Power, Politics and Network Competencies

Last week I spoke with Ger Berkamp, Director General of the World Water Council (WWC) and later with Peter van Tuijl, Director of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). Each conversation turned to the question “What knowledge, skills and capabilities does your network need to be really successful?”

In both cases, we turned to the competencies framework in Figure 1. And in both cases when the question arose about what may be missing in this framework, Ger and Peter brought up power and politics.

“The political management of the network…it needs taken care of as a political process,” said Ger.

“Capacity to deal with power differences,” said Peter. “It misses the political edge – for the network both internally and externally.”

Daily both Ger and Peter deal with diverse demands and interests to move the network towards its vision. In their positions they have leadership responsibility with their Boards, major stakeholder groups, and particularly influential individuals.

With “politics and power” they are talking about the ability to mobilize support for and/or opposition to policies, values and goals. Internally, they are talking about the ability to work with power differences inherent with the array of constituencies in a global multi-stakeholder network. Externally, they are talking about the ability of the network to influence organizations that are not active participants in the network.

However, in a network like WWC and GPPAC, there is a huge gray area of internal-external. Even if an organization is a participant in the networks, the organization does not automatically agree with the network decisions, move to implement them or even know how to implement them.

Sociologist Amatai Etzioni categorizes power into three types. As voluntary associations the networks have little coercive power generally associated with governments. They have little remunerative power generally associated with business – they simply don’t have the financial or other resources to allocate. They must depend upon normative power: peer pressure, persuasion of logic and moral assertion of what’s right and just.

However, others have coercive and remunerative power that they may apply to influence the direction of the network – either in support of the network’s goals or to undermine them. This is always particularly worrisome vis-à-vis funders. Transparency International is currently facing the coercive power with intimidation by the Government of Sri Lanka against its Chapter there.

Power and politics is a topic of the Leadership competency: how can individuals, groups and the network share leadership to create a leaderful[1] culture and way of working together? And how do we address power-play leadership?

Power and politics is a topic for the Network Development competency where the question becomes how to create strategies, structures and processes to manage power in the interests of the larger network. This involves ensuring and balancing diverse stakeholders’ voice and influence.

Power and politics is also a big topic of the Generative Change competency. Transformational change of the type that Global Action Networks (GANs) like WWC and GPPAC aim for, involves a fundamental change in power and political arrangements. The core work of GANs is to realize a “tipping point” where the values and standards promoted by the GAN become “the norm”.

Of course there is lots of overlap among the competencies. Generative Change, Network Development and Leadership competencies are all needed to clarify, address and create accountability for contributing to two sets of goals: those of individual participants (organizations, Board members) that are conditions for being active in the network, and also for the network’s goals to realize its vision.

One goal of the competencies framework is to suggest how to organize capacity-building programs for GANs. Business schools are organized around core functional divisions like Marketing and Finance; schools of government are organized around divisions reflected in Ministries such as justice (law), health and international relations.

We are still a bit unclear about how to think of core functions of GANs and the key competencies, since they are a relatively young type of organization. The suggestion here is that GANs will often develop a department for Network Development (seen with GPPAC’s Network Building Programme and titles such as Transparency International’s “Governance Manager”). The Generative Change competency is probably the most under-recognized one of all, but one that I feel particularly strongly about. GANs are strategies for global change, and yet in general they make little use of leading change knowledge and have not built capacity for dialogic change skills, for example.

What competencies do you think are particularly important? Join a webinar next Wednesday to further discuss the competencies and key frameworks to support their development. For more information click here.

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