FAN approach, Wielinga, Apr2011


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This document by Eelke Wielinga describes the FAN (Free Actor Network) approach and practical tools to promote effective networks where traditional planning is balanced with the energies, incentives and dreams of the members. Mr Wielinga was one of the speakers of the Systemic M&E webinar (Innovations in Measuring Impacts in Market and Financial Systems: rethinking the current paradigm). This webinar was organised by SEEP's MaFI in October 2012 and hosted in collaboration with USAID's Microlinks and FHI360. To know more about the FAN approach and Eelke's work go to

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FAN approach, Wielinga, Apr2011

  1. 1. “The Healthy Networks Learning Programme”:PSO Thematic Learning Programme 2010 - 2011The FAN ApproachConcepts and toolsEelke Wielinga April 2011Networks and alliances cannot be managed like projectsPeople engage in networks for a purpose. Networks allow for joining forces, making use of differentqualities through task division and specialisation, and they might provide access to knowledge,resources or decision makers. In contrast to organisations and projects, hierarchy is not a condition.Therefore networks depend heavily on the voluntary contributions of its members.This has consequences for managing networks. The way weuse to run projects for inducing change has only limited valuein a complex environment where external conditions as well asthe mood of members keep on changing.The blue column (figure 1) shows the way we all have beentaught to organise activities. There should be a shared mission.This is operationalized in SMART formulated targets. Then wechoose appropriate instruments, we assess the competencesneeded to carry out the tasks, we select and if necessary trainpeople to acquire these competences. We determine theperformance indicators to allow for M&E, and then we hopethat these people are going to do what they are supposed to Figure 1: Two ways for inducing changedo for bringing about change.The blue column assumes that the people involved share the ambition from the onset, and that theprocess of change can be controlled in a planned manner. These assumptions do not apply fornetwork processes. A shared ambition is not the start but the result of a good process. Ambitions,opinions and mutual trust can change over time. And network members cannot be controlled likefactory workers.The network approach turns the blue column upside down and starts off with people. The redcolumn shows what it takes to motivate people to engage in a process of change. When individualswith ambitions make connection, this generates energy. Informal networks emerge, looking for waysof joining forces. At a certain moment this leads to targets in order to focus the efforts. When trustincreases, ambitions grow further towards each other into a shared mission.Since the red column is difficult to plan for, and it is harder to make people accountable for theirefforts, its principles are generally being overlooked in a culture where organisations are supposed todeliver specified products in an effective and efficient way. Nevertheless, we all know that withoutthe red column nothing gets moving into a healthy direction. Even less so in networks wherehierarchy is lacking to force people into doing what they are supposed to do. Most managementtools have been developed for hierarchies and follow the blue principles of planning and control.The FAN approach offers tools for the red column, focussing on energy and connection. Here aninitiative is the starting point. In the end, the two columns complement each other, since in anyprocess of change people have to get their acts together and organise the traffic between them.There the blue column has its value.
  2. 2. 2Healthy networks require Free Actors (Incentive for free factors to engage: whatcould be these? Who/what type could be this free actor in a normal situation? Eg:Free actors should be someone who is a change agent or a gate keeper rather thana survivor)The Free Actors in Networks (FAN) approach takes the concept of networks further than the way it iscommonly used. Networks are seen as living organisms, with an identity, with task division andspecialisation, and with a life cycle. Just like all living entities, networks reproduce themselvesthrough patterns of interaction, as long as all essential components are connected. Every network isa node in a larger network in which it has its function, and every node in a network is a network initself again. In this perspective, networks are a way of conceptualising society. Organisations,projects but also families and village communities are networks as well, with characteristic features.Living networks can be healthy or sick. In a healthy network the interaction is rewarding. This makespeople willing to make efforts and to align to others, making the interaction more rewarding again.As trust grows, the network develops higher levels of coherence, with more strength and ability torespond to its environment. The reverse can happen as well. When interaction is not rewarding,willingness to make efforts or to align decreases. This is a self-propelling process as well, that leads toeither chaos or stagnation, andeventually the death of the network.The difference between healthy and sick is connection. Constructive patterns and destructivepatterns are always prevalent in living systems. For keeping a network healthy it takes people whoare able to recognise destructive patterns and who have the position and skills to do what it takes torestore connection. This is the role of what we call the “Free Actor”. No network can do without.Tools for managing organisations and projects have been designed for simple and complicatedsystems. In a simple system there is a simple relationship between action and result. In a complicatedsystem, there are many factors and mechanisms involved, but still all factors and mechanisms can beknown, and actions have predictable outcomes (e.g. an airplane). Network processes are complexsystems, in which there are so many factors involved that outcomes are fundamentally unpre-dictable. Such systems require a different approach for inducing change. People should recognisepatterns, and develop the capacity to respond effectively.The concept of living networks focuses on the responsive capacity of people within networks, and ofnetworks within their environment. It assumes that people are effective in realising their ambitionswhen they engage in a healthy network environment. Therefore it pays off to invest in healthynetwork relationships.The FAN approach emerged from a large scale experiment with Dutch farmersIn 2004 Dutch farmers in animal husbandry were invited to submit network initiatives for sustainableimprovements in their sector. Government provided funds for hiring expertise during one year, onthe condition that farmers would present themselves as a network of at least three entrepreneurs.They were assisted by subject matter specialists from Wageningen University and Research, whowere supposed to link the farmers needs to knowledge waiting on the shelve in the researchinstitutes. Fifty networks were selected. The research programme provided thirty five facilitators andcommunication support. An action research team should monitor and document the process.It soon became clear that the task of the facilitators was more complicated than only linking toknowledge. In most cases the required knowledge still had to be developed. The process of buildingup workable relationships took much attention as well. Thirdly, the facilitators also frequentlyprovided access to other actors, such as policy makers, bankers or civil society groups. These networkprocesses appeared to be discovery journeys full of surprises. Tools for managing projects appearedto be useless.
