Centre for Internet & Society

I. Introduction

The organization of societies and states is predicated on the development of Information Technology and has begun to enable the construction of specialized networks. These networks aid in the mobilization of resources on a global platform.[1] There is a need for governance structures that embody this globalized thinking and adopt superior information technology devices to bridge gaps in the operation and participation of not only political functions but also economic processes and operations.[2] Currently, public institutions fall short of an optimum level of functioning simply because they lack the information, know-how and resources to respond effectively to this newly globalized and economically liberalized world order. Civil society is beginning to seek a greater participatory voice in both policy making and ideating, which require public institutions to institute a method of allowing this participation while at the same time retaining the crux of their functions and processes. The network society thus requires, As argued by Castells, a new methodology of social structuring, one amalgamating the analysis of social structure and social action within the same overarching framework.[3] This Network propounds itself as a 'dynamic, self-evolving structure, which, powered by information technology and communicating with the same digital language, can grow, and include all social expressions, compatible with each network's goals. Networks increase their value exponentially through their contribution to human resources, markets, raw materials and other such components of production and distribution.' [4]

As noted by Kevin Kelly,' The Atom is the past. The symbol of science for the next century is the dynamical Net.…Whereas the Atom represents clean simplicity, the Net channels the messy power of complexity. The only organization capable of nonprejudiced growth or unguided learning is a network. All other topologies limit what can happen. A network swarm is all edges and therefore open ended any way you come at it. Indeed the network is the least structured organization that can be said to have any structure at all. ..In fact a plurality of truly divergent components can only remain coherent in a network. No other arrangement - chain, pyramid, tree, circle, hub - can contain true diversity working as a whole .'[5]

A network therefore is integral to the facilitation, coordination and advocacy of different agenda within a singular framework, which seeks to formulate suitable responses to a wide range of problems across regions. An ideal model of a network would therefore be one that is reflective of the interconnectivity between relationships, strengthened by effective communication and based on a strong foundation of trust.

The most powerful element of a network is however the idea of a common purpose. The pursuit is towards similar ends and therefore the interconnected web of support it offers is in realization of a singular goal,

II. Evolution of the Network

There are certain norms that must be incorporated for a network to be able to work at its best. Robert Chambers, in his book, Whose Reality Counts? Identifies these norms and postulates their extension to every form of a network, in order to capture its creative spirit and aid in the realization of its goals.[6] A network should therefore ideally foster four fundamental elements in order to inculcate an environment of trust, encouragement and the overall actualization of its purpose. These elements are; Diversity or the encouragement of a multitude of narratives from diverse sources, Dynamism or the ability of participants to retain their individual identities while maintaining a facilitative structure, Democracy or an equitable system of decision making to enable an efficient working of the net and finally, Decentralization or the feasibility of enjoying local specifics on a global platform.[7]

In order to attain these ideal elements it is integral to strengthen certain aspects of the practice through performing specific and focused functions, these include making sure of a clear broad consensus, which ensures the co-joining of a common purpose. Additionally, centralization, in the form of an overarching set of rules must be kept to a minimum, in order to facilitate a greater level of flexibility while still providing the necessary support structure. The building of trust and solid relationships between participants is prioritized to enhance creative ideation in a supportive environment. Joint activities, more than being output oriented are seen as the knots that tie together the entire web of support. Input and participation are the foremost objectives of the network, in keeping with the understanding that "contribution brings gain". [8]

Significant management issues that plague networks include the practical aspects of bringing the network into function through efficient leadership and the consolidation of a common vision. A balanced approach would entail a common consultation on the goals of the network, the sources of funding and an agreed upon structure within which the network would operate. It is also important to create alliances outside of the sector of familiarity and ensure an inclusive environment for members across regions, allowing them to retain their localized individuality while affording them with a global platform. [9]

III. Structure

The structural informality of a network is essential to its sustenance. Networks must therefore ensure that they embody a non-hierarchized structure, devoid of bureaucratic interferences and insulated from a centralized system of control and supervision. This requires an internal system of checks and balances, consisting of periodic reviews and assessments. Networks must therefore limit the powers of supervision of the secretariat. The secretariat must allow for the coordination of its activities and allocate appropriate areas of engagement according to the relative strength of the participating members.

One form of a network structure, postulated within a particular research study is the threads, knots and Nets model. [10] It consists of members within a network bound together by threads of relationship, communication and trust. These threads represent the commonality that binds together the participants of the particular network. The threads are established through common ideas and a voluntary participation in the process of communication and conflict resolution. [11]

The knots represent the combined activities which the participants engage in, with the common goal of realizing a singular purpose. These knots signify an optimum level of activity, wherein members of the network are able to support, inspire and confer tangible benefits onto each other. The net represents the entire structure of the network, which is constructed through a confluence of relationships and common activities. [12] The structure is autonomous in nature and allows participants to contribute without losing their individual identities. It is also dynamic and flexible; incorporating new elements with relative ease. It is therefore a collaboration which affords onto its members the opportunity to expand without losing its purpose. The maintenance of such a structure requires constant review and repair, with adequate awareness of weak links or "threads" and the capability and willingness to knot them together with new participants, thereby extending the net.

