Governing the Network: the process by which good institutions emerge

Image by Jonathan McCabe based on Alan Turing's 'Morphogenesis' Theory - https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanmccabe/12028889343

Image by Jonathan McCabe based on Alan Turing’s ‘Morphogenesis’ Theory – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanmccabe/12028889343

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The MAIM Class of 2014 shares their individual innovation opportunities in the lead up to their Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making. As a ‘Networker’, Liliana Maz explains what is needed to empower individuals to connect, generate and create groundbreaking innovations.

When taken into consideration, its not difficult to find examples of the prominence networks play in the most menial of tasks to the most ambitious of goals. From aiding jobseekers to revolutionaries, networks have become a fundamental tool for individuals and organisations, both online and off.  Interested in exploring the application of networks across rigid organisational structures to more emergent and dynamic systems, I sought to understand the key factors driving organisations into creating their own collaborative networks in order to pinpoint factors that would allow them to maintain enough flexibility to support change and foster innovation.

 

We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much.

Felix Guattari, 1987

 

Looking to challenge the myth that hierarchies provide the only effective model, I sought innovative alternatives. To do so, I began from a philosophical ideal model, looking for applicable approaches in organisations. Through field research conducted within a large organisation in the social innovation sector, I looked into how a collaborative network could be established. In parallel to this work I studied London’s “Tech City”, as an existing example of such a network. The difference between the two is that the first explored a top down approach taken by the management team, where the latter operates with a bottom up approach, which is already established and active.

 

Tech City’s Silicon Roundabout demonstrates the emergence of a model that may provide the basis to design new organisational models based on collaborative networks. However a central challenge is the question of where to develop it. Be it virtual or physical, it is necessary to create a territory that works as an interface to collaboration. This in-between space, between hierarchy and autonomy, provides some of the principles of an ideal system, which requires a different kind of governance that allows a coordinated self-organisation; it works through steering, not controlling.

 

The challenge of governance is to reconcile the centre of the collaborative network. Imagine the Silicon Ecosystem within companies, where the hubs are departments, managers are incubators and the central system is creating initiatives to support the ecosystem as a whole and increase its potential. The coordinating system will have one spine and many branches, like arms it extends to the whole network to offer support to certain nodes and instigate processes to keep the whole organisation aligned. These arms are not solid bridges, rigid or fixated, they are instead processes in constant change, allowing the central spine to be flexible and [re]distribute power from one central system to many minorities, thus management can make decisions based on the company’s objectives but also on its people.

 

There are three key points to transform an organisation to a more collaborative, networked model: the first involves a change of governance to be in the function of people (top-down), the second requires the establishment of a collaborative network that inspires a cultural change and supports entrepreneurship (bottom-up) and the third requires an infrastructure which supports the new system. Above all, organisational structures should not limit individual potential, but instead allow the freedom to create. When delving into networks complexity can become overwhelming, yet if we focus on the micro level we can see that every little action may affect the whole system.

 

To learn more about collaborative networks, and Liliana’s research into their implementation in organisations, please join us at the MA Innovation Management upcoming Degree Show, Exploiting Chaos: Innovation in the Making, from the 18-22 June.