Networking in Society, Organisations, and Education

 

Download article (.pdf) | By Hans F. van Aalst, Katholiek Pedagogish Centrum (KPC) Group, the Netherlands | Published in Networks of Innovation, OECD/CERI, 2003

 

This article examines why networking is important and the different forms it takes, but first, it defines the term, “networking.” “Networking” refers to the systematic establishment and use (management) of internal and external links (communication, interaction, and co-ordination) between people, teams or organisations (“nodes”) in order to improve performance. Key elements of this definition are:

  • Systematic management.
  • “Nodes”: experts, teams and institutions.
  • “Links”: communications, interactions and co-ordination between nodes.
  • Performance improvement.

 

There are many examples of networks. Familiar forms include the informal arrangements such as business clubs, mentorships, joint seminars, e-mail lists and electronic conferencing. More formal co-operation includes outsourcing contracts, joint ventures and network-organisations. Formal structures may often come to replace informal ones with time. Networks may function horizontally – between institutions from the same or different sectors, between firms and research centres, or between competing firms. Or, they may be vertical arrangements between clients and suppliers. Van Aalst categorises networking into the three following forms:

  • The “Community of Practice”:  This type of network is driven by the need of practitioners to find solutions to practical problems. Many of the educational networks are examples of this type.
  • The “Networked Organisation” is co-operation among organisations.
  • The “Virtual community” describes groups who use ICT to communicate with each other, build public influence, and achieve a specific result.
     

Electronic means are increasingly important to networking. The links with knowledge management in particular are explained in this article, as networking is an important aspect of creating, mediating and using knowledge. Networks also have the following characteristics:

  • They link producers and customers.
  • They are interactive.
  • They have a degree of self-management.
  • They share a common purpose.
  • They reinforce values and unity in certain circumstances.
  • They do not need to be permanent.
     

Some of the examples in this article are drawn from education but the main references are to the broader organisational literature.

 

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