For example, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization used a system of organizational "milestones" to monitor the progress of the network and keep the network concentrated. It requires a sustained institutional effort to fulfill its mandate of "the right of every child to be protected against vaccine-preventable diseases" and brings together international organizations, civil society and private industry. [13] As postulated within the Critical Choices research study of the United Nations, clearly defined milestones are integral to sustaining an effective support mechanism for donors and ensuring that all relevant participants are on board. [14] This also allows for donors to be made aware of the tangible outcomes that have been achieved by the network. Interim goals that are achievable within a short span of time also afford a sense of legitimacy onto the network, allowing it to deliver on its mandate early on. Setting milestones would require an in depth focus and a nuanced understanding of specific aspects of larger problems and delivering early results on these problems would allow for a foundational base of trust, on the foundation of which, a possibly long drawn out consultative process can be fixed.[15]

A Network might often find alliances outside of its sector of operation. For example, Greenpeace was able to make its voice heard in International Climate Change negotiations by engaging with private insurance companies and enlisting their support.[16] The organization looked towards the private sector for support to mobilize resources and enlist the requisite expertise within their various projects. [17]

A. Funding

The financial support a network receives is essential for its sustenance. The initial seed money it receives can be obtained from a single source however, cross sectoral financing is necessary to build a consensus with regards to issues that may be a part of the network's mandate. The World Commission for Dams (WCD), for example, obtains funding from multiple sources in order to retain its credibility. The sources of funding of the WCD include government agencies, multilateral organizations, business associations, NGO's and Government Agencies, without a single donor contributing more than 10% of the total funding it receives.[18] However, the difficulty with this model of funding is the relative complexity in assimilating a number of smaller contributions, which may take away from its capacity to expand its reach and enhance the scope of its work. Cross sectoral funding is less of a fundamental requirement for networks whose primary mandate is implementation, such as The Global Environment Facility (GEF), whose legitimacy is derived from intergovernmental treaties and is therefore only funded by governments.[19] The GEF has only recently broadened its sources of funding to include external contributions from the private sector.

A network can also be funded through the objective it seeks to achieve through the course of its activities. For example, Rugmark an international initiative which seeks to mitigate the use of child labor in South Asia uses an external on site monitoring system to verify and provide labels certifying the production of carpets without the use of child labor.[20] The monitors of this system are trained by Rugmark and carpet producers have to sign a binding agreement, undertaking not to employ children below the age of 14 in order to receive the certification. The funds generated from these carpets, for the import of which American and European importers pay 1% of the import value, are used to provide rehabilitation and education facilities for the children in affected areas. The use of these funds is reported regularly. [21]

The funding must be sustained for a few years, which is a difficult task for networks that require an overall consensus of participants. The greatest outcomes of the network are not tangible solutions to the problem but the facilitation of an environment which allows stakeholders to derive a tangible solution. Thus, the elements of trust, communication and collaboration are integral to the efficient functioning of the network. However, the lack of tangible outcomes exposes the funders to financial risks. The best way to reduce such risks is to institute an uncompromising time limit for the initiative, within which it must achieve tangible results or solutions that can be implemented. A less stringent approach would be to incorporate a system of periodic review and assessment of the accomplishments of the network, subsequent to which further recommendations may be made for a further course of action.[22]

B. Relationships

A three year study conducted by Newell & Swan drew definitive conclusions with respect to the inter-organizational collaboration between participants within a network. The study determined that there currently exist three types of trust; Companion trust or the trust that exists within the goodwill and friendship between participants, Competence trust, wherein the competence of other participants to carry out the tasks assigned to them is agreed upon and lastly, Commitment trust or the trust which is predicated on contractual or inter-institutional that are agreed upon. [23] While companion and competence trust are easily identifiable, commitment trust is more subjective as it is determined by the agreement surrounding the core values and overall identifiable aims. Sheppard & Tuchinsky refer to an identification based trust which is based on a collective understanding of shared values. Such a trust requires significant investment but they argue, "The rewards are commensurably greater and the he benefits go beyond quantity, efficiency and flexibility." [24] Powell postulates, "Trust and other forms of social capital are moral resources that operate in fundamentally different manner than physical capital. The supply of trust increases, rather than decreases, with use: indeed, trust can be depleted if not used." [25]

Karl Wieck endorses the "maintenance of tight control values and beliefs which allow for local adaptation within centralized systems." [26] The autonomy that participants within a network enjoy is therefore considered to be close to sacred, so as to allow them to engage with each other on an equitable footing, while still maintain their individual identities. Freedman and Reynders believe that networks place a so called 'premium' on " the autonomy of those linked through the network…..networks provide a structure through which different groups - each with their own organizational styles, substantive priorities, and political strategies - can join together for common purposes that fill needs felt by each. "[27] Consequently, lower the level of centralized control within a network, the greater the requirement of trust. Allen Nan resonates with this idea, as is evident from her review of coordinating conflict resolution NGO's. She believes that these NGO's are most effective when " beginning with a loose voluntary association which grows through relationship building, gradually building more structure and authority as it develops. No NGO wants to give away its authority until it trusts a networking body of people that it knows. " [28]

C. Communication and Collaboration

The binding force that ties together any network is the importance of relationships between participants and their interactions with organizations outside the network. Research has shown that face to face interaction works best and although email may be practical, a face-to-face meeting at regular intervals builds a level of trust amongst participants. [29] It is however important to prevent network from turning into 'self-selecting oligarchies' and to prevent this, there needs to be a balance drawn between goodwill and the trust in others' competence along with a common understanding of differently hierarchized values. [30]

There is also an impending need to develop a relationship vocabulary, as suggested by Taylor, which would be of particular use within transnational networks and afford a deeper understanding of cross cultural relationships.[31]

D. Participation

A significant issue that networks today have to address is how to inculcate and then subsequently maintain participation in the activities of the network. This would include providing incentives to participants, encouraging diversity and enabling greater creative inflow across sectors to generate innovative output. Participation involves three fundamental elements; Action, which includes active contribution in the form of talking, listening, commenting, responding and sharing information, Process, which aids in an equitable system of decision making and constructing relationships and the underpinned values associated with these two elements, which include spreading equality, inculcating openness and including previously excluded communities or individuals. [32] Participation in itself envisages a three leveled definition; participation as a contribution, where people offer a tangible input, participation as an organization process, where people organize themselves to influence certain pre-existing processes and participation as a form of empowerment where people seek to gain power and authority from participating.

