Networking: A New Way of Solving Social Problems

Adrianne DuMond

“Networks generally create value for individual members as well as for the network as a whole. They are reciprocal and tend to involve multiple value positions for participants”. (Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ), Winter, 2013) What is the message in this for nonprofits? Nonprofits struggle daily with all human conditions – homelessness, poverty, human trafficking, immigration, hunger, education, health care. The above publication is recommending that networks (e.g.,agencies, Boards of Directors, hospitals, government ) must combine operations and influence to better solve these ongoing problems.

To utilize these concepts that create larger impacts and stronger influence, they lay out a set of guidelines for the networks.

  1. Adaptability rather than control. Most of us like to have control over projects and services. It is much easier to be accountable when we have control. But NPQ argues that leading with adaptability over time is a better approach. Given the extreme complexity of many problems, it is impossible for any one leader or entity to know all the ways to solve a problem.
  2. Live with emergence over predictability. Like all living systems, when leaders come together, think together, work together, it is not possible to predict what they will come up with. It is often new possibilities. The speed of instant communications via internet capability compounds this unpredictable condition.
  3. Resilience and redundancy. The most successful athletic teams have backups for key positions. Given the fluidity and complexity of operating through various networks, it is important to learn to be comfortable with “redundancy of function and the richness of interconnections.” If one network leaves, there are others to take its place.
  4. Contributions before credentials. I know a senior partner in a major consulting firm that never finished college. How did she get there? She worked hard, is a visionary and a great problem solver.
  5. Diversity and divergence. The essence of being comfortable with a variety of networks, trying to solve the same problem, is the acceptance of new thinking, various fields of experience, and expanding options.

As a volunteer, I have listened to many presentations on the Affordable Care Act. Whether we agree with it or not, just as it is changing the face of health care, it is symptomatic of the complexities and required changes for solving other social problems. This article has tried to suggest a new approach.

Author:  Adrianne Geiger DuMond, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org