Good Practice: Reflecting on the Guide on Roles and Responsibilities within Networks

January 31, 2012 | LND | Methods & Tools, SDC Networks |


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Nara Weigel

For her third blog post on the good practice guides to managing and supporting networks, Nara Weigel collected reactions on the guide Roles and Responsibilities within Networks. In a nutshell, the guide examines why roles are important to consider in the context of SDC networks and describes what main roles and responsibilities have developed within these networks. Without going in to the specificities of each SDC network, it tries to outline key elements for ensuring good collaboration within a network. 

By Nara Weigel, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation

Members of the Climate Change & Environment (CCE), Employment & Income (E+I) and Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) networks had a look at the guide and shared their experience on the subject. What clearly comes out of the reflections from the perspective of a member of the Steering Group, a field-based network member and a thematic backstopper is that a balance needs to be struck between having clarity on the roles and meeting the specific needs of each network.

CG7AE2Richard Chenevard, West Africa Division
Steering Group Member of the CCE Network
> Member of the Conflict and Human Rights Network

“Defining roles can be considered as a very formal approach, in the sense that it may be a required procedure. It can also be seen as a guarantee a system will be functioning whatever characters come together, whatever turnover you may have among network members. In a way, defining roles is defining the rules of the game. The paper mentions rightfully that a small group is easier to manage than a larger one, thus the need of clear role attribution. The document describes actually very accurately what I am experiencing as a participant to a network. It may seem obvious to present roles and responsibilities but, due to its importance, a reminder can only be beneficial to the reader.”


CG67EDSimon Zbinden, Cooperation Office Cotonou/Benin
Member of the ARD Network (and Former Focal Point)

“No doubt, defining roles and responsibilities is important to run a performing network, in particular for the network leadership team (Focal Point, backstoppers, moderators, etc.). However, we should not overestimate the definition of roles as an engine for network vitality. Decentralizing network tasks to individuals in the cooperation offices alone will not make a network more field driven. It will just be driven a bit more by these mandated individuals. The network lives first and most of all out of the commitment and enthusiasm of its members to contribute. This requires awareness and an understanding of each member that knowledge based working within SDC is more than just taking care of your own unit’s matters.”


Isabelle DaunerIsabelle Dauner, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation
Backstopper of SDC’s E+I Network (E+I)

“The guide somewhat reflects the experience of SDC’s E+I network, although the organisational set up of the E+I network is slightly different from the general network description given in the guide. The E+I Focal Point is composed of three persons – each one responsible for a sub-topic of the network (private sector, financial sector and vocational skills development). These persons are supported by a group of core network members and two thematic backstopping mandates. The experience of the E+I network is that Face-to-Face (f2f) meetings are vital to kick start and nurture a network. Hence, f2f meetings should be used to define roles and responsibilities of the different actors within a network. One thing that I learnt from the guide is that the definition of roles and responsibilities should be re-visited regularly. An element that does not come out that clearly in the guide is the issue of time constraints. While network members have very little time to dedicate to their network and much depends on the support from line managers for network engagement, Focal Points can provide thematic advice on a limited scale only as they have many other responsibilities. In this context, the support of thematic backstoppers and the core group is instrumental in the provision of in-depth and more substantial advisory inputs.”


The statements illustrate very well that:

  • having clear roles and responsibilities within a network can help guarantee a minimum of continuity in a context of change and frequent rotations
  • managing roles and responsibilities within a network can be one way – but certainly not the only one – to encourage ownership and engagement from network members based in various locations
  • the definition of roles and especially of responsibilities can illustrate that healthy and successful networks require nurturing, i.e. how much minimal time and support needs to be put into them to create a maximum of added value
  • defining roles and responsibilities with a network also means finding a balance between the structure implied by such definition, and the openness required to respond to needs that differ from network to network

For the the complete set of guides and further products visit the SDC Learning & Networking Shareweb.

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