I too was there once! Confused and uneasy about networking. To be honest, I hated the word networking (and still do!). It seems so cold, impersonal, and it really should only be used for computers talking to computers. It took me a long time and much hand-wringing to finally understand the hidden magic behind the word.
Networking is a terrible misnaming. It goes way back to the 1550s, (yep, that long ago!), referencing interconnected wires and strings into nets and meshes. Some 400 years later, it’s used for the first time to describe interconnected people.
“Networks are all the rage,” says Richard Taunt in his excellent new blog. Reading it got me thinking about the different sorts of networks that we experience through our lives and how they help us deal with the challenges we face, both in work and out of it.
Richard’s blog focuses on networks that are explicitly established in order to “share, learn and build capacity”, but not all networks are so formally structured.
I am wondering how you are? I know that you have been asked to join a few networks but I note that you haven’t been able to come yet. Wondering if it might be because you struggle a bit with them? I know your extrovert friends are having a ball – but that’s the last thing you probably want to hear.
So I thought I might help a bit and see if I can help persuade you to come along next time. I get it, you feel content and energised when reading a book, and you love just sitting and spending hours and hours thinking deeply and you just don’t enjoy being surrounded by loads of people. I bet your family always moaned at you for having your head in a book all the time and not going out and spending time with the other kids! That definitely happened to me.
We spend our lives accepting things because they’re ‘just the way it is’. But how often does our blithe acceptance hide practices that are woefully inefficient?
Initiatives such as the Atlas of variation, or Getting It Right First Time, are attempts to use data to expose such misplaced faith. But it’s our whole approach to collaboration, and in particular the use of networks, that has fascinated us at Kaleidoscope, and where the NHS has huge potential to learn and improve.
'Network' is a term frequently used in health and care, but what do we mean? What is the difference between a network and a club? Or a network and a market? Do you know if you are running a network or a committee? And do you know which one is best for you?
Many of us have grand ambitions of creating a network for one purpose or another, and understanding these nuances can be key to success – but they can also be things that you never really considered when starting out.
When I talk to people about what Healthwatch is, the fact that we’re a network is the first thing they need to know. The way we gather, amplify and share people’s voices to drive improvement in health and social care only makes sense in that light. Healthwatch England’s power may come from statute but our energy comes from the people in our network.
I’m not setting out the Healthwatch case to be considered the best network or a model for others. I’m not saying we’ve yet learned how to get the best from our collective efforts every time. And I’m not arguing that everything we’ve learned so far is applicable in other contexts.
But I do believe our experience is worth sharing as part of the wider conversation Kaleidoscope are starting during #Networkfest and beyond, and I’m looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from other networks as part of that discussion.