Network Navigator: Rome Workshop

In March 2017 during the CitizensLab Network Meeting in Brussels, CitizensLab members started to organise small prototypes. One of the prototype ideas was to develop a ‘Network Navigator’ online platform/map. In May 16-17, 2017 an in-person session was organised among 8 CitizensLab members to develop this idea further. The meeting took place in Rome, at the inspiring rehabilitated old train factory space, Officine-zero.

The aim of the meeting was to explore why networks are important to each of us, some of the questions we had about them and our direct experiences of networks.

About the space

We spent some time understanding the network and story of the amazing location that we were in: Officine-zero, an old factory site that refurbished night trains, went bankrupt in 2010. Shortly after this the workers occupied that space, a few of them continue to do so along with a community of freelancers and local artisans. Having evolved over the last 7 years it now houses a co-working space and artisan studio space (for carpenters, photographers, metal workers etc.). Alessandro, who has been part of this journey since the beginning, gave us some great insights about the different layers of networks they have – from the people who work in the space, their peers across Rome and international networks they have been part of. This reminded us that there are many layers of networks we are all part of.

Why are networks important for us?

The first thing we did together was to explore why networks are important to us. We had many interesting conversations, based on first-hand experience, about how networks function and sustain themselves and the challenges they face. We recognised the difference between formal and informal networks, networks at different levels (local, city wide, national, transnational) and how much we often rely much more on the support of the informal ones. We also learnt about how it is important for the members to deeply identify themselves with the network they are involved in. Our stories helped us to harvest and identify common components of networks, a list of things that networks give us as well as the needs and challenges of networks.

Assumptions about networks

Through this we surfaced some of our assumptions about networks and our perspectives:

  • We are “Network Believers”
  • Networks are the basic organising form of living systems
  • We are all part of networks at a variety of levels
  • Things are evolving so fast it is hard to make sense of all the different networks
  • We each have multiple different identities and belong to a patchwork of networks. So our individual network profiles are each unique
  • There is lots of overlap and duplication between networks today
  • It is hard to know which networks to invest your time into
  • It is hard to know whom to contact in order to ‘access’ different networks
  • There are networks of people/individuals as well as networks of organisations, with people in them
  • Networks exist at multiple levels – personal, local, city, region, country, tansnational etc.
  • Whatever we do can only be a snapshot in time
What do networks give us?

We also explored and highlighted what we are gaining from being involved in networks:

  • Ability to go beyond conventions
  • Shared thoughts and understanding
  • Ability to join force, expand, and grow internationally
  • Have shared questions that support learning and evolution
  • Help motivate people
  • Expand your identities
  • Recognise our interconnections
  • Know you are not alone
  • Create and represent something bigger
  • Share resources (hard and soft)
  • Share opportunities
  • Import / transfer ideas and approaches from elsewhere
  • Show and demonstrate alternatives
  • Develop new models
  • Codify / learn / share knowledge and insights
  • Framework for support to help with strategy development and communications
Networks work when

We identified some of the key elements for successful networks:

  • There is a shared vision and purpose
  • There is a calling question (to attract people to the network)
  • There are containers for action/a playing field/place to do things together
  • They operate on multiple levels
  • There is something to fuel the network to keep momentum and energy
  • It is a platform to share and learn
  • Can be event-based / thematic or interdisciplinary (or all of these things)
Tensions / dilemmas facing our network

Running and sustaining networks is tricky. Inevitably, there will be challenges and tensions. We identified a number of common challenges the networks we were part of were facing.

1. Working with Dynamic Networks
  • Ever evolving and changing over time
  • Stuck in daily running/priorities so it can be hard to be open to new ideas
  • How you make visible and show value the breadth of activity and currents in the networks
2. Governance and Leadership
  • What are alternative governance models for networks?
  • How can you share responsibility for leadership through networks?
3. Who are Networks for?
  • People come with different expectations and motivations
  • Do they work best for organisation or individual affiliation?
  • Many networks started for activists/individuals and have professionalised over time, this can create tensions


4. Sustaining Networks
  • Funding regimes see a proliferation of project-based work, harder to do the longer-term work, network building takes time
  • Dependence on funding leaves networks fragile
  • There is a blurring between informal / formal / professional networks and there aren’t common models for hybrid networks

All of these conversations really helped us to refine the early ideas about what the Network Navigator is and could be and who we are designing for. We hope it will be a strategic tool for the CitizensLab members (and beyond) and that the initial Network Navigator prototype can build a shared picture of which networks we are part of, how we use them, what we give and get from them, what works and what does not work with our experience of networking, and ultimately provide resources (mapping, best practices of networking, specificities in our fields) and insights into the possible synergies of our combined networks making it easier to find connections between people and networks that are outside of our own.

What's next?

We prepared an online survey to find out more about the different networks the CitizensLab members are part of. Gathering more data about networks to fuel our prototype and giving us materials that we can then visualise in some way. We are also asking others who run or are part of networks to take part in this survey too and build up a picture of what is happening.

We plan to host one more workshop where we look at all of the data we have collected from the survey and start to visualise this in some way before sharing this results during our next CitizensLab Network Meeting that will be part of the International MitOst Festival in Frankfurt (Oder).

What we learnt

Collaboration with new people is always exciting. There was a real openness of everyone to connect and share, even if we were in different countries and from different backgrounds. Both in the planning of the session and while we were together there was a shared division of roles among participants (process, documenting, harvesting, time keeper) and shared participation and involvement.
We had some great conversations which helped to get to know each other, build the personal relationships which are foundations for being able to hear and build collectively. But this takes time – to clarify and find a common language and set of terms, there were some moments where it felt we were going round in circles and moments of ‘stuckness’, when positions aren’t clear and we needed to clarify the ‘game board’. This is normal at the start of a process though.
In parallel a small virtual working group exploring some of the same questions – it was interesting to see how our thinking landed in very similar places, despite being so far away, this was really inspiring to witness and encouraging for our wider ambitions as a network, knowing it will be hard to always meet in person.
The inspiring space we were in really helped this process too – it was brilliant to be somewhere that embodies so much of what we were exploring together. The conversations we had with the members of the occupied space were instructive and allowed us to think about the challenges of re-claiming urban space and defining its use for common interests (what function does the space fulfill) rather than private interests. The discussions with the members of the Officine Zero also helped us to understand what are the functions of networks for them and what kind of challenges and opportunities they faced while being part of networks. It helped us to root our reflection for the following day.


In person:
David Juarez, straddle3 / Arquitecturas Colectivas
Elisabetta Fiorenza, straddle3
Levente Polyak, Eutropian / Wonderland / KÉK (17th only)
Daniela Patti, Eutropian
Louise Armstrong, Peckham Coal Line/ Forum for the Future
Martin Pairet, European Alternatives
Alice Priori, CitizensLab
Ale Gonzalez, / Arquitecturas Colectivas

Mateja Softić, ISKRIVA
Maria Chatzopoulou, COMM’ON
Dmytro Khutkyy, Center for Innovations Development

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