Relationship Building as a Measure of Impact | Beth’s Blog

Relationship Building as a Measure of Impact

Guest Post, Networks

Guest Post by John Esterle

One of the themes raised up as the GEO/Monitor Institute conference came to an end was the importance of  trust and relationship building in networks. Indeed, that was my theme for the day given that I facilitated a couple of morning conversations on that topic and then in the afternoon heard Ify Mora from the Barr Foundation (http://www.barrfoundation.org/) talk about how they use social network mapping to capture the relationships that have been built through their innovative Fellows Program.

 

So, as I leave the conference I’m wondering how storytelling might be combined with social network mapping to make the broader case within philanthropy that relationship building — and the spaces and processes that support it — matter. It’s an important challenge to meet because I think that unless relationship building is broadly recognized as a key measure of impact, it will continue to be under-resourced (to the detriment of achieving the larger goals and outcomes people are working toward).

 

The philanthropic exploration of networks potentially offers a new platform or frame to talk about the need to explicitly value process and relationship-based work. And that opportunity links to the other top two network themes raised up in today’s final session: the value of values (naming what’s important) and the need for funders to see themselves as changemakers within networks rather than just funders. In short, what might be gained by funders taking off their organizational hats and bringing our whole selves into the equation?

 

I think if more funders do step outside of their traditional roles it will be through different kinds of relationships with both grantees and other funders. And, as was apparent throughout various conference discussions, those relationships will blossom if they are built on trust, humility, and a willingness to be both vulnerable and generous with each other.

 

So, a percolating question for me going forward, both individually and organizationally, is:

 

  • How do we walk our talk when it comes to operating with a network mindset where process and relationships truly matter?

 

John Esterle

John Esterle

John Esterle is the Executive Director of The Whitman Institute (http://www.thewhitmaninstitute.org)

7 Responses

  1. […] Relationship Building as a Measure of Impact Guest Post by John Esterle One of the themes raised up as the GEO/Monitor Institute conference came to an end was the importance of  trust and relationship building in networks. Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

  2. Gibrán says:

    Thank you John for asking this important question! I have to privilege of serving as one of the facilitators for the Barr Fellows network, and I can attest to the way in which tending to relationship has been nothing short of transformational.

    The simplest answer to your question is to “just do it,” to actually connect rather than talking about connecting – to take the risk and the leap! But as we know, this is a lot easier said than done. So get the right facilitation, create the right conditions – but make it integral to the work, not separate from it. Come to understand that building relationships is as important if not more important than checking off the next task or signing off on the next plan.

    It is easy to hide behind tasks and plans, it is harder to actually get to know each other, but it is out this space of connection that the real work actually gets done!

    Here is a link to a recent post on the fellows:

    http://interactioninstitute.org/blog/2011/05/02/an-emerging-network/

  3. John Esterle says:

    Thanks, Gibran, for your thoughtful comments. They certainly resonate with the work we do at The Whitman Institute. I also appreciate the link you included with its description of the Barr Fellows program. I especially liked how you frame network resilience, flexibility, and efficiency at the end of the post.

  4. We do need new ways to measure relationship building.

    We devalue relationship building and the fostering of social networks.

    It shows up in my language every day:

    I call it “touchy feely”.
    I complain about endless planning to plan.
    I groan at all of the “kumbaya” in the process.
    I say it is all talk and no action.

    But we also romanticize process and relationship building. Just as it is easy to hide behind tasks and plans, it is also easy to hide in networks and mismeasure them in spurious claims of impact.

    Good lord, how many networks, coalitions, alliances, partnerships, symposia have we experienced that have developed rich trusting relationships — all eminently measurable, mapable, quantifiable, and pre-post tested, but have belly flopped on a grand scale?

    Relationship building and all that civil society and social capital yada-yada are key ingredients but what those relationships accomplish are the big story to follow.

    Good characters need plot and action to drive the collective narrative.

  5. […] is, we build and maintain relationships. And if we do it well, we have the opportunity to be part of a collaborative community (and yes, […]

  6. […] Guest Post by John Esterle One of the themes raised up as the GEO/Monitor Institute conference came to an end was the importance of trust and relationship building in networks.  […]

  7. […] is, we build and maintain relationships. And if we do it well, we have the opportunity to be part of a collaborative community (and yes, […]

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