  3. 3. 3The action research team decided to organise peer group consultations with small groups offacilitators. For these consultations a new generation of tools was developed, providing language todiscuss what really mattered and to generate options for action. The theory of living networks (PhDstudy Wielinga 2001) proved to be a useful theoretical framework. The facilitators appeared to actas temporary free actors in the networks, doing whatever was needed to increase their capacity torealise their ambitions. For the continuity of the network after the project period, it was crucial that anetwork member was able to take over this free actor role. Because of its importance, the approachwas named the “Free Actor in Networks” approach.The approach was successful. After three shifts of around 50 networks (over 120 in total) the ministryof agriculture converted the experiment into a subsidy arrangement for the animal husbandry sector(2008).Later on this was extended to all sectors in agriculture (2010). Also in fisheries and biologicalfarming network programmes were started. The tools found their way in training courses ofWageningen Business School (Dutch) and MDF (English), as well as in numerous in-companytrainingsin- and outside of agriculture.Tools for networkers, but not to be followed (not to be followed?)The tools in the FAN approach have been designed to recognise what is at stake in a network, and toprovide options to act effectively in that situation. Each tool gives attention to another aspect ofnetworking: The Spiral of Initiatives focuses on contents. The contents of an initiative develops through different stages. In each stage different actors need to be connected. The Actor Analysis focuses on relationships. An initiative is related to a number of actors that are needed to realise it. The model visualises actors who connect the initiative with these actors and factors, and points at relationships to work on. The Circle of Coherence focuses on interaction. Actors can build on an initiative together if there is ‘vital space’: trust that others will do their share and freedom to learn and be creative. The model visualises constructive interaction patterns that feed vital space, and destructive patterns that drain energy. Each pattern requires different types of leadership interventions. The Triangle of Change focuses on positions. Processes of change require attention for both the initiative and the structure in which it aims to change something. Different actors take different positions regarding the initiative, partly due to their formal function and responsibilities, and for the other part because of the role they play in practice as a result of many factors such as personality, capacity to take risks, interaction history and so on). The model helps to develop strategies for involving stakeholders in the process of change.Successful networkers rely heavily on their intuition. This fits in the theory of living networks, takingpeople as parts of living organisms that have their in-built mechanisms to remain healthy. Themodels in this approach should never be used as recipes to replace the role of intuition. However,people can sharpen their intuition by reflecting on experience of themselves and others. The toolsprovide language to do so.
  4. 4. 4The Spiral of Initiatives focuses on thedevelopment of the contents How far has the initiative developed? Which actors should be engaged at this stage? What can be done to take the initiative one step further?The Network Analysis focuses on thecomposition of the network What is the initiative? Who or what is needed for the initiative? Who can connect you to these (f)actors? What connections should be improved?The Circle of Coherence focuses on similaritieshealthy interaction Does the network generate energy or not? WE vital ME space What pattern requires most attention? What can be done to restore connection, or raise the level of coherence? differencesThe Triangle of Change focuses onenergy for change Who are drivers for change? What positions do key actors take? What steps have to be taken to induce movement ?Figure 2: Choice of tools.adapted afterWielinga, H.E., Zaalmink, B.W. et al (2008): Networks with Free Actors. WageningenUniversity and Research.
  5. 5. 5The Spiral of InitiativesAn initiative starts with someone having an initial idea. When someone starts talking about it withothers, it might inspire them. In informal network develops. Sooner or later this network wants tomove towards action. Then the planning stage starts, in which they divide tasks and try to acquirespace for working out the ideas. With this space they can start experimenting in order to develop apractice that appears to work. This should convince stakeholders who should move for realising theinitiative. When it is successful, the new practice disseminates to others who will apply the newpractice too. When the new practice becomes normal practice and procedures are adapted to it, itbecomes embedded in the existing structure.Of course, not all changes run through this spiral so smoothly. This is why the process is presented asa spiral instead of a line. The process can get stuck, fall back, and has to start in an earlier stage again.Every stage requires different types of activities, and other actors need to become involved.Initial idea: Step out of your comfort zone, and meet other people (excursions, travel, informal time).External pressure can force people outside their comfort zone as well, after which the spiral starts.Inspiration stage: Look for like-minded people, people with similar interests, risk takers. Meet infor-mally and start dreaming together. Ambitions are not the same as targets. Ambitions are aboutdreams. Seeing that others share that dream increases the chance that it can come true. This is whysharing ambitions generates energy. Genuine ambitions are always serving. Acquiring money andpower are not ambitions but means to an end.Planning stage: Engage with those who have the power to provide room for experiments (the‘enabling community’: financers, managers, etc.). Negotiate space. Make structure that allows fordevelopment, and feed trust of the enabling community in your effortsfor using this space well.Development stage: Develop a practice that can work. The initiative is about change. Don’t try tochange all at once, but first collect proof with examples that show that change is possible. This iswhat you have acquired space for. Many scientific experiments are of this nature, but also pilotprojects that should create sustainable development. Engage expertise and other assistance at thisstage. It is also wise to involve stakeholders who are supposed to move in the next phase. Here thisstill can be done at low key.Realisation stage: Negotiate with actors who have a stake in the movement for change. Since changealways touches vested interests, this is usually a stage of power play, requiring strategic positioning.Give and take should be balanced. You need all proof you have acquired at the previous stage to feedthe trust that the gains of the change outweigh the costs and the risks. At this stage negotiations areabout interests and targets. All have to give in a bit to make things fit. This takes energy, in contrastto sharing ambitions at the inspiration stage.Dissemination stage: If you want others to make use of the change, you should consider who is yourtarget group, and what channels and links you best could make use of for reaching them. Butdissemination also occurs just by itself, when the new practice appears to be profitable or solve feltproblems. In the context of development work access to information and to means for implement-tation is often critical. In power struggle such access (or denial to access) is often used as a weapon.Embedding stage: The result of change becomes normal practice to which the structure adapts itself.Here you need to engage those who maintain the structure. Where structure and practice do not fitwell together, new initiatives will emerge as initial ideas, and the spiral will start again.In its original form this model was called the Spiral of Innovations, since it was developed in anexperiment with networks of farmers with initiatives for sustainable innovations in their sector. Thistool visualised in what stages the facilitators could be assisting in a period of one year: the stages ofinspiration, planning and development.
