Network Weaving is Like Starting a Band

All this talk about ‘developing a network’ and ‘organizational change for the connected age’ can feel both daunting and vague. But really, it’s just like starting a band! (And you’ve always wanted to be a rock star, right?) Here’s how it works in five easy steps.

  • If you don’t already have a band/network, what kind do you want to start? Ah, the all-important question of purpose; the question we so often avoid (or forget, or ignore). Whether you’re starting a band or a network, you’ve gotta know why. For a band, the goal may be to have the equivalent of a Saturday night poker club, or it may be to spread a particular message, or it may be to hit the Top 40 and win a Grammy or two. Whatever it is, the whole band has got to be on the same page in order to meet that goal. For a network, what is the change you are trying to make in the world? It may be to push through a particular piece of legislation, to revitalize a neighborhood, or to overhaul an entire educational system. The answer to this question – ultimately a question of your communal DNA – will have bearing on all the other questions you’ll need to ask yourself moving forward. Look at your community; how would you define your communal DNA?
  • What instruments/skills do you need to make the music? Who do you already have, and who do you need? (And does everyone know their role?) To answer this question, it’s important to reference tried-and-true templates, but also to think outside the box and be open to serendipity. A rock band may typically be drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, but magic can happen when you throw in an electric violin or, dare I say it, an accordion. A network focused on housing issues needs governmental connections, lawyers, activists…but what happens when you engage those benefiting from the work of the organization? Or schools? Or artists? You may also want to ask what other skills folks bring to the table. It’s exciting – and useful – when you find out the saxophonist is also a graphic designer, or the artist in your network has a background in urban planning. What ‘instruments’ are already making music in your community?

(Photo credit: Flickr user ryry9379)

  • How are the musicians/members going to work together? The logistical bit. Basically, what does band practice look like? How formal are your gatherings? What kind of space, physical and/or virtual, do you need? How often will you meet?  Does everyone read sheet music or do you need to pair people up to teach one another the tunes? And, of course, how will performances (if you perform at all) be arranged? The same is true for networks. Some are like closeted chamber choirs who work diligently at their craft but are rarely seen in public, while others are punk bands who use gigs as rehearsal time. This is also the place to consider folks’ other obligations. Is the drummer the only one in town who can keep time and is playing weddings with other groups every weekend? If so, what does that mean for the band? Are there other organizational affiliations or time constraints among the members of your network you need to consider? What are your community’s priorities, and where is the overlap with your goals? How can other priorities be a challenge, and how are they an advantage?
  • What other connections do you need in order to be successful? A danger in both bands and networks is that the core becomes too tight. The group only looks inward and becomes an echo chamber. This often doesn’t make for good (or, at least, popular) music because it doesn't produce what the audience really wants to hear, and never makes for a healthy network. Therefore, it’s important to develop what I call peripheral vision; the ability to see the edges of your network and bring in new ideas. Who’s at the edge of your network, and what role can they play? Or put another way, of the things you need, how much of that can you get from your close connections in your current network/band, and how much do you need to look for elsewhere (build new connections)? For a band, it might be fans, venues, other musicians, or social media marketers. For a network, these folks might be network strategists, thinkers in parallel fields, like-minded groups in other geographical areas, or folks from other faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, or age cohorts. Take a peek out of the corner of your eye; who’s in your peripheral vision who can help your community make real change?

(Photo credit: Flickr user Ross Mayfield)

  • Is it working? As always, ya gotta go back to your goal! Are you accomplishing what you set out to do? In order to know that, you have to think about how you can measure your success. As with all measurement, there are quantitative and qualitative approaches, and both are necessary. The quantitative element may have to do with how many people are hearing the music, or coming to shows, or whether people are sharing it with their friends, or which songs are getting the most airplay, etc. Qualitatively speaking, you want to think about other things. Does the music sound good, does it feel good? Are the personalities meshing and the communal DNA evolving? Are you making people dance? Is your song getting stuck in people’s heads? It’s the same with networks. Take a balcony view of the folks in your group. Are the right connections in place to make great things happen? Where can you leverage existing connections, and where can you work on building new ones? And, perhaps most importantly, who can help you make it even better?! No network weaver is an island, after all. How do you measure the health and effectiveness of your community?

