A Network with No Expectations

May 23, 2012 //

By Pia Infante

The practical magic and inspiration of Boston’s Barr Fellows Network story is captured simply by the following admission from Lyndia Downie, Executive Director of Pine Street Inn, – I’m not sure I buy all this network theory, but I love the people in this network.”

I encourage you to study this living history of how providing sometimes long divided (and very different) local leaders with opportunities to renew, connect, innovate, and be fish out of water together (in the global south) are some of the building blocks of “networking a city.” 

In the Barr Foundation’s learning partnership on networks with the Interaction Institute for Social Change, they coalesced existing understandings of networks and decided that the network they sought to seed and support was one of connectivity for the sake of connection and relationship.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  And waited to see what would organically emerge from this.  

These are 3 distinctions I found useful:

  • Connectivity network: loosely structured with no expectations of shared accomplishment (read here: relationship over time without pressure to perform)
  • Alignment network:  shared vision
  • Action network:  people mobilize towards common goals and collective action

In the event that this case study not only intrigues, but inspires an open source open spirited desire to copy, here are some guiding thoughts:

  1. Prepare to invest in sabbaticals and disruption.
  2. Select from a broad base and be flexible. 
  3. Engage a network knowledge partner and assess early and often.
  4. Recognize that the funder-grantee relationship is complex.