NETS, NET-CREATING AND NETWORKING (II)
Voluntary Mechanism for Communication and Learning
The intrThe terms “nets”, “net-creating” and “networking” have lately become very popular and widely used not only in the NGO sector, but much wider, too. In this edition and in the next several editions of The Civic World we are going to present the basic concepts related to nets and networking: what are nets and networking, what is the difference between a net and organization, what kinds and structures of nets are there, information flow in the nets, representing the net, financing the networking, advantages and disadvantages of the networking etc.
Starting from the previous issue of the “Civic World”, we have decided to deal with the basic terms related to nets, netting and networking in a few sequences.
The basic activity in the nets is practicing networking. Although the term networking is also subjected to various interpretations, its essence are the communications. Networking is a process which results from the aware efforts for building relations between each other for achieving certain aim. As a voluntary mechanism for communication and learning between the autonomous participants, the net depends on the “input” of its members. If they do not contribute, there is not a networking, so there is not a net, too.
Human resources are the most important advantage of any net.
Nets, particularly the ones in the NGOs, are to a great extent considered to be “organizations which learn” and in respect of this, the most important aspect of this may be that networking is actually means for mutual learning.
From aspect of mutual learning, the ideas and innovations are much easily distributed through personal contacts than, for example, through written information. This implies to the important role of the individuals and the personal contacts within the net. Members of a net can be individuals or organizations, or both, but it is important to emphasize the importance of the individuals in any net. The inter-human relations keep the net compact. Although it is not completely impossible to work with people you do not like, it is much easier to build a net with people you like.
However, this nets’ dependence on the personal contacts and relations can often be Achilles’ heel of any net.
Nets’ contacts with the external world are often centralized a lot (even monopolized). Actually, the manager or any other key figure, basically creates the networking. Surprisingly a large number of NGOs admit that they do not have a reserve capacity unless this key figure is present. If he/she is not there, then networking has to wait for his/her to come back. People sometimes change their job and in reference to the above mentioned it can have catastrophic effects on the net. Therefore, in order to develop strong and long-lasting relations between the organizations, nets have to depersonalize the external contacts and to establish relations between the organizations in a way that there could be continuity even if individuals change.
The importance of mutual vision
It does not surprise that the mutual vision is often mentioned in the NGOs nets literature. However, it is not clear enough if this mutual vision is considered to be a pre-condition for net building or it is expected to develop since the net starts being created. But, it is obvious that nets base upon some mutual needs and ideas from the beginning, at least between a small group of net initiators. In a certain period, networking as a mutual process of learning leads to evolution or strengthening certain mutual ideas.
Potential participants in a net should from the beginning mark the questions for which there is a mutual vision already and then start realizing networking around them.
Obviously, networking is a voluntary practice between independent actors, however it supposes in advance a kind of a mutual program and consensus in regard to the usefulness and the networking objective. Only those who feel the need for cooperation are probable to join or to form a net.
NGO nets sometimes simply strive only for sharing information between the participants, but in other cases the ambition is to achieve influence on organizations and decision-makers that are not part of the net. In such cases it comes out that the question related to representing the net is quite delicate.
Most of the nets strive for focusing around one “core” or, as it is sometimes called a “focus-point”. Its role is to facilitate the information exchange within the net and sometimes to coordinate certain activities. Between the organizations which want to participate in the networking, one is chosen to provide information exchange and keep contacts. Therefore it is of an essential importance for the chosen organization to have a role of “focus-point”, to have financial and managerial capacities to realize this role. Normally, the “focus-point” should have better external contacts. Under certain circumstances this can be a potential source of power and that is why it is essential the “focus-point” to perceive itself as means for easing the networking and not as its leader.
The ambition of some NGOs to represent others can often be problematic. The risk occurs that this representing can be used for building personal careers or raising the image of a certain organization at expense of the other members of the net.
If representing is an activity where the net is given priority, there are a lot of reasons why it can be necessary to increase the level of formalization. Eventual transforming of the net into a formally registered organization can be a better way for realizing these objectives.
Prepared by: Sunchica Sazdovska
(Source: Optimizing Efforts – A Practical Guide to NGO Networking, UNSO/UNDP, May 2000)