Everything you need to unlock the power of your network

*See our updated guide on how to manage communities of practice and peer networks*

In 2016 Unlocking Networks began as a hub for social movement-makers, community managers and local group leaders to unlock the power of successful peer networks. Funded by Power to Change and managed by The Social Change Agency and Shared Assets, the project brought together 13 community business peer networks. The aim was to:

  • Develop new and innovative approaches which improve peer networks and support movement towards self-sustainability
  • Improve collaboration between support providers and community businesses across the sector
  • Attract new ideas, opinions and approaches to stimulate creativity from a wider field of influence
  • Assess the merits of different networking approaches e.g. digital, online/offline, resource/experience sharing
  • Identify where possible new viable business models e.g. membership, blend of digital/face to face, to support peer to peer networks over the longer term

On 25 April 2018, in the beautiful venue of St. Ethelburgas Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, we had the pleasure of hosting more than 30 community business leaders and peer network facilitators in a day full of workshops and presentations.

A peer network is a web of connections between people where participants are equals, co-operating to perform a common task or to create a common good. We want to learn what peer networks can do for your cause, and how you can empower it. Esther and Mark introduced the program for the day and our motivations to deliver this program.

The people’s CoP was based on networking theory and creating it for the community business sector and #unlockingnetworks. Bringing knowledge in, debate it, honing it, and making sure it is shared. The Community of Practice (CoP) has built a network based on distributed leadership, active listening, checking in with each other to build trust. “A community of practice is a very powerful way for practitioners to build knowledge and support for and by the community they are a part of.” Fergus Arkley Program Manager at Power to Change mentioned during his presentation.

Following the first round of presentations, the Network Building Toolkit was tasted by the participants, in a mini-workshop where they had to explain their network. Guided by the Network Building Cards and working in pairs, the participants engaged in conversations where they had the chance to discover gaps and important questions to be answered about their networks.

You can download the updated toolkit for yourself here.

Helen Fisher, Sustainability Consultant at OSCA facilitated first a Network Evaluation Clinic about challenges and solutions for measuring impact, sharing later her experience in a brief on a short talk on Thinking about impact. According to Helen, “the further away people are from the nucleus of the network, the harder it gets to evaluate the network’s impact”.

On Growing Networks, Julie Parish led an exercise based on the Octopus Communities Network Case Study.

Peter Lefort, from Eden Project Communities, shared his tips on DIY filmmaking to demonstrate impact, asking the participants to get out of their comfort zone and film themselves his top tips. “Make it clear what you want your audience to be looking at by thinking about the position of the eyes of the person on screen,” he said.

After a round of short talks about business models, scaling and CoPs, Mark and Esther wrapped up the event, inviting everyone to find and share the videos, resources, toolkits and case studies published on www.unlockingnetworks.org to help developing dynamic, effective and engaging networks for a common purpose.

If you are a network or community facilitator, leader, coordinator or you are just interested in the topic, check out our Network Management Canvas here.

Tested with network and community managers, membership-based organisations and start-ups

Free resources

Network Building Canvas

Discover how to create and manage successful peer networks and Communities of Practice using our handy canvas, perfect for both individuals and groups.

See more resources