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
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
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 :
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.
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.
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.
- 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).
- 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,
- 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,
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,
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.
- a content of communication between bodies which consists of information
and advice rather than instructions and decisions.
- commitment to the problems of the development of the open society is more
highly valued than loyalty and obedience to the individual transnational association,
- 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"
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
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
to date legal status has only been ' accorded to distinct social
entities with well-defined boundaries. A network is by definition made
up of many entities whose degree of interrelationship erodes this absolute
distinctness there is a degree of blurring of each component organization.
- again legal status depends upon being able to identify a welldefined group
of persons or bodies which is responsible for the actions of the recognized
organization. Networks involve constant movement of people bringing them successively
into association with many nodes, and occassionally several at the same time.
People are mobile within networks legislative measures cannot respond easily
to this dynamism. They depend on fixed relationships which persist over significant
periods of time.
There are however approaches which could be explored which would make it
possible to give legal reality to networks :
current legislation ties the responsibility for an organization to its
directors as representing the stockholders or subscribing membership. in
the sociological perspective the "membership" may include the
following however: directors, subscribing membership /stockholders, clients
/individuals purchasing the products of the organization (e.g. journal subscribers
other than membership), etc.. A multilevel principle of responsibility is
required. This in fact corresponds to our present awareness that. For example,
employees of the defense industry do bear some responsibility for those
killed by the products they produce.
- the procedure whereby bodies are registered and recognized by the law could
be considerably speeded up, to the point at which an ad hoc organization can
be registered for a day as easily as a car can be legally insured for
a day, or a passenger (or a single flight.
2. Personnel Policy
In this case the difficulties are as follows :
employment in most organizations binds the person into a particular
position and career line with the aid of many pension and other benefits
which make any break fairly traumatic. This reduces mobility across career
lines and between organizations and perpetuates rigid operational procedures.
- changes of programme policy can make personnel in smaller organizations
redundant with no means of relocating themselves to other organizations within
the network. This forces people to select secure long-term positions and reduces
the ability of the network to allocate personnel to the short-term programmes
and organizations which may be tactically useful.
- frustration of natural creativity and lack of variety of experience obliges
many to indulge in departmental "empire building". This ensures
that new programme decisions are based more upon their value in inter-departmental
races than in connection with any real problems.
As before, a networking approach to personnel policy could facilitate
the elaboration of new procedures. Some ossibilities are :
relate most of the conventional ties (e.g. pension fund) to the network
rather than to a specific unit within it, so that people feel free to move
within the network. (N.B. The group insurance fund formula is well established).
- make it easier for personnel to relocate, temporarily, to short-term programmes
and small organizations within the network where they can be given greater
freedom and creative opportunity.
3. Programme Administration and Finance
In this case, the difficulties are as follows :
most organizations in society work to a budget which is prepared and
approved once a year. It is often very difficult indeed, if not impossible,
to undertake actions outside the budget framework which is often very elaborate.
This rigid procedure causes the organizational network to respond spastically
to those crises which are most prominent at the time the budget is approved,
and most inadequately to those which emerge during the course of the budgetary
- the more complex the organization, the longer the programme cycle. Programmes
have to be carefully prepared several years before their period of implementation.
The response time to new issues is very slow.
- it is only with great difficulty that funds allocated to one programme
can be reallocated to another in the event of need. It is even rarer for this
reallocation to be made to the benefit of other organizations in the network,
better placed to undertake the programme required immediately.
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 :
- some form of "dynamic fund reallocation" whereby funds can be
pledged for a time period giving latitude as to when amounts are called (the
various time /interest formulas for fixed deposit accounts are suggestive)
: or allocation of funds to a broad programme area with latitude as to where
the funds are allocated within that area, or outside it, but in relation to
- an "international programme stock market" in which each programme
is supported by * shares" representing the priority or percentage call
it has upon a fund pool. Those feeding funds, into the pool, conceived as
a holding fund, or into a given programme, change the value of the shares
on a daily basis in response to the crisis profile and the programme's perceived