Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Measuring Dimensions of Network Functioning: The KnowHow2GO Network Survey

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Measuring Dimensions of Network Functioning: The KnowHow2GO Network Survey

Article excerpt

Keywords: Networks, evaluating networks, network survey, interorganizational collaboration, collaboration evaluation, partnership evaluation, partnerships/coalitions, college access, foundation evaluation

Introduction

An understanding of the power of networks (Barabasi, 2003; Buchanan, 2002) has led grantmakers to encourage collaborative efforts that bring together organizations with compatible interests and diverse skills and resources to engage in coordinated or networked efforts. These types of collaborative efforts support a wider scope of influence and more impactful outcomes than can be achieved by single organizations or actors (Easterling, 2012; Gajda, 2004; Innovations for Scaling Impact, 2010; Kania & Kramer, 2011; Scearce, n.d.; Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, 2011). Grantmakers, including the World Bank; the Global AIDS Alliance; the Climate Works Foundation; the Ford, Annie E. Casey, MacArthur, Mary Reynolds Babcock, Robert Wood Johnson, and Lumina foundations; and others are supporting networks as a part of their national and international grantmaking strategies (Connolly, 2011; Innovations for Scaling Impact, 2010; Easterling, 2012; Jobin, 2008; United Nations Office for Partnerships, 2009; Wilson-Grau, 2007). Collaborative approaches have been used in many content areas and organization types - education, school-university partnerships, nursing, public-private partnerships, health promotion, and early intervention (Woodland & Hutton, 2012).

Networks, partnerships, collaborations, cooperatives, and coalitions are all forms of interorganizational efforts that include at least two organizations or actors working to accomplish goals that could not be accomplished independently (Steelman & Mandell, 2003). Each of these structures implies different types and levels of interdependence and engagement among the participating organizations. In this article we focus on networks, a term that refers to sustained efforts around which autonomous organizations voluntarily work together as equal partners to achieve a common purpose (Ramsey & Fulop, 2011; Vandeventer & Mandell, 2011; WilsonGrau, 2007). Effective networks are created when organizations identify a shared purpose, establish priorities, and engage in critical activities that will achieve their stated goal. In effective networks, members discuss and agree about their work and governance structure, and anticipate and plan how to manage conflicts that may arise in their work together (Scherer, 2006; Vandeventer & Mandell, 2007, 2011).

As foundations more often promote network and other interorganizational strategies, the evaluation of collective action and networked efforts is becoming more critical. Evaluations of networks require different processes and tools to address the unique qualities and complexity of network arrangements (Mandell & Keast, 2008). The challenges of measuring network functioning and outcomes include the complex, open, and dynamic nature of networks; capacity of networks to measure performance; the effectiveness of the coordination of network activities; a generally long incubation period before network efforts lead to outcomes; and potentially unexpected outcomes (Brinkerhoff, 2002; Easterling, 2012; Jobin, 2008; Mandell & Keast, 2008; Scearce, n.d.; WilsonGrau, 2007). Network members change, as does the context in which the network functions. These contextual factors affect the network, participants' engagement in the network, and the ability of an evaluation to connect network actors and activities with outcomes (Wilson-Grau, 2007).

Although growing, the number of practitioners working in the field of evaluating networks is still relatively small (Innovations for Scaling Impact, 2010, Wilson-Grau, 2007). Similarly, the number of tools and frameworks available to measure network functioning and outcomes is also relatively small but growing (Jobin, 2008; Thomson, Perry, & Miller, 2009). …

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