Continuing with the learnings from NetGains on developing networks, today I want to talk in more detail about affinity and production networks.
Affinity Networks Build Alignment
As you'll recall, connectivity networks link people to people and people to information. Affinity networks build on these initial linkages to align the network around what is called a "collective value proposition." According to Platrik and Taylor:
" . . . a collective value proposition (is) a shared reason to care about each other. The individual people in the network come to share a set of ideas, language, standards or identity. This allows them to more efficiently exchange information and coordinate with each other as a group. They are more than just connected to each other, but less than focused on a narrow production goal."
The key difference between a connectivity network and an affinity network is that members of an affinity network must give up a measure of their individuality in order to align themselves more closely as a group with shared values and meaning. Affinity requires that members of the group develop enough trust for them to be willing to buy into the group proposition.
Key Tasks of the Affinity Network
In addition to continuing the weaving activities of the connectivity network, organizers of the affinity network must focus on strengthening relationships between members. They must allow members to come together regularly so that people can get to know each other to develop trust and explore their potential shared values and identity. The most effective way to do this is through face-to-face meetings. Technology can also support this process.
The other key task in an affinity network is helping members to forge their collective value proposition. To some extent this will happen as a natural result of contact with one another. But, this is a process that usually must be helped along by network organizers. In part this is because while individuals and organizations may have a lot of ideas about what the network can do for them, they tend to think much less about what value they can bring to the network.
Production Networks Develop for Specific Purposes
A production network builds upon the connectivity and affinity networks that have previously been developed and transforms them into joint actions for specialized outcomes.
The types of joint actions that production networks typically take include:
- Generating particular goods and services
- Advocating for particular polices or causes
- Innovating to jointly address particular social issues
- Learning about and spreading specific best practices
- Mobilizing support
- Building the capacity of local leaders or organizations
Structure and Activities of a Production Network
The structure and activities of production networks depends on their specific purpose. For example, networks that form to build public support will need to focus on rapid growth and "spreading the word." Therefore they are likely to be more loosely structured with many communication hubs that can quickly and efficiently move information through the network. On the other hand, a network that forms to provide after-school programming to urban young people may be more tightly structured with fewer organizations involved and much closer collaborative agreements developed.
Developing an effective production network requires that members be very clear about the specific purpose(s) of the network and the roles of network members in achieving that purpose. It also requires the development of connections and alignment. Production networks do not develop overnight in response to an RFP or other funding opportunity, although this is often they path that nonprofits take in forming a network. Work must already have been done around connecting members to one another, developing high levels of knowledge and trust, and creating alignment around common goals and values.
The Collective Value Proposition is Key
For all types of networks, but especially affinity and production networks, the development of a common value proposition is critical. It is only through the creation of common value that you will gain the full effects of a network and be able to continually engage network members to achieve group goals.
In my next post on this topic, I'm going to talk a little more about creating common value because it is such a key strategy for moving networks forward. Unfortunately, lack of attention to developing common value is one of the major reasons why many networks get stuck.