[image from boxesandarrows]
You hear a lot about networks these days. In nonprofit jargon no one even wants to be an organization anymore, everyone wants to be a network. I've been thinking on a smaller scale of how networks might matter to philanthropy and funders and do-ers.
Assuming we value networks because they facilitate useful connections, improve information flow, influence better ideas, distribute work, disseminate excellence, and help distill any wisdom that might exist in a crowd than let us leave aside the rhetoric for a moment and look at networks as a measure of an organization's likelihood for success.
- First, we have network measures - resilience, connectivity, diversity, centrality, even really cool sounding things like the Shimbel Index.
- Second, grantmakers routinely collect information on the people in an organization (leadership, management, board) but don't do much with that information. If diversity of organizational leadership matters, doesn't it follow that the diversity of organizational networks also matters? Funders could map the networks that individuals associated with an organization represent - to other organizations and sectors - and develop some guidelines/categories that would help assess whether the organization was well connected to those it needed to be or was isolated. These cluster nicely and can be given fun names like "kevinbacon" or "singleton." Then they could factor this information into grant decisions.
- Third, foundation program manager could factor this networked-ness into their portfolios - it is possibly as useful as "calculations" about risk and it is more consistently measurable.
- Finally, networks measures can be considered over time - how do they change? which changes matter? Which networks helped the organization succeed? Which connections actually amplified the work?
OK, so I'm down in the weeds a bit today, but given the few comparable measures we have, maybe this is one that offers two of those rare attributes - it can be assessed and it matters.
Note to self...have I noted network as a buzzword yet?