Just like mushrooms, networks are popping up everywhere; they proliferate after the rain, few offer true nutritional value, and some of them might be poisonous.
We can now find networks of networks that try and help us network!
Networks sprout up because there is an underlying assumption that they can solve most of our public service renewal dilemmas. We are abusing the word. In reality, networks often do little more than add a hint of spice like a well sautéed chanterelle. Each network represents something a little unique and their desire to offer a niche is creating the very silos that they were designed to break down in the first place.
I am myself guilty of facilitating the spread: I have been known as a network maven, starting and growing networks, helping others find their niche and catalyzing opportunities.
Why do I do it? I choose to cultivate them for the opportunities they offer. More precisely for coaching and learning. But these networks came to define who I was.
As a recovering public servant, I find myself suddenly no longer being part of several of my networks. This has been at once unsettling and liberating. I suddenly see how much time, effort and emotion these networks demanded. I am no longer surrounded by energetic (and irritated) public servants who are all keen to talk about a specific issue, have the best intentions to engage, but are powerless to effect change.
Networks can no longer define who I am.
There are many people I admire who are pushing the envelope and networking with like-minded individuals. But people are tiring of every new network that they need to participate in. They are feeling networked out, and realize that they are just networking for the sake of it. Network apathy is setting in and dynamic individuals are deciding to stop participating. We are losing ideas, enthusiasm and momentum. Let’s stop the madness of reinventing networks and initiatives when a fresh cohort of eager public servants mobilizes.
As I explore how to continue working in the service of the public, I will be grappling with these kinds of ideas. Networks are not the end; they should be a powerful mean. Networks do not solve a problem but are part of the solution. Networks should empower us. And at some point networks need to cease existing so that people have the item to do the work inspired by their group effort.
Tabatha Soltay: Agent of Chaos, General Do’er, innovator, and networker. Tabatha has a Master’s in Tree-Hugging from the University of Oxford, a minor in life, and applied experience in process design and facilitation. Tabatha has recently left the public service, but continues to share and apply what she has learned from various experiences, helping people become collaborative and creative one project at a time. While not plotting and scheming to help others, she travels and bakes. You can reach her on Twitter @tabtalks.