Developing, maintaining and keeping a thriving network requires commitment. Commitment in time, resources, enthusiasm and an almost fanatical devotion to purpose. And even if you've got all that, networks rarely function in a vacuum and are subject to the same uncontrollable external factors that plague pretty much every project, programme or dream you care to think of.
So how do we prove they are worth the effort, and can we use this to feed learning back into our network's development?
Ohio. Famous for picking US presidents (28 out of the last 30), and the birthplace of aviation (the Wright brothers grew up here in 1870s). Less famous for being home of a number of the most advanced healthcare networks in the world. With collaboration currently flavour of the month, what can the US teach us about working together?
A decade ago I swapped north London for the American Midwest, the NHS for Cincinnati Children's Medical Centre, and management consultancy for supporting an emerging learning network for children with inflammatory bowel disease.
During the nine years I called Ohio home, ImproveCareNow grew from nine care centres in the US to 109 centres all over the world, working with tens of thousands of children and their families collaborating to improve outcomes.
Most of us would agree that we are facing a period of great economic and political uncertainty – and at a time when the NHS is under increasing demand and pressure.
We have to work in radically different ways to meet the challenges facing the health service - as the NHS Five Year Forward View and the Next Steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View made clear - and a key part of this is breaking down organisational barriers and joining up our efforts in a multi-agency health and care economy.
Networks and their leaders are a critical vehicle for achieving the changes that are needed across health and care – they sit at the heart of great leadership and large scale change. Networks have the potential to revolutionise the way care is delivered.
I watch and read a lot of dystopian fiction and one of the grimmest things about the world to come is the extremes of 'identity': think red cloaks in The Handmaid's Tale, unseeing Ul Qoma in The City and the City, or a replicant in the persistent rain of 2019 Los Angeles. People do like to categorise.
I include myself in the catch-all; anyone who's ever seen me present on analytical matters will often hear me kick off by apologising for being a career analyst (it can be an awkward admission to make, especially in taxis) as a way of laying out my stall.
"We need to find a common language." This is often said when two or more organisations or disciplines are working together. At first sight it appears everyone is working to a common goal: improving outcomes, reduced costs, better experience. Not much to argue with there.
Then the misunderstandings and tensions begin to build up. To try to resolve them, you go back to first principles: "It’s all about the patient!"
But by this stage, even the most basic assumptions about the partnership start to seem questionable. What, exactly, is all about the patient? What about the patient is it all about? What is a patient anyway?
Last weekend I was standing in the middle of a field in Gloucestershire holding hands with a man I had never met before. I looked into his eye and told him that I cared about him. He looked back at me and told me the same, and I believed him.
It was a powerful moment shared with about 20 other men at the Soul Circus festival, following a talk by Nige Atkinson, author of ‘Odd Man Out: Breaking the Vow of Male Silence’. Through the vulnerable storytelling of his own experiences, he had led us through a raw journey where we looked deep into ourselves and the others in the group, the message being ‘don’t be afraid to speak out’.