Managing and Supporting Networks

Managing and Supporting Networks

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The experience of SDC networks has shown that there are various elements around supporting networks that a Focal Point or facilitator of a network should think about. Below is a visualisation of some key elements or tasks that often arise. The five elements on the right hand side (i.e. on the dark blue background) illustrate the linked elements of supporting networks online, while the two elements on the left (i.e. light blue background) focus more on related face to face moments that might shape a network.



Even though the blue rectangles are depicted as separate tasks or processes, in reality they are most often interlinked. When looking at this overview, it is important to consider the context you find yourself in - are you in the midst of defining the strategy for a new network? Who is involved in the creation and support of a network? Are there timing issues? Are you planning a specific online dialogue, or face to face meeting? Depending on the answers to these questions, you might want to focus on particular guides in this series. For example, if you are in the early stages of setting up your network, you might want to start with the following three guides: 1) nurturing networks; 2) roles ​and responsibilities within networks​; 3) managing membership. If your network has already been formed and you are about to start an online dialogue, you might want to immediately look at the e-facilitation element depicted above. Alternatively, if you know that an important event will​ take place soon and that the event will bring together potential future network members, you might want to start with the linking face-to-face events and​ online dialogues good practice guide. ​​

In other words, the guides together provide a comprehensive look at the main things to think about and to do in supporting networks, right fr​om the beginning, but you can also choose one or two guides to help you with specific needs. We hope you enjoy and learn from them!​​​


Starting up & nurturing networks


​How to starting-up a networks? ​In mid-2008, SDC created a number of thematic and management networks. During the initial period, a variety of tools were elaborated that support actors to successfully build up new networks.​

Start-up Guide
In this five page document with nice illustrations seven core issues for launching a network are discussed briefly and a list of 10 hints from practitioners how to make a network sucessful is provided.

Facilitating Networks
Good practices and important questions to ask when you consider setting up or improving a network. Based on experiences of DFID staff; a practical 9-page document by DFID

Launching a Network: Start Fitness Check
Thisdocument summarises many networking experiences in form of guiding questions. The test is adapted from a fitness test forCoPsand helps optimising the shape of an upcoming network.

Atwo-page list of interesting trainings and courses related to set-up and maintenance of networks. Have a look and chose what's best for you.

Supporting Thematic Communities - the Helvetas Experience
On the basis of its experiences over the best part of a decade, Helvetas created the current document, providing some insights and recommendations for setting up and sustaining thematic networks and CoPs.

Work the Net
The GIZ/SKAT publication Work the Net is one of the standard publications about managing networks. A careful introduction into basics of networking with a special focus on management issues in networking. Practical examples and several checklists provide lots of helpful hints for practitioners. The checklists are available as a separate file

What are networks and why should they be nurtured? Networks are made up of people who are connected by a common thematic interest or goal. Some networks remain loose and without specific goals, serving as platforms for members to exchange their ideas and experiences. In the SDC context networks have been set up to go further than this, as people are expected to identify themselves with a network and develop a sense of common purpose. When people in a network deepen their knowledge by interacting on an ongoing basis, develop shared values and a feeling of belonging or common identity, such a network can also be described as a community. Communities can combine the instrumental aspect of a network with social and value based ones. Experience has shown that it takes time for a sense of community to develop and usually it takes skilled facilitation, planning, organising and participation by members - in other words nurturing - for it to grow. Although a network may need more attention when it is created or when significant changes happen, "nurturing" should remain on the agenda throughout the lifecycle of a network.​

SDC-Good-Practice_Nurturing-Networks​​ [ PDF, 329​ KB ​]​​​


When SDC created its networks, a variety of tools were elaborated that support actors to successfully build up new networks​

Roles and responsibilities within networks


How should we think about different roles within networks? In the guide on nurturing networks, we pointed out that networks are made up of people who are connected by a common thematic interest or goal. Although the roles that network members play may depend on who its members are, experience has shown that having clarity on roles and responsibilities within a network contributes positively to its development. Most SDC networks include a Focal Point, Steering Group members, a facilitator, thematic backstopper(s) and webmaster(s). Besides the Focal Point who is designated by the SDC management, the other roles can either be fulfilled by SDC staff and/or partners. This guide will examine the above mentioned roles more closely as well as assess cooperation modalities among them.

