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A Treasure of SDC Experiences in Managing and Supporting Networks: 7 Guides to Make it your Own

November 08, 2011 | LND | Methods & Tools, SDC Networks |

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By Nara Weigel, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation

NaraWhy Good Practice Guides on Managing and Supporting Networks?

Three years after thematic networks were created within SDC, the Learning and Networking team felt it was a good moment to capitalise the organisation’s experience in supporting networks and make collective learning available to a broader audience. This was done in form of seven interlinked mini guides (illustrated below) on e-facilitation, nurturing networks, roles and responsibilities within networks, managing membership, linking face to face (f2f) events and online dialogues, social reporting on f2f events and planning f2f events. The choice of issues shows that the guides are not only relevant for network Focal Points and Steering Group members, but also for other people working at or with SDC. The guides can be viewed online or downloaded as pdf files from the website of the Learning and Networking Division.

Network_GuidesEach of the guides is self contained – including key points and links to further readings on one of the above issues. The guides are also conceptually linked to each other, reflecting the multifaceted nature of network management.

It is important to keep in mind that the guides are not meant to be a recipe book. The intention is to capture and disseminate good practices in managing and supporting networks (the entire pie) in a holistic way, while making the good practices available in small and digestible slices.

What’s in it for me?

When is the last time this wish crossed your mind: If only someone could help me make sense out of this!? In the end, did you approach a colleague in your office, did you send an email to someone or to a group of people? We have different ways of making sense out of things, getting feedback and exchanging on (thematic) issues that arise in our daily work. For some matters we may want to reach out to many people, for others only to a few. Sometimes we’re not sure who to ask.

Institutionalised networks are intended to provide the structure and space for people working in similar thematic areas to connect, exchange their knowledge and tackle common issues of interest together. However, experience has shown that it can take a lot of work to institutionalise thematic networks and whether a network is used depends on the institutional context, its members, structure and how it is nurtured. Ultimately, networks are made up of people who have different perceptions of their roles in networks and different ways of doing things. While some may read up on networks before they get involved, others prefer to get inputs to issues as they arise. The 7 guides try to cater to the needs of both categories, also considering the different roles within a network:

  • Focal Points and Steering Group or Core Group members have many management roles in a network, e.g. managing members, nurturing the network (re-) defining its purpose and planning activities for the network;
  • a network member may be very active or may passively follow what goes on in a network, e.g. contributing to determining the purpose and activities within a network and disseminating network related information in his/her surroundings.

But these roles are not written in stone and can change over time. As a network member, you may be asked by a Focal Point to lead a working group with a sub-set of network members. This may involve working with colleagues virtually, e.g. by facilitating online dialogues, in which case the guide on e-facilitation may suddenly become interesting for you! As a network member based in the field, you may be involved in the organisation of the next face-to-face event of your network. A look into the guide on planning f2f events would then certainly be worthwhile. Of course, Focal Points or Steering Group members who are new to their respective roles – or any network members who want to develop a more sophisticated understanding – might have a look at the entire set of guides to get a comprehensive view of network support and management.

Have your Say!

The guides address many of the responsibilities and activities mentioned above and can provide interesting food for thought for networkers within SDC. They might confirm what you’re doing already in the context of networks or they may inspire you to do things differently. Or you might realise that your valuable experience has not been included as a successful practice in these guides and be encouraged you to share them with us through a comment to this post. The guides are living documents and should evolve as the experience within SDC evolves…

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