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A network building toolkit to support community-led commons management

Megan Johnson

Why we think that a network building approach is relevant for anyone managing a common resource like land. If you want everyone to connect & come up with their own ideas, don’t stand at the front behaving like the expert.”

I wrote a blog a few months ago about peer networking in our culture and politics and concluded that to build strong communities, we need more collaboration. Creating this toolkit has felt exactly like that. We’ve taken the research, and the experience and ideas from a collective of network leaders, and then distilled the elements that make a network tick and created a toolkit to structure conversation, and provide a basis for storytelling and group work. The collective of network leaders want to take their community of practice to the next stage and start a network, it’s the perfect opportunity to put the toolkit in action.

The best thing I’ve learnt in the last few months came from attending a workshop on reinventing organisations. The idea behind it came from reading Frederic Laloux’s book and it totally overlaps with a network building approach. What I learnt in this workshop, was the way the organisers, Togetherness founder Adam Wilder & We-Q founder Simon Confino, thought about how they could adopt a self-organisation model in the way the event was facilitated.

I thought about this when preparing for the toolkit taster session we ran. I won’t try to fit it all into a paragraph in this blog but I’d summarise it like this:

If you want everyone to connect & come up with their own ideas, don’t stand at the front behaving like the expert.

Now I find myself part of a team who organise a little-known festival in Kent called Smugglers, and I’m pushing to find ways to make it more sustainable. I like how this catch all term can refer to actions that promote a healthy planet and also healthy people. Fire in the Mountain festival do this really well and interestingly, although perhaps unsurprisingly, they’ve been inspired by Frederic Laloux’ book too, and have adopted a self-organising model and decision-making approach known as holacracy. Hats off to Fred.

Somehow, and I’m not too knowledgeable on this, but it feels like the processes and principles of network building and facilitation are neatly aligned with the principles of managing a common pool of resources. Until now, I’ve struggled to tie my peer networking project into our company objectives. At times, I’ve puzzled why a nonprofit, interested in models of land management, are involved in a community of practice about peer networks with community businesses. But, after eight months convening a peer network and learning all about peer network theory, I am finally able to see how this work is fundamental to the goal of Shared Assets in making land work for everyone.

As my colleague Hannah put it:

“As we re-write the rules and do things differently everything is an experiment, so connecting together in networks to share what works (and what doesn’t) to collaboratively build the future we want, is essential.”

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