From Networking to Tensegrity Organization

Networking: the Need for a New Concept

Anthony Judge

Previously published in International Associations 26, 1974, 3, pp. 170-173.


There are numerous uses of the term "network" to describe features of the psychosocial system. However, although this calls attention to the complexity of the system, it denotes a static structure and contains no reference to the essential dynamism of networks. Networks are dynamic both in terms of the flows between the nodes but also because of the evolution of the network itself over time in response to new challenges and opportunities. This dynamic feature could well be highlighted by using "network" as a verb as well as a noun. "Networking" becomes therefore the process of operating in an (inter-organizational) network, including the progressive evolution of this network over time.

In the following section an attempt is made to list together a variety of social networks to give some idea of the areas in which the concept can be used. Thereafter an attempt is made to sketch out a set of "networking principles". In the final section some of the problems raised by networks are considered for the practical areas of legislation, programme administration, financial control and personnel policy.

Types of organizational network

Each of the following networks is characterized by one or more of the following :

  • movement of personnel or staff between centres in the network
  • movement of goods between centres in the network
  • movement of members (or customers) between centres in the network (possibly on the basis of reciprocal membership)
  • reallocation of personnel or resources between the centres
  • movement of information between centres
  • movement or reallocation of funds between centres.

    1. Knowledge storage

    • Library networks: characterized by inter-library lending; catalogue card exchange; reciprocal right of access for approved users.
    • Museum networks: characterized by inter-museum tranfers and exchanges of exhibits and exhibitions; reciprocal right of access for approved scholers.
    • Art gallery network: characterized by inter-gallery transfers and loans of art works and art exhibitions.

    2. Knowledge advance

    • Research institute networks: characterized by inter-institute movement of researches and lecturers; exchanges of ideas and new program areas; switching of external fund allocations to different parts of the network.

    3. Community

    • Kibbutzim networks: characterized by exchanges of produce, and occasionally services, between individual kibbutzim; also functions as a network of defensive positions.
    • Commune networks: characterized by movement of people between a variety of modes of life style expression.

    4. Esoteric

    • Church networks: characterized by movement of clergy preachers between churches; occasional movement of parishoners.
    • Monastry networks: characterized by occasional movement between centres; originally reception points (or travellers and pilgrims.

    5. Social

    • Youth hostel networks: characterized by movement of hostellers around the network.
    • Sports club network: characterized by exchange matches between clubs which result in each club receiving and visiting most others in the network.
    • Holiday resort networks: characterized by movement of staff between centres; alternation of holiday-makers between resorts.

    6. Protectionist

    • Business clubs (Fraternity club, Country club) networks: characterized by reciprocal memberships between clubs in geographically isolated centres.
    • Trade union {Professional association) networks: characterized by movement of key people between centres; preference to existing members if they move to a new geographical location.

    7. Development

    • Mission network: characterized by movement of missionaries or superiors of the order which instituted the network.
    • Work camp network: characterized by alternation of volunteers between centres.
    • Program site network: characterized by movement of experts and program evaluators between centres.

    8. Entertainment

    • Theatre (Nightclub, Circus, Dance hall) networks: characterized by movement of performers between centres.

    9. Education

    • University networks: characterized by inter-university movement of lectures and students
    • School networks: characterized by movement of officials and teachers between centres; exchange sports matches between centres.

    10. Health

    • Hospital (Medical centre) networks: characterized by movement of doctors and patients between centres.

    11. Commercial and Industrial

    • Chain store networks: characterized by réallocation of stocks and personnel between centres.
    • Corporate networks: characterized by networks of holding companies and subsidiaries between which resources and personnel are reallocated; cross-linking directorships and stockholders.
    • Factory networks: characterized by movement of materials and parts between centres at different stages of processing and assembly.
    • Hotel (Motel) chains: characterized by movement of customers between centres; reallocation of personnel around the network.
    • Cafe (Bar) networks: characterized by movement of customers between centres.

    12. Economic

    • Stock (Commodity) exchange networks: characterized by transfers of funds between centres.
    • Bank networks: characterized by transfers of funds between centres.

    13. Official

    • Military base networks: characterized by reallocation of personnel and material between centres; movement of information between centres.
    • Embassy networks: characterized by reallocation of diplomatic personnel between centres; movement of information between centres.

    14. Communication and transport

    • Airline networks: characterized by reallocation of planes between travel routes; movement of customers and goods through the network.
    • Railway networks: characterized by reallocation of wagons between routes; movement of customers and goods through the network.
    • Postal network: characterized by movement of letters and parcels through the network.
    • Telex (Wire services; Telephone) network: characterized by movement of messages through the network.

