Monday, November 3, 2014

The Seven Elements of a Successful Advocacy Network

netcentric, advocacy, networks, social change, foundations
There are lots of different types of networks. You probably are part of several networks in your own life, from college alumni organizations and career listservs to neighborhood issue groups and parent associations. Sometimes networks are less structured—think about your different groups of close friends and who you interact with in different areas of your life.

Advocacy networks are a bit different. They are designed to bring together many different types of people and organizations to achieve change. Sometimes, these people haven’t interacted before—and on occasion, they have even been rivals.

For an advocacy network to succeed, the players have to both come together and work efficiently alongside one another in order to achieve a common goal. Through our work, we’ve realized that there are Seven Elements of an Advocacy Network that must be accounted for in a network to make sure it succeeds:
  1. Building social ties among the people in a network is a smart and strategic investment, and an essential step in creating trust and working together effectively. Trusting one another allows them to communicate with fewer misunderstandings, makes it easier for them to overcome strategy disagreements, and facilitates collaboration, even when the work of advocacy and social change strains the participants with increased demands.
  2. All networks need a way (or ways) that members can engage in various types of conversations and exchanges. These online and offline channels make up the communications grid of the network, and help participants align work, solve issues and build identity as a group.
  3. A common language reinforces the identity of the network and helps participants work to resolve any conflict. Being able to understand jargon, acronyms, and organization or movement-specific terms and phrases ensures that all members are on the same page, helps cut down on confusion, and makes it easier for members to talk through their problems.
  4. Having a clear vision is a must for any successful advocacy network. It is important to work with network participants to define a clear vision and help them understand the advantages of being a part of the network. This vision ultimately guides the network's culture and helps participants focus their activities.
  5. Shared resources are created when participants contribute their skills, talents, experiences, expertise, services and funding streams so that others may take advantage of their work. This can save network participants time and money, Shared resources not only provide power and value to users, they are often key to attracting participation and creating deeper conversations about governance and protocols for the use of a network. They also enable the network to be more than a discussion or knowledge-sharing community.
  6. Actors are people who monitor resources, create messaging, outline participant responsibilities and receive feedback, and thus drive the activities of the network. Identifying and supporting the actors in a network is very important, as they can then encourage others to be more involved.
  7. Gaining Feedback on network activity is essential to ensuring that leaders and other participants understand the trends, resources and needs of the entire network. Creating mechanisms to provide that feedback should be a priority for any network.
And there you have it: our keys to building a successful advocacy network.  No one element is any more important than the other: The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts in this case.

In future posts, we’ll dig into each element a little bit more. Have general questions or comments about our Seven Elements? Let us know below!

Image courtesy: flicker | Chris Potter

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