Photo Credit: Birds on a Wire by user Kiwi Flickr

Watching Networks Evolve

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.