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Impact Networks: Create Connection, Spark Collaboration, and Catalyze Systemic Change
Impact Networks: Create Connection, Spark Collaboration, and Catalyze Systemic Change
Impact Networks: Create Connection, Spark Collaboration, and Catalyze Systemic Change
Электронная книга308 страниц3 часа

Impact Networks: Create Connection, Spark Collaboration, and Catalyze Systemic Change

Автор David Ehrlichman

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This practical guide shows how to facilitate collaboration among diverse individuals and organizations to navigate complexity and create change in our interconnected world.

The social and environmental challenges we face today are not only complex, they are also systemic and structural and have no obvious solutions. They require diverse combinations of people, organizations, and sectors to coordinate actions and work together even when the way forward is unclear. Even so, collaborative efforts often fail because they attempt to navigate complexity with traditional strategic plans, created by hierarchies that ignore the way people naturally connect.

By embracing a living-systems approach to organizing, impact networks bring people together to build relationships across boundaries; leverage the existing work, skills, and motivations of the group; and make progress amid unpredictable and ever-changing conditions. As a powerful and flexible organizing system that can span regions, organizations, and silos of all kinds, impact networks underlie some of the most impressive and large-scale efforts to create change across the globe. 

David Ehrlichman draws on his experience as a network builder; interviews with dozens of network leaders; and insights from the fields of network science, community building, and systems thinking to provide a clear process for creating and developing impact networks. Given the increasing complexity of our society and the issues we face, our ability to form, grow, and work through networks has never been more essential.
Дата выпуска12 окт. 2021 г.
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David Ehrlichman

David Ehrlichman is the cofounder and coordinator of Converge, a company that aims to establish sustained, effective coordination across geographies and sectors on complex social problems and helps people work together on behalf of the communities and constituents they serve. Over the past seven years, Converge practitioners have helped build over forty strategic networks and advised over 150 others across the United States and the world. Ehrlichman has previously worked as a consultant at the Monitor Institute, Sterling Network NYC, and New Leadership Network in Fresno. He graduated from Stanford, earning a degree in management science and engineering with a focus on social entrepreneurship.

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    Impact Networks - David Ehrlichman

    Cover: Impact Networks



    Impact Networks

    Copyright © 2021 by David Ehrlichman

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed Attention: Permissions Coordinator, at the address below.

    Ordering information for print editions

    Quantity sales. Special discounts are available on quantity purchases by corporations, associations, and others. For details, contact the Special Sales Department at the Berrett-Koehler address above.

    Individual sales. Berrett-Koehler publications are available through most bookstores. They can also be ordered directly from Berrett-Koehler: Tel: (800) 929-2929; Fax: (802) 864-7626; www.bkconnection.com

    Orders for college textbook/course adoption use. Please contact Berrett-Koehler: Tel: (800) 929-2929; Fax: (802) 864-7626.

    Distributed to the U.S. trade and internationally by Penguin Random House Publisher Services.

    Berrett-Koehler and the BK logo are registered trademarks of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

    First Edition

    Paperback print edition ISBN 978-1-5230-9168-3

    PDF e-book ISBN 978-1-5230-9169-0

    IDPF e-book ISBN 978-1-5230-9170-6

    Digital audio ISBN 978-1-5230-9171-3


    Book production: Linda Jupiter Productions. Text design: Kim Scott, Bumpy Design. Cover design: Adrian Morgan. Edit: Elissa Rabellino. Proofread: Mary Kanable. Index: Lieser Indexing.

    To Nabetse, who has taught me the true meaning of connection;

    to my family, who have shown me the power of trust;

    and to changemakers everywhere, who have inspired me

    with their commitment to purpose.

    Created in Community

    This book was developed in collaboration with my colleagues in Converge—a network of systems strategists, designers, facilitators, educators, and evaluators who partner with people, organizations, and networks to co-create positive impact. I am endlessly grateful for their contributions and support.

    Visit converge.net to learn more about Converge and to access a library of free tools and facilitation guides associated with this book.