In order to create an autonomous system of evaluating and monitoring the nature and context of participation, a network would have to attempt to systematically incorporate a few fundamental processes, such as; enabling an understanding of the dynamism of a network through an established criteria of monitoring the levels of participation of the members, creating an explicit checklist of qualifications of this participation, such as the contributions of the participants, the limits of commitment and the available resources that must be shared and distributed, acknowledging the importance of relationships as fundamental to the success of any network., building a capacity for facilitative and shared leadership, tracing the changes that occur when the advocacy and lobbying activities of individuals are linked and using these individuals as participants who have the power to influence policy and development at various levels.[33] Finally, the recognition that utilizing the combined faculties of the network would aid in the effectuation of further change is vital to sustaining an active participation in the network.[34] It is common for networks to stagnate simply because of the lack of clarity on what a network really is or what it entails. There are significant misconceptions as to the activities engaged in by the network, such as the idea that a network "works solely as a resource center, to provide information, material and papers, rather than as forums for two way exchanges of information and experiences," contribute to the misunderstanding regarding the participation requirements within a network.[35] To facilitate an active, participatory function of learning, a network needs to be more than a resource center that seeks to meet the needs of beneficiaries. While meeting these needs is essential, development projects tend to obfuscate the benefit/input relationship within a network, thus significantly depleting its dynamism quotient. [36]

One method of moving away from the needs based model is to create a tripartite functionary, as was created within a particular research study. [37] This involves A Contributions Assessment, A Weaver's Triangle for Networks and An identification of channels of participation.

Contributions Assessment is an analysis of what the participants within a network are willing to contribute. It enables the network to assess what resources it has access to and how those resources may be distributes amongst the participants, multiplied or exchanged. [38] This system is predicated on a premise of assessing what participants have to offer as opposed to what they need. It challenges the long held notion of requiring an evaluation to identify problems, to address which recommendations are made and in fact seeks to focus on the moments of excellence and enable a discussion on the factors that contributed to these moments. [39] It thus places a value on the best of "what is" as opposed to trying to find a plausible "what ought to be". This approach allows participants to recognize that they are in fact the real "resource Centre" of the network and are encouraged act accordingly.

A Contributions Assessment may be practically incorporated through a few steps. It must be focused on the contributions, after a discussion on who the contributors may be. The aims of the network must be clarified, along with a specification of the contributions required such as perhaps newsletters, a conference, policy analysis etc. The members of the network must be clear on what they would like to contribute to the network and how such contribution might be delivered. Finally, the secretariat must be able to ideate or innovate on how it can enable more contributions from the networks in a more effective manner. [40]

The Weaver's Triangle has been adapted to be applies within networks and enables participants to understand what the aims and activities of the network are. It identifies the overall aim of the network and the change the network seeks to bring about to the status quo. It then lays out the objectives of the network in the form of specific statements about the said differences that the network seeks to bring about. Finally, the network would have to explain why a particular activity has been chosen. [41] The base of the triangle reflects the specific activities that the network seeks to engage in to achieve the said objectives. The triangle is further divided into two, to ensure that action aims and process aims have equal weightage; this allows for the facilitation of an exchange and a connection between the members of the network. [42]

The Circles of Participation is an idea that has been put forth by the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network. (LACWHN). [43] This Network has three differentiated categories of membership, which it uses to determine the degree of commitment of an organization to the network. R- refers to the members who receive the women's health journal, P refers to members who actively participate in events and campaigns and who are advisors for specific topics. PP refers to the permanent participants within the network at national and international levels. They also receive a journal. This categorization allows the network to make an assessment of the dynamism and growth of a network, with members moving through the categories depending on their levels of participation. [44]

An important space for contributions to the network is the newsletter. This can be facilitated by allowing contributions from various sources, provided they meet the established quality checks, ensuring a balance between regions of origin of the members of the network, ensuring a balance between the policy and program activities of the members and keeping the centralized editorial process to a minimum. This is in keeping with the ideal of a decentralized system of expression that allows each member to retain its individuality while still contributing to the aims of the network. The Women's Global Network on Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) sought to create a similar system of publication to measure the success of their linkages, the levels of empowerment amongst members, in terms of strategizing and enabling localized action and the allocation of space in a fair and equitable manner. [45] Another Network, Creative Exchange customizes its information flow within the network so that each member only receives the information it expresses interest in.[46] This prevents the overburdening of members with unnecessary information.

The activities of the network which don't directly pass through the secretariat or the coordinator of the network can be monitored efficiently by keeping I close contact with new entrants to the network and capturing the essence of the activities that occur on the fringes of the network. This would allow an assessment of the diversity of the network. For example, Creative exchange sends out short follow up emails to determine the number and nature of contacts that have been made subsequent to a particular item in the newsletter. The UK Conflict Development and Peace Network (CODEP) records the newest subscribers to the network after every issue of their newsletter and AB Colombia sends out weekly news summaries electronically which are available for free to recipients who provide details of their professional engagements and why or how they wish to use these summaries. [47] This enables the mapping of the type of recipients the information reaches.

