Why do we network?
A distinguishing feature of a good project is that cooperation and collaboration is sought with people and institutions working in the same area or on the same theme, with the intention of exchanging experiences and a maximum pooling of resources. When the project is outlined, start thinking about potential cooperation/collaboration: Who might be interested in the project? Where are you likely to meet with resistance? What form of working relationship would be the most appropriate?
Ideally you already contact potential partners during the general planning phase and discuss possible cooperation with them. Vague agreements should be formalized during the detailed planning phase. Possible forms of cooperation/collaboration are:
- Joint institutional responsibility for the project
- Coordinated implementation of measures
- Collegial exchange and other forms of sharing experiences
- Collaboration in expert panels
- Integration of key-players in steering groups
Conditions for successful networking
Networking is time consuming and makes a project more complex. The effort is only worthwhile if it adds to the sustainability of the project or contributes to achieve the intended effects more easily. The usefulness of any networking has to be periodically reviewed and activities adjusted, if necessary. The following are prerequisites for fruitful cooperation:
- Specific objectives of cooperation
- Mutually agreed rules regarding the cooperation
- Clearly defined roles and duties ("Activity distribution chart)
Winning key players for your project is an important element in your implementation phase. These are people who are not directly involved in the project but who can use their influence to promote it, especially in the area of health politics. They may be politicians, decision makers in administration, financial backers or experts. It is essential to cultivate such contacts for "lobbying purposes. Key players should be kept informed about the progress of the project at reasonable intervals.
- Heerkens, Gary R. (2007). Project Management. 24 steps to help you master any project. The McGraw-Hill Mighty Manager’s Handbooks. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Lock, Dennis (2007). Project management. 9th edition. Hampshire: Gower.
Why you would disregard these aspects
- You are finding it difficult to establish contact with the necessary people.
- You fear the ever growing complexity of the project structure and therefore do not seek out cooperation partners. Networking takes time and energy that you would rather use for implementing actual measures.
- You fear that your ideas might be copied by somebody else.
What you have to gain
- You will receive suggestions and support both in the planning and in the implementation of your project if you contact potential network partners sufficiently early and with a view to collaborating with them.
- You have a better chance of achieving sustainable results if your networking is clearly effect-oriented.
- The public will accept your project more easily if you succeed in recruiting key players. Moreover, you will gain support when trying to induce structural changes needed to assure the sustainability of the project.
What you can actually do
- Write a list of the institutions and the people with whom cooperation or collaboration could be of interest for the project. Think how you can motivate key players to cooperate and what forms of cooperation you want to suggest. Define what you want to achieve through cooperation.
- Take part in events (meetings, workshops, professional training, press conferences) where you can make and maintain such contacts.
- When you negotiate any collaboration, make sure that you and your partners agree on roles, tasks, objectives and time to be invested. Then check periodically if the collaboration achieves its goal.
- Maintain contact with potential opponents and try to associate them with the project (e.g. in an advisory group).
Questions for critical reflection
- Are the key players from practice, administration, politics and science on board?
- Are you thinking about the networking of your project locally and nationally, perhaps internationally?
- Have you succeeded in persuading competitors to become fellow campaigners for a common cause?
- Do you know your "opponents"? And do you know how to deal with expected adversity?