Strategic engagement – with snakes, elephants, baboons, mosquitos and meercats

smiling-baboonI am just back from work in Southern Africa. And while I was in a specific country with it’s specifically difficult political context, the question that keept us awake at night was rather universal: How can we influence without much formal authority? How can we achieve the greater good (as we define it, anyway), when doing so will cut off streams of illicit benefits for many people in high position?

Then I found a simple solution, fixed the situation and all is well, world saved.

No, not quite. Rather, I led my participants deeper into the complexity of their challenge (identifying who the actors are, how they are connected, what their influence and goals are, a.k.a. drawing a Net-Map stakeholder map). Then I provided them with guidance to prioritize and strategize for most effectively engaging with their stakeholders.

We divided the stakeholders in

  • Elephants: high influence, positive
  • Meercats: low influence, positive
  • Snakes: high influence, negative
  • Mosquitos: low influence, negative, and
  • Baboons on the fence: high influence, undecided

And for each, there are a number of strategies to explore:

Elephants: High influence, positive toward your goals

elephants

  • Give them credit, let them lead
  • Frame the issue for them, share information
  • Engage consistently, regularly
  • Manage possible power struggle between positive high influencers
  • Build diverse coalitions:
    • Diverse power sources,
    • diverse motivations,
    • shared goals.

Meercats: Low influence, positive toward your goals

meercats

  • Can you increase their influence?
  • They can be connectors and information gatherers
  • They might have helpful friends
  • Build coalitions – strength in numbers
  • Remember: “A leader without followers is just someone taking a walk”

And, don’t underestimate them: threat or belief can activate unexpected strength -see below, together they can kill a snake…

meercats-and-snake

Snakes: High influence, negative toward your goal

snake.png

  • Watch your back – protect yourself
  • Avoid – focus on other issues for now
  • Seek unexpected common ground
  • Explore their networks: Who do they listen to? Who commands them?
  • Explore win-win and trade-offs
  • Undermine their narratives
  • Weaken their coalitions

 

 

Mosquitos: Low influence, negative toward your goal

mosquito

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

Baboons on the fence: High influence, undecided about your goal

baboon-on-a-fence

  • What do they care about? Can you entice them to your side?
  • Are you sure they are weak?
  • Watch out for influence increase over time
  • Interfere with their coalition building
  • Can you safely ignore them for now?

 

 

By grouping our stakeholders according to their influence and their relationship to our goal, we became much more specific when developing engagement strategies. And calling our important stakeholders baboons or meercats also added a level of levity to the discussion that made us breathe more freely under the weight of our near impossible task. What are your strategies for engaging elephants, empowering meercats, swaying baboons, neutralizing snakes and protecting yourselves from mosquito bites? I am sure the above isn’t complete yet, so I am curious to hear from you.

The Power of Marrying Facilitation and Sector Expertise

Last week I talked with my colleagues from the IFCSumit Manchanda and Anja Robakowski-Van Stralen, and Amit Nag (Net-Map facilitator) who have used Net-Map to facilitate their political economy analysis in setting up Public Private Dialogues in developing countries. These are high level platforms, facilitating regular meetings and results oriented dialogues between public and private sectors actors. They help countries improve their business climate and government-private sector relations.

In our conversation we tried to distill the lessons learned from this experience and one thing really stood out: The power of bringing together technical expertise and good Net-Map facilitation skills. This doesn’t mean that a Net-Mapper has to be expert in each field they work in. Or that a technical expert is necessarily best placed to be the Net-Map facilitator. But if neither is the case, then bringing your technical colleague (ideally steeped in local knowledge too) into the room as co-facilitator or observer lifts your work to the next level. Because you, the Net-Mapper can bring out structural issues that have never been talked about before. You allow the group to look at complex pictures, seeing the trees and the forest at the same time.

The technical sector expert can then ask the questions they were never able to pinpoint, dig deeper, call out half-truths or omissions that the group might want to slip by you, remind the group of the history of the issue, nudge them to open up about conflicts and, most importantly, help you and the group figure out the meaning of what you see and what to do next.