E. Leadership and Coordination

Sarason and Lorentz postulate four distinguishing characteristics that capture the creativity and expertise required by individuals leading and coordinating networks.[48] Knowledge of the territory or a broad understanding of the type of members, the resources available and the needs of the members is extremely important to facilitate an ideal environment of mutual trust and open dialogue between the members. Scanning the network for fluidity and assessing openings, making connections and innovating solutions would enable an efficient leadership that would contribute to the overall dynamism of the network. In addition to this, perceiving strengths and building on assets of existing resources would allow the network to capitalize on its strengths. Finally, the coordinators of a network must be a resource to all members of the network and thus enable them to create better and more efficient systems. They must therefore exercise their personal influence over members wherever required for the overall benefit of the network. Practically, a beneficial leadership would also require an inventive approach by providing fresh and interesting solutions to immediate problems. A sense of clarity, transparency and accountability would also encourage members of the network to participate more and engage with each other. It is important for the leadership within a network to deliver on expectations, while building consensus amongst its members.

A shared objective, a collaborative setting and a constant review of strategies is important to maintain linkages within a network. Responsible relationships underpinned by values and supported by flows of relevant information would allow an effective and fruitful analysis by those who are engaged within a network to do the relevant work. In addition to this, a respect for the autonomy of the network is essential.

F. Inclusion

Public policy networks are more often than not saturated with the economic and social elite from across the developed world. A network across the Global South would have to change this norm and extend its ambit of membership to grass root organizations, which might not have otherwise had the resources or the opportunity to be a part of a network.[49] Networks can achieve their long term goals only if they are driven by the willingness to include organizations from across economic demographics. This would ensure that their output is the result of a collaborative process that takes into account cross cultural norms and differentials across economic demographics.

The participation of diverse actors is reflective of the policy making processing having given due regard to on the ground realities and being sensitive towards the concerns of differently placed interest groups. Networks have been accused of catering only to the needs of industrial countries and subscribing to values of the global north thus stunting local development and enforcing double standards. This tarnishes the legitimacy of the processes inculcated within the network itself. It is therefore all the more essential that a network focused on the global south have a diverse collection of members from across backgrounds and economic contexts. Additionally, the accountability of the network to civil society is dependent on the nature of the links it maintains with the public. Inclusion thus fosters a sense of legitimacy and accountability. The inclusion of local institutions from the beginning would also increase the chances of the solutions provided by the network, being effectively implemented. Local inclusion affords a sense of responsibility and ensures that the network would remain sustainable in the long run. Allowing local stakeholders to take ownership of the network and participate in the formulation of policies, engage in planning and facilitate participation would enable an efficient addressing of significant public policy issues. [50] Thus networks would need to create avenues for participation of local institutions and civil society to engage in a democratic form of decision making.

III. Evaluation

The process of evaluation of a network is most efficiently effectuated through a checklist that has been formulated within a research study for the purpose of evaluating its own network. [51]

This checklist enumerates the various elements that have to be taken into consideration while evaluating the success of a network, as follows;

FIG 1.[52]

1. What is a network?

'Networks are energising and depend crucially on the motivation of members'

(Networks for Development, 2000:35)

This definition is one that is broadly shared across the literature, although it is more detailed than some.


A network has:

  • A common purpose derived from shared perceived need for action
  • Clear objectives and focus
  • A non-hierarchical structure
A network encourages
  • Voluntary participation and commitment
  • The input of resources by members for benefit of all

A network provides

  • Benefit derived from participation and linking


2. What does a network do?

  • Facilitate shared space for exchange, learning, development - the capacity-building aspect
  • Act for change in areas where none of members is working in systematic way - the advocacy, lobbying and campaigning aspect
  • Include a range of stakeholders - the diversity/ broad-reach aspect


3. What are the guiding principles and values?

  • Collaborative action
  • Respect for diversity
  • Enabling marginalised voices to be heard
  • Acknowledgement of power differences, and commitment to equality

4. How do we do what we do, in accordance with our principles and values?

Building Participation

  • Knowing the membership, what each can put in, and what each seeks to gain
  • Valuing what people can put in
  • Making it possible for them to do so
  • Seeking commitment to a minimum contribution
  • Ensuring membership is appropriate to the purpose and tasks
  • Encouraging members to be realistic about what they can give
  • Ensuring access to decision-making and opportunities to reflect on achievements
  • Keeping internal structural and governance requirements to a necessary minimum.


Building Relationships and Trust

  • Spending time on members getting to know each other, especially face-to-face
  • Coordination point/secretariat has relationship-building as vital part of work
  • Members/secretariat build relations with others outside network - strategic individuals and institutions


Facilitative Leadership (may be one person, or rotating, or a team)

  • Emphasis on quality of input rather than control
  • Knowledgeable about issues, context and opportunities,
  • Enabling members to contribute and participate
  • Defining a vision and articulating aims
  • Balancing the creation of forward momentum and action, with generating consensus
  • Understanding the dynamics of conflict and how to transform relations
  • Promoting regular monitoring and participatory evaluation
  • Have the minimum structure and rules necessary to do the work. Ensure governance is light, not strangling.Give members space to be dynamic
  • Encourage all those who can make a contribution to the overall goal to do so, even if it is small.

Working toward decentralised and democratic governance

  • At the centre, make only the decisions that are vital to continued functioning. Push decision-making outwards.
  • Ensure that those with least resources and power have the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way.


Building Capacity

  • Encourage all to share the expertise they have to offer. Seek out additional expertise that is missing.


5. What are the evaluation questions that we can ask about these generic qualities? How do each contribute to the achievement of your aims and objectives?


  • What are the differing levels or layers of participation across the network?
  • Are people participating as much as they are able to and would like?
  • Is the membership still appropriate to the work of the network? Purpose and membership may have evolved over time
  • Are opportunities provided for participation in decision-making and reflection?
  • What are the obstacles to participation that the network can do something about?


