Building networks and movements or running organisations?

By `avivi -, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Building networks and movements or running organisations?

Thinking about civil society and particularly the leadership and management skills required in our fast changing future, I’m really struck by the different skills, and styles required, and wondering whether or not they are compatible. There is a big and compelling literature about management in voluntary organisations. There’s a recognition that managing beyond the bottom-line is both challenging and liberating, and that the skills required are different from those in most market or government institutions. And we have powerful and influential institutions thinking hard and creatively about the essentials of leadership and management in organisations motivated by social good, not profit. For large parts of the voluntary sector this is absolutely what is needed, and the disciplines of management, accountability, of strategy and control do really matter. No one wants to be responsible for a poorly run service meeting the needs of vulnerable citizens. No one will trust an organisation that can’t tell you where it has spent its money.

Do we need new organisational forms, and new styles of leadership to support these more fluid approaches? Do we need different concepts of stewardship, of planning and of governance? And where can we learn the skills needed to support movements without destroying them? To engage in networks that build trust, rather than erode it?

New organisational forms are sometimes the answer to big changes, but far more often the changes are in our behaviours, in what we value, and in how we learn. If civil society is about networks and movements as much as it is about organisations, what needs to change?

21st August 2017

One comment

  1. Eileen Conn says:

    Absolutely right. New forms are needed to reflect and cater for the large part of civil society outside the organised registered voluntary sector. The part of that sector active in the ‘civic’ world interacts very frequently with the organised sector both the ‘voluntary’ sector part and the public sector often in the form of local government. My two systems model of this as ‘community engagement in the social eco-system dance’ identifies some of the issues that need to be addressed to improve this interaction. A key one is that the organised work worlds need to see with new spectacles the vast array of action which is off their organisational radar.

    Peckham Vision is a community organisation which has evolved over the last 15 years from the grassroots in this sphere and resolutely following a path of new organisational forms for these reasons. Physical evolution tends to follow the easier path to change, called by some the ‘adjacent possible’. That is one of our organisational guiding principles too. We now have a micro organisation looked at in normal terms, and yet over 12,000 live human contacts within a few miles of the town centre. It is at the same time both a form of matter that can be seen and an energy wave. See this short clip:

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