Scaling-Out through Networks

Early this summer I facilitated the first day of the launch meeting of the nascent California Land Stewardship Network (CLSN), currently composed of six collaboratives and (smaller) networks.  CLSN has general goals of peer exchange, addressing collective needs, and promoting innovation.  For some reason networks have stamped themselves on my past year, with my facilitation of the IUCN Resilience Thematic Group, a summit of Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), a statewide collaborative capacity-building workshop for the U.S. Forest Service, and a visioning for the Future-Focused Leaders of South Lake Tahoe.  So this fifth engagement spurred my thinking about the value of networks, particularly their value in amplifying the work of individual landscape initiatives and advancing social-ecological resilience in society.

Networks necessarily possess greater knowledge and resources than nodes.  Yet a network must nonetheless present participants with unique value if it wants to avoid becoming a neglected hobby.  Admittedly speaking in generalities, when compared with organizations, networks

  • Are informal, flexible and fluid,
  • Move fast and nimbly, and can
  • Rapidly funnel numerous people into momentary action on a specific task. Networks
  • Increase exposure and visibility, as well as
  • Provide comparative perspective and validation. And networks also
  • Transgress and reshape boundaries, helping to
  • Break down and integrate topical silos.*

* For example, while CLSN focuses on land stewardship, its steering committee has started assembling a list of related networks, and may at some point link arms with those already stemming from California’s Integrated Regional Water Management program, the aforementioned federal LCCs (see, for example, the LCC Network), and the aforementioned U.S. Forest Service work.

Accordingly, a practitioner’s ability to operate within a network (i.e., to build, maintain, and leverage it) allows her/him to amplify the utility and adoption of a group’s hard-learned lessons, practices, and tools, while simultaneously advancing the work of others in their own right.

Though operating within a network will presumably benefit any endeavor, it is essential for a single landscape initiative to increase the scale of its influence outwardly, to society as a whole.  This is because networks provide a mechanism for multiple individual efforts – each of which is locally meaningful and effective – to collectively steer, shore up, and/or rework the regional legal and policy context, and associated institutions.  This occurs through everyday interstitial actions as well as deliberate campaigns.  The networked aggregation of local movements, particularly if supported by state or federal (or equivalent) government, creates a continuity across landscapes that allows for durable, systemic change.

Two examples come from the aforementioned U.S. Forest Service-supported portfolio of restoration projects in California.  First, the Sierra to California All-Lands Enhancement network, formed originally to link California’s three Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration projects (including the Dinkey case that provides a foundation for this blog), and now including 12 member organizations that strategize directly with the Forest Service.  Second is the incipient Tahoe Central Sierra Resilient Forest Initiative, a hybrid project-network with 8 member organizations that will be the focus of a future post.  Each of these networks enlarges the influence of its constituent landscapes on the priorities and resource allocation of government institutions, thus harnessing and shepherding society’s myriad steps toward social-ecological resilience.

Looking back on your own efforts to scale outwardly, What do networks excel at doing for your landscape initiative?

 

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