The Network

Technology and discussions of technologies were notably absent from the Civicus World Assembly. Even the head of Africa's first mobile phone company speaking in a BBC World Service debate missed speaking about how bringing a mobile phone infrastructure to Africa creates a potentially massive platform for driving, evaluating and improving development.

However, in the packed programme there was one session that took at look at technology. Co-ordinated by Igloo the session was primarily exploring tools for fascilitating communication between dispersed teams of researchers or practioners. A lot of what was said about building network and communities of practioners was really useful – but, it was this slide:

Slide from IGLOO talk at the Civicus World Assembly (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial)


that really made it worth going. The slide itself may look fairly plain – but in showing how the rise of the network as an organising principle has arrived, enabled by technologies of connection – parallel to the rise of bureacracy, enabled by technologies of control – it provides a coherent framework for explaining and understanding the changes we're grappling with right now.

We're in the age of the network. The network is new (in the scheme of things). And the network reconfigures our social and organisational relationships – not just our technologies.

Given that the majority of delegates at the World Assembly spent their formative years before the rise of the network, it is not suprising that using networked strategies for promoting development and accountability had a low profile through the event. Both the leaders and the stakeholders/beneficiaries of Civicus's member NGOs lack an internalised understandings of networked working environments. By contrast, Youth Assembly Delegates (18 – 25 year olds who met before and then took part in the World Assembly) often had at least an unconciously internalised understanding of the network, and one that significantly shapes their world views – yet, as the slide above showed me – we lack a comprehension of the place of this understanding in the current rapid development of the history of thought and organisational structures. Crucially, both young and old are low on the practical skills to operate effectively in networked ways.

I know this needs change. It needs a response. Yet I've had this blog post waiting for completion for almost a month as I can't see clear to pull together enough threads of thought yet to even get close to sketching a response. And that's the challenge – the network and the information age seem to change ways of knowing – and ways of learning. So rather than look for some conceptual conclusion to this post – I will simply let it arrive on my blog as part of an exploration in progress. A seemingly significant conceptual stage on a learning journey. And a post with a picture full of all the different shades of the colour blue I really like…

The challenge of change and network building

I'm currently involved in establishing a network of consultants and practitioners working on embedding youth participation (called The Enfusion Network).

For the network to function at its best, we need to encourage practioners and consultants to engage with an open working style that allows the benefits of a network to emerge.

But as Seth Godin's post on bananas suggests… (and as our experience working to encourage organisations to embed young peoples engagement backs up…) 'selling' and encouraging change is tough.

But if we're serious about the need for Enfusion (which we are). And if we're serious about avoiding 'organisation building' and making sure that we have a responsive network that really serves to aid improved practice and impact in youth engagement (which we are), then we need to stick at it.

We've just had a working weekend to explore the next steps for the network, and from that I think our core challenges are:

  • To keep our vision focussed on creating connections between practioners and consultants focussed on embedding youth engagement in organisations and communities – and to find ways of clearly keeping that focus while being open to allow interdisciplinary connections to emerge…
  • To find creative ways of engaging potential network members in Enfusion – both showing the value of making small changes to working patterns in order to be able to engage through the network, and through creating positive opportunities for connections to be made (developing on from our conference calls and coffee house chats…)
  • To find sources of funding and ways of becoming sustainable that don't rely on 'organisation building' and allow the network to remain agile and effective, responding to the needs in the field for critical discussion space, networking space and reflection space.

We're going to be working on meeting these challenges over the coming months, so all pointers and suggestions most welcome…