Creating a Problem-Solving Network (Part II)

 

Creating a Problem-Solving Network (Part II)

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010 - 19:30
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 - 20:08
Are there best practices in creating problem-solving networks? Passion and motivation of a sponsor and champion are important, but studies offer practical answers to common questions such as "what type of network is most appropriate?" and "what are the tasks of network managers?"

There have been a series of studies providing lessons on how to effectively create a collaborative community. For example, having a catalyst (like Lucas) and have a convening place to share (like the OpenGovPlaybook wiki), are great starting points. Russ Linden, an author who is an astute observer of collaborative approaches, recently wrote about the importance of a collaborative mindset. And being passionate and motivated matter too, as this Dan Pink video playfully demonstrates:

 
 
But there is more to it than a mindset or being passionate. Here are some pointers addressing some key questions around creating collaborative networks that have been addressed in some recent studies sponsored by the IBM Center:
 
What type of network is most appropriate? A study by Brinton Milward and Keith Provan identifies four types of networks:
  • Information diffusion networks, that create informal ties between agencies and people. These can be designed (top-down) or emergent (bottom-up). This can evolve, for example, among disaster preparedness experts (such as the All Hazards Consortium).
  • Service implementation networks, whose members jointly deliver services. For example, the Service Canada network delivers a range of social services on behalf of a consortium of government agencies.
  • Problem solving networks help set agendas for a policy area. They tend to focus on problem solving rather than relationship building.
  • Community building networks develop social capital among its members. They tend to be focused on long-term capacity-building. 
What are the tasks of the network managers? Milward and Provan have an answer for this, as well. They say there are five main tasks for network managers – who can be managers of networks or managers in networks:
  • Manage accountability
  • Manage legitimacy
  • Manage conflict
  • Manage design (Governance Structure)
  • Manage commitment
What are the structural elements of a Community of Practice? A study by Xavier Briggs and William Snyder outlines the key elements of a community of practice, which is most useful n fostering learning and innovation in a specific topic area. It tends to focus on building and sharing knowledge, as opposed to delivering a product or service. It tends to rely on informal phenomena, such as shared passion, informal relationships, and shared experiences – as opposed to formal rules, contracts, or defined job descriptions. Briggs and Snyder say there are four elements:
  • Community: Members are at various levels: conveners, core members, active members, and peripheral members.
  • Domain: a focus on a specific area (such as Open Government) and a collective passion for an issue and how it can contribute to society. Oftentimes, there is a political context that gives legitimacy to this domain and those affected by it.
  • Practice: Techniques, methods, tools and professional attitudes, along with learning activities to build, share, and apply the practice.
  • Sponsorship and support: This could be done top-down or via a professional association from the outside. This would include logistics (such as meeting space), communications, and coaching for network leaders.
What are the key factors in successful cross-sector collaboration? A recent study by John Bryson, et al uses a traffic congestion-related case study in Minnesota to describe a set of key factors. These factors include:
  • Understanding prior initiatives and the overall environment in which the collaborative network will be working. Whenever possible, leverage existing (rather than creating new) networks.
  • Developing effective process, structures, and governance mechanisms so participants understand their scope and roles.
  • Understand the role of key players, such as who has decision authority. . . and this will likely shift over the course of a collaboration process, especially if the role of the network changes.
  • Demonstrating leadership and key competencies. . . typically the network sponsors have formal authority and the on-the-ground network champions lack formal authority but have legitimacy in the eyes of the other members of the network to be their convener.
  • Creating an outcome-oriented accountability system by collecting data on the inputs, processes, and outcomes of the network and relies on transparency and relationships among the network members to self-enforce behaviors.
If you were being asked for advice on developing a collaborative network, are there elements that you think are missing or insights you’d add?