Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Does ‘Network’ Mean to You?

Network: It’s a word with many meanings, and the one that comes to mind to you first might be a clue to your age. So, what first comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘network’? You might have thought television network, recalling a past when there were three major ones that dominated the airwaves, or the overwhelming number of networks available on our televisions today. Did you think about a computer network? You might then remember when it was something new and notable to share a printer with another computer, or connect to other networks via a modem, and eventually to this newfangled Internet thing.
Younger people and many others today may well have first thought of a social network, taking those previous meanings (that television shows or computers are connected) for granted, and understanding a network to mean their online connections to friends, family and the rest of the online world. Any one of those thoughts would be a reasonable place for your mind to leap when thinking about the word network. I can imagine it won’t be very long until a new meaning of ‘network’ gains in prominence and becomes the first sort of network that comes to mind when anyone considers the word. And that new meaning will describe an advocacy network. Each of these examples of a network – television, computer, or social – describes a technical infrastructure, a platform across which programming or information can be shared. Although they share different kinds of information, provide different means of interaction, and in some instances they depend on each other (social networks rely on computer networks), for each of them the network is the platform, designed to manage throughput. An advocacy network on the other hand is not a technical platform at all. Advocacy networks are built of people who share a vision to influence change in the institutions and systems that impact our lives. Advocacy networks do more than manage the throughput of information, they are designed to produce advocacy outcomes. Advocacy networks are not new, but have dramatically changed in recent years due to increased access to the technical platforms of computer networks, the Internet and social networking tools that have lowered the hurdles for and provided new means for connection and collaboration among like-minded individuals to work together to bring about a change they desire. While the Internet and social networks both provide a ‘Communications Grid,’ they don’t by themselves provide the elements required for a healthy advocacy network, most importantly a shared vision of what positive change look like (more on that and the other elements in future weeks). Technology has typically been at the core of our understanding of what a network is, but that is changing. While technology will certainly continue to to be fundamental, the essential element to an advocacy network is the people in it. Image sources: ABC Television Network, NBC Television Network, CBS Television Network, Facebook Inc., www.programming4.us

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