1973

Networking Principles: an attempt at a set of guidelines

Notes on the networking concept as applied to information systems

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Prepared for a conference on the networking concept of the International Referral Service of the United Nations Environment Programme (Heidelberg, December 1973)

Adapted from: Anthony Judge. The World Network of Organizations (International Associations, 24, 1, 1972, pp. 16-24) and The Nature of Organizations in Transnational Networks (Paper presented at the conference of the International Studies Association, Dallas, 1972) and Inter-organizational Relationships; in search of a new style (conclusion of a seminar report to reflect on the network of international associations).


The problem for transnational organizations is to develop a way of increasing the dynamism and strength of their networks without retreating to the unsuccessful formula of the coordinating umbrella body -- which is probably following the dinosaurs into social history. The following sections attempt to identify some characteristics of the new approach required. The challenge is to develop in formation systems which facilitate and catalyze (rather than organize) the development of such networks to the benefit of all participating bodies and the social system within which they function.

Principles

1. Networks of information and other flows tend to develop wherever there is a need for contact between existing social actors whether or not the action or the communication is approved. The network is a more adequate response to a complex problem environment than a minimally and formally connected set of hierarchical institutions. If necessary networks become unofficial and by- pass or undermine accepted channels to create adequate contact.

2. Networks decrease in effectiveness and in attractiveness to potential participants to the extent that any particular body or group of bodies within the network attempts to structure it to favour their own ends or their own conception of the nature of the programes which participants should undertake.

3. The budget load of operating a network for the benefit of one body or group of bodies increases with the number of organizations encoded in the data system, unless means are found to-involve such organizations as full participants so that it is in their own interest to ensure the dynamism of the network's operations to contribute data and possibly funds.

Style

The network style may tentatively be characterized by:

    a. emphasis on the contribution of special knowledge, competence, and experience by any appropriate transnational lrganization to the common task of any ad hoc group of transnational organizations set up for a specific task.

    b. the "realistic" nature of the program of any transnational organization which is seen as sat by its perception of the most significant problems for which it is competent, in terms of the information which it has managed to receive.

    c. the adjustment and continual redefinition by each transnational organization of its programs through interaction with and in response to others: the net work is conceived as constantly changing and evolving, sub-networks of transnational organizations with a special interest in common come into existence for any required period; transnational organizations may each be participating in any number of such partial networks; partial networks are deliberately terminated when no longer useful.

    d. the shedding of "responsibility" as a limited field of rights, obligations and methods (e.g. world problems may not be systematically ignored as being some other organization's sole responsibility)

    e. the spread of commitment of a transnational organization to society as a whole beyond any technical definition of programs or legal definitions of constitution or statutes

    f. a network structure of control, authority, and communication; the sanctions which apply to the individual transnational association's conduct in its working relations derive more from presumed community of interest with the rest of the network in the survival and evolution of the open society, and less from any temporary contractual relationship between the organization and some body recognized as coordinator for the program in question.

    g. omniscience no longer imputed to key organizations in the network; knowledge about the economic, social, cultural, scientific, technical, etc. problems of the immediate task may be located anywhere in the organizational network; this location may, if appropriate, become the ad hoc centre of control, authority, and communication for that task.

    h. lateral rather than vertical direction of communication through the network, communication between organizations of different status; consultative contacts are emphasized with each participant adjusting its programs in consequence if it perceives such adjustment to be warranted

    i. a content of communication between bodies which consists of information end advice rather than instructions and decisions

    j. commitment to the problems of the development of the open society is more highly valued than loyalty and obedience to the individual transnational association

    k. importance and prestige attach to affiliation of the transnational organization to professional, scientific, or cultural networks not directly concerned with the transnational organization's immediate program tasks.

Each of these points concerning inter-organizational relations may require some adjustment in the internal organization of the transnational organization and more specifically to. the way the organization conceives itself. Although comment has been restricted to the transnational association network, this is clearly intimately related to the network of governmental agencies to that of business enterprises and to that of the academic community.

Comment

The organizational network is an "organic" form appropriate to today's rapidly changing conditions which constantly give rise to fresh problems and unforeseen requirements for action -- requirements which cannot be rapidly and satisfactorily distributed to organizations working in isolation within rigidly defined programs. The network permits all the decentralization necessary to satisfy the need for autonomous organizational development and individual initiative. It also provides for very rapid centralization, canalization, and focusing of resources the moment any complex problem (or natural disaster) emerges which requires the talents of a particular configuration or constellation of transnational organizations (or other bodies). The centralization is only binding on the transnational organizations concerned with the problem in question, and for the period during which they have "common cause" and in no way affects others in the network. The network is, furthermore multidimensional in character since transnational organizations may centralize themselves to different extents in many different partial networks and at the same time decentralize (or disassociate) themselves on other issues

The network is not "coordinated" by any body: the participating bodies coordinate themselves so that one may speak of "autocoordination" rather then coordination. Similarly, the network as a whole is not "directed" or "controlled" by any body rather it is "self-directing" and self-adapting.


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