    Part One: Working through Networks

    CHAPTER 1: The Web of Change

    Networks for Impact

    Relationships: The Heart of Networks

    CHAPTER 2: The Network Mindset

    The Hierarchical Mindset

    Networks and Hierarchies, Together

    Making the Mindset Shift

    CHAPTER 3: Making Networks Work

    Primary Forms of Impact Networks

    Core Activities of Impact Networks

    CHAPTER 4: Network Leadership

    Network Leadership Roles

    Principles of Network Leadership

    Part Two: Cultivating Impact Networks

    CHAPTER 5: Clarify Purpose and Principles

    Catalyzing a New Network

    Finding Common Purpose

    Defining Shared Principles

    CHAPTER 6: Convene the People

    Inviting Co-creation

    Designing Meaningful Gatherings

    Facilitating Emergent Outcomes

    CHAPTER 7: Cultivate Trust

    Weaving Connections

    Deepening Trust

    Holding Courageous Conversations

    CHAPTER 8: Coordinate Actions

    Accelerating Flows

    Practicing Reciprocity

    Responding to Crisis

    CHAPTER 9: Collaborate for Systems Change

    Making Sense of the System

    Creating Transformation

    Planting Sequoias

    CHAPTER 10: The Enabling Infrastructure

    Organizing into Teams

    Bounding Participation

    Making Collective Decisions

    Embedding Evaluation

    Resourcing Networks




    Selected Bibliography



    About the Author

    About Converge


    Networks are all around you, whether you are aware of them or not. Networks influence who you are connected to, where you get your information, and how work gets done. What if I told you that by learning how to cultivate and maintain certain networks, you would have the opportunity to unlock collaboration, unravel oppressive systems, and create unprecedented value? What if I told you that you could create a sustainable structure of organizing that would demand less pushing and introduce more pull and autonomous flow? New opportunities, insights, and perspectives become available when you start to see and engage in your world through networks.

    Networks have been around forever. But only recently have we been able to draw on a variety of fields—including network science, community building, systems thinking, and organizational development—as well as a range of collaborative software tools to intentionally create networks not just for social connection but also for collective action. Not only are networks the organic social structures that we naturally form; they can be cultivated to accelerate learning, spark collaboration, and catalyze systemic change.

    Networks are webs of relationships connecting people or things. When they seek to address social and environmental issues, they are called impact networks. This special type of network brings individuals and organizations together for learning and coordinated action, based on a shared purpose. Impact networks provide a transformational way of working together across the typical boundaries that often hold us back. They offer a collaborative infrastructure for a more equitable, interdependent world. As a powerful and flexible organizing system that can span regions, organizations, and silos of all kinds, impact networks underlie some of the most impressive and large-scale efforts to create change across the globe.

    This book is about how to cultivate impact networks that enable diverse groups of people to connect, coordinate, and collaborate within and across organizations to do more together than is possible alone. Given the increasing complexity of our society and the issues we face, our ability to form, grow, and work through networks has never been more essential.

    • • •

    This book is for all those who recognize the need to work together more than ever before, for those who are addressing issues bigger than any individual or organization can solve on its own, and for changemakers who are looking for ways to collaborate across a diversity of stakeholders to navigate the wicked challenges of our time.

    This book is also for anyone who is curious about, participating in, or leading collaborative networks, including those who coordinate, weave, and facilitate networks; those who fund and support networks; and all those who work in collaboration with others to get things done. Collaborative networks may be called many things: associations, alliances, coalitions, collaborations, collective impact initiatives, consortia, and more. Whatever they are called, the network approach to collaboration is profoundly different from the command-and-control approaches seen in many hierarchical organizations. Likewise, the form of leadership required to guide networks is substantially different from the autocratic forms of leadership that remain prevalent throughout the world. If you are supporting or working with a constellation of actors to address complex issues and advance common goals, this book is for you.

    I wrote this book because I believe deeply in the power of impact networks to contribute to a future that works for all. The network approach builds bridges across divides, prioritizes trust-based relationships, shares leadership, and recognizes the inherent interconnectedness of our lives and work. Networks are the organizing systems that allow our society to function today and can enable us to flourish in the future.

    I was first exposed to the potential of networks while working at Monitor Institute, the social sector wing of a global management consulting firm. Up to that point, I had worked only in hierarchical environments: in the service industry, in a nonprofit, in a large corporation, and with a small start-up. Every organization where I had worked had a pyramid structure—there was always a boss and a clear chain of command to indicate authority. Decisions were mostly made at the top and passed down to employees. Information was shared on a need-to-know basis. But Monitor Institute was, at that time, exploring and writing about working through networks.

