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How to build grantees’ network effectiveness: six lessons and deeper reflections from the Packard Foundation By Noah Rimland Flower / May 2012 / Leave a comment

The leading edge of social change is increasingly network-centric. Collaboration, coordination, and working in networks are becoming the new normal, as leaders across sectors work to move the needle on today’s most pressing problems. It is fast becoming a new kind of capacity for nonprofits to build, but what does it mean in practical terms for a foundation to build its grantees’ “network effectiveness”?

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation set out to answer that question three years ago, in part by offering a range of network-focused support services as part of its Organizational Effectiveness line of grantmaking. We are now happy to release a set of reflections on that experience that they would like to share with the field. We hope these lessons will be useful if you are:

  • a grantmaker interested in building the capacity of your grantees to work in networks, and your own ability as a network weaver in your field
  • the leader of a network or an organization who wants to sharpen my abilities at achieving impact through networks, or
  • a consultant who is helping to build the capacity of others to work in networks

There are six lessons for the field from Packard’s work, each of which is detailed further in the full report:

  1. Combine network effectiveness with organizational effectiveness
    Network effectiveness is clearly a distinctive set of behaviors and strengths for a leader or organization to build. But the approaches for building network effectiveness that this experiment supported were typically combined with more traditional organizational development activities.
  2. For consultants, networks expertise is an addition to standard skills
    A consultant’s ability to build network effectiveness is clearly a distinct skillset—and of most value when used in concert with standard capacity-building skills.
  3. Low-technology settings require high-touch network facilitation
    In areas where the use of high-tech communications is not yet widespread, working in networks can be slower and more time-consuming and require a more high-touch process for supporting the network. But the benefits remain substantial by comparison to working with one organization at a time.
  4. Peer learning builds capacity, builds network effectiveness, and enables collaboration
    Not all capacity is best built through one-on-one consulting. Peer learning fills a distinctive and complementary niche: it helps grantees explore an issue that is central to their work, builds their overall ability to engage collaboratively, and also connects them with potential partners for doing collaborative work.
  5. Networks are proving their value to program outcomes
    Network-based approaches have become central to the work of a number of program officers at the Packard Foundation. Each has discovered their own reasons for achieving strategic goals through network-centric modes of working.
  6. Field-building work remains critically important
    The past three years have seen significant progress in the development of network practices and the level of interest among funders;  but there is substantial work to be done before network effectiveness is considered an essential capacity to build.

To read more, download the executive summary.

For details on the findings, download the full report.

If you have any questions about the report itself, please feel free to contact Kathy Reich, Director of Organizational Effectiveness Grantmaking. This reflection is one of a number of inputs into the Organizational Effectiveness team’s ongoing strategy refresh. They have made that process transparent to the public and open to outside input, using a blog that you can find here. Please feel free to contribute any thoughts you have to offer or questions you would like to raise.

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