Building Nonprofit Networks--Part One
Nonprofit Networks Part Three: Using Technology to Build Connectivity

Nonprofit Networks: Part Two--Building Connectivity Networks

Connectivity_network Last week I started discussing what I'm learning from NetGains. This has become particularly interesting as I work through planning for a new project I'm working on. It also further reinforces my belief that  Web 2.0 is as much a revolution in thought as it is a pile of tools.

As I mentioned previously, the foundation upon which all networks are built is the connectivity network. In this post, I want to delve more deeply into Plastrik and Taylor's descriptions of connectivity networks, as well as their suggested strategies.

Connectivity Revisited
Connectivity networks link people to one another. They also link people to information. This information tends to be "thicker and richer" than what people might find on their own. It also tends to be less "packaged and shaped" than the information they might get from hierarchical organizations (such as their own nonprofit).

The entire purpose of a connectivity network is to link people and information. That is all they do. They do not try to align people around core values and they do not try to move people to collective action, at least not at this stage. They are particularly important when people or groups are isolated from one another by physical space or by differences, such as race, class, etc.

Characteristics of Connectivity Networks
Connectivity networks are characterized by several features:

  • Designed to unleash the network effects of rapid growth and diffusion and small-world reach. Because connectivity networks are about generating links between people and moving useful information, they must be designed to support membership growth and sharing of information. They must also create "bridges" across distance and social categories so that members are able to quickly and efficiently link to one another.
  • They tend to form around "hubs"--people who connect to many other people. These are the connectors and mavens I talked about last month in a post on reaching "The Tipping Point."
  • Relationships are based on what are called "weak ties." Weak ties are ties that are strong enough to open lines of communication, but still too loose to build true collaboration because the level of trust is still too low.

Creating a Connectivity Network
Connectivity networks require two key elements:

  • Strong informational and navigational capabilities--Information is the "currency" of a connectivity network. It is the reason people will join the network and share it with others. Therefore careful attention must be paid to finding and disseminating information to members that is useful, relevant and presented in a usable, digestible format.
  • Strong focus on community development--Besides sharing information, the other key purpose of a connectivity network is to create linkages between members of the network. But for this to happen effectively and efficiently, you need people who are paying attention to the development of community. Plastrik and Taylor call these people "weavers." Another way to think about them is as "hosts" of a party.

Weavers are the people who introduce "guests" to one another. They know something about the people in the network and can make suggestions about who might want to talk to each other or who might have things in common. The purpose of a weaver is to create the right kind of community atmosphere so that people feel connected to one another and want to remain a part of the community.

The ideal way to develop a sense of community is through face-to-face interactions, so any connectivity network needs to provide opportunities for that to happen.

But in most cases, this connectivity can also be supported by digital means, through web-enabled connections that allow members of the community to transcend the challenges of distance and time. Furthermore, electronic community can also help members overcome distances based on race, class, etc. as they get to know one another in an environment where those differences may be much less apparent and the focus can be on what they have in common, rather than on what separates them.

Weavers must actively create community. They must always be looking for ways to make it easier for network members to connect to one another and to the information the network is sharing. Like a good party host, they might look to build bridges between individuals or groups who are isolated from one another. Or they might gather and share new information or make information more readily accessible.  Their goal is to develop connections. So they focus on the what it takes to create the right kinds of ties.

The purpose and strategies of connectivity networks can be readily supported by technology. In fact, I think it's the explosive growth of new technologies that is in large part driving the development of social networks as a fundamentally different way of organizing people and information.

In my next post, I'm going to look at how technology can support the development of connectivity networks for those who know how to use them.


Thanks to Beth and Alan for the heads up on FlickrCC for getting Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr. I'm particularly digging the edit option that lets me crop and add text, frames and attribution all through the FlickrCC site. Very cool.


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