  6. 6. 6Figure 3: The Spiral of Initiatives Figure 3: The Spiral of InitiativesThe Network AnalysisThe Network Analysis visualises involvement. Actors can be involved in different ways, and someessential links might be missing. This analysis leads to priorities for strengthening links.The initiative is placed in the middle, since this is the reason for existence of the network. Aninitiative reflects an ambition. In the theory of living networks, genuine ambitions are servingcollective goods. Money and power are no ambitions but means to an end. “Fund raising” asinitiative is not good enough. In an analysis session a flipchart or a paper table cloth can be used.Actors and factors that matter are placed in a wide circle around the initiative. These are people,institutions or things that are needed to realise the initiative. Participants brainstorm about all actors andfactors they can think of. The ones that really matter will appear later on. It is practical to write on cards, and stick them onthe paper.Users are people who benefit if the initiative will materialise. Indicate those actors in the outer circle a black U.Suppliers are sources (people or institutions) of things that are required for the initiative. Indicate thoseactors in the outer circle a blue S. Sometimes users are suppliers as well.Partners are people who share the ambition behind the initiative, and to put effort in it. A realpartner carries on with the initiative when others step out. Write partners on a red card, and stick them closeto the initiative.Links are people who connect the partners with the actors and factors. This is a crucial step in theanalysis. The partners cannot connect with all users and suppliers directly. Their effectivenessdepends on their relationships with links who can make the connection. Write links on green cards, andindicate what connection they maintain. The quality of the analysis increases when links indicate names of people.The Network Analysis shows users who are being served by the initiative, suppliers who are requiredto deliver something, links who render a service, and partners who carry the initiative. Expectations
  7. 7. 7are different, and it takes different actions to get these actors involved. The analysis reveals whatconnections are weakly developed or missing, and leads to an agenda for action.The boundaries of the network are not fixed. The initiative may require involvement of actors who donot feel being part of the network. This notion of a network differs from what is more usual: socialnetworks with members who recognise each other as such.The network analysis distinguishes itself from common methods for actor analysis or power fieldanalysis, by taking the initiative as the point of departure, instead of institutional interests orpositions of power. Such methods focus on the formal arena where people represent institutions andnegotiate about conflicting interests. The network analysis allows for going beyond the formal standsand bring individuals into the picture. Ties can be both formal and informal.The process of negotiation about conflicting interests takes energy, since parties have to give in ontheir targets for reaching agreement (see also the Spiral of Initiatives, realisation stage). Informal networking,inspired by ambitions, generates energy because it feeds hope that dreams can come true (Spiral ofInitiatives, inspiration stage). Exclusive focus on power relations and formal interests ignores theimportance of the informal process that can make things move. A supplier has something that is A user profits from needed for the the initiative initiative A link connects the initiative with suppliers and users A partner is a driving The initiative is the force and takes the ambition that makes initiative further people move Figure 4: The Network Analysis. Sources:Poorthuis, A.M., Bijl, C. van der (2006): “Van netwerkanalyse naar organisatieroutine” [fromnetwork analysis toorganisational routine]. In: Poorthuis, A.M. (red) (2006): De kracht van netwerkbenadering. [The power of network approaches]. Assen: Van Gorcum. Wielinga, H.E., Zaalmink, B.W. et al (2008): Networks with Free Actors. WageningenUniversity and Research.
  8. 8. 8The Circle of CoherenceThe Circle of Coherence visualises patterns of interaction. It distinguishes constructive patterns anddestructive patterns, and it offers options for intervention to build coherence in the network.Vital Space is what people experience when interaction is constructive. It is rewarding to be part ofthe network. People feel invited to make efforts and to align to others. There is room for curiosityand creativity, and new things can emerge. Vital space builds on trust. Trust that, while membersbring in their specific qualities, others will do their share to make the network more than the sum ofthe individuals. This allows for task division and specialisation, and added value of the network.Constructive patterns feed vital space. Trust cannot be manufactured, bought or imposed. Deliberateactions to get control over it are self-defeating. This is true for most important things in life: luck,creativity, happiness, passion, love, etc.: the more you try to get it, the harder it runs away from you.This does not leave us helpless, however. Trust grows by itself if it is nourished. The same is true forvital space. It grows if there is connection. There are four basic patterns that reinforce connection,and thus feed vital space: The pattern of exchange: the balance between give and take must be positive for individuals. There must be sufficient similarities between their own ambitions and those that are shared and make the network move. The benefits must outweigh the efforts, risks and costs of alignment. In this pattern people try to get positive signals on these issues. The pattern of challenge: differences in qualities are important to grow towards task division and specialisation. Unsolved questions make curious and provide opportunities for learning. A steady doses of disagreement and conflict is healthy as long as it helps the network to learn how to deal with it in a constructive way. This feeds the trust that the network can cope with unexpected challenges. In this pattern people try to acquire a position in which they can be valuable for the network and the network is valuable for them. The pattern of structure: formal and informal agreements, rules, and planning organises the traffic between people and this allows for concerted action. This feeds the trust that individuals can concentrate on their own contribution while others will do their share. In this pattern the shared ambition is operationalized into concrete actions in which people have their own mandates. The pattern of dialogue: learning, creativity and growth require an open attitude and the willing- ness to give up fixed views and practices. In dialogue people want to learn from each other and with each other. Dialogue feeds the trust that people are being taken seriously and awarded. Their input in the network matters in the process of co-creation that might lead to new and unexpected outcomes. In this pattern people show genuine curiosity and feel fulfilment in collectively building something new.The steering mechanisms in networks are in-built. Constructive patterns alternate more or lessautomatically. When one of the patterns gets ignored, there will always be someone asking attentionfor it. In the evolution people have learned to live together as social beings for millions of years. Wemay assume that the ability to keep networks healthy is much older than deeper ingrained than therational mind that allows people to communicate in abstract concepts and language. If we are wellconnected, we know what to do even before we give words to it. This is what we experience asintuition.The logic becomes clear when we consider that any interaction between people has at least twodimensions. Every communication tells something about contents and mutual relations.On the axis of contentspeople communicate between similarities and differences. Contents refer towhat people understand and what they want. We can learn between what we recognise and whatwe do not understand. The steering mechanism works through limiting or widening our perception.
