Another take on networks delivering community results came by way of Bill Traynor, Executive Director of Lawrence CommunityWorks. Bill conducted a webinar this week for Grassroots Grantmakers on Network-Centric Organizing. Bill is a long-time community development practitioner and I received some of my first training on neighborhood planning from him at a Tufts University summer program in the early 1990s.
Bill shared these lessons, amongst others, on the webinar:
- Community is not the network of relationships but the value and functionality that comes from those relationships
- Traditional community improvement work tends to, in Bill’s words, “fetishize structure and form, and emphasize institution building to the detriment of building a connected environment.” Neighborhood residents, nonprofits, and grantmakers aid and abet the problem.
- Neighborhood networks need to be less structured with low thresholds for participation – “flexible environments filled with ambitious, creative people who are working on their stuff and engaged in public life”
- Lawrence CommunityWorks has built a more network-centric organization and program structure through: constantly building person-to-person connections, fostering open architecture of groups and a club-like membership structure, and offering activities that are “value propositions” instead of services.
- Donors and funders should be more patient and flexible when supporting networks and focus more on growing forms of connectivity instead of growing specific organizational structures. The development of successful neighborhood networks takes time, needs room to experiment, and is rarely linear.
Bill’s ideas were similar to the works I cited in my last post – networks that create real community results rely on: durable, trusting relationships, a clear value proposition for the participants, and someone purposefully connecting people and ideas.
If you want to see and listen to Bill’s presentation (and you really should want to), Grassroots Grantmakers posted it for free public access at http://www.grassrootsgrantmakers.org/page11842.cfm. In addition, Bill blogs about these ideas and more at http://valueofplace.wordpress.com/.
And, let me know what you think about Bill’s ideas.