Collective Mind Community Conversations

Measuring network effectiveness with Collective Mind’s Capacity Assessment Tool

by Emily Goodman, Senior Advisor, Collective Mind

Collective Mind hosts regular Community Conversations with our global learning community. These sessions create space for network professionals to connect, share experiences, and cultivate solutions to common problems experienced by networks.

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On March 10, 2021, the Collective Mind Learning Community came together to discuss Collective Mind’s new Network Capacity Assessment and how networks think about their internal efficacy as they seek to drive collective impact. The conversation was hosted by Emily Goodman, Senior Advisor with Collective Mind, with founder Kerstin Tebbe. In addition to the recap below, we also encourage you to check out our video presentation to learn more!

Highlights from the conversation

The session kicked off by outlining how Collective Mind helps networks become better equipped with the skills and capacity to do their work and achieve shared purpose. Networks have unique needs and complex ways of working that underpin their work and make them fundamentally different from typical organizational models — yet as an emerging field, these qualities are often misunderstood. Grounded in our evidence-based network diagnostic framework, the Capacity Assessment tool gives networks a diagnostic snapshot of their network’s health from which they can strategize, benchmark progress, and engage members in network growth. By streamlining how we understand network capacities — including shared purpose, membership, leadership, culture, infrastructure, resources, measurement — the tool provides a low-lift, high-value way for networks to reflect on and shore up their strengths and weaknesses as a springboard for network organizing and generating impact.

The assessment gives networks a tangible, structured answer to the question “how are we doing?” and provides direction on what to prioritize in order to improve and align the network. This process is largely driven by a “self” assessment which is conducted by members, leadership, and staff. Participants explored how a definitive yet complicated feature of networks is their essential identity as a collective — just like there is no “i” in “team”, there is no individual voice or experience that represents a network. To this end, we intentionally consider the network as an inclusive whole and, by determining agreement and consensus among stakeholders, represent a network’s point of view as a collective self.

Member engagement is a common challenge for networks, and this pain-point spoke to a persistent worry among participants that imbalanced participation and representation can drive imbalanced decision-making. While network staff have responsibility for facilitating participation and leadership by members, we also know that networks are emergent. By encouraging and ensuring equal and equitable opportunities for participation, networks can use the assessment to establish a baseline and a starting place to engage members further.

As networks often have limited time and resources, it’s crucial to have adaptable tools and processes that can be tailored to meet networks where they’re at and fit their needs. The core of the capacity assessment fulfills a basic need of taking the pulse of the network, understanding strengths and weaknesses based on the capacities, and identifying what to prioritize to become more effective. For larger or older networks, having more disaggregated data may help unveil more nuance in the network — such as the experiences of older vs. newer members, or the perspectives of network members broken down by geography. Networks interested in taking steps to apply their learnings may couple the assessment with facilitated workshops for reflection and action planning. Workshops can range in scale from the core team to network leadership or the full membership and can be accompanied by targeted capacity-building workshops for network skill-building. And finally, networks interested in a more robust, nuanced product can combine the capacity assessment with a full network diagnostic review, which involves deeper analysis, key stakeholder interviews, and further assessment of network activities, functions, and impact.

Participants also discussed how assessment, as a discipline, can sometimes straddle an imaginary quantitative and qualitative divide. As entities driven by relationships and collaboration, we find that networks are best understood for both their tangible and intangible qualities and approached in practical ways toward this end. In order to demonstrate their value and translate their activities and impact, networks will often turn to metrics as the hard evidence of how the network is achieving its shared purpose and its unique value-add through this collective action. Yet culture — one of the core network capacities — is a largely intangible yet highly influential component of networks. Through the capacity assessment tool, networks are able to capture and articulate the qualitative experience and value of the network that is backed by and rooted in an evidence-based framework.

The complexity of networks lies in the need to make sense of the combined value of many different actors, in how a network is greater than the sum of its parts. Participants explored how the Collective Mind approach to assessment tackles these unique, big-picture questions that networks ask themselves: what are we getting right in terms of our ability to facilitate a collective space, to foster an inclusive environment that generates shared impact, to do the work we do together? To the extent that we can correlate the strength of a network to the impact of the network — with all of the nuance this implies — we may assume that a network set up to function effectively will have greater impact and greater success in working together.

Thank you again to all who joined us and participated in a thoughtful exchange about network assessment and the Capacity Assessment tool! Please be in touch to learn more and explore options for your network at kerstin@collectivemindglobal.org and emily@collectivemindglobal.org.

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