  9. 9. 9If there is too much confusion, we respond by limiting our perception to what we still can handle. Ifeverything seems to be known we get bored and widen our perception in search of new differenceswhich always can be found. If partners in our interaction are too different we lose interest. Ifpartners seem to be too similar, there might be no added value in interaction. Between similaritiesand differences we can be curious, and this is energizing.An the axis of relations people communicate between ME and WE, between personal interests andthe collective value of the network. A network has added value when people attune their efforts towhat the network requires. This means that people have to sacrifice personal freedom, hoping that itwill be compensated by the benefits of being part of the network. The steering mechanism worksthrough the emotions anger and fear. When the network becomes demanding and leaves too littleroom for personal freedom and creativity, we respond with anger which puts us on to claim moreindividual space. When we ignore the requirements of the network we will feel that the protection ofthe network will get lost, and our efforts will become less meaningful. This translate in a feeling offear, making us more inclined to attune again.The borderlines between ME and WE are fuzzy and change along with the level of trust in a network.They need to be probed all the time. Children learn to do so while playing. Children like to play andthey are curious. Healthy adults do so too. similarities conform flee dialogue exchange vital WE ME space structure challenge freeze fight differences Figure 5: The Circle of CoherenceDestructive patterns exist as well. Networks are not energising all the time. Interaction can drainenergy away. Just like constructive patterns reinforce themselves, destructive patterns lead to a self-propelling process: the willingness to make efforts and to attune decreases, the added value of thenetwork will shrink, making people less willingagain. Destructive patterns disconnect. If notcorrected, the network ends up either in stagnation or in chaos. Each constructive pattern has adestructive counterpart:
  10. 10. 10 The pattern of fleeing: When individuals conclude that the balance between give and take is negative, they will withdraw their contribution and be less inclined to align with others. They disconnect. This decreases the gain for others, lowering their threshold for stepping out too. From their own perspective they may have very good reasons for leaving, but from the point of view of an initiator who needs their contribution for a collective purpose, this is a pattern of fleeing. The pattern of fighting: As long as individuals are challenging each other, their competences will grow, even if they lose a game, because they learn how to respond better next time. When challenge turns into fight, the connection gets broken. The other is no longer an esteemed opponent but an enemy whose influence should be eliminated. This pattern escalates because each party takes a strike from the adversary as a legitimate reason to strike back even harder. This leads to a path of mutual destruction. The pattern of freezing: Structure can turn into a situation of control where nobody dares to move anymore. Some are maintaining the rules while others are suffering from it. The underdog is not satisfied with the limited space it gets, but does not see how to change it. When people are complaining, this signifies that they resign in their fate. The dominant party usually profits more from this situation, but complains as well about the lack of trust and the efforts it takes to maintain control. Due to this lack of connection a spiral of fear, control and resistance develops where people are afraid to make any move. This is the pattern of resignation. The pattern of conforming: When interaction has been rewarding for some time and dialogue has developed to its potential, the pattern can turn into a destructive variety too. This occurs when people start taking disagreement as a threat to their harmony. This is a common phenome- non in idealist movements, religious sects, and also in groups that feel threatened by the outside world. Groupthink develops in a sneaky way, without people involved noticing it. They conform to what they expect others are expecting from them, because being accepted in the group is more important than a maintaining a dissent.Networks provide temporary structures that channel concerted actions of people. As such they formthe living tissue for movement. When the structure insufficiently responds to what is needed, it hasto adapt, or it should be destructed to make place for others, just like any living organism dies whenit loses its ability to maintain essential connections. Then it decomposes and becomes feed for otherforms of life. Just like the steering mechanisms to keep a network healthy, the mechanisms fordestruction are deeply ingrained in our human nature.Destructive patterns basically have two functions. When such escalating patterns occur, this meansthat essential elements are not well connected. This inhibits the networkto maintain the energy, andto facilitate an adequate response to challenges in its environment. Either such patterns break downthe structure to give way to more adequate ones, or they provoke a change within the networkallowing the constructive patterns to connect in a new way what they failed to connect before.Such changes take leadership from people who want the network to succeed. In each destructivepattern a different mechanism is at work. If we assume that people who get caught in an escalatingdestructive pattern still have a desire to be part of the network when it would be healthy, their needsfor re-entering the vital space will be different in each pattern: In the pattern of fleeing people need inspiration. New insights or perspectives may change the balance between costs and benefits. In the pattern of fighting people need recognition. People are fighting for their position and cannot give in to appreciate the competing position of others. Only after being heard them- selves, they may feel space to pay attention to other opinions and interests.
