The intent of our report Connected Citizens: The Power, Peril and Potential of Networks, was to explore the role of networks in community life and how loose networks of individuals are affecting social change.
Recent rapid advances in digital media and technology have changed how people connect to information and how they connect to each other. People are moving from passive consumers to active users. This is also true among communities. Individuals are changing the ways they coordinate and new tools are emerging to support collective action and problem solving through networks.
What does this new network-centric world means for those leading and supporting social change?
We looked at over 70 experiments - mostly in US. These experiments were focused on those who are helping individuals make the change they want in the world. All of these projects were network-centric, meaning they are organized around an open sharing that connects people and shares leadership.
Looking across these projects we saw these network-centric practices work:
1. Listening to and consulting the crowds - actively listening to online conversation and openly asking for advice.
2. Designing for serendipity - creating environments, in person and online, where helpful connections can be made.
3. Bridging difference - deliberately connecting people with different perspectives. Solving problem means bringing in people with different ideas.
4. Catalyzing mutual support - helping people directly help each other. At Front Porch Forum, their mission is to help neighbors connect by hosting a regional network of neighborhood forums. They don't encourage people in traditional ways - they just work hard to attract neighbors, then step back and provide a platform that is easy to use. As neighbors contribute to the forum, they start to feel more connected and have a greater sense of ownership in their community.
5. Providing handrails for collective action - giving enough direction for individuals to take effective and coordinated action, but leaving enough latitude so people can make the work their own.
Another main goal of the report was to see how the roles communities might play out in the future. We did this by creating provocative but plausible scenarios of what the future might look like.
Here are 3 possible scenarios we envisioned:
1. Digging Foxholes - extreme distrust due to privacy violations.
2. Know your neighbor - trusting vibrant local communities where individual citizens are leading change.
3. MobileME - hyperconnected , transient world where we might live in one community but work in another.
What does this mean for supporting networks for good? No matter which scenario or combination plays out, you must:
- Embrace a network mindset - experimenting and adopting work practices that lead to transparency. Be more open and share what you're doing with public.
- Provide Network Supports -investing in capacity building that meets the needs of networks.
- Contribute to Learning -understanding connectivity and sharing what's working or not working.
We know that the future is uncertain, but we can be sure that there will be more connectivity and transparency and that we will be working with networks. In order to make progress on tough social problems we will need the participation of many and diverse citizens. Our hope is that social change makers will capture the power of networks for good so we can shape the future for the better.
For more insights from this report, check out the recording from this webinar.
If you have questions or would like to make a comment about this webinar, please join the conversation at The Network for Good Online Community.
Adapted by Kristina Leroux