    There, I was introduced to Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving, by Valdis Krebs and June Holley, a white paper about how we can strengthen our communities by recognizing and cultivating the networks of connections that underlie them. I also read the handbook Net Gains, by Peter Plastrik and Madeleine Taylor, an early resource for network builders seeking social change. I was moved by case studies written by my Monitor Institute colleagues on the work of the RE-AMP Network, a massive collaboration of more than one hundred organizations working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the midwestern United States;¹ by Lawrence CommunityWorks, a citywide network that engages thousands of residents to improve their community; and by KABOOM!, a nonprofit that uses a network approach to mobilize low-income communities to build their own playgrounds.²

    The initiatives documented in these resources brought people together from across sectors to tackle common challenges. They spanned organizational boundaries. Rather than building bigger and bigger organizations, leaders increased their impact through networks of peers. I saw how these network-based approaches wielded collaboration to create outsized impacts, and I was blown away. Inspired by these examples, I left Monitor Institute to work with networks exclusively. Since then, I have spent nearly every working day over the past decade focused on learning and practicing the art and science of cultivating collaborative networks.

    My first real foray into the field of networks was in Fresno, California, where I worked for three years as a coordinator for the Fresno New Leadership Network. Funded by the James Irvine Foundation, this initiative brought together more than forty leaders from across sectors to work together in new ways to help revitalize their community. It was there that I first witnessed the power of networks to connect people across boundaries on behalf of a common purpose. Environmental activists found common ground with developers. The school superintendent worked side by side with nonprofit leaders. A partnership between leaders representing Habitat for Humanity and Kaiser Permanente led to a $400,000 grant to build a neighborhood playground in West Fresno—an area of the city with particularly high rates of poverty and childhood obesity. The county librarian teamed up with a Spanish-language radio host and the Fresno State business school to offer free citizenship academies in county libraries. A youth group joined forces with both a gang-prevention organization and the school district’s office of community and family services to advance discipline and restorative justice reforms.

    I also witnessed the true power of relationships. Built on a foundation of trust, the network changed the way people engaged with one another. Two advocates, one promoting charter schools and the other supporting public schools, came into the network seeing each other as the opposition. But after taking time to hear one another’s motivations, they began to have more honest and open conversations about their vision for Fresno. We now have a willingness to talk about where we disagree, and a willingness to talk about how to do this better, said the charter school advocate. We’re creating a new way of relating and working with each other.³

    Since my time in Fresno, I have had the privilege of working with dozens of other impact networks in a variety of roles, including coordination, weaving, design, facilitation, evaluation, and everything in between. Along the way, I catalyzed the Converge network with my close friend David Sawyer, a former Monitor Institute colleague and longtime change leader. We partnered in Fresno and together felt a deep calling to spread the network approach more broadly. Converge has since grown into a network of systems strategists, designers, facilitators, educators, and evaluators who work together to support networks around the globe to create social and environmental impact. To put it succinctly, we are a network of practitioners who help cultivate impact networks. When I use the we pronoun in this book, I am often referring to the combined perspectives of Converge.

    Our work has spanned rural to urban and local to global, bringing together diverse stakeholders from government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, academic institutions, community groups, and more. We have been fortunate to partner with more than fifty different impact networks in the past ten years, and through these experiences we started to notice consistent patterns among networks, even when their context and focus varied widely. While the whys and whats were unique to each network, the hows—the principles and processes used to create them—were quite consistent. These approaches to network cultivation and leadership became the basis for this book.

    At the same time, the content of this book comes not only from my own experiences or those of Converge, but also from the experiences of thinkers and changemakers in many different fields. I have learned so much working alongside network leaders and participating in numerous gatherings of practitioners. Here, I have drawn from case studies; the wisdom of many books, including those listed in the bibliography; and resources that other groups have developed, including NetworkWeaver, Interaction Institute for Social Change, Monitor Institute, Change Elemental, CoCreative, and many more. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the network leaders, participants, and funders that I interviewed and have consulted with in the formation of this book. I am grateful for everyone who has contributed to this growing field and shared their wisdom openly with a generosity of spirit.

