What’s so special about Networks?

This is a long overdue blog post, so it’s also bit long.

In the latter half of last year, as part of the work on the Mozilla Foundation 2020 Strategy and 2016 Business Plan, I was thinking about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

I think a lot about KPIs, and how the numbers you choose to care about either do or don’t influence the people who make day-to-day decisions about where to invest time, energy and money.

Many people have written much about KPIs, and the intersection of people and numbers is a fascinating place to work.

And in many cases it’s pretty easy to find a good KPI. Most of the significant ‘business’ decisions made around the world today will be mapping as directly as possible to some concept of Shareholder Value, or Gross Domestic Product.

But when your goal isn’t making money, or moving money around, it gets more complex (and usually more interesting).

Which brings us to Networks. In particular, the trickiest kind of network to measure – the ones made up of people.

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A significant part of the work we do in the Foundation is investing in communities of practice that are linked in various ways to our mission. These are amazing programmes, and the volunteers around the world who get involved are a huge part of our capacity to influence the shape of the world.

If you embed yourself in one of these communities, you see magical things happen. But as these networks get bigger and are distributed far and wide geographically, it’s hard to keep an accurate intuition of where things are going well, and where things need help.

To care for the network at scale, we need ways to track it’s ‘Vital Signs’.

Coming from a web analytics and fundraising optimisation background, this started out feeling somewhere between ‘very messy’ and ‘outright impossible’ to me. But the more I dug into existing work in the field, the more I realised we could do something useful here.

The question I’ve been asking myself is ‘how can we build a nervous system for our network?’ Something light weight, but capable of firing feedback signals and generating reflex actions. This frame has been helpful as I’ve talked to people about this work. We’re not at that point yet, but that where I’d like to see this work go.

So, onto what we’re doing right now.

Evaluating the impact of network building programmes isn’t new, but compared to other evaluation processes used by non-profits, it’s a younger field of work. We’re going to start by running network mapping surveys, and apply some Social Network Analysis (SNA) methods to analyse the results.

Where we might be doing something new, is trying to turn the ongoing process of network evaluation into an organisational KPI – by boiling down the constituent parts of the analysis to generate a single number we can track over time – allowing us to compare networks of different shapes and styles on a standard scale. I say ‘might be’, because it’s possible we’ve just not found the other people who’ve done this yet. Searching for content on Network KPIs usually ends up finding the ‘ICT type of network’ rather than the ‘people type of network’.

So, I have more to write here but for now I’ll share a couple of working documents:


 

Featured Photo Credit: Matt Gibson