  • What is the level of trust between members? Between members and secretariat?
  • What is the level of trust between non-governing and governing members?
  • How do members perceive levels of trust to have changed over time?
  • How does this differ in relation to different issues?
  • What mechanisms are in place to enable trust to flourish? How might these be strengthened?



  • Where is leadership located?
  • Is there a good balance between consensus-building and action?
  • Is there sufficient knowledge and analytical skill for the task?
  • What kind of mechanism is in place to facilitate the resolution of conflicts?


Structure and control

  • How is the structure felt and experienced? Too loose, too tight, facilitating, strangling?
  • Is the structure appropriate for the work of the network?
  • How much decision-making goes on?
  • Where are most decisions taken? Locally, centrally, not taken?
  • How easy is it for change in the structure to take place?


Diversity and dynamism

  • How easy is it for members to contribute their ideas and follow-through on them?
  • If you map the scope of the network through the membership, how far does it reach? Is this as broad as

intended? Is it too broad for the work you are trying to do?


  • What are the power relationships within the network? How do the powerful and less powerful interrelate? Who sets the objectives, has access to the resources, participates in the governance?

Factors to bear in mind when assessing sustainability

  • Change in key actors, internally or externally; succession planning is vital for those in central roles
  • Achievement of lobbying targets or significant change in context leading to natural decline in energy;
  • Burn out and declining sense of added value of network over and above every-day work.
  • Membership in networks tends to be fluid. A small core group can be a worry if it does not change and renew itself over time, but snapshots of moments in a network's life can be misleading. In a flexible, responsive environment members will fade in and out depending on the 'fit' with their own priorities. Such changes may indicate dynamism rather than lack of focus.
  • Decision-making and participation will be affected by the priorities and decision-making processes of members' own organisations.
  • Over-reaching, or generating unrealistic expectations may drive people away
  • Asking same core people to do more may diminish reach, reduce diversity and encourage burn-out

V. Learning and Recommendations

In order to facilitate the optimum working of a network several factors need to be taken into consideration and certain specific processes have to be incorporated into the regular functioning of the network. These are for example,

  • Ensuring that the evaluation of the network occurs at periodic intervals with the requisite level of attention to detail and efficiency to enable an in depth recalibration of the functions and processes of the network. To this effect, evaluation specialists must be engaged not just at times of crises or instability but as accompaniments to the various processes undertaken by the network. This would enable a holistic development of the network.
  • It is also important to understand the underlying values that define the unique nature of the network. The coordination of the network, its functions and its activities are intrinsically linked to these values and recognition of this element of the network would enable a greater functionality in the overall operation of the network.
  • A strong relationship between the members of the network, predicated on trust and open dialogue is essential for its efficient functioning. This would allow the accumulation of innovative ideas and dynamic thought to direct the future activities of the network.
  • The Secretariat or coordinator of the network must be able to engage the member in monitoring and evaluating the progress of the network. One method of enabling this coordination is through the institution of 'participant observer' methods at international conferences or meetings, which allow the members of the network to report back on the work that they have, which is linked to the work of other members.
  • The autonomy of a network and its decentralized mechanism of functioning are integral to retain the individuality of its members, who seek to pursue institutional objectives. The members seek to facilitate creative thinking and share ideas and this must be supported by financial resources. A strong bond of trust between the members of a network is therefore essential to enable long term commitments and the flourishing of interpersonal communication between members.
  • It is important that the subject area of operation of the network be comprehensively defined before the network comes into existence.
  • As seen with the experience of Canadian Knowledge Networks, it is beneficial to be selective in inviting participant to the network and following a rigorous process of review and selection would ensure that only the best candidates are selected so as to facilitate effective partnerships with other networks, as a result of demonstrable expertise within a particular field.
  • The management of a network must be disciplined, with clearly demarcated project deadlines and an optimum level of transparency and accountability. At the helm of leadership of every successful network, there has been intelligent, decisive and facilitative exchange, which is essential in securing a durable and potentially expandable space for the network to operate in.

A. Canadian Perspectives

A study of Canadian experiences was conducted by examining The Centers of Excellence and the Networks of Centers of Excellence (NCEs), which were funded through three Federal Granting Councils.[53] An initial observation that was made through the course of this study was that each network is intrinsically different and there is no uniform description which would fit all of them. The objectives of the Networks of Centers of Excellence Program are broadly, as follows; to encourage fundamental and applied research in fields which are critical to the economic development of Canada, to encourage the development and retention of world class scientists and engineers specializing in essential technologies, to manage multidisciplinary, cross sectoral national research programs which integrate stakeholder priorities through established partnerships and finally, to accelerate the exchange of research results within networks by accelerating technology transfers, made to users for social and economic development. [54] Extensive interviews carried out in the course of the research conducted by the ARA Consulting Group Inc. drew up particularly relevant conclusions with respect to the NCEs.

Firstly, they have been able to produce significant "cultural shifts" among the researchers associated with the network. This is attributed to the network facilitating a collaborative effort amongst researchers as opposed to their previous working, which was largely in isolation. The benefits of this collaboration have been identified as providing innovative ideas and leading the research itself in unprecedented directions. This has the effect of equipping Canada with the capability to compete on a global level with respect to its research endeavors. The culture shift has also allowed researchers to be more aware of the problems that plague industry and has instigated more in depth research into the development of the industrial sector. Government initiatives that have attempted to cohesively apply academic research to industry have had limited success. The NCE's however have managed to successfully disintegrate the barriers between these two seemingly disparate fields. This has resulted in a faster and more effective system of knowledge dissemination resulting in durable and self-sustaining economic development, which takes place at a faster rate. The NCE's have also been able to contribute to healthcare, wellness and overall sustainable development through their cross sectoral research approach, a model that can be used worldwide.

