Nov. 17 Webinar: Applying the Network Lifecycle Model to a Cross-Section of Network Investments


Overview: Drawing on our experiences and the models below, we explored how networks evolve and what this means for the types of supports grantmakers might provide and the roles they can play.

Presentation Material:


Pre-Webinar: Click here to see the pre-webinar assignment participants had completed

Conversation highlights:

At the beginning of the call, we viewed a short clip from a TED video by Clay Shirky on Institutions vs Collaboration (http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_on_institutions_versus_collaboration.html), and then shared top of mind thoughts about the materials reviewed in preparation for our call:
  • Funders have become increasingly focused on outcome and impact. I would like us to become more comfortable supporting process.
  • Where [is my current project] in the lifecycle? It feels that we are in the very early stages: how do we “get on the path?”
  • What differentiates the network approach from other approaches we’ve taken, and how do I become familiar with the language and tools of networks?
  • What are some good practices for self organizing and disparate leadership across a network? How do we give up control, create more network weavers, and seed other people to take on leadership roles?
  • We have great energy now around the network mindset and mapping. We need to get better at learning and communicating the value of networks.

We then discussed Lifecycle challenges we are facing in our various network projects. Insights raised during the conversation included:
  • We are before even the “know the network” part. We don’t know what this group will look like, or how this group will fit together. And if we don’t know the network, how do we think about supporting progression to later phases?
    • There is a difference between networks with a capital N versus networks with a lowercase n (as June Holley says). n = less formal networks people are embedded in, where we may or may not be conscious of our affiliation. Subsets of little 'n' may become big “N,” networks later on.
  • One participant had played multiple roles in a local network -- started by playing a catalyst / organizer role, then a weaver role, and more recently a coaching role (e.g., coaching the google groups volunteer manager on how to use the technology and facilitate conversations). The network has now come to know each other and each others’ organizations better. Various members are now stepping into leadership positions, and are consulting with each other to understand their shared areas of interest. Now they are in the re-organizing stage, shifting from playing a more active weaving role to sharing that responsibility. After mapping the networks and identifying connected, influential individuals it was important for us to provide individual support and tools. This helped enable a shift in their thinking. But it also takes time for members to settle into the role and “become believers,” they need to experience little successes to reinforce the network mindset.
  • Another participant actively knitting a network by making participants aware of one anothers' work using social media
  • Another network mentiond is The network is now struggling with how much control to give up to enable the network to grow.

Other questions that arose included:
  • How do you gracefully exit a [funding] relationship? When the network shifts or reaches a new phase, what is the funder’s responsibility to helping with their transition or helping them to find new resources?
    • You can fund a network that may do great things, but perhaps not the things you initially intended or hoped for.
    • Transparently disclose the funder’s goals early on. There is a tension between being clear regarding goals, while still enabling space for new things to emerge.
  • How much support to provide in creating the initial network – how organic should the formation be?
    • Difficult to determine the appropriate funder role: Ideally networks would largely self-organize, determine areas of mutual interest, and arrive at their own solutions (this would maximize buy-in). But even grantees working in similar issue areas may have dissimilar interests or approaches. If self-organization doesn’t happen naturally, participants lose interest and disband. Need to prove value fairly quickly.
    • One funder brought grantees together to discuss, in an open-ended way, what projects they were funding and to share insights regarding work of mutual relevance, opportunities to work together, etc. Chose not to provide tips on how to work together, and instead to let this emerge organically.
    • How much of a role to play may depend on the length and depth of the funder’s commitment, and what’s already happening in the field

Post-Webinar Reflections:
What are you taking away? Post a reflection from our conversation.

Name: Janet Shing
Reflection: I liked one of the last questions, "How proactive should we [funders] be?" In terms of grantor-grantee relationships, I think funders should be clear and transparent with their interests and also be engaged in networks but not drive the network. Each situation will be unique. It is most authentic when the network members mobilize and drive its work. However I also think that the power of philanthropy can be used in a positive way to encourage shared knowledge and action.