Sunday, August 31, 2008

Catalysts and Network Weavers

While searching for more information on Resilient Communities I found this post by John Robb on his blog, Global Guerrillas. It's entitled The Guerrilla Catalyst and it's about people who help form and maintain networks and communities. He cites Rob Hopkins (who initiated the Transition Towns concept) as well as arms-dealer/guerrilla leader Henry Okah (aka Jomo Gbomo), pointing out that this type of networking can be used to build guerrilla insurgencies as well as resilient communities.

Robb calls these people catalysts and says that they "accelerate growth and effectiveness by increasing the trust and connectivity of the networks they inhabit". He talks about the book, The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, where the authors describe the characteristics of catalysts. From Robb's post, catalysts serve as:

  • Connectors. Able to map, mine and connect loose networks of people with similar needs/interests.
  • Onsite helpers and Trust builders. Willing to work with people on the ground in the role of helper. Forges emotional bonds and encourages trust.
  • Supporters. They let the network navigate itself forward by walking away from leadership responsibilities/roles. They trust the network and embrace its ambiguity.

This got me thinking a lot about how to make decentralized networks emerge (the subject of the Brafman and Beckstrom book). But then I saw the first comment made about the post where there was a link to an online essay (posted by one of its authors) claiming, "They are 'network weavers'!"

The eighteen page article referenced is entitled "Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving" by Valdis Krebs and June Holley. In it, the authors begin by talking about the characteristics of effective networks, and then point out there are two types of networks; what they refer to as unmanaged networks and managed networks. The differences between the two networks remind me a lot of what Steven Johnson refers to as 'Clustering' and 'Coping' (see my blog of 8/13/08). Krebs and Holley describe the unmanaged networks as "small and dense clusters with little or no diversity" and give examples of isolated rural communities and 'old boy networks'. They then go on to describe how to build 'vibrant community networks' using a form of leadership they call network weaving. Network weavers take scattered groups and individuals and connect them. This slowly forms what the authors refer to as "a hub and spoke network" with the weavers as the hub. This is only a temporary step. If it stops there, it keeps the responsibility focused on one individual. (This is very similar to what Brafman and Beckstrom call a 'Spider', a group where power is centralized--if you lop the head off a spider, it's dead.) The next step is for the weaver to begin encouraging others to start weaving also. The 'network weaver' becomes a 'network facilitator', mentoring new weavers who take over much of the building and maintaining of the network. Eventually the 'hub and spoke network' becomes what the authors call "a multi-hub small-world network". Over time (as the authors put it "many years of network weaving by multiple hubs") this can build into a 'core/periphery' network that links to other networks. (This is what Brafman and Beckstrom call a 'Starfish', because if you cut the arm off a starfish, the starfish grows a new arm--and the arm often grows a new starfish!)

While reading all this, I was exploring links to Rob Hopkins and the Transition Towns movement (yes, I know I will have to do a post on Transition Towns at some point). They use what's called Open Space Technology--a process that allows people to set their own agendas and run a decentralized meeting. This encourages dialogue and a built-from-the-ground-up process. They start something going, get people involved, and trust the process from there. What seems important is to hold a simple set of values and as long as that's in place, allow the process to emerge--even when it seems like total chaos. And it does seem like stuff emerges.

All this interests me because it could well be the blueprint for grassroots social change, the bottom-up variety, the stuff I've been talking about. Now to get to work on catalyzing and network weaving.

Quote of the day: "Although you may start out developing your Transition Town process with a clear idea of where it will go, it will inevitably go elsewhere. If you try and hold onto a rigid vision, it will begin to sap your energy and appear to stall. Your role is not to come up with all the answers, but to act as a catalyst for the community to design their own transition.
"If you keep your focus on the key design criteria - building community resilience and reducing the carbon footprint - you'll watch as the collective genius of the community enables a feasible, practicable and highly inventive solution to emerge." - from the Transition Towns WIKI
Word (or phrase) of the day: Requisite variety
Hero(es) of the day: Susan La Flesche Picotte and Susette La Flesche Tibbles


June said...

Nice post and thanks for sharing our paper! You can find more about network weaving in our blog and my web page

June Holley

MoonRaven said...

Wow--thanks for your comment and thanks for all the useful work you and your colleagues are doing. (It's kind of amazing you found this site.) I have bookmarked your blog.