Scenario: multiple organizations connected through shared goals believing collaboration leads to greater impact on their constituents. These organizations are based in different countries around the globe, speak various languages, employ a range of people, and utilize myriad digital communication tools.
Issue: these organizations recognize the importance of clear communication, information sharing, and efficient decision making practices. What are some foundational values, priorities, and practices to support a healthy network's information and communication needs?
- Transparency. Each network member commits to transparently sharing information, communicating suggestions, reasons for decisions, and otherwise an open flow of ideas. The entire network's success is dependent on all its parts and partners openness and honesty.
- Empathetic Listening. Each partner will have opportunity to influence outcomes and decisions. Likewise, each partner will have extensive opportunity to deeply listen with empathy to all other partners. In listening with an intent to understand will the partnership support its ultimate outcomes.
- Succinct. Given demands on resources, particularly that of limited time, each partner will need to communicate in clear and succinct ways. Brevity requires each person invest the necessary time formulating ideas and articulating them in the clearest, simplest, and shortest way possible. At times, spontaneity will prove beneficial; at all other times, partners must take their own time to develop well-thought-out ideas as a show of respect for the time of others in the network.
- Clear asks with time lines. Action steps from individuals, when decided by the group, are clear, reasonable, and time bound. Further, the network has a system for remembering action steps and maintaining accountability.
- Prioritize people over technology. Some may fall into the trap of expecting a technological tool to solve several problems and for each person to actually use that tool. It is a high priority to fit the technology to people rather than force people into using mismatched technology. Naturally, one must then understand the tendencies and work flows of the people in order to select an appropriate tool.
- Long-term sharing of information via user centered technology. The network must be a remembering network. Digital tools to collect decisions, outputs, and conversations are critical for this retention of information.
- Gardener, curator, steward of information role. A couple of people are needed to act as gardeners of the network information resources. Gardens require gardeners in order to thrive; network information resources require tending.
- Celebrations as well as accomplishing tasks. The network partners will indeed get down to business through conference calls, research, report writing, and otherwise producing outputs along with evaluating progress. The network, for balance and health, will also take time to celebrate success and various milestones.
- Network coordinator regularly communicates and listens one-on-one with representatives from each organization. In addition to large group conference calls and in-person meetings, the network coordinator takes time for conversations with individual network members with an open ear. Such conversation are less about information sharing or advocacy, but are more about understanding the individual itches that need scratching.
- Select a single language for primary communication. Fundamentally, the group will likely communicate in a primary language, depending on the mix of people in the group. Is it English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese?
The above are a starting point and some initial thoughts gleaned from years working with international action networks on a variety of issues.