    15. Criminal

    Networking principles: an attempt at a set of guidlines


    The problem for transnational organizations is to develop a way of increasing the dynamism and strength of their networks without retreating to the unsuccessful formula of the coordinating umbrella body which is probably following the dinosaurs into social history. The following sections attempt to identify some characteristics of the new approach required. The challenge is to develop information systems which facilitate and catalyze (rather than organize) the development of such networks to the benefit of all participating bodies and the social system within which they function. Principles :

    1. Networks of information and other flows tend to develop wherever there is a need for contact between existing social actors whether or not the action or the communication is approved. The network is a more adequate response to a complex environment than a minimally and formally connected set of hierarchical institutions. If necessary networks become unofficial and bypass or undermine accepted channels to create adequate contact.

    2. Networks decrease in effectiveness and in attractiveness to potential participants to the extent that any particular body or group of bodies within the network attempts to structure it to favour its onw ends or its own conception of the nature of the programes which participants should undertake.

    3. The budget toad of operating a network for the benefit of one body or group of bodies increases with the number of organizations encoded in the data system, unless means are found to involve such organizations as full participants so that it is in their own interest to ensure the dynamism of the network's operations to contribute data and possibly funds.


    The network style may tentatively be characterized by :

    1. emphasis on the contribution of special knowledge, competence, and experience by any appropriate transnational organization to the common task of any ad hoc group of transnational organizations set up for a specific task.
    2. the "realistic" nature of the program of any transnational organization which is seen as set by its perception of the most significant problems for which it is competent, in terms of the information which it has managed to receive.
    3. the adjustment and continual redefinition by each transnational organization of its programs through interaction with and in response to others: the network is conceived as constantly changing and evolving sub-networks of transnational organizations with a special interest in common which come into existence for any required period; transnational organizations may each be participating in any number of such partial networks; partial networks are deliberately terminated when no longer useful.
    4. the shedding of "responsibility * as a limited field of rights, obligations and methods (e.g. world problems may not be systematically ignored as being some other organization's sole responsibility).
    5. the spread of commitment of a transnational organization to society as a whole beyond any technical definition of programs or legal definitions of constitution or statutes,
    6. a network structure of control, authority, and communication; the sanctions which apply to the individual transnational association's conduct in its working relations derive more from presumed community of interest with the rest of the network in the survival and evolution of the open society, and less from any temporary contractual relationship between the organization and some body recognized as coordinator for the program in question,
    7. omniscience no longer imputed to key organizations in the network; knowledge about the economic, social, cultural, scientific, technical, etc. problems of the immediate task may be located anywhere in the organizational network; this location may, if appropriate, become the ad hoc centre of control, authority, and communication for that task,
    8. lateral rather than vertical direction of communication through the network, communication between organizations of different status; consultative contacts are emphasized with each participant adjusting its programs in consequence if it perceives such adjustment to be warranted.
    9. a content of communication between bodies which consists of information and advice rather than instructions and decisions.
    10. commitment to the problems of the development of the open society is more highly valued than loyalty and obedience to the individual transnational association,
    11. importance and prestige attach to affiliation of the transnational organization to professional, scientific, or cultural networks not directly concerned with the transnational organizations's immediate program tasks.

    Each of these points concerning interorganizational relations may require some adjustment in the internal organization of the transnational organization and more specifically to the way the organization conceives itself. Although comment has been restricted to the transnational association network, this is clearly intimately related to the network of governmental agencies to that of business enterprises and to that of the academic community.


    The organizational network is an organic" form appropriate to today's rapidly-changing conditions which constantly give rise to fresh problems and unforeseen requirements for action requirements which cannot be rapidly and satisfactorily distributed to organizations working in isolation within rigidly defined programs. The network permits all the decentralization necessary to satisfy the need for autonomous organizational development and individual initiative. It also provides for very rapid centralization, canalization, and focusing of resources the moment any complex problem (or natural disastter) emerges which requires the talents of a particular configuration or constellation of transnational organizations (or other bodies). The centralization is only binding on the transnational organizations concerned with the problem in question, and for the period during which they have "common cause" and in no way affects others in the network. The network is, furthermore multidimensional in character since transnational organizations may centralize themselves to different extents in many different partial networks and at the same time decentralize (or disassociate) themselves on other issues. The network is not "coordinated" by any body: the participating bodies coordinate themselves so that one may speak of "autocoordination" rather than coordination. Similarly, the network as a whole is not "directed" or "controlled"by any body rather it is "self-directing" and self-adapting.


