Peter Plastrik | An Island Press Author

Peter Plastrik

Peter Plastrik was born in Paris, grew up in New York City, and lived in four cities in Michigan. He is cofounder and vice president of the Innovation Network for Communities (INC), established in 2007. Along with John Cleveland, he was a founding consultant to the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and helped it develop its strategic plan and Innovation Fund. He also consulted closely with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) and managed USDN's Innovation Fund. Pete has been the lead author on several INC reports about cities and climate change: "Essential Capacities for Urban Climate Adaptation," supported by the summit Foundation, and "Leadership by US Cities Innovations in Climate Action," supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies. He is coauthor with John and Madeleine Taylor of Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing the Power of Networks for Social Impact (2014). He coauthored two books with David Osborne: Banishing Bureaucracy: The Five Strategies (1997) and The Reinventor's Fieldbook: Tools for Transforming Your Government (2000). He lives on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan with his wife Deb and their pugs.
Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by user Kiwi Flickr

Emerging Social Dynamics in a Network

Reposted from the Connecting to Change the World...

Reposted from the Connecting to Change the World blog with permission

In the early life of a network—the first year, say—how can you tell how well it’s doing? Right off the bat there’s observation: what does a network gathering look like, feel like, sound like? I’ve been in network annual meetings where newcomers to the network were astonished about how much energy and exchange network members put out—and the sheer amount of noise in the room. Even more astonishing, the members maintained a high level of energy for day after day. At the end, maybe they were exhausted—but during their time together they were passionately committed to giving and getting as much as they could.

Hidden in all that energy is a clue to what you’re really looking for if you want to gauge the network’s condition. It has to do with what makes a network tick, as we explain in chapter 1 of Connecting: two social dynamics—reciprocity and shared identity—emerge and are amplified by the network’s decentralized structure.

Reciprocity is a behavior, but it is driven by an emotion: a commitment to the success of others on their own terms. In a strong network, members don’t just know each other well, they are committed to each other’s success, and will take action on behalf of others. When you survey network members ask them how committed they feel they are to the success of other members and how committed they think other members are to their success.

Shared identity is also a feeling, a sense of common cause, mutual interest, alignment, and of belonging to something—literally, being a member. When you survey members ask them how much they feel they are a part of something larger than themselves, something communal.

In a network’s start-up phase, it takes time for members to develop a deep commitment to others in the network and a feeling of belonging and alignment in the network. But its emergence is what network builders should be watching for.

Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by user Kiwi Flickr

Watching Networks Evolve

Reposted from the Connecting to Change the World...

Reposted from the Connecting to Change the World blog with permission. We emphasized in Connecting that networks are dynamic and evolve, sometimes rapidly, in several dimensions. The structure of their members’ connections and their members’ value propositions may evolve. Their capabilities may evolve, from connecting people to aligning them to helping them collaborate on producing various outputs. Whether a network is evolving and how it is evolving is one way of understanding what the network’s condition and potential are. So when Maggie Ullman was asked to assess the condition of eight regional networks of city government sustainability directors around the U.S., we designed an assessment framework that would allow her to map each network’s evolution and also put the networks side by side to form a composite picture of their condition. This assessment, recently completed and based on interviews, observations, and written materials, is becoming the basis for customized support for the networks and new philanthropic funding to help them further evolve and generate greater impact. The assessment framework has two axes:

  1. Stages of Evolution—from Emerging to Developing to Near Mature to Mature.
  2. Network Conditions—Connectivity, Leadership, Activities, Communications, Coordination, Member Satisfaction, and Resources.

In each Stage the specifics of each Condition are different, they evolve. For instance:

  • Leadership evolves from “Two or more committed founders” (Emerging Stage) to “Second generation of leaders who create annual strategic plans” (Mature Stage).
  • Member Satisfaction evolves from “Most members see opportunity but network not yet delivering.” (Emerging Stage) to “Broad, high level of member satisfaction by a majority of members” (Mature Stage).

When Maggie assembled a composite picture of the eight networks using the assessment matrix, it showed quite clearly that (a) mostly the networks were in the Developing Stage on nearly all of the conditions, except Activities and Communication, and that they were lagging in the Resources condition, “stuck” as it were in Emerging and Developing Stages. This mapping resulted in a set of recommendations that Maggie developed for the networks. Here’s the Network Evolution Assessment tool.

Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by user Kiwi Flickr

(Not) Perfecting Network Governance


Photo by Jeremiah Roth (cc)

Cross-posted from the Connecting to Change the World blog with permission. We’re often asked about the design of network governance.

  • A funder of several networks asked what the best form of governance is.
  • A builder of a national network asked what governance model would help his network’s nodes (clusters of businesses in multiple cities) to feel “ownership” of the national network.
  • The designer of a “new economy” type of community development strategy that needs 100s of local and regional organizations across public, private, and nonprofit sectors to align around a strategic plan asked what their governance model should be.

Reply in all cases: there isn’t one best governance model for a network; governance has to be customized to the network due to many factors we detail in chapter 2 of Connecting. There are many possible things that a network’s governance might have to decide and there are many different ways to make decisions But there’s more advice I add: Don’t jump to the assumption that “our network needs governance” just because there are decisions to be made. The purpose of governance is to enable network members. What is it you’re trying to enable that isn’t getting done in the network? Why isn’t it getting done? For many funders what’s not getting done is the development of a network plan and tight management of network resources. A certain governance structure might make the funder happier, but will it enable the network’s members to plan together and manage their resources better? If a network’s nodes aren’t interested enough in the network’s existence, will building a governance structure enable them to become more interested, or will it just feel like another thing that isn’t compelling to them? If a network’s members are supposed to align around a single strategic plan that coordinates them, a governance structure may well be able to make decisions and push implementation of the plan, but will it build the relationships among the many members that enable them to align deeply and sustainably? Design a network’s governance cautiously, focusing on what really needs to be governed, not on some feeling (perhaps a vestige from organization-centric thinking) that governance is needed.