  11. 11. 11 In the pattern of freezing people need safety. Deviating from the strangulating structure is dangerous. Risks have to be reduced before people dare to change their behaviour. In the pattern of conforming people need a shake-up. Creative and critical sounds are not being heard anymore, and people do not look beyond the usual. A good shake-up reconnects people with their own individual self and releases creativity.These different needs call for specific leadership interventions in each pattern to restore vital space.Warm interventions work through the mind. They change the way people understand the situation,upon which they change their behaviour. The inspirator provides inspiration by giving new insights and showing what is possible. The negotiator gives recognition to each fighting party, and helps to find ways to make their intended contributions fit together. The mediator provides safety by negotiating room for experimenting. The joker takes care of a shake-up by wrapping the truth in a humoristic way.Cold interventions make use of power, forcing people to change their position in the network. Suchinterventions may limit their options or change the balance between costs and benefits. The regulator imposes limits and rules, making it unattractive to flee. The strategist intervenes in the fight by making it impossible for each actor to win at the cost of others. The fighter undermines the position of the dominant actor, forcing him to enter into negotiation with the underdog. The prophet uses his authority to shake up people by telling the inconvenient truth.The legitimacy of interventions becomes an issue when using power in networks. Since hierarchy islacking, the mandate for using such power is not at all obvious. Who is allowed to do so, and to whatend?Connection makes the difference between healthy networks where constructive patterns dominateand unhealthy networks that are threatened by destructive patterns. Warm and cold interventionsintend to restore connection. There is a tremendous difference between using power to win or usingpower to reconnect. Using power to win does not contribute to connection, and therefore it fuels thedestructive pattern. Using power to reconnect creates space for constructive patterns by whichpeople can build meaningful relationships. Anyone who feels responsible for the network can do this,with or without a mandate, although such interventions will be more effective when this person isbeing respected by the others.The Circle of Coherence is a powerful but also complicated tool. Real life has more colours than eight,and it takes time to recognise the basic patterns in the wide variety of situations in actual cases.People are not necessarily all in the same pattern, although escalating patterns tend to drag peoplealong. The intervener should focus on the pattern that is most disturbing at a given point in time, andthe people who keep that pattern going.The importance is that different patterns require different interventions. What is effective in onesituation might be counter effective in another. For example, the inspirator will only complicatematters in the pattern of fighting, because there are too many visions already. Don’t use the humourof the joker either, because it makes a fool of the fighting parties struggling for recognition. Theinspirator nor the negotiator will be effective in a pattern of conforming, since people do not feelthey have a problem. And so on.
  12. 12. 12The constructive patterns of exchange, challenge, structure and dialogue are similar to the stages offorming, storming, norming and performing as they are common in theories of group dynamics.However, these stages suggest a linear process from primitive to well performing. The Circle ofCoherence does not imply this linearity. Patterns alternate. New networks often start in the patternof exchange, after which the ones of challenge and structure will follow. The pattern of dialoguerequires a certain level of trust, for which the other three patterns must have had their attentionalready. But a good shake up can bring the network in the pattern of challenge again, and a farreaching proposal may make people reconsider their level of involvement again, which takes place inthe pattern of exchange. A new network of managers or representatives is more likely to start in thepattern of challenge, because they will try take a strong starting position for the negotiations theyexpect.The Circle of Coherence adds the notion of destructive patterns and the importance of connectionfor feeding vital space. It illustrates how investments in relationships empowers the network to workon a shared ambition. This shared ambition gives a direction to the efforts of the network members.What emerges from the vital space that is thus created cannot be foreseen. The good news is that itmight be better than anyone could have imagined beforehand.The Triangle of Change simple versionThe Triangle of Change visualises positionsin a network that are relevant for change. 1 2For change agents the triangle is a tool foracting strategically. There is a simple and an Change Gate Keepersadvanced version of the Triangle. Thesimple version distinguishes change agents,gate keepers and survivors.Change Agents are people who follow theirambition and take initiatives. They mightinspire others, who recognise their own 3ambitions and stir hope to bring them Survivorscloser by joining the action. A sharedambition is a strong driving force. Figure 6: The Triangle of Change (simple version)Gatekeepers are people who feelresponsible for maintaining structure. Not every initiative is a useful one. Sooner or later the changeagents will encounter the gatekeepers in the system, and they will have to negotiate about feasiblechanges.Survivors are people who follow, who do not take risks and just deliver what is being asked for. Theyare not so much concerned with the system or necessary changes, but rather with their own positionfor survival. Some survivors might be in disguise of gatekeepers or even as change agents if they seethat as the most clever way to survive.An easy rule of thumb for recognising people in the survival mode is that interacting with them doesnot generate energy. In other words, it makes you tired. The logic is that energy is generated bysharing ambitions. Survivors do not follow ambitions you can connect with.The distinction should not be used in a normative manner, separating the good and the bad. We allare change agent, gatekeeper or survivor from time to time, and these roles can even differ perissue. The Triangle is helpful for choosing a strategy.1. First make sure to find sufficient supporters who share an ambition.2. Approach gatekeepers only after having acquired a position that ensures that the initiative is taken seriously.
  13. 13. 133. Then communicate about realistic changes with the others. Don’t waste energy on convincing survivors until the risks have been reduced to acceptable levels.The Triangle of Change advanced versionIn the advanced version of the triangle, constructive contributions from people in different positionsare visualised. Change agents, managers and suppliers complement each other. It also showspositions in which people do not contribute to a healthy process of change in a network.The advanced triangle clarifies the influence of formal structures on what change agents actuallydo.Change agents are not just doing what they are told, they don’t refrain themselves to their formaltask description. Does it matter what mandate they formally have? Could there be an optimal taskdivision for enhancing innovations in knowledge networks, or is it merely a matter of personalqualities, and would it be better to invest in people only? Is it a combination of both?We need to be more precise in distinguishingfunctions and actual behaviour. The terminologyin use is too fuzzy: they mean different things todifferent people. We redefine functions,positions and roles.A function describes a formalised task in asystem, with duties and mandates.A position indicates the actual influencesomeone has in a system (team, organisation,network etc.).A role refers to the behaviour someone shows ina system at a given point in time.Someone can have the function of a gatekeeper.Meanwhile she chooses the role of an changeagent, trying to get people along with her plans.However, she might not get the position of thechange agent: this depends also on the Figure 7: Triangle of Change(advanced version)behaviour of the other actors involved. If sheloses the game, she might end up in the positionof a survivor, just trying to save her reputation.A function indicates what formal means someone has to influence others, and what others expecthim to deliver. Functions relate to power.A position refers to the kind of influence someone requires for achieving what he wants, as he sees itat least. Positions relate to interests.The division of positions emerges from interaction and is usually shifting over time. A role describesthe behaviour someone is performing, consciously or unconsciously. It tells something about hiswillingness to act, or maybe his lack of will. Roles relate to ambitions.The terms being used in the Triangle of Change can be applicable to functions, positions as well asroles.Change agents start an initiative for change or they become partners. Change agents see oppor-tunities or want to solve problems. They share an ambition and this generates energy. Usuallychange agents find each other in informal networks. When they convert their dreams into action,they have to relate with others in the system.