Regardless of whether you’re starting a community of practice for Jewish educators or the next great 80’s tribute band, these are a few crucial questions that will help make the whole enterprise sing.

What are the other key ingredients? What else has made your network (or band!) successful?

Many thanks to my bandmate and husband, Alan Sufrin, for being awesome and helping me think through this post.

This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.

Network Mapping at jU Chicago

The Community Building Internship at jU Chicago is premised on the idea that small communities are, as sociologist Jonathan Woocher has written, “a consistent source of meaning, a focal point for relationships, and a powerful contributor to a sense of self-worth.” By empowering a cohort of students to create small communities organized around a theme, activity, or shared interest, we are able to create the kind of specialized Jewish opportunities that have the power to engage more Jewish students on a deeper, more meaningful level. To date, our nine interns have created small communities around everything from cooking elaborate Shabbat dinners once a month, to weekly student-run Jewish yoga and meditative practice, to reinvigorating the traditional idea of a tisch.

The internship also draws heavily on network theory, as presented in the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. Christakis and Fowler argue that there are fundamental rules that govern the formation and operation of social networks, and that social networks must be tended to by individuals and organizations in order to function optimally. There is even a social structure which, they argue, can yield the best results in terms of human achievement: a series of loosely connected small communities, the members of which are more closely connected in discrete cliques, hubs or pods. By adopting this “pod” model in the Community Building Internship, our hope was to create a dynamic campus Jewish community from which Jewish innovations and achievements can and will arise.

But how can we, and the student interns, know if the communities they are creating look anything like the structure recommended by Christakis and Fowler?

Enter a roll of butcher paper, post-its and some colored Sharpies: all the ingredients needed for a low-tech version of network mapping. First, the interns decided who they considered to be part of the core membership of their communities, and wrote those names on individual post-its.

Then, they arranged the post-its on the butcher paper so that their spatial placement was reflective of relationships between members–for example, if two people in the group were dating, or if they were close friends who came to meetings together, or roommates, then their post-its would be next to each other.

Once we had determined the shape of the interns’ discrete small communities, we went about identifying the connections between people in different communities, and figuring out how to represent different relationships between people/post-its with different colored sharpies.

By creating a physical representation of the network of Jewish students at UChicago, the student interns were able to identify the people at the center of the network, participating in multiple small communities, who were functioning as “hubs” of Jewish life and activity. They were also able to see the people who were less-connected to others within the network and who therefore had more potential for involvement and collaboration. We learned that our small community initiatives actually did resemble the structure recommended by Fowler and Christakis. Less practically but more important for purposes of morale and enthusiasm, the student interns were able to get a sense of how their smaller efforts were adding up to an impressive constellation of students involved in Jewish communities across social networks and different pockets of campus life.

Lastly, the process of creating our network map was collaborative, iterative and fun. We plan to do it several more times throughout the length of the internship. Our prediction: as the people in our small communities forge connections with others in the overall network, these connections will create a density that will attract more and more students to the meaning, pleasure and fun of Jewish life at the University of Chicago.

 

 

Rachel Cort is the Director of Community-Building programs at jU Chicago, an organization that works with Jewish students at the University of Chicago. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Jewish Professional Studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

Network Weaving is Like Starting a Band

All this talk about ‘developing a network’ and ‘organizational change for the connected age’ can feel both daunting and vague. But really, it’s just like starting a band! (And you’ve always wanted to be a rock star, right?) Here’s how it works in five easy steps.

  • If you don’t already have a band/network, what kind do you want to start? Ah, the all-important question of purpose; the question we so often avoid (or forget, or ignore). Whether you’re starting a band or a network, you’ve gotta know why. For a band, the goal may be to have the equivalent of a Saturday night poker club, or it may be to spread a particular message, or it may be to hit the Top 40 and win a Grammy or two. Whatever it is, the whole band has got to be on the same page in order to meet that goal. For a network, what is the change you are trying to make in the world? It may be to push through a particular piece of legislation, to revitalize a neighborhood, or to overhaul an entire educational system. The answer to this question – ultimately a question of your communal DNA – will have bearing on all the other questions you’ll need to ask yourself moving forward. Look at your community; how would you define your communal DNA?
  • What instruments/skills do you need to make the music? Who do you already have, and who do you need? (And does everyone know their role?) To answer this question, it’s important to reference tried-and-true templates, but also to think outside the box and be open to serendipity. A rock band may typically be drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, but magic can happen when you throw in an electric violin or, dare I say it, an accordion. A network focused on housing issues needs governmental connections, lawyers, activists…but what happens when you engage those benefiting from the work of the organization? Or schools? Or artists? You may also want to ask what other skills folks bring to the table. It’s exciting – and useful – when you find out the saxophonist is also a graphic designer, or the artist in your network has a background in urban planning. What ‘instruments’ are already making music in your community?

