Underneath every system is a set of networks. First, there is a network holding the old ways in place that needs to be exposed to the world and opened up for change. In addition there is a network (often much larger than we realise) of unconnected or loosely connected individuals who want a healthier system.
One of the most effective ways to change a complex system is by connecting these individuals and helping them to take action to change the system. The creation of networks that include marginalised individuals and groups in their core is, in fact, a key element of healthy, transformed systems.
This year the Lab Team have started to explore thinking in June Holley‘s Network Weaver Handbook (above is an extract from the Introduction). Six of us have formed an initial Network Guardians group to ensure we are constantly thinking about what our network needs so that it functions more effectively and creates results.
We’ve set up a simple 75 minute session structure, consisting of a check-in, three short explorations, and a check-out. We aim to convene once a week.
The Network Weaver Handbook includes an abundance of really useful worksheets, and rather than printing off copies for everyone it occurred to me that I could share photos of them in our Network Guardians WhatsApp group as and when we needed to use them during a session. This turned out to be a ridiculously useful idea, as to facilitate participation in the sessions some Network Guardians joined remotely via Zoom. (Zoom is a really simple to use solution for online meetings, h/t Judy Rees for introducing it to me and many others in the RSA.) We also have a Network Guardians GDrive folder where I share extracts of the Network Weaver Handbook for pre-reading. We all have access to hard copies of the entire Handbook, but chunking it up means we can work through it without anyone feeling overwhelmed.
In our first session we reflected and discussed our work using prompts on a worksheet called When a Network Lens is Useful. This surfaced important points around involvement in our network being meaningful, built on trust and reciprocity. We discussed the value of new and different perspectives in our network to inspire us, challenge our thinking and help us learn. We want to get smarter about ways we go about learning and deep reflection.
We discussed the purpose and format of our sessions, reinforcing the importance of a practice we use in all our CoLab Dudley team meetings: check-in and check-out rounds. Team member Daniel Blyden bought this simple idea from Hyper Island, and we looked at a blog about check-in rituals at Medium. We are going to reserve one of our explorations each session for Connecting Conversations. Because our Network Guardians aren’t co-located and aren’t involved full time in CoLab Dudley activity it was feeling increasingly important that we have some knowledge of conversations and connections each other are having. In this slot we share recent and upcoming connections and conversations which may be directly or indirectly related to CoLab Dudley work, may be face-to-face or online. We layered on an idea to share highlights from this as part of our intentional working and learning our loud.
Conversations we connected in our first session included:
- Project development ideas with a local resident who wants to share wood-turning skills
- Opportunities to learn from collaboration Arts at the Old Fire Station in Oxford is growing with Crisis: I had talked to Deputy Director Becca Vallins at a systems thinking workshop organised by Lankelly Chase.
- Jo‘s recent conversations with Grapevine Coventry around Detectorism
- Social enterprises working around homelessness and food waste in Sheffield which we could visit and draw inspiration from, including Camerados Living Room
In our second Network Guardians session we dug deeper into the purpose, shape, strengths and challenges of our Intentional Network. A rich discussion was prompted through a short reading and a few simple questions. Though only 6 days had passed since our first session, it was astonishing how many more conversations there were to share (demonstrating to me the importance of doing this frequently).
- Loraine and Stu had found 3 people new to Trade School willing to share skills in Greek, meditation, wood burning and couponing as Trade School Dudley teachers.
- Jo had made a new contact through her volunteering with the Wildlife Trust who wanted to bring activities to Dudley and turned out to be an Repair Cafe enthusiast.
- Nick has been talking to Catherine Mangan, Director of INLOGOV about potential for organisations in Dudley to explore ideas around the 21st Century Public Servant He had also connected CHADD to Andy Reeve of DemoDev.
- Nick and I had met Geoff and Rachel from Heritage Lottery funded project Living Memory and explored connections with CoLab Dudley activity, gather, and Dudley CVS teams and members.
- I had met with colleagues from Wolverhampton VSC, Wolverhampton Council, Creative Black Country, Gattis community centre and Wild Bytes cafe to talk about Participatory City and CoLab Dudley.
- A colleague from Dudley MBC had tweeted about an idea to host an International Women’s Day series of TED talk screenings at gather; a co-design session will be arranged.
Notes by Lorna Prescott