Another tangible effect has been that the relationship between industry and academic research is evolving into a positive and collaborative exchange, as opposed to the previous state which was largely isolationist, bordering on confrontational.[55] A possible cause of this is the increased representation of companies in the establishment of networks resulting in them influencing the course of research. This has not been met with any resistance from academic researchers who are driven by the imperative of an open publication. [56] Besides influencing the style of management, industrial representation has also brought about an increase in the level of private sector financial contributions made to NCEs. It is believed that these NCEs may even be able to support themselves in the next 7-8 years through the funding they receive from the commercialization of their research.

A third benefit that has emerged is the faster rate of production of new knowledge and innovative thinking. This is the result of collaborative techniques which is made more efficient through the use of modern technology. The increasing number of multi authored cross institutional scholarly publications made available by the NCE is evidentiary of this trend. The rate and quantity of technology transfers has also increased exponentially as a result of this. Knowledge networks also facilitate the mobilization of human resources and address cross disciplinary problems, resulting in an efficient and synergistic solutions. Their low cost, fast pace approach has been instrumental in constructing an understanding of and capacity to engage in sustainable development.

The significant contributions to sustainable development include the Canadian Genetic Diseases Network, which has discovered two specific genes that cause early onset Alzheimer's disease. The Sustainable Forest Management Network has claimed that its research does have a considerable level of influence on the industrial approach to sustainability. The Canadian Bacterial Disease Network conducts research on bacterially caused diseases which are mostly prevalent in developing countries, with a view to produce antibiotics and vaccines that may be able to successfully combat these vaccines. TeleLearning, another such network is working on the creation of software environments which will form the basis of technology based education in the future. [57] The greatest advantage of these knowledge networks is that they have been able to surpass traditional disciplinary barriers and have emerged at the forefront of interdisciplinary articulation, which is emerging as the path to breakthroughs in the fields of applied sciences and technology in the future. The NCE's have also been able to provide diverse working environments for graduate students, where they have been able to work under scientists associated with different specializations and across different departments. They have also been able to interact with government and industry representatives, giving them a far greater exposure of the field and equipping them to avail of a wide range of employment opportunities.

The corporate style of management incorporated within the NCEs encourages a sense of discipline and an enthusiasm for innovation. The Board of Directors at NCE's take on a perfunctory role and function as a typical corporate board. Researchers are therefore required to provide regular reports and meet deadlines to achieve predetermined goals that have been agreed upon. The new paradigm of sustainable development and the fluid transfer of knowledge requires this structure of management, even within a previously strictly academically oriented environment. NCEs have been incorporated as non-profit corporation for largely legal reasons such as the ownership of intellectual property.

The participation to these networks is restricted and is open only through an invitation, in the form of a submission of project proposals under a particular theme, with the final selection being made subject to a rigorous process of evaluation. This encourages the participants of the network to embody a degree of discipline and carry out their activities in a constructive, time bound manner.

B. Perceived Challenges

These knowledge networks, although extremely beneficial in the long run, do have certain specific issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, most formal knowledge networks do not have a formalized communication strategy. While they do make use of various forms of telecommunication, this communication is is no way formally directed or specific. Although some networks have managed to set up a directed communications strategy, supplemented by the involvement of specifically communications based networks (such as CANARIE) , there is still a long way to go in this area.

As is evident with most academic endeavors in recent years, efficient and sustained development both in terms of economy as well as self-sustenance, requires a smooth transitioning to a close collaboration with the industry. Although the NCE's have made progress in this area, a lesson that can be learnt from this is that knowledge networks do require a collaborative arrangement between researchers, the industry and the financial sector. [58] The nature of this collaboration cannot be predicted before tangible research outputs are developed that reflect the relevance of academia in the industrial and financial sectors. A particular network, PENCE has mandated that the boards of directors include a representative of the financial sector. This is a step forward in opening the doors to greater collaboration and mutually assured growth and sustainable development in both academia as well as the industrial and financial sectors.

As with all knowledge networks there is a continuous need for expansion of the focus areas to cover more fields and instigate research in neglected areas. The largest number of networks has been in the fields of healthcare and health associated work. However there is an impending need for networks to be established in other fields as well, such as those related to environmental issues, social dynamics and the general quality of life. [59]

The Canadian experience has resulted in a nuanced understanding of specific actions that need to be taken to strengthen knowledge networks across the spectrum. Firstly, there is an impending need to build new knowledge networks, which would be required to strengthen institutions upon which the networks are based. These include universities and research institutions, which have been weakened both financially and academically over the past few years. The NCE Program, on the face of it, seems to be strengthening universities, by attracting funding for research endeavors that would otherwise not be available to them. While this may be true, it tends to obfuscate the true nature of a university as an intellectual community, by portraying it as a funding source for research and equipment.[60] The deteriorating role of the university in fostering research and laying the foundation of an intellectual community can be reversed by the competition posed by the NCEs which tend to threaten its stature in the fields of multi-disciplinary and graduate institution. Another aspect that needs to be considered is the role of knowledge networks in fostering sustainable development not only on a national or regional scale but on a global level. This can be effectuated by allowing the amalgamation of the academia and industry through ample representation, a model that has proven to be effective within the NCEs. This is all the more relevant today where multinational corporations hold considerable sway over the global economy, so much so that the role of governments in regulating this economy is gradually decreasing. Multilateral investment treaties and agreements are reflective of this.

