Lessons from the ENRD
Making a success of networking – lessons from the ENRD experience
Based on the experience of networking at European level, a number of success factors have been identified for policy networking.
Managers / decision-makers need to:
- Support the development of a more inclusive and open network structure that gradually reaches out and engages with a broader range of rural stakeholders, civil society representatives and other existing networks in an open and dynamic manner.
- Embrace the network as an active partner rather than as an administrative burden, or obligatory policy support mechanism. The network works best if it is seen as being both ‘connected’ but also sufficiently ‘separate and distinct’ from the policy formulation and implementation process. This requires new thinking amongst managers, who can provide leadership but also instil a sufficient level of freedom and flexibility to develop activities, innovate and experiment with what can work and not fear the consequences when things don’t quite work as they should.
- Give the network time and space to breath, learn, experiment, engage and find its own identity. The network is a mechanism that can support policy implementation, but it takes time to understand its role, purpose and to realise its potential to guide and influence policy implementation.
- Ensure the network is accountable for the resources it uses, but also try to establish a working relationship that is less about control and more about partnership, where targets are developed over time, rather than pre-determined in a long-term rigid plan.
- Work plans need to be flexible. While there is a need to establish minimum performance criteria to be delivered, there also needs to be resources and capacity available to react and respond to evolving needs and circumstances and/or to build on areas of activity that grow and provide positive outcomes.
- Recognise the difference between the network support unit and the network itself. Network Support Unit is not a network, but a structure which should boost and facilitate networking process and engagement of stakeholders. However, the support unit cannot always force the active participation of network members, particularly when their participation is voluntary and competing with other priorities for their time. In this case, active dialogue with members of the network is necessary to better respond to the needs of stakeholders.
- Commit to and sustain a sufficient level of financial support to allow the building of core competencies within the network support team. It takes time to develop the appropriate skills and experience and for this investment to be reflected in terms of tangible outcomes.
Network Support Units (NSUs) need to:
- Ensure that a core group of network support team experts are attracted and retained, with the appropriate skills and experience to deliver basic services to the network. This includes the ability to: effectively communicate network experience, information, news and analysis findings; facilitate networking and exchange between stakeholders; organise key participatory events, workshops, conferences and other gatherings on issues of relevance to network stakeholders, and; collect and collate evidence-based experiences of policy in action that can be used to share within the network and at European level.
- Achieve a minimum level of activity in the ‘core areas of network competency’. Failure to achieve this will undermine the network and prevent the building of credibility, thereby limiting its ability to grow over time and deliver more long-term benefits in support of policy or programme objectives.
Network members need to:
- Consider what they expect from the network, and the timeframe by which this can and should be achieved. This can be supported by becoming involved in the forums and exchange platforms that allow these needs and expectations to be articulated and taken into account in the planning and delivery of network activities and services.
- Be willing to contribute to the activities of the network in terms of their time, engagement and active participation. Without such commitment the partnership will remain uneven and the outcomes limited in their ownership or linkage with policy implementation. A network is very much a product of the contributions and commitments it receives from its members.