Most multi-stakeholder networks are taking on pretty daunting challenges: climate change, corruption, sustainability, health, water, food security… What is critical to their success? A new perspective on this, accompanied by a very simply administered test, is offered with the concept of “harmonic vibrancy” (HV).
“…harmony refers to the degree of agreeable feeling or accord in how a group’s agreements fit together,” explains Jim Ritchie-Dunham in the draft of a new book on the topic of HV. “People often describe the value they experience in the five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit) with some form of vibrancy, meaning the vitality in flourishing relationships.”
Jim is very familiar with Global Action Networks, having participated in numerous meetings with them and followed my work closely. In fact, in his book he applies HV to GANs. I’ve worked with him at the Institute for Strategic Clarity. He comes from the “decision-making” sciences that ask questions about how choices are made to realize effective action. His HV analysis is very relevant to networks, since it focuses on “relationships” and “agreements” to understand their “health” with a relatively easy analysis.
“When the vibrancy in the group is low,” he writes, “I just want to be told what to do. It is clear that none of me is needed, other than what I can do right then. It is very frustrating. I am in a box, somebody has a whip, and I am submissive to the task at hand. When I experience high vibrancy in a group, we are all looking for the unique contributions our creativity can make to the group. It’s like the harmonic we create when we each sing our piece. Together we are able to take on anything.”
HV seems particularly useful for networks because it is all about relationships. It orients networks to questions about how to realize a world of “abundance” for a high vibrancy (very healthy and effective) network. One innovation of the HV perspective is that it does this by integrating five relationship aspects of “health” that are important for a network’s success:
All these high-brow ideas are intellectually interesting, but what is particularly powerful about Jim’s work is that he has developed a very easy analytical tool – a survey – for people to understand how their network (or other group/organization) is doing from these five perspectives. He’s applied it with several organizations. And he’s also developed prescriptions about actions to raise the level of vibrancy. These revolve around the core concept of “agreements” – informal and formal – that define “relationships”. Formal ones include written contracts and prices negotiated at a market; informal ones include assumptions about “the way things work”:
“There are also many times when people tend not to be conscious of the agreements. We drive on a specific side of the road, because it is an agreement to do so. We also agree that you can be arrested for not complying with this agreement. This might make it seem like a law: that’s just the way it is. Except, that the law does not always apply. In the countryside or on a farm, you might simply see that you are driving on the road. There is not really a left or right lane. In other words, it depends. It depends on the situation whether the “law” applies, thus it is an agreement.”
These agreements both support and limit action, and reconfiguring them can enhance HV. Jim presents tools that help make agreements visible, so people can discuss and reconfigure them to enhance HV.