract network-level indicators a year ago, but people weren’t ready; it was too abstract. At the same time, the funder may push for more concrete measures than the network might by itself.
  • One possibility is to look at the issues (e.g., policy wins during legislature in the past session)
    • For example, in the RE-AMP network case study, in addition to focusing on network level indicators, the funder helped the network agree on policy level indicators of success.
  • Another possibility involves creating a framework for evaluating the roles and the framework of the network itself (e.g., what does governance look like? Are there markers for identifying emergent leadership coming out of a network?)
    • It’s possible to use the network health assessment tool for this purpose.
  • The funder can create a really simple frame and ask folks for narrative responses
    • This would be a great opportunity for co-creation, i.e., to get the network involved in developing its own metrics / timeframes for determining impact.
    • An evaluation consultant could help define both process and outcomes indicators.
  • If the funder supports a website, potential measures of impact may include: how good has the website been in connecting / engaging people?
  • It may make more sense for the network to focus on no-cost / low-cost models and to look for the positive deviants to resource those activities, vs. attracting large amounts of resources.