Tag Archives: networks

How sociable events can help build networks and connect ideas

The Kent Connects Developing Solutions Camp on Friday provided inspiration not just from the main activity of developers working on applications for open data, but from the side conversations that this sort of relatively unstructured event encourages. I’ve added additional videos to my original post, and you can see them in a playlist here.

I’ve already posted one conversation here with Tom Phillips, about the need for big organisations to practice open conversations internally if they wish to use social media externally. Tom has worked extensively in local government, and with community and voluntary organisations.

We also talked about different models of networks, and revisited an earlier post here on networks. I posted what follows first on my personal blog.

Part of the work I’m doing with Big Lottery Fund (BIG) on People Powered Change, with John Popham and Drew Mackie, is exploring how BIG can be more than a funder, and help groups that they fund to they share ideas and experience. As part of the discussion, I offered a diagram suggesting a change from hierarchical structures to more of a peer-to-peer mesh: Moving from join us, join in, to join up yourselves.

The join-up part of the diagram shows a network that is usually seen as a connected set of people. But Tom made the point that the nodes could just as well be activities, including sociable events. That certain chimes in with my experience, where reporting events has been one of the best ways of doing the join-up  bit of social reporting. Here’s some earlier reflections.

However, to make the events useful for joining up outside the room, I think that the social reporter needs to do a bit more than just shoot video, blog or tweet. It is important to look for stories and ideas that might be specially relevant for people who are not there, and make sure they get both a link and an introduction. It means organising events that allow space for the sort of conversations that I had with Tom here – and also in this post about sociable organisations.

It means some “strategic opportunism”, as James Derounian calls it over here:

…….that is putting yourself in the place and way of likely useful links to take forward projects etc.
So 1 example = attending a conference, like yesterday’s on ‘localism’in Manchester….which puts you in the way of a load of other like-minded/interested people; can also of course be virtual…being ‘present’ on certain blogs, tweets, www etc…

That certainly happened to me at a recent event in Manchester, when I met community mobilisers Corrina and Andy and their iPhone app. Today I have been able to make the link between that conversation, and the developments in Kent, strengthening idea of a social app store. So to build networks, hold events that can connect both ideas and people.

Moving from join us, join in, to join up yourselves

I’ve used this diagram a few times in the past to start conversations about the move from hierarchical structures to more networky ones – including a couple of years ago, where Clay Shirky was talking about the changes that membership organisations need to make. Sending out newsletters and central event invites won’t pull in the subs when people can use social networks to organise for themselves. The organisations won’t survive.

I’ve used the diagram more recently to talk to people about the sort of online and face-to-face sharing space for social innovation that People Powered Change might become in fulfilling the vision set out here by Linda Quinn for the Big Lottery Trust (BIG). Increasingly people use social networks for knowledge sharing, and in addition Geoff Mulgan argued recently that they are one good way to help embed reciprocity in our society.

The idea of helping people share peer-to-peer, and not through a hub, chimes with the remarks reported here by John Popham from Toby Blume of Urban Forum, and Peter Wanless, of BIG. Both are chief executives in the new mould, using social media themselves and encouraging staff to do the same. While John was reporting Toby and Peter’s presentations, I was hearing at the Business of Collaboration seminar that organisational adoption of social media and networky behaviour won’t happen without that leadership. I also heard that the future will increasingly be mobile, with content delivered through apps, not conventional web sites.

So – it is possible to argue, at least anecdotally, that becoming more networky is important for individual learning, social cohesion, and organisational survival. People Centred Change, and communications.

At the moment a lot of organisations still work in model 1. Command and control structure, bureaucratic procedures, limited sharing outside the organisation, formal collaborations, restrictions on the use of social media. This still applies in some big organisations in the community and voluntary sector … and funding regimes don’t help. When you have to compete furiously with other organisations on the landscape for grants and contracts there’s pressure to keep things to yourselves. Your funders are probably hierarchical too… so everything chugs along as normal until the grants and contracts dry up and you find that the people you were serving are finding they can get along without you. Am I exaggerating? Not much, I think.

All this applies in strength when looking at knowledge-sharing. It is very difficult to maintain traditional knowledge portals, with high editorial overheads, in a sector that doesn’t expect to pay for services, grants are increasingly scarce, and where advertising revenue is unlikely to be available. But how about model 2, where a number of organisations might collaborate to provide complementary services? That’s already on the horizon for People Powered Change, with initial partner investments made in Your Square Mile, Media Trust, Unltd, and Young Foundation. There are earlier posts on my personal blog.

The challenge is going to be to expand from model 2 into model 3 – where people are making their own connections peer-to-peer as well as with some hubs. The joining-up in the peer-to-peer network comes partly from hubs, but also from sociable events designed for developing and sharing innovative ideas, like this and this, and also I believe by developing the practice of social reporting. We need network builders as well as networking people.

While it is possible – in theory – to design the move towards model 3, in practice it is really difficult unless the people involved have some personal experience of networked communications and networky ways of doing things. It can seem like a foreign country – and the leadership of people like Toby Blume and Peter Wanless is important to give people confidence. The Transition Network, as I wrote here, is a terrific example of central support that helps to build local projects – not own them. The book, the Networked Non Profit, by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, is an essential read. However, when learning to swim there’s no substitute for getting into the pool – and so as part of our work with BIG we are exploring how to pilot some peer-to-peer communication, probably using Google Plus. I’ll report later … well, actually, some of it will be open so you’ll be able to see how we get on. The best networking often involves food – so I wonder if Tessy and Laura would run a Pie Lab for the pioneers. The best ideas are often the simplest.