What Works and Pitfalls to Avoid
Professor of Chemistry, Franklin and Marshall College
Project Coordinator, Middle Atlantic Discovery Chemistry Project (MADCP)
There are numerous characteristics that productive, well-functioning networks can share. One that seems to be particularly important is having a tangible "product" or "outcome" that serves to provide a framework for the network. This "product" is often something that would be overwhelming for any individual to create, and it is also likely to be of interest and useful to many people. Creating the "product" need not be the only function of the network, but it does provide a focal point and common understanding of the goals of the network. This tangible "product" also serves to a) provide a basis for assessing the "progress" being made; and b) prioritize the network activities. An effective "product" will be one to which individual contributions can be made that are useful to the contributor and also of potential value to others. The criteria for these contributions need to be clear and (relatively) specific. Creating such criteria often helps to clarify what the "product" is (and what it is not), a process that often helps clarify what the purpose of the network is (and what it is not).
Another lesson learned from participation in a variety of networks in chemical education reform is the need for a project coordinator - one person who is clearly responsible for making sure that whatever needs to be done gets done. (This often involves reminding others to do what they previously agreed to do!) Having sufficient support to deal with the administrative work is important. In addition, a small (3-5 person) coordinating/steering committee made up of representatives from the various constituencies in the network can provide support for the coordinator. Their role is to help the coordinator do whatever needs to be done to keep the network humming!