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?
Part of the answer to these questions is inevitably measurement. Generally speaking, every network will have a sponsor somewhere wanting to talk ROI, VfM or any other number of three-letter-acronyms that will help to justify their expenditure. But it's not just about the cash.
Measuring a network At its core, a network exists to make and facilitate sustainable change in some way and ultimately, without measurement, we don't know whether we are making that change a reality. At its simplest, network measurement is understanding whether there has been an impact on the outcome you are looking to change; this is critical in assessing the difference you have made and is arguably the most powerful measure for communicating success outside of the network.
The network temple model.
However, outcome is not the only measurement element to think about. Indeed, we believe that a more holistic approach to the effective measurement of networks is necessary to show the full value and worth of networks, particularly if changes in outcomes are likely to be slow to manifest. The measurement of outcome, then, becomes just one of three core pillars of network measurement, built on the foundation of the network members. In a rather grandiose feat of nomenclature, we refer to this as the 'temple' model.
Bridging communities At the base of our temple lies the foundation of member experience. Networks live and die on the basis of their membership's enthusiasm, commitment and engagement and as such their experience is paramount to success.
The other two pillars alongside outcome measurement will reflect how well the network itself is functioning, both in terms of developing connections and bridging communities and also from a practical perspective. We take a dual approach to these questions, using the subjective means of a questionnaire to ask network members what they think the strengths and weaknesses of the network's health are, alongside more objective measures of connectivity achievable through social network analysis.
The 'temple' model provides a holistic approach to network measurement and, ultimately, evaluation, but also provides critical insight into how a network runs and what nurturing it needs to succeed.