The workshop itself was an experiment in functioning on the network model: we functioned non-hierarchically, aimed at maximizing the ability of each person to contribute from her /his experience and insights, assumed and respected the expertise of each participant, and took from people's experience on all levels from the microcosm (the single human being) to the macrocosm (international networks, universal consciousness) and found the possibilities for generalizing from one leve1 to another. From these transferrable aspects, we attempted to formulate a general picture of what makes a network in practice among people.
Tw.o participants acted as facilitator and recorder, each functioning as a channel for the needs of the group as a whole, working to help manifest the mind and consciousness of the group. Attempt was made to remain conscious of and responsive to the feeling-state (interest level, comfort, involvement) of the participants in the meeting individually and as a group, and to make the work of the meeting flow from the feeling of connectedness and mutuality of the group.
The first step in the process of determining the agenda was to determine the interest and concerns of each participant in the workshop. Each person in turn laid out the questions she /he wished to explore. The facilitator synthesized all of this information and came up with five questions' for us to address.
- What characterizes a network: examples from experience.
- The place of leadership in a network; the question of the existence of hierarchy in a network.
- The network of: a person, a person's relationships, a person in the world.
- The question of the interrelationship of networks.
- The question of network vulnerability, information distribution, the dynamic of inclusion in or exclusion from networks.
In the course of our six-hour meeting, we did not formally pass on from the first question to the others. We discussed the characteristics of a network first laying out the concepts which each of us includes in our personal understanding of what a network is then discussing the networks in which each of us is or has been involved. Our discussion of the networks in which we are involved raised and spoke to all of the other agenda questions.
What characterizes a network?
Concepts from our personal definitions:
- cooperative process
- channel of communication
- group consciousness
- consensus in action
- the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It was suggested as well that a network is a way of bringing to expression and into relation the dynamic between that which is finite and that which is infinite; and of combining and balancing focused, specific, purposefUl awareness and diffuse, wholistic, general awareness.
Suggested characteristics of networks
- two-way communication
- modes of input and output
- multidirectional flow
- synthesis of opposites
- shared biases
- shared values
- shared objectives
- balance of purposeful existence and communitarian existence.
- focus without control
- linking, interlinking
- manifesting the dynamic between and balance of the rights and worth of an individual and the rights and worth of a group
- personal self-satisfaction
- space for self-actualization and personal creativity
- affirmatlon. support. reliiforcemenl.
The synthesis of these words and phrases formed the working definition which was operative in our further discussion of networks. We found this process of definition by brainstorming, combined with a further discussion of specific existing networks, helpful as part of an ongoing, evolutionary process of defining what a network is.
A summary of functions of networks which were discovered from discussion of existing networks
Shared values, common concern. Many of the discussed networks came together around shared values or biases, to make a particular kind of change, to protect a shared idea from distortion, to identify all of the options available for dealing With a problem and synthesize.
Networks are formed as a way for people to exchange ideas, information and intuitions about a shared concern, to spread information or awareness about a valued concept, to filter information. Dr to direct the flow of information
Networks function to sustain the personal growth of network members for the internal enrichment of participants in the network, for resource sharing, and for reinforcement, increased status, and support for people operating within hierarchies.
Relating to or obviating hierarchies:
Networks serve to open up to public dialog, discussion and solution of problems which are usually or inadequately dealt with within institutions. They serve to modify the decision-making structure of hierarchies, provide alternative information flow Within hierarchies, get people together who have common functions or goals within different hierarchies to overcome the structural blockages hierarchies set up, or to overcome the low priority within the hierarchy of a shared value (housing, hunger, for example).
Nelworks serve to increase efficiency, especially in terms of time, of achieving some purpose, by bypassing some levels of authority within bureaucracies. They provide an arena for cooperation between people with a common problem who have to relate to different power structures (for example bi-national problems of concern to more than one government).
Some questions about networks
Our discussion of the networks of which we are part gave rise to some additional questions, which we set down, talked about, but did not answer.
- Can a network be created: are the channels of energy flow created or are they already existent and is building a network opening already existent channels?
- Can a network be eliminated: if so, what is the standard for tenure of a network? How many nodes need be eliminated before a network ceases to exist? If people are out of touch is the network still there? Is a network destroyed if it fails to reach an objective?
- What constitutes a node: are all the people in a network nodes? How many people can there be in a node? The question of the relative importance of nodes the impact of a person can be local, regional, or global. Is each of these people a different kind of node?
Some thoughts on the question of personal support for people doing networking
Nurturance is necessary to the survival of network and networkers. One needs to be healthy and for one's life to be whole to work well. Networks must have an internal nurturance system. Maturity and security are important; strongly individuated people are necessary.
The problem arises of differentiating the needs of a person that can be met by a network and those which a person must meet for her / him self in other ways - not projecting personal needs (vested interests) on the network in a way that sucks the energy of the whole. People tend to see something that's greater than themselves as being able to meet their needs.
When do personal needs take precedence over service to the network? There needs to be a way for people doing networking to keep an active balance between serving and being served.
If one's material survival is linked to being a networker, it is necessary to be unattached to the income in order to do the work in a way of service and unselfishness. Volunteer work was suggested as an alternate way to overcome the problem of vested interest. Volunteer work combined with holding another lob for survival can lead to burnout.
It Nas suggested that the job of a networker is to make the network self sufficient.
Thoughts on the question of vested interest at work within institutions and networks
A postulated process of network formation:
- Initial random involvement in the network based on high ideals.
- All nodes of the network are of equal value or weight in terms of energy input.
- Some nodes take on more responsibility voluntarily.
- A perceived need for quality control develops.
- Training programs and recruitment are developed.
- People start working for a combination of dedication and money.
- The continuation of the institution becomes the vested interest of the people being paid.
- Institutions which start out serving social or human needs end up perpetuating and exploiting those needs to keep themselves In existence.
Some problems inherent in networks
- Determining the most viable expansion rate
- Maintaining open-ness and being inclusive during the growth and expansion process without losing integrity.
- Determining criteria for inclusion exclusion.
- Balancing long-term functions and short-term goals.
- Identifying the level at which the purpose toward which the network is working is common to all participants (the level on which to work).
It was agreed by all participants in the workshop that the kinds of information and experience-sharing which we did were very helpful in terms of broadening and deepening our understanding of what a network is and in terms of the context which that understanding provides for the kinds of work that we do.
We decided to continue our collaboration in the ongoing process of exploring networks, and to become involved with others who share our interests and concerns.
The definitions and characteristics which we set down in the course of the workshop are a beginning step.
(') Extracts from the report of a workshop held during the meeting on Exploring the Network Alternative" Montreal. 18-20 November 1976. The report of the latter meeting was reproduced in "Transnational Associations" N 9 on pages 352-365