Connecting to Change the World blog There are many structures for organizing collaboration among individuals and/or organization. But they are not all the same–and we’re often asked if a particular structure is or isn’t a network. So we’ve taken the time here (and in more detail in chapter 1 of Connecting to Change the World) to identify and differentiate some of the main structures that social activists and philanthropic funders use and support. In general, the differences fall across a spectrum related to how structured/organized the form is. Some (like professional associations) are too organized; others are not organized enough. As we’ve said in other contexts (and explain more of in chapter 5): networks are on the “edge of chaos,” with enough organization to stay together, but enough freedom to creatively evolve; they contain autonomous agents who share common rules. In some of the collective forms we look at, the agents aren’t autonomous (too much structure); in others, there aren’t really common rules that bind them (not enough structure).
|Type of Collective Organizing||Typical Distinguishing Features||Difference from a Generative Network|
|Coalition/ Alliance of Organizations||A temporary alignment of organizations to achieve a specific objective such as electing a candidate or securing adoption of a new public policy. Usually disbands when the effort has been completed.||Narrower in purpose/scope than a network. (Some alliances reorganize as a generative network once their campaign is over.)|
|Membership- Based Association or Organization||Organized mainly to pool resources and provide dues-paying members with services, often for professional development or representation within public-policy arenas. Association/organization staff does most of the work.||More staff-driven, less member-to-member relationship driven, than a network. Focus is on serving members rather than members collaborating with each other.|
|Community of Practice||Organizations and individuals loosely align and coordinate around development, adoption, and spread of innovative practices and/or policies to address a particular set of problems or opportunities.||Participants typically lack a firm sense of “membership identity” and do not make explicit reciprocal commitments. Communities of practice often have many sub-networks.|
|Movement||Large numbers of people loosely aligned around a large cause (e.g., civil rights, environmental protection), their passion ignited by a personal desire to right a wrong.||Less coherent, focused, and coordinated—and much larger, sprawling—than a generative network. A movement may contain networks; networks may spawn a movement.|
|Social-Media Web||Alignment is around a passing cause. Online; open membership; enables many “weak ties” among participants.||Less coherent, focused and coordinated, with no clear membership expectations.|