  14. 14. 14Managers feel responsible for the structure. They contribute to change by organising what isnecessary, by mobilising resources and by keeping risks within limits.Suppliers deliver the building bricks that are needed for change. For example: experts might offertechnical know-how or process skills to add quality to the initiative. A successful process of changerequires all three positions to be fulfilled.In each corner of the triangle actors can act in a disconnected manner as well.Activists equally strive for change, but they do not connect with the system. Activists try to forcechange from the outside. A network of activists shares an ambition which gives them energy but theyuse it for struggle.Gatekeepers feel responsible for the structure just like managers, but they resist to change. They donot connect with the change movement and defend their position of power.Survivors are primarily concerned with their own position in which they try to survive. They are notconnected in the sense of feeling responsible for either maintaining the system or changing it.If there is a low threshold for actors to engage in processes of co-creation, the probability ofinnovations is high. Co-creation requires a high level of trust. Something really new can emerge ifpeople are ready to leave old views and patterns behind for exploring new ideas and practices, andalso take the risk of failure.In practice however, much energy of stakeholders appears to be spent on acquiring positions. Only ifthere is sufficient acceptance at that level, co-creation comes within reach. Regretfully, manyprogrammes and projects, although designed for stimulating collaboration, never surpass thestruggle for positions.We assume that the competition for acquiring positions is inevitable. It cannot be prevented bychanging structures or procedures. It is an essential part of any process in order to build up trust.Partners have to probe each other to find out what they can expect when things get even morecomplicated. What is needed here is the ability to recognise when this challenge is helpful, and whenit turns into a destructive struggle.Following the advance Triangle for Change actors in any connected position carry the suspicion ofbeing their disconnected counterparts in disguise. In the probing stage other actors seek evidence forthis suspicion. If an actor succeeds in convincing others that this suspicion is not justified, trust willgrow. On the other hand, if actors are denied in their genuine ambition, their role can shift into thedisconnected version.Change agents could be activists in disguise, undermining the structure, including the position ofpower of people with responsibilities and the safety of the followers. For building up trust they mustshow understanding and compassion. On the other hand, others can turn their suspicion into a self-fulfilling prophecy by ignoring the genuine ambitions of the change agents.Managers bear the suspicion of being gatekeepers, primarily focussed on keeping control. If theydon’t show any ambition or flexibility, they will confirm what others fear and provoke strategicbehaviour. This reinforces their conviction that strict control is necessary. Such escalating patternsblock the way to co-creative interaction and innovation.Suppliers bear the suspicion of being survivors, only being there for the money and inclined to deliverminimal output for maximal reward.Functions are linked to expectations and means of power. Someone with the function of manager islikely to perform the role of a manager as well, having more means than others to take thecorresponding position. This entails that also functions are linked to suspicion. Experts who are beinghired to assist in a project have the formal function of supplier of knowledge. The suspicion will bethat they only contribute for the money, just doing minimal effort for maximal profit.
  15. 15. 15Obviously these issues are rarely part of the formal agenda. It can take a lot of energy when peoplepretend to discuss content while underneath the surface quite different games are going on. Whenactors succeed in creating mutual acceptance concerning positions, this frees the energy to learnfrom each other and to co-create.The free actor lubricates the system. It is extremely helpful if there is at least one actor who hasalready a position beyond suspicion. Moreover, he should have the insight to recognise unhealthypatterns and the skills to intervene in a manner that removes blockages for connection. This is theposition and role of the Free Actor. In figure 2 he has a central position. Observing well-functioningnetworks that depend on voluntary contributions of all members, such a free actor can practicallyalways be recognised.In rigid and target driven structures there is limited space for free actors. Following this analysis it islikely that for this reason the threshold for doing what it takes to create innovations is high.The Time Line MethodThe Time Line is a method for participative monitoring and evaluation. It is fairly simple to use andtakes only a limited amount of time. It reveals the historical process of a network, as seen throughthe eyes of the people involved. The result is a story of which the participants say: “Yes, this is how ithappened, and this story reflects the most important moments.”This method contains a number of steps and leads to a result. This is in contrast with the toolsdescribed so far. These tools have been designed to recognise patterns and act accordingly.Time Line session in the FAN approach is made with the people involved in the network. The effect isthat they take some time to reflect on their own process and discuss patterns that usually remainimplicit. If there are veterans and newcomers, it helps to arrive at the same page. Experience showsthat after a Time Line session people are more inclined to take responsibility for their collectiveprocess.A Time Line collects observations and appreciates all opinions. Different points of view can figuratenext to each other and such differences are interesting. There is no need to reach consensus about ashared analysis. An analysis is made in a Learning History, for which the result of the Time Line servesas a basis.First step: prepare the Time LineThe Time Line is visualised on a series of flipcharts attached to each other. The number of flipchartsyou need depends on the number of participants. On 10 participants 4 flipcharts, 20 participants 6flipcharts, 30 participants 8 flipcharts. The papers are hung vertically (portrait style) attached to eachother. You may use wallpaper, wrapping paper or paper tablecloths as well if these are easier toacquire. The best is to hang them on a long empty wall. If this is not available, you can use tables aswell, or put them on the floor. What counts is that in the everyone can see what has been written onthe Time Line.You prepare the Time Line by dividing the paper into three rows, by two lines. The upper row is for positive moments: indicate this by a glad smiley. The middle row is for negative moments: indicate this by a sad smiley. The lowest row is for flash moments: indicate this by a flashing light.Divide the horizontal line into periods of time that make sense for understanding the history of thisnetwork, from its start (or even before if relevant) until present. If you know many details of thenetwork you can do this before the session. You can also fill in the vertical lines with the participantsat the start of the session, by asking important milestones.