SDC-Good-Practice_Roles-and-responsibilities-within-networks​​ [ PDF, 337​​ KB ​]​​​


Managing membership​


What is the scope of membership management? In networks it is just as important as in a club or association that members know each other and feel at home. Some ways of doing this are by welcoming new members, making a members' list easily accessible and periodically providing network members with data i.e. on mappings to illustrate who the members are, where they come from, etc. This guide also examines more strategic issues, such as broadening membership internally and keeping members engaged.

SDC-Good-Practice_Managing-Membership​​ [ PDF, 59​​​ KB ​]​​​




What is e-facilitation? E-facilitation refers to the ways in which different types of online dialogue (as opposed to face to face) are facilitated and managed. Email-based interaction is one of the most frequently used types of online dialogue because it is simple in terms of bandwidth requirements as well as technical understanding of participants. It is also a direct form of communicating, as messages go straight to the inbox of the participating individuals. This guide focuses on the particularities of e-facilitation – both generally speaking and in the SDC context. 

SDC-Good-Practice_E-Facilitation​​ [ PDF, 79​ KB ​]​​​


Digital Habitats - stewarding technology for communities (Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, John D. Smith, 2009)
Technology has changed what it means for communities to “be together.” Digital tools are now part of most communities’ habitats. This book develops a new literacy and language to describe the practice of stewarding technology for communities.​

Consolidated reply on query: IT tools for virtual teams? (Adrian Gnägi, 2010)
Results of a query in the KM4Dev network on what worked well in the collaboration in virtual teams. Recommendations on process for identifying IT tools to apply, on tool and on feasibility reflections.

​​IMARK e-learning module(FAO et al. 2003 ff.)
The latest IMARK-e-learning module focuses on Web 2.0 and Social Media and how they can be used to strengthen collaboration and knowledge-sharing in our work.​

​Planing face-to-face events


What should be considered when planning a face-to-face (f2f) event for an SDC network? We will focus here on the process related aspects to consider when preparing a f2f in the context of a network. This includes how to deal with different tension fields regarding time allocation for different aspects that f2f events should cover, e.g. how much time should be allocated to network building as opposed to content delivery. Different possibilities exist regarding the format of f2f events, for example a periodic five day f2f event with a maximum number of members of a given network is quite different from a two hour f2f meeting. This guide will concentrate on the former, examining how to deal with specific procedural issues also depending on where the network is in terms of its life cycle.

SDC-Good-Practice_Planning-f2f-Events​​ [ PDF, 79​ KB ​]​​​

Social Reporting on face-to-face events


Experience from face-to-face meetings show: Social reporting boosts learning and sharing. Writing blog post, capturing short video statements from participants or jointly discussing guiding questions in front of the reporting wall supports participants in their individual learning process. Transfer of learning needs a plan and structure. Social reporting facilitates the reflection process.

Why use social ​reporting​​ [ PDF, 212​ KB ​]​​​

Linking face-to-face events and online dialogues​


Bringing online and face-to-face interactions together. In the context of SDC networks, there is great potential in thinking about how face-to-face (f2f) and online interactions can complement and strengthen each other. If we are conscious about how we design and implement both aspects, we can create synergies that strengthen network activities, outputs and coherence, as well as generate higher levels of enthusiasm among members. These synergies will support enhanced learning and ultimately lead to stronger, more effective networks that make robust contributions to thematic policies, dialogues and activities of the organisation.

SDC-Good-Practice_Linking-F2F-and-online-dialogues​​ [ PDF, 69​​ KB ​]​​​

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