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Community Development Network

To learn more about networks and how they work, download Net Gains by Madeleine Taylor and Peter Plastrik.

The West Virginia Community Development Network

The West Virginia Community Development Network consists of the many diverse community and economic development stakeholders who care about West Virginia communities, their citizens, and their quality of life. These include local community planning groups, development organizations, state agencies, financial institutions, non-profits, private foundations, corporate contributors, and individuals. These are the entities that actually do the work of improving communities.

The Network has no formal structure, rigid membership, or leadership hierarchy.

Included in the Network are numerous smaller networks, or niche networks, built around a shared interest or a common purpose. These networks can increase efficiency, impact and capacity because they allow and, in fact, encourage deep specializations to be linked rather than created under one roof.

Networks can be a highly effective way to organize the efforts of many different, yet interconnected stakeholders. Networks can increase impact because they can leverage the assets that already exist in a system by connecting them to each other.

Such networks typically move through a process of 1) connectivity, 2) alignment, and 3) productivity.

The WV Community Development Network is not an organization and does not rely on top down authority to get things done. A network is a distinct form of social organization. Networks are not as orderly or stable as traditional organizations, which typically have a single point of decision-making at the “top” that decides what should be done. Instead, networks tend to have coordinators who help network members, convene, communicate, cooperate and collaborate.

Networks have distinct characteristics that bring great value to their participants.  These include:

  • Rapid Growth - A network can expand rapidly and widely, because its members benefit from adding new links and, therefore, they seek to make new linkages.
  • Rapid Diffusion - As more connections are added, the network diffuses information and resources more and more widely though its links. This diffusion effect allows networks to spread ideas and generate feedback rapidly.
  • "Small World" Reach - A network can bring people together efficiently and in novel combinations, because it provides remarkably short "pathways" between individuals separated by geographic or social distance.
  • Resilience - A network can withstand stresses, such as the dissolution of one or more links, because its nodes quickly reorganize around disruptions or bottlenecks without a significant decline in their functionality.
  • Adaptive Capacity - A network can assemble capacities and disassemble them with relative ease; it can adapt nimbly. Links among people or organizations can be added or severed, or they can become "latent," meaning they are maintained at a very low level or connectivity, or more active.

The West Virginia Community Development Network has the potential to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of participating organizations by:

  • Sharing Connections - The connections that are valuable are those that bring members into contact with people who are not like those they already know.
  • Sharing Knowledge - When what you know is added to what someone else knows, a new picture emerges and that fresh perspective is valuable.
  • Sharing Competencies - What do you have the capacity to do that others in the network need to have done?
  • Sharing Resources - Money and staff, the two great tangible resources of organizations, are hard to come by.

Types of Networks:

  • Connectivity Network
  • Alignment Network
  • Production Network
  Connectivity Alignment Production
Definition Connects people to allow easy flow of and access to information and transactions
Aligns people to develop and spread an identity and collective value proposition Fosters joint action for specialized outcomes by aligned people
Desired Effect Rapid growth and diffusion, smallworld reach, resilience Adaptive capacity, small-world reach, rapid growth and diffusion Rapid growth and diffusion, smallworld reach, resilience, adaptive capacity
Task of NetworkBuilder Weaving—help people meet each other, increase ease of sharing and searching for information Facilitating—helping people to explore potential shared identity and value propositions. Coordinating — helping people plan and implement collaborative actions.

In a connectivity network, the relationship among participants may be general and not necessarily strong: “By connecting with each other, we will find out things we want to know.”

In an affinity network, it must be more specific and stronger: “By connecting with each other, we enhance the identity of people like us.”

But in a production network, the relationship is usually focused on something quite specific and is strong: “By connecting we can produce this specific result—goods or services, public policies, programs, etc.”

The Relationship Between the Network and the Hub

Successful networks require some form of coordination. Coordinating functions could include:

  • Convening the Network
  • Facilitating the direction set by the Network
  • Coordinating the work of the Network
  • Maintaining databases, records, notes, and communications
  • Convening the supporting "niche" or interest-area-specefic networks that may arise within the Network around areas such as affordable housing, civic engagement, arts and culture, entrepreneurship, tourism, resource sustainability or local foods

The Hub has stepped forward to help provide this coordinating function. The nature of this coordination is, and always will be, evolving.

Network coordination should not be confused with network governance. Successful networks:

  • Operate on a shared authority
  • Set their own direction
  • Provide value to individual members
  • Provide value to the common purpose

As a result, the Hub does not govern the Network, but rather serves a coordinating function in service to the Network.

Input from and participation of members are necessary for the West Virginia Community Development Network to function effectively. The Hub recognizes that can only be secured if members receive value from participation in the Network.

So then, the Hub’s role in the West Virginia Community Development Network is:

  • As a member. As a community development organization, the Hub seeks to give value to and receive value from the Network.
  • As a convener and connector. The Hub serves the function of convening the Network and connecting Network member to one another.
  • As a provider of support. The Hub supports the Network as it grows and provides logistical support to the Network and the niche networks in their community development efforts.