For individuals, the value of a strong network of professional contacts is well known. Organisations are increasingly realising the benefit of constructing and maintaining their own networks. However why should organisations spend limited time and resources on activities which do not have an immediate and easily measurable benefit?
There are potential benefits of networking. Networking helps increase the ability of organisations and communities to speak out about issues by giving their voice additional weight. Members of the network gain useful information which they may not have access to otherwise. Information exchange and co-ordination also helps to decrease the duplication of services and efforts to innovate in the same area. Sharing of best practice, peer review and joint innovation an all lead into an increase in impact, productivity and quality.
Building on shared knowledge helps to bring a variety of experience to any given problem, with the potential for novel and innovative solutions. Networking may allow people to work together in partnership with different resources, making better use of limited resources instead of an organisation insisting on doing everything separately.
However, this doesn’t always happen. The cynical view of interpersonal networking is that it’s just an excuse for a drink and a bit of causal job-hunting at best, and at worst is the instrumental collection of contacts to be used for your own interest. This is not a recipe for success on an institutional level. To get to the best effects of organisational networking you need to get rid of personal agendas. You need to find the overlaps between your organisation’s aims and those of potential partners, and then work in those areas. The relationship has to be mutually beneficial to the organisations, as well as working on the personal level.
Arts Access Aoteraoa facilitates a network of arts organisations in New Zealand to increase accessibility. One of the strengths of this network is the clear focus and a specific mutual interest. Another is that the activities of this network matter to the communities and audiences that the organisations work with. This means that the network is not just an institutional echo-chamber. Another example would be National Arts Coalition in South Africa in the 1990’s. This network was not just about policy and organisations, but also about public issues that affected their audiences and individual artists.
Modern communications technology now allows us to construct these useful networks on a global scale.
This means you are more likely to be able to find people somewhere in the world who are working on exactly the same questions or issues as you. Some of the most profitable networking comes from this type of international specialist collaboration.
If you’re comfortable with new technologies, you are also able to skip the crusty sandwiches and poor quality free wine and get straight to the communication and knowledge exchange. There are even tools such as Google Translate that allow you to communicate across the language barrier. This is now available as both an iPhone and Android app: you can speak a phrase into your phone, have it translated and then played back in a number of languages.
An important skill here is the ability to go from organisational contact details to interaction with real people, and not just collect a large number of LinkedIn connections.