A network can knit together disparate vantage points on a social system, build agreement about how it operates, and ultimately provide the container for coordinated strategic planning that aligns the participants’ goals. The early-stage conversations can be challenging, requiring the group to iron out differences in definitions, ideas, and language. These conversations often yield new insight into the root causes of a problem, the common beliefs shared by the participants, and the ways that they could potentially align their work or collaborate on shared efforts. When a network succeeds at building that agreement and strategic coordination, each participating organization’s activities can begin to add up to a coherent large-scale effort, while still leaving each organization the freedom to execute its work independently.
Related terms: This function is closely related to what is described as an alignment network, and is very similar to the definition of a collective impact network.
“We saw all kinds of programs expanding their models because they realized they were just one piece of the puzzle and they had to think about partnership in a different way. Rather than require every organization [in our venture philanthropy portfolio] to figure out which partnerships they individually need, we thought it would be better to bring a collective together, creating the environment of trust and providing the space to figure it out amongst themselves.” – Shruti Sehra, New Profit, Inc.
“A network allows a broad range of people and organizations to find a shared framework from which to act. Members of a network are unlikely to agree on each and every philosophical point, but they can use their relationships and sense of shared purpose to coordinate actions capable of producing social change.” – Douglas Easterling, author