One of the key features of effective networks is that they ‘Generate helpful outputs. As well as connecting people, effective networks tend to generate outputs that are helpful to other network members. Outputs are often developed or co-created based on experience on the ground.’ (Malby and Anderson-Wallace 2016 p.161).
The outputs of networks are their value proposition (for more on public value please read the next blog on Governance). The value proposition for any network describes the exchange of goods, services, relationship currencies and how secures the impact identified in the network’s shared purpose.
These will be (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the network’s purpose) benefits to:
• Individual members – for instance in learning networks these could be learning outcomes for the individual members – e.g. new knowledge, ability to translate into practice.
• Member’s organisations - for instance in learning networks these could be materials or resources that can be made available to the wider organization; improvements in the organisations effectiveness as a result of learning within the network; new partnerships or collaborations to secure knowledge gain.
• Funders of networks (if grant or externally supported) – for instance in advocacy networks this would be reporting of impact in relation to the advocacy issue.
The impact reflects the inherent design of networks i.e. the impact is relational.
Most networks measure:
- Impact related to the network’s purpose
- Member perception and relationships in terms of meeting member needs
- How effectively they use their resources
The PARTNER programme at the Center for Collaborative Governance, University of Colorado uses this model of evaluating the relational aspects of a network.
In order to ensure that the network is organised as best it can be to secure and achieve its purpose, networks can measure their ‘organisational effectiveness’ in terms of the diagnostics provided here in this website.
These measures are provided to members, as member’s understanding of the impact is of course, partial without data about the whole. Any network needs to connect members to make judgments about the value of the effort they put into the network, whether the mode of working is creating the value they intended, and if any changes or adaptations are required; and whether the purpose has been achieved or requires further effort.