If this is the first time you’re hearing about the Unlocking Networks project then we highly recommend you to visit www.unlockingnetworks.org and find out more about it.

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 21 March 2018, we had the pleasure of hosting a public event where 28 new community business leaders were invited to join and engage in our conversation.

The day started with a short introduction to the project by Mark Walton and Esther Foreman and warm up exercises where the participants had the chance to start getting to know each other.

Participants were asked to spread along an imaginary line in the room to physically represent things like how far their journey to the event was or how big their network is.

In a very clever way of taking advantage of the precious collective wisdom from the audience, Julie from Octopus Communities shared with the participants her case study along with the main challenges she is facing right now (learning by engaging).  

“The key thing that makes Case Studies so effective in management education is their ability to engage people. In learning experience it’s very much about engagement, as the saying goes, tell me and I’ll forget, teach me and I’ll remember, involve me and I’ll learn. Learning through Case studies is very rewarding because you are part of a learning experience which is really enriching.” Martin Kupp, ESMT (ecch 2012)

In this Case, Julie presented two cases. The first exploring The Dilemma of Growing and Diversifying the Network and the second about Shifting the Power-base within an Established Network.

In this first round of workshops, Mark and Esther led a discussion that was central for most attendees. How do you run a Community of Practice?

Right before lunch, everyone come together in the main room to learn more from each other. In this case, Petra from Coops UK asked the participants to share and match their needs and offers.

In the fun and engaging Fishbowl format, Our CoPpers Nick and James, from Project Dirt and Supporters Direct respectively, shared their own experiences with the attendees on moving networks online vs offline.

Meanwhile, not far from there, Mark from Shared Assets and Kathryn from Locality engaged with the participants in the definition of creative decision-making processes.

The session was wrapped up by Esther, who gave the participants the opportunity to express their feelings and thoughts. Over all the connections and knowledge shared, there was a common thread, expressed by one of the attendees as:

“It’s quite nice to just see how other networks operate things and I really like the idea of building a Network for Networks.”

The session was then closed with the announcement of the next event, that will be taking place on the 25th of April in London, and tickets are available now! Register here. This afternoon of workshops and talks is for people leading, supporting and funding networks for social impact. We’ll be running a network gym to give you practical tools and information for a healthy, high impact, scalable and sustainable network.

If you are a network or community facilitator, leader, coordinator or you are just interested in the topic, find out more about Unlocking Networks and subscribe to the newsletter here. We will be releasing new resources every week throughout the next two months.