(Photo credit: Flickr user ryry9379)

  • How are the musicians/members going to work together? The logistical bit. Basically, what does band practice look like? How formal are your gatherings? What kind of space, physical and/or virtual, do you need? How often will you meet?  Does everyone read sheet music or do you need to pair people up to teach one another the tunes? And, of course, how will performances (if you perform at all) be arranged? The same is true for networks. Some are like closeted chamber choirs who work diligently at their craft but are rarely seen in public, while others are punk bands who use gigs as rehearsal time. This is also the place to consider folks’ other obligations. Is the drummer the only one in town who can keep time and is playing weddings with other groups every weekend? If so, what does that mean for the band? Are there other organizational affiliations or time constraints among the members of your network you need to consider? What are your community’s priorities, and where is the overlap with your goals? How can other priorities be a challenge, and how are they an advantage?
  • What other connections do you need in order to be successful? A danger in both bands and networks is that the core becomes too tight. The group only looks inward and becomes an echo chamber. This often doesn’t make for good (or, at least, popular) music because it doesn't produce what the audience really wants to hear, and never makes for a healthy network. Therefore, it’s important to develop what I call peripheral vision; the ability to see the edges of your network and bring in new ideas. Who’s at the edge of your network, and what role can they play? Or put another way, of the things you need, how much of that can you get from your close connections in your current network/band, and how much do you need to look for elsewhere (build new connections)? For a band, it might be fans, venues, other musicians, or social media marketers. For a network, these folks might be network strategists, thinkers in parallel fields, like-minded groups in other geographical areas, or folks from other faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds, or age cohorts. Take a peek out of the corner of your eye; who’s in your peripheral vision who can help your community make real change?

(Photo credit: Flickr user Ross Mayfield)

  • Is it working? As always, ya gotta go back to your goal! Are you accomplishing what you set out to do? In order to know that, you have to think about how you can measure your success. As with all measurement, there are quantitative and qualitative approaches, and both are necessary. The quantitative element may have to do with how many people are hearing the music, or coming to shows, or whether people are sharing it with their friends, or which songs are getting the most airplay, etc. Qualitatively speaking, you want to think about other things. Does the music sound good, does it feel good? Are the personalities meshing and the communal DNA evolving? Are you making people dance? Is your song getting stuck in people’s heads? It’s the same with networks. Take a balcony view of the folks in your group. Are the right connections in place to make great things happen? Where can you leverage existing connections, and where can you work on building new ones? And, perhaps most importantly, who can help you make it even better?! No network weaver is an island, after all. How do you measure the health and effectiveness of your community?

Regardless of whether you’re starting a community of practice for Jewish educators or the next great 80’s tribute band, these are a few crucial questions that will help make the whole enterprise sing.

What are the other key ingredients? What else has made your network (or band!) successful?

Many thanks to my bandmate and husband, Alan Sufrin, for being awesome and helping me think through this post.

This post is part of a blog series on Connected Congregations being curated by Darim Online in partnership with UJA Federation of New York.  Through this series, we are exploring what it means for synagogues to function as truly networked nonprofits. Connected Congregations focus on strengthening relationships, building community, and supporting self-organizing and organic leadership.  They are flatter and more nimble, measure their effectiveness in new and more nuanced ways, allocate their resources differently, and use technology in a seamless and integrated way to support their mission and goals.  We hope these posts will be the launching pad for important conversations in our community. Please comment on this post, and read and comment on others in the series to share your perspective, ideas, work and questions. Thanks to UJA Federation of New York for supporting this work.