Understanding network assessment

Collective+Mind
4 min readJan 9

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Kerstin Tebbe, Founder, Collective Mind

All organizations must be able to take stock of how effectively and efficiently their internal components contribute to their purpose and mission. The same is true for networks as a specific type of organization. We must be able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a network’s internal capacities as a springboard for growth, organization, and generation of impact.

As networks are highly complex, our assessments of them must comprehend and take stock of that complexity. The multistakeholder, multifractal environment of a network requires a comprehensive approach. By taking the pulse of the network in a structured way, we can impart a tangible answer to the question “how are we doing?” and provide strategic direction on what to prioritize to improve and align the network. Making our questions and answers about internal effectiveness explicit, we can make sense of the various inputs and nuances that make a network function and reflect at a high level on where we have been intentionally or unintentionally putting in effort and attention, or not.

Frameworks and tools

A critical first step is establishing the ability to open the black box of networks to define the components to be assessed. At Collective Mind, we are guided by our Network Diagnostic Framework. This analytic and conceptual framework establishes the three main components of any network — network capacities, network functions, and organizational functions — as the basis for measuring, understanding, and approaching networks as a unique type of operating model. The framework is regarded worldwide as a definitive resource and vital means for understanding how networks operate, identifying the components and attributes that networks require to operate most effectively and efficiently, and grounding the field of networks practice.

We have learned a number of lessons through the application of our Network Capacity Assessment, a tool derived from our Network Diagnostic Framework. The Network Capacity Assessment analyzes networks against the seven network capacities — Shared purpose, Membership, Leadership, Culture, Infrastructure, Resources, and Measurement — that are the core competencies and attributes required to help a network achieve its mission.

Key components of a useful network assessment

In undertaking a network assessment, we must strive to hear the collective voice of the network. We developed the Network Capacity Assessment to apply our Network Diagnostic Framework in a systematic way, with an explicit eye on how to name and capture the voice of a network in ways that can both be disaggregated and be viewed as a unified, balanced reflection of the whole. For example, our tool purposefully does not weight the viewpoints of formal leadership (such as staff or governing body members) over those of members.

We’ve used the capacity assessment in our client work as an important data-gathering tool that engages the whole network and captures a collective voice that represents different vantage points from across the network. This has been important to ensure that related processes — such as network reviews or strategy development — are fully representative and participatory, not just integrative of leadership and management. For networks that are going through change management or seeking to reignite engagement, the capacity assessment step has also been a meaningful way to build buy-in to those processes and set the stage for further engagement.

Moreover, it is crucial to capture multiple levels of analysis. We must design our tools to be able to analyze and understand at a high level and at a more granular level where the network sees its own strengths and areas for growth. This includes where there is alignment among the network and in which areas, and where there are cases of disagreement or misalignment across or within the network that should be explored more deeply. The areas of disagreement in particular set the stage for deeper work and exploration with the network and leadership team to diagnose the roots of those areas of disagreement and move through them.

Finally, an assessment is only as valuable as it is useful for improving performance. Our tools and efforts must provide usable data and outputs that are easily digestible. They must succinctly capture high-level findings along with details of strengths, pain points, and areas for further review and discovery. A useful assessment is one that provides a strong, grounded starting point for further network discussion around priorities and ways forward.

Interested to hear more about how we approach network assessments and make use of our Network Capacity Assessment? Contact Kerstin Tebbe at kerstin@collectivemindglobal.org.

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Collective+Mind

We believe in the power of networks to foster collective action and create change. Join us at https://www.collectivemindglobal.org