Also, if the technical expert also happens to be your client, they will learn so much more and get so much more excited, when sitting at the table as the Net-Map is happening than by reading your report, which you had to condense, streamline and probably sanitize to fit public scrutiny and protect individuals. And they can take the insights from the mapping session right into the decisions they have to take about moving forward.

I am sure that even without ever being in a Net-Map session, you can share some experience about the tension or marriage (or marriage with tension?) between sector expertise and facilitation skills… What has been your experience with:

  • Facilitating processes without being a sector expert?
  • “Being facilitated” by a person who wasn’t an expert in your field?
  • Working in a Facilitator – Sector Expert team to facilitate difficult conversations?

 

(picture credit: migrationpolicy.org)

 

We have no conflict

Two weeks ago I was in a Net-Map session where one group insisted that they had no conflict likes to draw. The question they were working on revolved around the implementation of a complex government reform program, so my co-facilitator and I stepped back and started judging and strategizing: “Impossible that there are no conflicts. What do you think, is it maybe culturally difficult to admit? How can we call it instead? Disagreement? What can we do to make them more open or comfortable?” And we pushed some more and pulled some more.

Finally one of them broke it down to us: Look, we are working in silos, we never really interact, how could there be conflicts? Plus, the work hasn’t really left the ground yet…

For me that was a great lesson in listening instead of following our own frameworks. It’s so easy, especially when working under high pressure to see participants as “resisting” instead of questioning your own assumptions and framework…

Identifying international knowledge partnerships

With my colleagues Kerstin Tebbe and Bruno Laporte I just had an interesting design conversation for a session in which they want to help the members of a water basin commission better understand with whom they have knowledge exchange partnerships. We realized soon that this is not going to be a Net-Map session or a session of some squeezed out, shrunk down little cousin of Net-Map. So the proposed steps are the following:

  1. All 20 participants (individually) write the names of the commission’s most important and reliable knowledge partners on index cards (with thick marker and great handwriting). The cards are color-coded by categories, e.g. government on green cards, civil society on red.
  2. They put all cards on a large table and start looking for duplicates – if both of us wrote University of XYZ, we stack these cards to reduce the number of cards we are dealing with.
  3. Depending on the number of remaining cards (judgment call in the situation), they instruct the group to get up and take all cards (or only those of actors that have been mentioned at least twice), and walk to a large, sketched  map on the floor of the 5 countries involved. They distribute the actor cards on the map, according to the country the actor is located in.
  4. As this very rough geographical actor map emerges, the participants consider a number of questions: Do we have stronger networks in some countries than others? Are some colors (i.e. actor categories) overrepresented on the map – or in some countries? Who is missing? What is the difference between the stack of cards I produced on my own and the map that emerged as we started putting it all together? How can we, as a group, access this whole richness, instead of just our own little corners?

This activity is located at the start of a longer engagement to improve the knowledge exchange and management of this organization, so they don’t have to answer all the questions in the world, the goal is rather to get the conversation started, to invite the complexity into the room without being overwhelmed.

I am curious to hear what you think about this? Would it work in your context? Can you think of something which would even sharpen or further enrich the activity? Have we overlooked a critical risk? And, don’t you love the artwork above, which Tara Donovan (picture credit) created out of thousands and thousands of index cards?

How to get strategic insights from Net-Map

Just a bowl of spaghetti with toys on top?

So, you have done the mapping, in front of you a messy bowl-of-spaghetti-with-toys-on-top-diagram and your participants or clients ask you:

 

So what do we do now? What does this mean?

