General Lessons about Networks
Eleanor A. Bliss Professor of Biology at Bryn Mawr College
Over the years, I've been involved in a number of "networking" efforts, formal and informal, real and virtual, and on both small and larger scales. Perhaps the most immediately relevant are planning for a Philadelphia regional PKAL group focusing on K-16 collaborations, a program of summer institutes for Philadelphia K-12 teachers (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/local/suminst), and a website in the general area of science and culture with a national/international user population (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu). Some general lessons:
1 - Networks are most functional when individuals involved in them perceive clear benefits to their own agendas from their involvement. Since these personal agendas vary widely, the objectives of a network often need to be both carefully considered and somewhat fluid.
2 - The most effective networks are those in which each of the involved individuals feels that they are both benefiting from the network and contributing to it. They involve individuals who are interested in change, and who see interaction with others as a way to both discover new things themselves and contribute to change in others.
3 - "Virtual" networks cannot replace "real" networks, but the exploration of their potentials has already clearly shown ways they can contribute to networking, and the exploration is really only beginning. Among other things, virtual networks can be created/tested/modified more rapidly than real networks, facilitating the exploratory phases of network creation. They also make it possible to be in touch with much larger numbers of people, facilitating the cohering of groups with particular shared interests. Finally, virtual networks provide a way to "concretize" and make visible network activities, and a form of communication usefully intermediate between face to face contact and more formal publication.