    In the pages ahead, I share what I have learned from a place of curiosity and commitment. I feel a great sense of humility in how much I have learned through researching this book. As someone from a dominant cultural background, a white male born in the United States, no doubt I have many blind spots when it comes to assuming power and asserting particular ways of knowing. I have shared a draft version of this book with many people I respect to help reveal those areas, and I suspect there are likely many more to uncover. As you read this book, I invite your feedback, with gratitude.

    My greatest hope is that the concepts, stories, quotes, and resources contained here will support you and your work to create positive impact through networks. This book aims to illuminate the intricacies of how we can be more effective together amid the immense complexity of our world. Thank you for picking up this text and investigating its contents. May you find it valuable in ways large and small.


    The only lasting truth is Change.

    —OCTAVIA E. BUTLER, Parable of the Sower

    We live on an amazingly rare and beautiful planet spinning around a midsize sun on the outer arm of a spiral galaxy in a boundless universe. Our vast, living world is incredibly complex.

    Across the globe, we face extraordinary challenges: climate change; lack of affordable shelter; food insecurity; racism; sexism; social inequities; large-scale displacement, migration, and resettlement; biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, and animal abuse; continuing violence; and declining mental health. Just to name a few.

    Not only are these challenges complex; they are systemic and structural. They are constantly changing and evolving. A variety of actors, organizations, and institutions are involved, each bringing their own motivations, priorities, and entrenched thinking and practices. These issues are so tangled up, so nonlinear and volatile, that they have no obvious answers or straightforward solutions.

    Yet, despite these challenges, I believe we also live in a time of unparalleled possibility for change. Mass social movements are arising all over the planet, systems of oppression are becoming exposed, and our collective capacity for sharing information and knowledge is at an all-time high. Even though in some ways it seems we have never been more divided, it also has never been more possible for individuals and organizations to work together across boundaries and create change.

    Change is coming whether you like it or not, cautions climate activist Greta Thunberg.¹ The great uncertainty is what the world will look like on the other side.

    Our Complex World

    One way to think about multifaceted and systemic issues, whether addressing climate change, community health, or homelessness, is that they are not merely complicated—they are complex. The Cynefin framework is helpful in differentiating simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic issues:²

    Simple issues can be definitively solved, with a clear beginning and end, such as cooking a meal.

    Complicated issues involve many moving parts, but they can be defined and understood. They are technical in nature, with predictable solutions that can be implemented effectively by people with the right expertise.³ Planning and implementing the logistical operations for an event is complicated but not complex.

    Complex issues are difficult to define, as they have no clear beginning or end. They also have no readily apparent solution, and we cannot accurately predict the path ahead. Consequently, we have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and modify strategies as we learn what works and what does not. An example of a complex challenge is equitably eliminating greenhouse gas emissions across a large region. We will return to this issue later.

    Chaotic issues, like their complex counterparts, cannot be accurately predicted or controlled. They are also turbulent, dangerous, and rapidly evolving. Chaotic situations—such as a humanitarian disaster—often require that we act quickly to save lives or tend to emergencies before working to establish some sense of order. They call for a rapid response to distribute information and resources to where they are needed most, before addressing the underlying issues.

    To a large extent, humans have mastered simple issues, and organizations and institutions have excelled at addressing complicated issues with their efficient and reliable structures. However, in this century of complexity,⁴ the approaches we have used to address simple and complicated issues are falling short when it comes to dealing with complex (and chaotic) issues. What got us here is not going to get us to where we need to go. A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move to higher levels, as Einstein famously said.⁵

    Complex issues are experienced very differently by different people. As a result, it’s difficult to get people to agree on even what the issue is, much less what the solutions might be. Addressing climate change is extremely complex, not only because of the environmental science involved, but also because it is so intertwined with social, economic, and political issues (among others). Creating change at the scale that the world needs will require many individuals, organizations, and governments to work together to agree on the nature of the particular issue they face and to coordinate their responses accordingly.

    To address the challenges of our time, we must embrace complexity and work collaboratively across systems of diverse stakeholders, even and especially when the path forward is unclear. It is not an overstatement to say the future of civilization and the planet depends on it.

    Most people love the idea of collaboration . . . as long as it promises to do exactly what they want it to do. But that is not how collaboration works. Collaboration

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