Friday, January 08, 2010

Facilitating networks and communities: balancing between design and emergent

I live in an area which is relatively newly populated (10 years old) and the shopping center has been opened only last year. Unfortunately most of the roads are designed with cars in mind, rather than cyclists, overlooking the needs of cyclists and people walking. As a result you can see people taking their own roads... (this picture was taken before the snow, currently this path is white from snow and ice!)

I once read a story about architects on a campus waiting to see where the students pass and then building their pathways, rather than designing pathways and then making sure the students stay on those paths. (forgot where..)

Facilitators of networks and communities have a similar dilemma: you have to design and lead, but you also need to see what emerges. The natural self-organisation tendency of networks and communities is very strong. It doesn't mean however that nothing can be designed upfront, but find a right balance.

End of last year I had to write a plan and budget for two networks without really knowing a lot what the pathways of these networks are going to be. I ended up trying to create some flexibility to be able to respond to new pathways. For instance, instead of budgeting for the current online platform a network is using, also take care of other tools that may be needed.

It may also be a task of a facilitator to notice the new pathways.. currently there are many developments on Twitter. Maybe your network is taking a new path on Twitter?

PS. there are two bridges that are going to be redesigned.. the design of the bridge didn't take into account security in traffic and created dangerous situations. I wonder if this wouldn't have been foresee-able and this is not a case of emergent insight but overlooking known facts...

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