The most effective way for people to build their skills as Network Weavers is to set up a Community of Practice –a group of people who share an interest in developing skills in a particular area.
A Community of Practice encourages people to identify their learning needs and organize training, coaching, and peer support to meet those needs.
Participation in a Community of Practice is voluntary: we find that usually those eager and natural Network Weavers form a core group, but as they employ network weaving in their work, others see the benefits and become interested in building their skills as well and become more active.
A successful Network Weaver Community of Practice begins initially with some external training, since there are few highly skilled Network Weavers at this point. It’s usually effective to have a small core group of natural Network Weavers work with the trainer so that they quickly are able to conduct much of the training themselves.
Those individuals might have extra sessions to read and discuss resources that could deepen their understanding of networks and self-organizing so they are working from a strong theoretical base. The external trainer(s) could then focus on coaching this core group.
A core practice of a Community of Practice is the peer assist. This is where one individual, project group, or network has a challenge and seeks the thinking and advice of others in the Community of Practice.
THE PROCESS IS:
- The individual or group presents their situation and the challenge it is facing.
- Those listening then ask clarifying questions which are answered.
- Those listening then provide ideas, questions, and suggestions; they suggest sources of information or other cases that may help the challenge group.
- The challenge group then responds.
- The listeners talk about how this gave them ideas for their own network or project.
- The entire group reflects on the session and insights gained.
- The group determines whether there are any next steps or whether they want to continue the discussion in any way.
A peer assist can be 30-60 minutes long.
Here are some comments about the benefits of peer assists from participants in a recent Community of Practice:
“It was great to show my network how to build trust among our volunteers who are spread out statewide and may not have ever even met each other.”
“From my peer assist I took away the concept of planning in chunks –giving network participants a broad learning trajectory but doing detailed planning in small chunks in order to leave space for addressing emergent interests / needs.”
“I gained good ideas from my colleagues of ways to approach networks and a variety of traditional and social media tools to incorporate to enrich the experience for the entire network.”
“It gave me a better view/perspective on how other networks apply network weaving within their own agencies. I was also able to get additional resources and information how to better address the issues that arise from our network. I also love the personal stories and the friendships forged from the exercise.”
Another activity, called a learning popup, supports on learning about a specific topic. An individual identifies something that he or she wants to learn and invites others to join in a learning popup. They may need to bring in an expert, or one of the participants may have advanced knowledge in the area. The group meets, determines a learning agenda and sets up one or more sessions to complete this agenda.
It’s very easy to hold Communities of Practice on zoom.us, an easy-to-use video conferencing platform.
For further learning, see Abby Yanow’s post on Best Practices for Communities of Practice.
We encourage you to comment on this post so we can hear about your thoughts and experience.