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
  • Businesses are forming networks with customers and other businesses, and even organizing internally more as a network (zappos, etc).
  • 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 sustainabilityclimate change networkslarge landscape conservation networkstransition networkselectric car networksreuse and upcycling networkschildren and nature networkscommunity solar networksFire Learning NetworkREAMP
  2. Food: food access networks, local food networksfood policy networksfood hub networksfood business networksorganic food networkshealthy school lunch networks, school garden networks
  3. New Economyregional economy networksmakerspace networkssustainable business networks, social capital networks, cooperative networks, networks to support local business, time banks and alternative currency networks,seed exchange networks, FabLabs NetworkEuropean Network of Living Labs (ENoLL)Sunday Soup networks
  4. Housing networksco-housing networksend homelessness networksintentional communities networks
  5. Educationearly childhood networkschildcare networkseducation innovation networks, Flipped Learn Network
  6. Healthhealth access networksobesity prevention networksSelf-help networks, self-care networkscancer-free economy network
  7. Arts Networks
  8. Criminal Justice Networks
  9. Immigrant rights networks

Cross sector

  1. Women and Girlsending violence against women networksdomestic violence networksgirls code networksend trafficking networksmom’s rising network
  2. Leadership networksnetwork leadership networksnetwork consultants networkMovement NetLab
  3. Gender Networks: LGBT Network,
  4. Communications: open source networksplatform networkspeer to peer networkscommunity broadband networksdigital for good networks
  5. New politicsnew democracy networksstudy group networkscommunity organizing networks,
  6. Movement networksOccupy Wall StreetOccupy Sandy#MeTooImmigrants Rights Movement
  7. Geographic: neighborhood networksregional environmental networks
  8. Undoing racism and privilegeRacial justice networkstruth-telling networkssustainable communities networks, ending white privilege networks
  9. Specific cross sector networkscross sector networks bringing together energy efficient housing groups with low-income housing groups
  10. Advocacy networks: The Advocacy Network on Disabilities, Autistic Self-advocacy NetworkRocky 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:

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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.

Originally published at on August 13, 2018.

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