Moving (rapidly) to a Network World

Moving (rapidly) to a Network World

I’m a network hunter. My idea of fun is to spend hours traveling through the web world, spying new networks and learning all I can about network development.

From my vantage point, the number of networks formed during the last decades has been extraordinary (though sadly no one is tracking this growth so we have no real research verifying the number of existing networks).

Virtually all of us are part of social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and have access to virtual communication channels that open up huge opportunities for people to connect in novel ways.

Networks are appearing in every aspect of life:  

  • Virtually all research is now done through networks of researchers and institutions 
  • Service organizations are forming networks to streamline referral systems  
  • 20% of married couples now meet on online dating networks 

Then there is the particular set of networks that fascinate me (and hopefully you dear reader!). They are all about change. These networks range from those working on some sort of incremental change to those who see their network efforts as transformational, helping us co-create a world that is good for all of us.

Types of Transformational Networks

There are many, many different change or transformational networks currently operating. Here are just a few examples:

Sector or Issue Networks

  1. Environment and sustainability: climate change networks, large landscape conservation networks, transition networks, electric car networks, reuse and upcycling networks, children and nature networks, community solar networks, Fire Learning Network, REAMP 
  2. Food:  food access networks, local food networks, food policy networks, food hub networks, food business networks, organic food networks, healthy school lunch networks, school garden networks  
  3. New Economy: regional economy networks, makerspace networks, sustainable business networks, social capital networks, cooperative networks, networks to support local business, time banks and alternative currency networks,seed exchange networks, FabLabs Network,  European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), Sunday Soup networks
  4. Housing networks: co-housing networks, end homelessness networks, intentional communities networks
  5. Education: early childhood networks, childcare networks, education innovation networks, Flipped Learn Network
  6. Health:  health access networks, obesity prevention networks, Self-help networks, self-care networks, cancer-free economy network
  7. Arts Networks
  8. Criminal Justice Networks
  9. Immigrant rights networks

Cross sector

  1. Women and Girls: ending violence against women networks, domestic violence networks,  girls code networks, end trafficking networks, mom’s rising network
  2. Leadership networks, network leadership networks, network consultants network, Movement NetLab
  3. Gender Networks:  LGBT Network,
  4. Communications: open source networks, platform networks, peer to peer networks, community broadband networks, digital for good networks
  5. New politics:  new democracy networks, study group networks, community organizing networks,
  6. Movement networks: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sandy, #MeToo, Immigrants Rights Movement
  7. Geographic:  neighborhood networks,  regional environmental networks
  8. Undoing racism and privilege:  Racial justice networks, truth-telling networks, sustainable communities networks, ending white privilege networks 
  9. Specific cross sector networks: cross sector networks bringing together energy efficient housing groups with low-income housing groups
  10. Advocacy networks: The Advocacy Network on Disabilities,   Autistic Self-advocacy Network, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), Prisoner Advocacy Network  Domestic Employers  Network
  11. Governance & policy networks
  12. Learning Networks/Communities of Practice: Healthcare breakthrough learning network,
  13. Technology Networks
  14. Philanthropy networks

Pretty amazing! I was surprised myself at the breadth of the networks out there.

I know I am missing a lot of other networks, especially non-U.S. and international ones. Please add others in the comments section below and I’ll add them to the list above.

Networks are the way we act 

But few of us (even me until recently) realized that we are rapidly moving to a place where networks are the primary way we see and act in the world. This wonderful video by RSA and Manuel explains this shift.

Harold Jarche shows this shift in the diagram below:

In the next decade organizations will increasingly  be part of external networks and, at the same time, will start to become more networked internally. I believe many nonprofits (and foundations!) will decrease their staff numbers because they are shifting their role to catalyzing and coordinating collaborative projects emerging from diverse networks. Foundations will have less staff because they are putting their dollars into pools of funds with decisions made for their distribution done through participative processes involving networks (more on that in a later post!) Former staff will become free agents and consultants, working as peers in the relevant networks, joining in many collaborative projects with many different partners.

Over half of the workforce will be free agents

By 2040, over half of the workforce will be free agents, and increasing numbers will be working in collaboratives rather than for employers. As a consultant, each year I am part of 6-12 collaborative  projects, each with a different network, some short term and others multi-year commitments. I’m also part of around 3-6 unpaid collaborations: helping to develop an upcycling clothing production network in our community, working with others to develop modules for the network field, and helping to organize learning popups to deepen our understanding of topics such as self-organizing or network governance. I love my work and am never bored! (And I am almost never “too busy” or stressed out!)

However, the biggest shift is likely to be our increasing involvement in policy and governance networks. In the next decade, using participative co-design and decision-making platforms, more people will be participating in policy making and in co-creating new community institutions. Already some cities engage hundreds of people in designing public spaces, or conduct participative budget processes. Innovative political candidates are using videoconferencing and breakout rooms so that their constituents can co-design their platform.

We are just beginning to understand all the ramifications of these shifts, but it’s clear that we need to spend much more time learning about the possibilities that this shift will open for us.  

I hope you will share your thoughts and networks in the comments section below.

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