  16. 16. 16 milestones Figure 8: example of a Time Line setupFor every participant you need a marker and around 10 Post-it stickers of 12,5 x 7,5 cm. What countsis that the statements written down on the stickers are easy to read from some distance. If you can’tget Post-its (handy, because they stick by themselves, you’ll have to improvise with pieces of paperand tape.It helps if you can take pictures of the flipcharts after the feedback session. Audio recording of thereading and the feedback session are helpful as well for writing the report. If you do, tell participantsthat the recordings are for internal use only, and that personal statements will be made anonymousin the report.Instructions for the participants1. Explain why the Time Line is made (see above)2. Explain the expected result of this session (see above: the “and then” story)3. Tell what the next steps in the research will be (see “Time Line and Narratives”)4. Ask participants to go over their memory, and write down moments that have been important for the network: a. moments with a positive impact on the network b. moments with a negative impact on the network c. ‘flash moments’ on which new insights broke through5. Points of attention while writing the stickers: a. one card per moment b. try to phrase it in a statement, rather than just one word (see box) c. use marker and write so clearly that it can be read from a distance6. As soon as someone is ready, (s)he walks to the Time Line and sticks the Post-it’s at the appropriate time and place.7. Afterthoughts are permitted: if someone gets another idea while reading contributions from others, (s)he just makes another card and sticks it on the Time Line.Instruction and writing stickers usually takes 20-25 minutes. writing statements: Suppose that a capacity building event in Accra is seen as a moment with positive impact, don’t just write down “Accra”, but what you found so good in the Accra event, e.g. “We started to understand each other”, or “The atmospherewas playful”. A statement is always a sentence. The Post-it cards are not too big: this urges to indicate the essence only. Milestone events, such as important meetings or signing a contract etc. can be written on the Time Line directly, as points of orientation for the participants.
  17. 17. 17Reading the resultsAfter the last participant has stuck his/her statements on the Time Line, the facilitator reviews theresult with all participants who gather around the paper. Usually it works better when participantsleave their chairs and tables and stand around the Time Line so that all can read the cards.The idea is to arrive at a common understanding of what has been written down. The reading hasthree components: general impression, reading the cards and points for further discussion.1. General impression: Ask participants what they see at first glance. In some periods you will see more positive cards, in others more negative ones. Do they recognise this? And where do you find most of the flash moments? A Time Line can be read as a kind of barometer for the energy level in the network. Often you find flash moments after periods of trouble.2. Reading the cards: Read the cards from the beginning until present and make sure you understand their meaning. When there are many participants and many cards there will be similar statements that might be clustered. They don’t have to be read all one by one. If cards have been placed in the wrong row, simply replace them to where they belong. A card cannot be removed because someone else contests its validity. Participants might have different opinions on what moments were relevant or in what way they contributed to the process of the network. Discussions on what is right or true are not permitted. Every opinion counts. If someone sees it differently (s)he just writes another statement. Different opinions should be appreciated.3. Points for further discussion: At the end of the reading, ask what thoughts it generates for the continuation of network. List them on a flipchart, so that you can discuss them in order of priority after the Time Line session, or wherever it fits in the agenda.Interviews for supplementary information1 The Time Line gives a general impression that easily can be shared, but there are always stories behind it that don’t appear. Sometimes because they just do not fit into short statements on a Post-it card. Other issues require a bit more trust before people can speak about them. A skilful facilitator will feel what statements on the Time Line require further investigation for better understanding the process this network has gone through.2 The interviews are meant to generate additional information for filling the gaps in understanding the history of the network. It is not necessary to interview all participants. Just select those who might provide important insights.3 It might also be useful to interview stakeholders who have not been attending the Time Line session.4 There is no specific format for the interviews. Participants are stimulated to explain their statements on the Time Line in further detail. Other stakeholders are asked about their involvement in the network, the importance of the network for them, and relevant moments in the past. You could follow the procedure of the Time Line for the interview.5 The entry point is energy. What are driving forces for the respondent? What has contributed to the energy (s)he feels for the network: what made him/her more enthusiastic and willing to do effort for it? And what has drained energy away? Why were flash moments really a breakthrough? Breaking through what and leading to where?6 Also in the interviews it is important to separate observations from interpretations and conclusions. Time Line focuses on observations to fill the narrative story: things that happened, and that are being considered as important.
