A case study based on reflection from the Network leadership programme.

Carol Read RN/MSc

Last year I was part of a cohort of learners on the Network Leadership programme whilst seconded to NHS England as a Transformation Fellow.  Expertise on the programme was shared through blended learning – workshops, action learning sets, webinars, coaching and the network toolkit.  It was good to understand the challenges and wicked problems that the cohort were trying to resolve by working in a network, whether in the NHS, social care or charity sector. 

During the programme I used a range of diagnostic tools to review The Edge with the Horizons programme team and found the network maturity matrix a simple way to evaluate progress to date.  Understanding of the networks purpose is essential as highlighted by Andrew Constable.  We spent time developing a new statement which could be tested with our network membership.  The simple task of doing this with my peers and debating the clarity of each statement consolidated my thinking about how the Edge could be developed in the future as a thriving network. As editor and network leader of The Edge this process provided a baseline to measure our progress.  

The benefit of the network leadership programme was in the way it gave you the necessary headspace to think about addressing various issues specifically around measurement, managing data and evaluation.   Confidential coaching helped to unpick issues on a one to one basis, away from the workplace.  There is no doubt that leading a network is a tricky balance and recognising that others had tried different approaches added extra value to the programme, consolidating theory with practice.

Within the workshops we also explored gaining commitment and active participation from our network membership.  It is well known that individuals often fluctuate from direct involvement to passive involvement (lurkers) in the network, depending on their specific interests.   A big debate within the group was - how do you evaluate lurkers in your network and how do you engage them more in the work of the network?   Professor Becky Malby covers this in more detail, with the underlying principle that the network members nurtured by the leader have to agree the ‘rules of engagement’ and what constitutes the right level of collaboration.  So how to apply all of this research to The Edge network? 

The Edge network has a wide membership of over 50,000 users in 140 countries, individuals and teams use the network differently.  This can be engaging with the content from the knowledge hub, accessing edge talks, commenting on the twitter feed and connecting with others in an informal way.  How this translates into actual user data is a complex action and therefore requires different ways to capture anecdotal evidence of success and merge data from many sources.  Demonstrating your networks impact and value is therefore reliant on the following measures:-

  • Impact related to the network’s purpose
  • Members perception and relationships in terms of meeting members needs
  • How effectively they use their resources

The Edge also operates as a social network providing support to people looking to innovate and undertake transformational change.  This in turn generates useful social capital and a form of social organising for campaigns, learning and events – Change Day, People’s transformathon, Transformathon and School for Change Agents.

Reflecting on the learning from the network leadership programme I can understand how teams working in networks can be empowered by utilising the research and practical examples explored during the workshops.  The diagnostic tools aid evaluation which can easily show how time can be pro-actively spent to increase the membership, interaction with content or collaboration with others. 

My next step is to take this learning and try it out on a new network for healthcare innovators.  If you want to be part of developing this new network and defining a purpose statement, contact me on twitter @CarolLRead or follow my blog Alchemy Connections