SLHI’s TAP: Learning Through Networks report tells the story of a remarkable collaborative process and its implications for the future of organizational and community capacity building. Approximately 3,500 people and 1,400 organizations have been involved in TAP over its 14-year history, and hundreds more have been involved in the consultant community of practice and other learning networks that SLHI facilitates. So far, the model is working.
Networks – learning and otherwise – work best when they preserve organizational autonomy and avoid rigid hierarchical controls, yet pursue an interdependent agenda that benefits from coordination and collaboration. We can foresee a time when governance and accountability may be spread out across networks as distinct from residing in autonomous organizational structures alone. But that will work only when the participants are perceived as equals, and leadership is spread out across the network and doesn’t reside in one or a few dominant organizations.
This is easier said than done. As the report discusses, one of the central tensions in collaborative networks is the tension between control and self-organization and flexibility. The hard part, as always, is learning what to keep, and what to let go.