Networks, Change and Culture

I’ve been meaning to write this since 2 rather busy weeks back in October which comprised of; the Solace Conference, CityCamp Coventry, a Creative Councils event down in Cornwall, facilitating an action learning group with Leicestershire Police and a learning week conference at the City of London as well as my first #innopints meeting in Devon. I met so many interesting people and its great sometimes to experience such a variety in a short period as you make different connections in your mind and I’ve been reflecting on those since then.

The underlying theme that has been stuck with me is the need to understand how to both connect and unlock networks. Beyond that I think we need to understand the cultural change that this confronts organisations with – how to truly adjust to the idea that network power is a huge asset if it can be integrated with some kind of structure. The companion to this is a renewed awareness of the need to look for networks internally and externally because to do things differently we need to be unconstrained by organisational boundaries.

Networked power operates in a very different way to hierarchical power (something that Mathew Taylor touched on in his keynote to Solace) and as the Public Sector is both pulled and pushed towards becoming more reliant on networks and networked power the cultural impacts of this are central to understanding how we actively rather passively make this change happen. For me this is about making the cultural shift that is beyond a standalone social media strategy.

The work we are doing with Leicestershire Police is a good example of this. The Force is making excellent use of Social Media but wants to push this forward in order to move out of high quality communications and into more operational impacts from its use of Digital. It’s a process and cultural change problem not a skills or training issue. To help them address this we’ve been working with them to create an internal action learning group who are looking at big strategic questions around identity, risk and process redesign.

The first step of the work with LeicsPolice is helping them to rethink their use of social media in terms of the groups that they want to connect with and influence – rather than as a straightforward communications exercise. This is causing the team we are working with to think very differently about external actors and to understand where the power sits in their networks in a very different way.

This external kind of external power was at the heart of the CityCamp Coventry (and other CityCamp like ours in Brighton of course) – a brilliant couple of days with Sasha Taylor and crew talking about virtual orchards, mapping the ring road, using empty shops and creating Coventry ambassadors. The fact that Martin Reeves as CEX of Coventry took the time to be there on both days and that the Council staff are part of the organising team for CityCamp Coventry showed their understanding of the fact that we need to remove organisational boundaries if we are going to unlock the ability of communities and citizens to innovate.

The urgency of making this kind of systematic change was very clear at Solace. This year at the Summit I felt a sense of a much greater acceptance of the need for substantive change in the face of financial and social pressures – but for many people no clear consensus or plan as to what that means. The point is that though we may or may not be at the point of the greatest level of change but it doesn’t matter – the inertia is largely broken and we are on the move. For many people the problem is that the early movers are deep in the depths of innovation and they are not sharing their experience enough.

These early movers are largely remarkable people who can’t spend enough time finding out what other people are doing and as a result feel isolated – and they are surrounded by people who want to learn but don’t know who to learn from. Dealing with the uncertainty of not yet knowing what works in the new landscape we are operating within means that we need to learn how to learn and make decisions as we are doing so. To make this work we need to connect and network these individuals and small groups and we need to do this on a larger scale than is currently happening. This could be a role for more established, and more hierarchal, organisations like Solace but only if they are able to make this cultural shift themselves – which is a different but still substantial challenge.

When we talk about co-production the focus is often on the relationship with the Community. Here the power shift is clear; from the State to the Citizen. The real challenge of co-production or at least greater levels of collaboration is between more formally structured organisations where the power negotiations are going to be much more complex as they rebalance resources. We need larger organisations to be active brokers in this process and they can only do this if they are transforming themselves and becoming more agile and networked.

In making change small practical actions are vital – but we need a bigger vision or at least a set of values as a lodestar to help filter this in some way or at least build the confidence that we need to make astonishing things happen. If we are going to build this vision then we need to do so at the same time as looking at the culture and structure of the organisation who is going to deliver it and create networks of people at all levels and beyond levels in wide networks to make this happen. Again larger organisations can help to build and support this bigger vision – but they have to be part of the change themselves to be credible and effective.

We need leaders in this new world and I have written elsewhere about the qualities that those leaders might have but we also need connectors and collaborators who are going to bring groups and networks together in order to build something bigger than any group can manage on their own.

I met so many brilliant people in those two weeks and I saw so many interesting and potentially transformative ideas but I also saw people reinventing and repeating ideas and learning. I also saw the passion of the entrepreneur or innovator being at odds with a collaborative way of working – not within their own project but with other organisations. I also felt the urgency around the transformation agenda that is now in Local Government.