    The concept of networking, if it is to be useful in social organization as well as in the sociology of organizations, must be embodied In the structures and procedures which govern the day-to-day operations of organizations. Some of the problems and possibilities of achieving this are noted below.

    1. Legislation

    Organizations are subject to the legislative measures of the countries in which they are established. They may even owe their special characteristics to the provisions which permit them to be created and which govern the manner in which they function. It is the legislative measures which give organization's "existence" in society today. Whilst "de facto"organizations may appear to exist, it is as though they existed on the borders of the social unconscious in a dim twilight realm. "De jure" organizations are much more real and solid, particularly to the world of officialdom which controls much of the social policymaking. The following problems of giving legal recognition to networks of organizations and the networking process are indicative :

    • to date legal status has only been ' accorded to distinct social entities with well-defined boundaries. A network is by definition made up of many entities whose degree of interrelationship erodes this absolute distinctness there is a degree of blurring of each component organization.
    • again legal status depends upon being able to identify a welldefined group of persons or bodies which is responsible for the actions of the recognized organization. Networks involve constant movement of people bringing them successively into association with many nodes, and occassionally several at the same time. People are mobile within networks legislative measures cannot respond easily to this dynamism. They depend on fixed relationships which persist over significant periods of time.

    There are however approaches which could be explored which would make it possible to give legal reality to networks :

    • current legislation ties the responsibility for an organization to its directors as representing the stockholders or subscribing membership. in the sociological perspective the "membership" may include the following however: directors, subscribing membership /stockholders, clients /individuals purchasing the products of the organization (e.g. journal subscribers other than membership), etc.. A multilevel principle of responsibility is required. This in fact corresponds to our present awareness that. For example, employees of the defense industry do bear some responsibility for those killed by the products they produce.
    • the procedure whereby bodies are registered and recognized by the law could be considerably speeded up, to the point at which an ad hoc organization can be registered for a day as easily as a car can be legally insured for a day, or a passenger (or a single flight.

    2. Personnel Policy

    In this case the difficulties are as follows :

    • employment in most organizations binds the person into a particular position and career line with the aid of many pension and other benefits which make any break fairly traumatic. This reduces mobility across career lines and between organizations and perpetuates rigid operational procedures.
    • changes of programme policy can make personnel in smaller organizations redundant with no means of relocating themselves to other organizations within the network. This forces people to select secure long-term positions and reduces the ability of the network to allocate personnel to the short-term programmes and organizations which may be tactically useful.
    • frustration of natural creativity and lack of variety of experience obliges many to indulge in departmental "empire building". This ensures that new programme decisions are based more upon their value in inter-departmental races than in connection with any real problems.

    As before, a networking approach to personnel policy could facilitate the elaboration of new procedures. Some ossibilities are :

    • relate most of the conventional ties (e.g. pension fund) to the network rather than to a specific unit within it, so that people feel free to move within the network. (N.B. The group insurance fund formula is well established).
    • make it easier for personnel to relocate, temporarily, to short-term programmes and small organizations within the network where they can be given greater freedom and creative opportunity.

    3. Programme Administration and Finance

    In this case, the difficulties are as follows :

    • most organizations in society work to a budget which is prepared and approved once a year. It is often very difficult indeed, if not impossible, to undertake actions outside the budget framework which is often very elaborate. This rigid procedure causes the organizational network to respond spastically to those crises which are most prominent at the time the budget is approved, and most inadequately to those which emerge during the course of the budgetary cycle.
    • the more complex the organization, the longer the programme cycle. Programmes have to be carefully prepared several years before their period of implementation. The response time to new issues is very slow.
    • it is only with great difficulty that funds allocated to one programme can be reallocated to another in the event of need. It is even rarer for this reallocation to be made to the benefit of other organizations in the network, better placed to undertake the programme required immediately.

    The rigidities noted above are in part a consequence of the lack of a networking concept to provide the conceptual framework for a network response to crisis. Some approaches which could be explored are :

    • some form of "dynamic fund reallocation" whereby funds can be pledged for a time period giving latitude as to when amounts are called (the various time /interest formulas for fixed deposit accounts are suggestive) : or allocation of funds to a broad programme area with latitude as to where the funds are allocated within that area, or outside it, but in relation to it.
    • an "international programme stock market" in which each programme is supported by * shares" representing the priority or percentage call it has upon a fund pool. Those feeding funds, into the pool, conceived as a holding fund, or into a given programme, change the value of the shares on a daily basis in response to the crisis profile and the programme's perceived utility.