Capital Growth is a network for people growing food in their gardens, allotments or community spaces in London. After attending ‘Dig In with Capital Growth’, their exciting Spring networking-do, we take a step back and look at what we can learn from this lively and thriving network of gardeners and food growers.
To make the most of wildlife in your garden, you need to encourage the good and manage the bad, rather than eliminate it, says Paul Richens, official Worm Guru and owner of Blue Dome Synergies. If you were to completely clear out all those pesky slugs, for example, you would also lose lots of other useful creatures that help keep your garden fertile.
Networks are ecologies of people after all – so how do you encourage the useful dynamics and curb the frustrating ones? Let’s take a look at Capital Growth and the great job they continue to do as ‘network gardeners’. Here are some of the key networks tips and tricks we can take away from their ‘Dig In’ event.
1. Plan for serendipity: get the logistics right
Dig In was a seriously well-timed and organised event. Delicious food was available right at the beginning, so that network members old and new had time to meet and mingle before the event kicked off. This is often where people say the ‘magic’ of networks happens – in those serendipitous interactions as you’re spooning hummus onto a plate and chat to someone who might become a future project partner, colleague or volunteer.
But these things don’t just ‘happen’. The Capital Growth team had clearly put a lot of effort into planning out different spaces and times for people to interact ‘organically’ and others for structured skill-sharing and updates. The result was a great mix of stimulating discussion, listening and reflection time.
2. Spread out the leadership roles
To get the logistics right, you need someone behind the scenes who is prepared to do all the hard work of drafting newsletters, booking catering, managing mailing lists… Let’s take a moment to appreciate all the ‘network guardians’ out there! But as skilled network leaders, the Capital Growth team were careful to step back when needed. Workshops around wildlife, engaging volunteers and advanced growing were led by expert network members, and London Grows hub leaders had a chance to update us and ask for support with their exciting projects. Just like an ecology of species in a garden, different network members had a chance to contribute their skills and knowledge at various points in the event.
3. Knit the network tight - but not too tight
As I was queueing for more delicious food, Natalie from Living Under One Sun stopped me: “I recognise your face! Were you at Land for What?” One of the beauties of tight-knit networks is that they create an atmosphere of immediate trust and connection with people who share values and experiences. The challenge is that they run the risk of excluding people or groups who may feel like the boundaries of that network are not ‘permeable’ enough for them to join in. Capital Growth is actively encouraging its members to get new people to participate in their training – just like in any thriving ecosystem, with greater diversity, resilience and new collaborations can emerge.
A big thanks to Capital Growth for hosting a great event and for lots of valuable network insights! Join them for the Big Dig on 22nd April.
Blog post by Isabella Coin, Consultancy and Research Assistant at Shared Assets and part of the CoP Convenor Team
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There are different types of power that can exist in both organisations and networks. From traditional hierarchical power, in which some people have power over others, to a more lateral understanding of power, in which decisions are made in a chat by the water cooler, between people across all levels of experience.
It was clear from our discussions that decision-making power should not lie with just one person or one body. But what’s interesting is that often these different types of power are at play in the same organisation or network. For example, organisations that attempt to build networks may take a traditionally hierarchical approach to their own organisation, but the networks that they create may take a more lateral approach.
Networks are about collaboration. When new connections are formed, the flow of information is less constrained and everyone has less control over it. This requires a fair distribution of decision-making power, so that everyone within the network feels that they have ownership over the projects, and that they can take personal responsibility.
Large organisations with traditional hierarchical structures primarily seek order and structure. A hierarchy allows for structured process, it allows for quick action as one person or small group has the decision-making power, and it allows for greater control.
Of course, the reality is much more complex than this. There are networks within organisations, where collaboration between different people occur under the traditional hierarchical structure. There are secret conversations and non transparent decisions, and there’s less room for interrogation of organisational practise.
There needs to be an organisational shift in order to accommodate for genuine collaboration across an organisation’s networks. Organisations that aim to create movements and networks need to work with and alongside their networks, so that bureaucracy doesn’t infringe on collaboration
Leadership in this context could look like offering a supportive rather than directive role. Rather than commanding action, a leader could create space for others - especially those who would not naturally dominate - to lean into leadership. Facilitation, coordination and acting as a catalyst are the traits of a network leader that wants to encourage the best thinking from all within the network.
This could be a scary prospect for the organisation within which the network sits. Questions arise of how to maintain control over hundreds of decision makers if power becomes decentralised. The idea of shifting power may be a difficult prospect for many organisations because it’s a shift towards losing control, but it’s also a shift towards greater trust, collaboration, and change.
There is more information about it on the presentation document and if you fancy geeking out about it even more - come along to our 'Losing Control' conference on the 5th - 6th April.
Find more details here: http://www.losingcontrol.org/
CEO at The Social Change Agency and Co-Convener of the CoP
On the importance of social capital and trust in organisational networks
On organisations as part of movements and networks