While the content of the answer will be different in every case, here are some guiding principle to direct your eyes and your thought when looking for strategic insights from a Net-Map: In general three issues are considered: Actor Influence, Goals and Connections, with the following lines of thought:

Influence

  • Influential actors who can harm / support
  • Increasing or decreasing actor influence
  • Diverse sources of influence

Goals

  •  Understanding reasons / motivations / fears / aspirations behind goals
  • Working with, connecting, strengthening positive actors
  • Dealing with, mitigating risk concerning negative actors
  • Changing actor goals toward more positive

Connections

  • Network patterns and their effects (e.g. centralization vs. decentralization, boundary spanners, disconnected silos)
  • Tension or reinforcement of formal vs. informal links
  • Connections which create destructive forces in the system
  • Missing links
  • Connecting positive actors (coalition), understanding negative coalitions, engaging mixed actors
  • Dividing negative actors

Join us: Largest international Net-Mapper meeting ever!

Wouldn’t it be great if Net-Mappers from all over the world could share their experience, learn from each other, build a common knowledge-base and just hang out and enjoy each other’s company? You might be working with Net-Map in your university, organization, consulting practice and maybe you are the only one excited by the participatory drawing of networks. Or, maybe a lot of your colleagues are excited, but they all have no clue how it really works, so you always have to be (or look like) the expert who knows everything. I am sure you have some great stories, lessons and results to share and together we might find the answers to your questions.

We (that’s Eva Schiffer, Jennifer Hauck, Amit Nag, Paolo Brunello and our Net-Mapping friends) are planning to have the biggest international meeting of Net-Mappers at the next Sunbelt Conference of the International Network for Social Network Analysis in Brighton, UK (June 23rd to 28th, 2015). In addition to hosting one (or two) sessions which will be dedicated to applying network knowledge, we are planning to host a Net-Mapper get-together as informal side-event of the conference so that we can all get to know each other and each other’s work and start working together more closely.

We will discuss whatever questions are at the forefront of our minds. For me there are three things I am really curious about:

  • Learning more about all the great applications of the method to start having an extensive case collection.
  • Strategies for working together to make Net-Map interventions happen and grow the community of practice. This could lead to developing a database of international Net-Map consultants so if any of us wants to implement something that is bigger than one person, we know where to go.
  • Asking and answering questions about how to use and analyze Net-Map, moving the method forward and understanding it better.

To make this happen we need you. And you. And your net-mapping colleague too. If you are interested, please contact me directly. And submit an abstract for the Sunbelt Conference session on applying network knowledge.

Oh, and did I say that this is just the side-event? The main event is also pretty amazing. Sunbelt is the largest Social Network Analysis conference and it’s an great mix of the old gurus, the young geniuses, master’s students getting feedback for their half-done thesis, and everything in-between. Also, they have great hands-on introductory workshops on most of the common SNA software and approaches (including a Net-Map training) during the first two days of the conference. If you have never submitted an abstract to a conference and the task intimidates you, I am happy to talk you through it. And, surey, you can also come just as a participant, without presentation… but we would all be missing out, if you didn’t share your work. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Saving travel cost by Net-Mapping before you go

No-Fly-ZoneSaving cost and reducing travel are a big thing at the World Bank at the moment – as in many organizations. So while it was always requested to do your homework before going on a scoping mission, now this homework really has to be much more in-depth, everything you can squeeze out of your desk (research), do squeeze… It has to produce tangible outputs and prepare you as best you can to use your brief and costly time in the field wisely.

So we will pilot using Net-Map for this, sitting down with the project leader (based in DC) and maybe one or two colleagues who know the country and the sector well and to help them draw a map of the stakeholder situation as they see it. This will be a 3-4 hour meeting in our office – no plane ticket involved – a day or two of rough data analysis and visualization, then sharing the results (highlighting pain points and open questions) with colleagues on the ground in an online discussion.

It’s not a replacement for going to the field but it will help us get an in-depth first impression of the politics involved, help the project leader and experts structure their knowledge and share it and have something concrete to start the discussion with the people on the ground.

I will share how it goes and am curious if you have tried simmilar approaches. If you have, how have you dealt with the possible bias of the central perspective? How have you made the results easily approachable for the people on the ground and avoided that the first map was seen as the gospel? How have you dealt with open questions and guesswork?