This is the third post in a continuing series. The previous post explored how the CVO network in Haifa, Israel is organized and how it convenes its members. This post will look at the important role of interaction and knowledge sharing.
Interaction and Knowledge Sharing
Clusters meet once a month at least for several hours. Sometimes they meet in between. Clusters have an email group. Members of clusters invite each other to their activities in their organizations. There is a core group in the clusters that provides for continuity. The clusters in turn have small groups that work on special issues.
The leaders of CVO are actively pursuing knowledge and resources outside of the network. They do this in other forums such as degree programs, conferences and meetings with CEO's. They share knowledge in staff meetings and engage in peer learning where, for example, dilemmas faced can be discussed. This knowledge is made available to members of CVO.
CVO facilitates the sharing of knowledge among NGO's. Small individual organizations have limited ability to learn about what approaches work across the NGO sector and in their particular area of activity. As a result they end up operating without the benefit of this knowledge. They can often "reinvent the wheel" which increases the costs to the individual organization and their funders. CVO provides opportunities for representatives of member organizations to meet with representatives of other organizations operating in similar or different fields and find out what others are doing. There is a lot to learn from each other because many of the challenges are the same. According to Director, Yael Abada, CVO enables organization members to "get out of their bubble" and interact with those across a wider spectrum. "We give them the opportunity to meet other organizations, come to a course, meet the mayor."
CVO develops a lot of knowledge. There was a published journal article written by Yael Abada that described the work of CVO and that conveyed the uniqueness of their approach. CVO would like to be doing more to share their knowledge with others who could benefit by the example of CVO. Among the areas that CVO could talk about are: how to development a network, current events taking place in Israel and relations with municipalities. CVO has been playing a role in following up with the summer protests (Tent Cities) in Israel which dealt with affordable housing among other issues. CVO has knowledge and insights from this as well. CVO could develop staff workbooks. They could also be developing research connections with the University.
Facilitation and Norms
The clusters are facilitated by CVO staff. Sometimes facilitation assistance is brought in from outside. Facilitation is provided especially in the first phase of cluster existence. After this, CVO tries to work through sub-teams in the clusters. Each cluster develops norms to support their interactions. For example, in the Special Needs cluster, one whole day was dedicated to this. They looked at objectives, decided how they will work and set out their expectations and responsibilities.
The goal of CVO facilitation of the clusters and sub-teams is to support these groups doing the work though not to do the work for them. Yael said, "we are trying to work through the sub-teams in the clusters, trying to make these sub-teams work more independently."
Leadership's Theory of Change
There are some governing, working theories held by CVO leadership that influence actions in the network.
One theory that underlies the existence of the network, itself is that organizations can be more successful in carrying out their respective missions and impacting the surrounding community by existing in a network of organizations.
Another theory is that in order to make changes, seeds need to be planted in many people and organizations. Operating in a network is different from operating as a single organization which often can have a hierarchical command and control structure which makes directing the organization simpler.
Yael Abada described an example of how change was facilitated in CVO. With regard to a "change I made in the CVO years ago. I thought that the way things were going on was not good. Didn't allow us to do any organizational development. In order to make this change, I had to plant the seeds of the idea in many people and organizations and to speak with each one of them and to see if they were pleased with the situation, if they wanted to change and help them become supporters of the change. There were people very much opposed to the changes. When we had enough support, we could go public and say this is the change we want. People voted for this change."
Another approach to change is to bring in new member organizations to change the balance within the network.
One important understanding put into action by CVO is that focusing on the mission is a good way to re-motivate and rejuvenate people. CVO might dedicate an entire day to revisiting the mission.
Change has occurred in the past by inviting all organizations in Haifa to participate in meetings to address mission and goals. This is followed up by roundtable forums to address these issues. These issues continue to be raised in each forum or meeting. The process is never-ending. Among the issues addressed are: Is this CVO's job? Does the project fulfill CVO's mission? Is this an issue common to several organizations?
To learn and adapt, CVO tried to go beyond Haifa to the North. With regard to this, Yael stated, "we try to have more impact. To go beyond Haifa to the North. We have big barriers. Financing the organization. If this were not the problem, we could have bigger impact in the city and to go beyond the city."
Another governing approach is that CVO pays attention to what other organizations are doing, though CVO does not try to compete with them. CVO does not do activities in the field on their own.
In the next and final post, we will look at some of the successes of CVO and see how all of the elements of CVO as a network work dynamically to support CVO as a network.