The final issue is that of the long standing debate between public good and proprietary knowledge. Canadian knowledge networks are of the opinion that knowledge must be freely disseminated. However, certain networks including the NCEs grant the exclusive right of the development and application of this knowledge to specific industry affiliates. On one hand this facilitates further investment into the research, which creates better products, new jobs and further social development. This is predicated on a fine balance of allowing this development without widening the already disparate socio-economic gaps that exist between developed and developing countries. Thus the balance between public good and propriety knowledge must be effectively managed by the regulatory role discharged by the governments and the decision making faculties of these knowledge networks. [61]

Establishing international linkages across networks based within different regions across the world would also be an effective means of ensuring effective partnerships and the creation of a new, self-sustaining structure. This would bring new prospects of funding into sustainable development activities and engage industrial affiliates with international development activities.

C. Donor Perspectives

The International Development Research Centre, based in Canada has also been instrumental in the setting up of support structures for networks. The IDRC has remained consistent in its emphasis of networks as mechanisms of linking scientists engaged in similar problems across the globe instead of as mechanisms to fund research in countries. This has afforded the IDRC with a greater level of flexibility in responding to the needs of developing countries as well as responding to the financial pressures within Canada to deliver superior technical support with a reduction in overheads. The IDRC sees networking an indispensable aspect of scientific pursuit and technological adaptation in the most effective manner. It is currently supporting four specific types of networks; horizontal networks which link together institutions with similar areas of specialization, vertical networks which work on disparate aspects of the same problem of different but interrelated problems, information networks which provide a centralized form of information service to members, which enables them to exchange information in the manner necessary and finally training networks which provide supervisory services to independent participants within the network.[62]

(I) Internal Evaluations

There is an outstanding need to monitor visits that are undertaken by the coordinator or the specific representatives of the member or donor as applicable. This would expedite the process of identifying problems and aid in deriving tangible solutions in an efficient manner. The criteria for the assessment would vary depending on the goals of the organization. Donors may pose questions with respect to the cost effectiveness of a particular pattern of research and may seek a formal report regarding this aspect. A more extensive model of donor evaluations may even include assessments with respect to the monitoring and coordination of specific functions.

(II) External Evaluations

A system of external evaluation would be useful with assessing data with respect to the operations of programs and their objectives. This would engage newer participants by injecting newer ideas and insights into the management and scope of the network. The most extensive method of network evaluation was one that was postulated by Valverde [63] and reviewed by Faris [64]. It aimed to draw an analysis of particular constraints and specific elements that would influence the execution of network programs. This method identifies a list of threats, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses which would inform future recommendations. The Valverde method makes use of both formal as well as informal data which is varied depending on the type of network and the management structure it employs.[65]

(III) Financial Viability

A network almost always requires external resources to aid in the setting up and coordination of its activities. Donor agencies must recognize the long term commitment that is required in this respect. It is therefore essential that the period for which this funding will be made available be clarified at the outset, to leave agencies with ample time to plan for the possibility of cessation of external financial support. [66] As concluded from the findings of the research study, although most networks are offered external support, it is primarily technology transfer and information networks that have been able to generate the bulk of funding in this respect. They have been able to obtain this financial assistance from a variety of sources including participating organizations as well as governments. [67] The funding for purely research networks however are inconsistent and the networks would have to plan in advance for a possible cessation of financial support.[68]

(IV) Adaptability

From the perspective of donors, the degree of adaptability and level of responsiveness of a particular network is especially relevant in assessing the coordination, control and leadership of a particular network. A network that is plagued by ineffective leadership and the lack of coordination is unable to adapt to changing circumstances and meet the needs of its participants. A combination of collaborative effort, a localized approach and far-sighted leadership instills in the participants of the network a sense of comfort in its processes and in the donors a faith in its ability to address topical issues and remain relevant.

(V) The Exchange of Information

As noted by Akhtar, a network is created to respond to the growing need to improve channels of information exchange and communication. [69] Information needs to be tailored to suit its users and must be disseminated accordingly. The study conducted has concluded that information networks that are engaged in the transfer of technology are inefficient in disseminating internally derived information and recognizing the needs of their users.[70] Given that these networks are especially user oriented this systemic failure is extremely problematic. There is also a need to review the mechanism of transferring strategic research techniques and the approaches employed in dealing with developing countries. Special attention must be paid to the beneficiaries of a particular network so that the research conducted is directed towards that particular demographic. This is especially relevant for information networks, which from the evaluation; appear to be generating data but not considering who would be using these services.[71]

(VI) Capacity Building

Facilitating the training of individuals both on a formal and informal level has led to an enhance level of research and reporting, as well as the designing of projects. There is however a need to tailor this training to suit the needs of the participants of a particular network. Networks which have been able to provide inputs which are not ordinarily locally provided have instigated the establishment of national and regional institutions. [72]

(VII) Cost Effectiveness

It is important to note however that networks need to employ the most cost effective mechanism of delivering support services to national programs. A network must work in a manner that allows for enough individual enterprise but at the same time follows a collaborative model to generate more effective and relevant research within a short span of time and through the utilization of minimum resources. The Caribbean Technology Consultation Services (CTCS) for example was found to be far more cost effective and in fact 50% cheaper than the services of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. [73] Similarly, the evaluators of the LAAN found that funding a network was significantly cheaper than finding individual research projects.[74]

[1] Castells, Manuel (2000) "Toward a Sociology of the Network Society" Contemporary Sociology, Vol

29 (5) p693-699

[2] Reinicke, Wolfgang H & Francis Deng, et al (2000) Critical Choices: The United Nations, Networks

and the Future of Global Governance IDRC, Ottawa

[3] Supra ., n.1, p.697

[4] Ibid

[5] Supra n.1, p.61

[6] Chambers, Robert (1997) Whose Reality Counts? Putting the First Last Intermediate Technology

Publications, London

[7] Ibid

[8] Chisholm, Rupert. F (1998) Developing Network Organizations: Learning from Practice and Theory

Addison Wesley

[9] Brown, L. David. 1993. "Development Bridging Organizations and Strategic

Management for Social Change." Advances in Strategic Management 9.