I believe in radical evolution of what we have rather than a complete restart but we have to get on with it and this means really addressing organisational change not just experimenting on projects – or perhaps doing the two things in parallel not sequence.  I am left with four questions:

How do we make sure that we are open, really open, to new ideas?
How do we become better organisational collaborators?
How can we identify the skills that are needed to work effectively in new ways?
How will we create the bigger vision?

We may need more than 140 characters to answer these.

  1. Markus Schaal

    December 3, 2012 at 6:00 am

    I have read many wonderful texts by you about managing the changes of our world. But I would suggest something very practical:

    Promote the movers by stimulating the collaborators and net-workers to write about the movers concretely. Make those stories searchable by contemporary social search technology. Establish a culture where it is clear who can promote whom and how this respects privacy and self-determination, and how this should transform prior institutionalized culture. Done!

    (More than 140, but less than 500 characters)

    • curiouscatherine

      December 5, 2012 at 10:12 am

      Yes! Excellent use of not many more than 140 characters!!

      Now we have start doing it….

      But with respect to stories – I think this is the power of the social web – the ability it gives everyone to tell their own story. The question then is how we interpret and share these


      • Markus Schaal

        December 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

        Interpretation is up to the individual, but sharing is a crucial point to facilitate. What about having a dedicated repository for stories of positive change. I really think that adaptation is too slow as compared to the needs.


  2. Isabel d Meiroz Dias (@IMeiroz)

    December 3, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for this post. We are trying to establish an innovation network in Sao Paulo (and potentially Brazil) and I would be happy to even get to the stage you guys are at in Britain. I am suggesting unconferences and other informal face to face meetings as a way to start, so we can find out who the innovators and other interested parties are. It will be great to follow your thoughts on this.

    • curiouscatherine

      December 5, 2012 at 10:10 am

      Hi Isabel,

      An unconference is a brilliant start I think – I would start by doing a network map of who you know and then expand outwards from there. We have found the CityCamp template really useful for City Wide projects – what kind of approach were you thinking?


  3. Scribe

    December 3, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I’m interested in what we need to leave behind in order to progress – what is cultural cruft, perhaps. It’s clear that a hierarchical worldview is present in not just culture, but how we see *life* – e.g. you start off as a junior, and then ascend to manager, and with each step onwards you gain in “seniority”, pay, and the kind of house/car/television you can afford.

    Stepping out of that ladder too often gets seen as a “backwards” step.

    So working out what’s getting the way of a more fluid relationship with roles, learning and functions seems to me to be a key step. Networks and markets rely on change – ebb and flow that adapts to the environment. Only allowing for ebb makes for a bad, unsustainable network.

    Three starters perhaps, of things we need to dissassemble:

    1. Position within the hierarchy as a direct indicator of individual social status
    2. “Branded” qualifications as direct indicators of value, including who you know, what qualifications you have, who you’ve worked for, etc.
    3. Knowledge driving the scenario, rather than vice versa.

    Would type more, but off to the pub.

    • curiouscatherine

      December 5, 2012 at 10:09 am

      Hope the pub was good!

      Really good point about personal progression here – but I think its part of a shift towards understanding value and status in a different way – ie not based on your progression but based on your skills and contribution. For example I see lots of brilliant technical specialists feeling compelled to move to management because that is where the progression is perceived – why aren’t we valuing their skills in the right way?


      • Scribe

        December 5, 2012 at 11:18 am

        Is this inherently a conversation about individuals vs groups? Is it possible to establish a network view within an individualised one? As a manager, should I focus on reviewing individuals’ performance, or how a unit acts together (including myself)? What metrics do we have that measure a unit’s performance rather than call-centre-style individualised targets?

        (And by “performance” I mean efficiency/flexibility, rather than outputs.)

  4. Phil Jewitt

    December 4, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Thanks for this post Catherine. This is what we are trying to do in Leeds. We led on the commission on the future of local government, exploring the concept of ‘civic enterprise’. It is going to take some headshift and explaining, but I’m in agreement that it is so much more than social media strategy, it is about a move to becoming a more ‘sociable organisation’. Using the untapped potential of internal networks and skilled people that are not yet joined up. Linking them with the networks outside. Watch this space.

    • curiouscatherine

      December 5, 2012 at 10:07 am

      Hi Phil – thanks for the comment – I thought the Leeds Commission work was excellent and I completely agree that the key here is becoming a ‘sociable organisation’. I’ve been doing some parallel word on digital democracy for Police and Crime Commissioners which is also relevant here I think:

      Basically looking at the new social contract from a democratic POV

      Would love to talk more!


      • Phil Jewitt

        December 5, 2012 at 1:28 pm

        Excellent, be great if you would comment on the Leeds blog and/or guest post. Came to one of your sessions on identity at 2011 localgovcamp. There will be conversation!…and doing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *