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.