[10] Madeline Church et al, Participation, Relationships and Dynamic change: New Thinking On Evaluating The Work Of International Networks Development Planning Unit, University College London (2002), p. 16

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Reinicke, Wolfgang H & Francis Deng, et al (2000) Critical Choices: The United Nations, Networks

and the Future of Global Governance IDRC, Ottawa, p.61

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Supra n.13, p. 65

[17] Ibid

[18] Supra n. 13, p. 62

[19] Ibid

[20] Supra n. 13, p. 63

[21] Ibid

[22] Supra n. 13, p. 64

[23] Newell, Sue & Jacky Swan (2000) "Trust and Inter-organizational Networking" in Human Relations,

Vol 53 (10)

[24] Sheppard, Blair H & Marla Tuchinsky (1996) "Micro-OB and the Network Organisation" in Kramer, R.

And Tyler T. (eds) Trust in Organisations, Sage

[25] Powell, Walter W (1996) "Trust-based forms of governance" in Kramer, R. And Tyler T. (eds) Trust in

Organisations , Sage

[26] Stern, Elliot (2001) "Evaluating Partnerships: Developing a Theory Based Framework", Paper for

European Evaluation Society Conference 2001, Tavistock Institute

[27] Freedman, Lynn & Jan Reynders (1999) Developing New Criteria for Evaluating Networks in Karl, M.

(ed) Measuring the Immeasurable: Planning Monitoring and Evaluation of Networks, WFS

[28] Allen Nan, Susan (1999) "Effective Networking for Conflict Transformation" Draft Paper for

International Alert./UNHCR Working Group on Conflict Management and Prevention

[29] Supra n. 10, p. 20

[30] Ibid

[31] Taylor, James, (2000) "So Now They Are Going To Measure Empowerment!", paper for INTRAC 4th

International Workshop on the Evaluation of Social Development, Oxford, April

[32] Karl, Marilee (2000) Monitoring And Evaluating Stakeholder Participation In Agriculture And Rural

Development Projects: A Literature Review, FAO

[33] Supra n. 10, p.25

[34] Ibid

[35] Supra n. 10, p. 26

[36] Ibid

[37] Supra n. 10, p.27

[38] Ludema, James D, David L Cooperrider & Frank J Barrett (2001) "Appreciative Inquiry: the Power of

the Unconditional Positive Question" in Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (eds) Handbook of Action

Research , Sage

[39] Ibid

[40] Supra n. 10, p. 29

[41] Ibid

[42] Ibid

[43] Sida (2000) Webs Women Weave, Sweden, 131-135

[44] Ibid

[45] Dutting, Gisela & Martha de la Fuente (1999) "Contextualising our Experiences: Monitoring and

Evaluation in the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights" in Karl, M. (ed) Measuring the

Immeasurable: Planning Monitoring and Evaluation of Networks , WFS

[46] Supra n. 10, p. 30

[47] Supra n. 10, p. 32

[48] Allen Nan, Susan (1999) "Effective Networking for Conflict Transformation" Draft Paper for

International Alert./UNHCR Working Group on Conflict Management and Prevention

[49] Supra n. 13, p. 67

[50] Supra n. 13, 68

[51] Supra n 10, 36

[52] See Madeline Church et al, Participation, Relationships and Dynamic change: New Thinking On Evaluating The Work Of International Networks Development Planning Unit, University College London (2002), p. 36-37

[53] The three granting councils are: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC),

the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the Medical Research Council


[54] Howard C. Clark, Formal Knowledge Networks: A Study of Canadian Experiences, International Institute for Sustainable Development 1998, p. 16

[55] Ibid, p. 18

[56] Ibid, p. 18

[57] Ibid, p. 19

[58] Ibid , p 21

[59] Ibid , p. 22

[60] Ibid, p. 31

[61] Ibid

[62] Terry Smutylo and Saidou Koala, Research Networks: Evolution and Evaluation from a Donor's Perspective, p. 232

[63] Valverde, C. 1988, Agricultural research networking : Development and evaluation, International Services for National Agricultural Research, The Hague, Netherlands. Staff Notes (18-26 November 1988)

[64] Faris, D.G 1991, Agricultural research networks as development tools: Views of a network coordinator, IDRC, Ottawa, Canada, and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropic, Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, India

[65] Supra n. 62

[66] Terry Smutylo and Saidou Koala, Research Networks: Evolution and Evaluation from a Donor's Perspective, p. 233

[67] ibid

[68] Ibid

[69] Akhtar, S. 1990. Regional Information Networks : Some Lessons from Latin America. Information Development 6 (1) : 35-42

[70] Ibid, p. 242

[71] Ibid, p. 242

[72] Ibid., p. 243

[73] Stanley, J.L and Elwela, S.S.B 1988, Evaluation report for the Caribbean Technology Consultancy Services (CTCS), CTCS Network Project (1985-1988) IDRC Ottawa, Canada

[74] Moreau,L. 1991, Evaluation of Latin American Aqualculture Network. IDRC, Ottawa, Canada

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