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Networking: the Need for a New Concept

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Previously published in International Associations 26, 1974, 3, pp. 170-173 [PDF version]. Also in: Les Problèmes du Langage dans la Société Internationale (Compte rendu du colloque, Paris 28-29 mars 1974). Bruxelles, Union des Associations Internationales, 1975, pp. 145-147


There are numerous uses of the term "network" to describe features of the psychosocial system. However, although this calls attention to the complexity of the system, it denotes a static structure and contains no reference to the essential dynamism of networks. Networks are dynamic both in terms of the flows between the nodes but also because of the evolution of the network itself over time in response to new challenges and opportunities. This dynamic feature could well be highlighted by using "network" as a verb as well as a noun. "Networking" becomes therefore the process of operating in an (inter-organizational) network, including the progressive evolution of this network over time.

In the following section an attempt is made to list together a variety of social networks to give some idea of the areas in which the concept can be used. Thereafter an attempt is made to sketch out a set of "networking principles". In the final section some of the problems raised by networks are considered for the practical areas of legislation, programme administration, financial control and personnel policy.

Types of organizational network

Each of the following networks is characterized by one or more of the following :

Networking principles: an attempt at a set of guidlines

Adapted from: Anthony Judge. The World Network of Organizations. International Associations, 24. 1. 1972, pp. 18-24 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 (conclusions 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 information 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 environment than a minimally and formally connected set of hierarchical institutions. If necessary networks become unofficial and bypass 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 its onw ends or its own conception of the nature of the programes which participants should undertake.

3. The budget toad 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.


The network style may tentatively be characterized by :

  1. emphasis on the contribution of special knowledge, competence, and experience by any appropriate transnational organization to the common task of any ad hoc group of transnational organizations set up for a specific task.
  2. the "realistic" nature of the program of any transnational organization which is seen as set by its perception of the most significant problems for which it is competent, in terms of the information which it has managed to receive.
  3. the adjustment and continual redefinition by each transnational organization of its programs through interaction with and in response to others: the network is conceived as constantly changing and evolving sub-networks of transnational organizations with a special interest in common which 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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,
  6. 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,
  7. 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,
  8. 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.
  9. a content of communication between bodies which consists of information and advice rather than instructions and decisions.
  10. commitment to the problems of the development of the open society is more highly valued than loyalty and obedience to the individual transnational association,
  11. importance and prestige attach to affiliation of the transnational organization to professional, scientific, or cultural networks not directly concerned with the transnational organizations's immediate program tasks.

Each of these points concerning interorganizational 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.


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 disastter) 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 than coordination. Similarly, the network as a whole is not "directed" or "controlled"by any body rather it is "self-directing" and self-adapting.


The concept of networking, if it is to be useful in social organization as well as in the sociology of organizations, must be embodied In the structures and procedures which govern the day-to-day operations of organizations. Some of the problems and possibilities of achieving this are noted below.

1. Legislation

Organizations are subject to the legislative measures of the countries in which they are established. They may even owe their special characteristics to the provisions which permit them to be created and which govern the manner in which they function. It is the legislative measures which give organization's "existence" in society today. Whilst "de facto"organizations may appear to exist, it is as though they existed on the borders of the social unconscious in a dim twilight realm. "De jure" organizations are much more real and solid, particularly to the world of officialdom which controls much of the social policymaking. The following problems of giving legal recognition to networks of organizations and the networking process are indicative :

There are however approaches which could be explored which would make it possible to give legal reality to networks :

2. Personnel Policy

In this case the difficulties are as follows :

As before, a networking approach to personnel policy could facilitate the elaboration of new procedures. Some ossibilities are :

3. Programme Administration and Finance

In this case, the difficulties are as follows :

The rigidities noted above are in part a consequence of the lack of a networking concept to provide the conceptual framework for a network response to crisis. Some approaches which could be explored are :

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