Closing the triangle to explore the idea of #netfunders

I love the way things turn up online if you keep an eye out. I’m shortly due to do a video interview at the Big Lottery Fund about their vision for People Powered Change, and in particularly how we can explore the benefit of networky ways of doing things to help the community groups who get grants, and national partners, share ideas and experience.
The BIG Village SOS initiative has the BBC, a dedicated website, roadshows and staff to promote sharing. Can we do something lightweight and complementary, that draws in part on the strength of the hyperlocal movement promoted by Talk About Local and others? There people are learning how to use simple online tools to tell their own stories, and connect with others.
You can read our brief here – but in the spirit of social reporting we all thought it much better to turn it into a public conversation, starting with the interview. That way people can see who is the BIG champion for this approach, and we will have a clear framework. We are hoping staff in BIG, and partner organisations, will join in the reporting … and the in-house reporters will benefit from some top-level leadership and encouragement to feel comfortable venturing out in public.
This approach is all radical stuff for a big funder – and we have a modest budget – so I’m looking around for any ideas that will give us confidence, and help us learn from the experience of others.
That’s where the online serendipity comes in. My friend in the US, Beth Kanter, is a world expert in how networks can benefit nonprofit organisations: she written a great book with Allison Fine . That’s the bottom-up bit. Beth is also writing about the way that funding organisations can embrace and promote networking. The report to read on that is Connected Citizens, which I have recommended to BIG.
Then this morning a tweet pops up from Beth alerting us to a conference she has been reporting about funders and networking. Wow – great context for my interview at BIG! But how to make the connection? I can send an email, write a note … but how to do something in the spirit of the open connecting that we are exploring?
One of the posts on Beth’s blog, Close the triangle, from Scott Bechtler-Levin, gave me the clue. Scott writes:
“One of many ‘ah-has’ came early during the well facilitated conference.   It was just an off-hand comment from June Holley that the basic building block of network weaving is the “closing of triangles”. As June explains in a 2006 blog post on “Network Weaving 101”: “An “open triangle” is where there is an opportunity to introduce two people by the third person who knows them both — it is a triangle with one missing link like in the diagram immediately below. A “closed triangle” is where all three people know each other.” 

Scott continues: “I’ve always been fascinated by how and why some people “see” open triangles and “act” to close them – while others do not. It was good to see how different people are aligning sector culture, systems, and incentives to encourage individuals and institutions to take the extra time to magnify their impact by closing triangles.   We saw evidence of it in the networking. We see it when people share documents/templates.   We see it through curation and what Beth Kanter called sense making”.
Another Wow. Sense making is one of the three main activities of social reporting – as I see it – together with joining up, and helping others use new and old media. Closing triangles is reporter as network weaver.
So what I need to do is to write this post, mention Beth, and also Linda Quinn, director of communications and marketing at BIG, who explains her role here:
“My job I think is one of the best jobs in the world, it’s about engaging with people and encouraging them to apply for lottery funding.  The Big Lottery Fund distributes approximately 600 million pounds a year to good causes and that money comes from the lottery playing public, for every pound that’s played on the lottery, 28p of it goes back to good causes and the Big Lottery Fund distributes half of that”.
Linda goes on to explain the role of BIG against the backcloth of the Government’s localism agenda, explaining: “the mission of the Big Lottery Fund is to bring real improvement to communities and lives of those most in need. That’s because we want to inspire people to transform their communities: to change mindsets, to change policy, to support innovation and replication.”
I’ve potentially closed the triangle between two people committed to innovative ways of supporting local action. Knowing both I’m fairly confident that they will be happy that I’ve done it publicly … and I hope that online and other exchanges may follow. Beth visits the UK fairly frequently, as you’ll see from this Guardian event, with a video interview here.
Hmm, maybe we could organise a video link between BIG and Beth, and show that discussion here. Am I pushing things a bit here? No gain without a little reporting risk, about which more later.
Update: my tweet on this post was re-tweeted by Big Lottery Fund, so our online conversation seems to be on-track. Thanks BIG.

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