by Deborah Fishman
Since I’ve begun referring to myself as a network-weaver with greater clarity and consciousness, I’ve had many fascinating conversations on the topic, both with the practicing network-weavers I’ve interviewed and also beyond. I’ve observed some common themes in how network-weaving is viewed and practiced. As I am interested in moving forward the theory and action of network-weaving toward a more effective and connected Jewish future, I’d like to share what I believe to be the key challenges and opportunities.
In light of challenges currently faced, I propose Jewish network-weaving make the following paradigm shifts:
1. A widespread understanding in the Jewish community of network-weaving, the problem it is seeking to solve and its effectiveness: Even if there are some key Jewish network-weavers making waves with their outstanding work (and there are!) it will be impossible to understand and justify what they are doing, never mind measure its effectiveness, unless there is common language to identify it to the larger Jewish community. This is why my repeated requests to think about what a network actually is do not represent a purely academic exercise. Rather, I hope it will serve as a first step in this wider conversation. That’s why it is important to clear up a couple misconceptions about networks:
- a) Networks are not the same as social media: Networks existed long before the existence of social media, and while it can be argued that social media tools may be an influence on structures and paradigms of networks, they are exactly that: tools.
- b) Networks will not bring in vast unschooled masses: The very properties of networks work to ensure that those who gain clout will be heard and become more essential to the network, while those who do not meaningfully contribute will more or less remain on the outside. These properties include how hubs form and the fact that networks follow power laws. Networks can have the ability to lower the barrier to entry for people to attempt to join, but that doesn’t mean that they will all succeed to an equal extent. This misconception may have to do with networks being confused with social media (see point a), and in fact this illustrates the difference – anyone can use social media tools, but networks make sense of how and with whom they are being used.
Now that that’s been cleared up – what positive understanding of network-weaving should the Jewish community adopt? I believe networks are maps of the relationships between people or organizations, and network-weaving is the intentional practice of developing and connecting strategic relationships to achieve greater effectiveness and connectedness in each individual or organization’s work and thereby the network as a whole.
2. Once this understanding is achieved, a clearer path toward the implementation of network-weaving in the Jewish world: Will “network-weavers” crop up as new positions in Jewish organizations? Or is network-weaving a skill that everyone on staff should learn? While there are many factors in how this will evolve (funding concerns and buy-in on the concept of network-weaving being among them), I believe there should be a certain extent of both. Many organizations have “communications” and “alumni relations,” and these professionals should come to be viewed more as about building networks and/or community than broadcasting messages. Depending on the organization, these may be community-organizers, in the case of those working to create one unified group of constituents based locally or around one interest or issue. Other organizations, those seeking to achieve more of a bird’s-eye view of the Jewish world, may be the ones to hire network-weavers, as they are working with many sub-communities, for instance larger umbrella organizations working with those separated geographically, or foundations looking to create change on a platform of issues. (More about the distinction between network-weavers and community-organizers here). However, I would argue that many in different roles would benefit from education on tools which are part of the role of a network-weaver, including:
- External: Viewing the Jewish world in a networked way: Understanding the role of hubs and being able to identify them; seeing the connections that exist between entities and the influence they have; and viewing constituents as part of many networks
- Internal: Understanding the basics of collaboration: Being able to be part of a networked and collaborative team within the workplace
Now, here are some new paradigms that provide opportunities:
- More effective practices in information management: A network yields a tremendous amount of information, which the network-weaver gains access to through building relationships and trust. A key opportunity for the network-weaver is to be able to find ways to manage and effectively deploy this information, both individually and across teams. Utilizing the methods and systems of a network-weaver for this purpose, which has long been a challenge for many organizations, will provide great value.
- Curation rather than search: A network-weaver should be able to utilize this bank of information to provide those in the network with curated solutions to the problems they face. Due to the ever-growing amount of information out there and the strengthening role of social media in spreading this information, some predict that simply googling will increasingly no longer provide you with the customized and specific information that you may need. However, a network-weaver may have access to it.
- Thinking strategically about a network’s purpose: One of the primary skills of a network-weaver is to think with great intentionality about the network s/he is building, how, and with what purpose (and all network-weavers should learn how to talk about their work and execute it with ever-increasing intentionality). If networks are not providing some added value to those in them, they may dissolve. Network-weavers can leverage the information in a network to create opportunities that add value to those in it, and this can further strengthen the value proposition of the network as a whole.
It is my hope that a widespread understanding of Jewish network-weaving and a greater implementation of it within the Jewish world will lead to opportunities for network-weavers to effectively manage information and curate it toward essential purposes in the Jewish world. I will be exploring and reporting on all of these elements of the network-weaving experience in greater detail, and would love to incorporate your experiences into this exploration – fill out the network-interview form so I can talk to you about yours! (found on right sidebar).
Deborah Fishman is a network weaver interested in new opportunities to create change in the Jewish world. She was most recently Editor and Publisher of PresenTense Magazine; cross-posted on Deborah’s blog, hachavaya.blogspot.com,