The Top Five Habits of Effective Network Builders

“Open-source projects and grassroots collective action are important sources of inspiration for 21st-century civic engagement,” says a new report, “Connected Citizens,” by Monitor Institute and Knight Foundation. The report looked at 70 projects and highlights five patterns for good network building.

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“Open-source projects and grassroots collective action are important sources of inspiration for 21st-century civic engagement, enabling us to combine the creativity and transparency of open innovation with community organizing’s relational abilities and courage to confront power.”

That’s from the a new report, “Connected Citizens: The Power, Peril and Potential of Networks,” released last month by Monitor Institute and Knight Foundation. The report examines the role of networks in linking up citizens, with the goal of increasing participation in community leadership.

The report looked at 70 projects that use an open and decentralized network-centric approach. Many of the projects “are technologically enabled,” says the report. “Others are rooted in in-person relationships. Most combine online and offline interaction, as well as insights from the open-source movement and grassroots organizing.”

Five patterns emerged for good network building:

  • Listening to and consulting the crowds: Actively listening to online conversations and openly asking for advice.
  • Designing for serendipity: Creating environments, in person and online, where helpful connections can form.
  • Bridging differences: Deliberately connecting people with different perspectives.
  • Catalyzing mutual support: Helping people directly help each other.
  • Providing handrails for collective action: Giving enough direction for individuals to take effective and coordinated action.

The 55 page Connected Citizens report details each of these five patterns, with examples and case studies. It has an accompanying website.

Knight Foundation and Monitor Institute also partnered to create the website, billed as a Community Information Toolkit for “Building Stronger Communities Through Information Exchange.”

Knight Foundation is a philanthropic group dedicated to unleashing “individual interactivity to achieve social impact at a scale and speed never before possible.”


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Comments (3)
I love this article/list, but I feel it leaves out a key element, and that is a mindset to value-creation.  In my opinion, one fundamental purpose of a network is to create new value (i.e. to innovate).  But in order to do this, one needs to have a vivid sense of what is value-able to others within his/her network (i.e. their individual values are).  This requires empathy, which is similar to, but goes way beyond simply "listening to the crowds".  Again, I think this list is brilliant, but my bias is toward the innovative aspects and I would have preferred it mentioned value-creation more specifically.  Any others feel the same?
Alan Gray
Your first pattern says 
"Actively listening to online conversations and openly asking for advice"

It seems that over the past few years, with "social media," people seem to be listening and reading less. For some of our news stories, we get responses that show readers are skimming more than they did over the previous four years. The questions they ask or the comments they make clearly show they miss seeing information that is clearly there.

We are trying to encourage participation, but this shows us it isn't as easy as we thought.

It may depend on the audience you have.

Are you seeing this in your samples?
Ben Donahower
Checking out the infotoolkit.  This looks like a great resource and has a number of tools to organize people.