  18. 18. 18Preparing a draft narrative story for the feedback sessionAfter the Time Line session and the additional interviews, the facilitator and the key person in thenetwork sit down together to make a draft narrative story. This story will be told during the feedbacksession with the participants. The result of that session provides the material for the Time Linereport, that serves as a basis for analysis in the September workshop in The Netherlands.If you take the Time Line as a movie, you now have to divide it into scenes that describe the mostimportant episodes of the network. Usually you can recognise such scenes by concentrations of cardson the Time Line. Four to six scenes is common. A scene has: a begin situation, a major development which might have been caused by outside forces or things that happened within the network, interventions by network members that made a difference, and an end situation which differs from the start.Give a newspaper title to each scene. Good titles give a statement, e.g.: “Sense Of Urgency Leads ToNetwork”, or “From Drawback To New Strength”, etc.. Wrong titles are for example: “Introduction”,“The Accra Workshop”, “Conclusions”, etc..Prepare a narrative story reflecting the essential elements of each scene. milestones cards with statements title of scene Figure 9: example of a Time Line, prepared for the narrative storyThe feedback sessionIf the meeting that takes place has a duration of several days, the feedback session should beplanned for towards the end. This gives the facilitator the time to make interviews in the free timebetween the formal discussions, and to draw the narrative story.The feedback session is held to make sure that the narrative story really reflects what participantsfind most important. Again, all participants should recognise their own stories. This is not the sameas consensus between participants on what was most relevant. If there are different opinions, theyall should be reflected.Experience shows that this feedback session leads to additional insights at a deeper level. After sometime in the meeting the level of trust is usually higher, making people to tell more. Furthermore, thesummary reminds participants to facts that matter although they did not think of them in the firstsession.Preferably this feedback session is held with all participants. If this is not possible, a selection ofparticipants can do the job as well.The report is basis for analysisA Time Line report is the written version of the narrative story as discussed and supplemented in thefeedback session. More is not better. Four to eight pages (excluding annexes) should be enough to
  19. 19. 19capture what matters most. The same scheme can be followed, describing the scenes and givingthem newspaper titles. To complete the Time Line story, give a short introduction to the network inthe beginning, and list the main topics for further discussion as proposed by the participants in theend.In principle, the draft report is sent to the participants for comments. Since the report is acompilation of what actors in the network consider as important, additions are welcome. They willserve as a basis for analysis.The Learning HistoryA Learning History is a Time Line report to which an analysis has been added. Observations are non-negotiable. Such observations usually can be interpreted in several ways, depending on the theory-in-use of the analyst and the interests he serves. The value of the Learning History is that it separatesthe interpretations from the observations, and makes it explicit what theory has been used.The Learning History is not a document to be made on the basis of consensus in a network. Especiallyif there is some tension in the network, the document might become an intervention in itself inorder to break barriers, to reconnect and to improve the responsive capacity of the network.1. Facilitators took the result of the time line they made with their network as a starting point.2. The ‘film’ of the network was divided into ‘scenes’ as significant episodes in the process.3. Each scene was described in newspaper style, making a recognisable story out of what had been observed as important. This had the format of a “Then ...., and then ...., and then ....” story.4. These paragraphs should have newspaper titles as well. So, instead of “Introduction” and “targets”, it would for example sound as “Seven large dairy farms join efforts”, and “A shared objective for breeding for self-moulting sheep”.5. Since the Time Line was not made at the end of the project, the facilitator would add the last part based on his or her own observations.6. In textboxes the facilitator would add his or her analysis of significant events. For example: “During the excursion the network still was investigating new possibilities. In the following meeting choices had to be made with consequences for individual investments, and the energy level dropped. The Circle of Coherence shows that this was a shift in attention from ‘we’ to ‘me’ and conflicts of interests were looming. The intervention was to talk with each farmer individu- ally before meeting again: the intervention of the negotiator, giving recognition to what was important for each farmer. This restored the motivation in the network to look for acceptable solutions.”7. Obviously, the Learning History also described the tangible outputs of the project.Since it is based on the Time Line story which is not more than 4-8 pages, a Learning History shouldnot be much longer. It focuses on the most significant moments, it tries to understand the dynamicsthat made these moments significant, and it adds conclusions in terms of what has been learned andwhat needs to be done.
  20. 20. 20The journey continues with a growing traveller’s guideThe tools and methods as described so far have shown their value in the experiment with Dutchfarmers, and evolved ever since. For example, the advanced version of the Triangle of Change wasdeveloped in a follow up research on the innovative capacity of the agricultural knowledge system inthe Netherlands. This research did not only involve change agents but also managers, who did notlike to be approached as gatekeepers.In the “Health Networks Learning Programme”, an action research supported by PSO on North-Southnetworks (donor assisted networks), key persons from the participating NGO’s report that thetoolbox is helpful for their work, not only for their NGO but also in other activities they in which theyare engaged. The focus on energy, ambitions and connection gives them a boost overcome thestrangulating struggle of bureaucracy and survival strategies with a fixation on fund raising.Yet, there are issues to address for which additional tools might be necessary. Just to mention a few:[1] The role of a secretariat. Donor assistance in a network includes that there should be a unitrepresenting the network, handling money. In terms of the Triangle of Change, this is the function ofthe manager in the network, but the coordinator would rather be a Change Agent or even better aFree Actor. How to deal with these different roles? Is there a pattern in the development of anetwork ( a life cycle) that includes different requirements for a secretariat?[2] A typology of networks. People can have different reasons for joining a network: exchangingknowledge, access to stakeholders, access to resources, solidarity, social movement, commercialinterests, etc.. Keeping members motivated means being clear about the gains they can get fromparticipating. What does this mean in different types of networks? Does it also entail differentrequirements for being a member? Different strategies for satisfying the expectations?[3] Accountability. Networks build on trust. In donor assisted networks there are variouscommunities involved: the community of users / beneficiaries, the partner organisations, theintermediate NGO (secretariat, coordinator), and the donor. They all have their own requirementswhen it comes to trusting each other. The present trend in the donor community is to rely onevidence based and quantified M&E methods. This creates fake security, fear and strategicbehaviour: the opposite of trust. What guidelines could help to contribute to trust building at alllevels? How can you formulate results of a network, or the effects of individual efforts in a network,while such effects usually emerge from interaction, and the ultimate goal is strengthening thecapacity of the network to respond to what its environment requires. This can be knownrequirements (usually the reason for existence of the network) and also unexpected developments.[4] Social media. How to make proper use of such media in maintaining connection in networks?Technology and practice are developing extremely fast, but in the action research we have not yetfound the way to make proper use of them.