Critical Mass in Networks: part II Practice

PART II: Network Management

• 2.1 Focus

– Vision:  Focus is made out of purposive and adaptive network movements towards an envisioned end state. Accordingly successful focus has two important properties: 1) goal directedness, and 2) adaptability (to remain directed to the goal).‘A network energized by a goal has a purpose that enables it to organize its members, facilitate meetings and pursue resources’ (Kilduff and Tsai, 2003). ‘On the question of goals, research shows the wisdom of maintaining a narrow focus, and a single goal. Organizations pursuing a single goal are far more successful than those pursuing many goals.’ (Dobson, C., 2001).

-Frame alignment: ‘Frame alignment describes what happens in small informal groups that promote social change. Movement supporters attempt to bring others around to a mobilizing frame by providing examples and rationales that legitimize the movement. If others buy the examples and rationale, they adjust their view of issues and events so they are aligned with the new mobilizing frame’ (Dobson, C., 2001).

– Mission: A organization needs a clear mission. To realize organizational goals, you have to limit your focus on the core activities that need to be accomplished. Stay with your core business and simplify the remaining organizational clutter. The mission statement is a compass to guide organizational priorities and decisions so people do not become lost in day-to-day activities. Your organization’s standards, norms and values will define your outcome. Confidence in the core of the mission is important, agreements must be met and implemented. Continuous action takes place in order to embed the mission. Better to make a mistake (and admit) than not taking action at all (Metcalf en Gallagher, 2001). Organizations should be clear in their actions and take responsibility for problems that arise, should seek solutions, in other words they should act accountable. They need to be honest about their right and wrongs so that they can focus on right actions rather than to endure spending attention to those that were wrong.

-Partner experience: In search for suitable partners, decision makers need to examine prior contributions of existing partners. Partner specific experience especially helps to build partner-specific relational capabilities, for example experiences with governance mechanisms and conflict resolutions that were specific to that partnership. This experience minimizes subsequent coordination costs and maximizes the predictability of alliance outcomes and thus creates commitment to contribute more resources to the alliance. Contrary new partnering experiences are based on various partners and therefore are more likely to offer novel resources than for the repeated experiences with the same partners. Today’s choice of partners will frame future partner choices and will affect the extent to which these future partnerships can provide benefits. The main binding force in new and existing partnerships is the ‘shadow of the future’: the prospect of future benefits from working together (Fearon, 1998).

Modest centralization: Focus is directly related to the level of centralization in a network. A centralized network is hierarchical in the sense that knowledge flows are dependent on a relatively small group of, consequently powerful actors. Those key actors can be focal points for success but also for failure: if they are removed (for example trough illness) important knowledge flows break down (Muller-Prothmann, 2006). Decentralized networks on the other hand are assumed to be more adaptable because its actors tend to share knowledge more broadly, tell each other more retrieval cues with regard who knows who and what, and are more likely to share conceptualizations of each others expertise (Rulke and Galaskiewicz, 2000).Experience within cooperatives seems to indicate that at the government level a democratic and decentralized form is often desired by the participants. Ostrom (2011) emphasizes democratic solutions: “Equal rules for using common goods adapted to local needs and circumstances, ensure that participants can participate in the process of changing rules; A system implemented by members of the community and being worn by them to develop their own behavior through sanctions for offenders’. On the other hand, experience in large organizations like Greenpeace is, of course, that they work with a chosen government to be able to lead their NGO flexibly. And sometimes in practical implementation hierarchical structures are sometimes necessary: ​​some people just have more knowledge or capabilities in certain areas than other participants, and then need control (TESA and GRIDtv, 2014).


First, a few key players (network positions, analyzed by Social Network Analysis, see pic 4) within the core groups will have to make the desired change: organizers, sellers and knowledge sharers. They create an attractive vision and mission and invite other organizations and movements to join.

Pic 4: (





-Focus on a delicate balance between centralization and decentralization, neither extreme will work (see 2.1.1).
-Less modularization (e.g. too much themes/departments) contributes to focusing knowledge integration in networks.
-Spatial clustering (coming together in the same location) contributes to holding the same focus in and between networks.
-Organizing boundary spanning activities and boundary objects (e.g. organizing conferences respectively e.g. giving presentations) contributes to realizing a higher focus between different networks.
-Giving feedback to participants contributes to understanding and holding the same focus.

A salesman is someone who passes his vision and knowledge from one actor to actors in a lot of groups/networks by convincing them about its importance (Gladwell, 2001).

Mavens are highly specialized actors that know all ins and out of their subject. They accumulate their knowledge and make sure that others in their domain are informed about the newest developments (Gladwell, 2001). Therefore they have connections to a lot of other knowledge networks with regard to his/her domain.


• 2.2 Mass

Authenticity: Your organization should have a generous and faithful doctrinal formulation. Clarify what kind of others you are looking for. Define the character, competences, and culture of your people. It must be clear to others what they stand for when they seek partners.

Solidarity: Self-aware organizations know they do not to know everything. They treat other organizations with respect and potentially important partners. ‘‘Sociologists take pains to point out that frame alignment only works as an ongoing process. According to David Snow and Robert Benford, organizations must continue to strive for alignment and action through diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational framing. When confronted with a challenge, an organization must diagnose the problem in a way that resonates with members and potential members, propose a plausible solution that could be accomplished by movement participation, and issue a call to arms that motivates action…loss of alignment is a constant threat in the presence of counter movements and the counter frames of opponens.’ (Dobson, C., 2001). It is important to find other organizations that have the same goals and want to adapt and and work together to achieve critical mass. Wholes are worth more than the sum of the parts. It is difficult to bridge organizational boundaries and create trust. An organization that builds coalitions with other organizations, behaves as a responsible member and shares its resources, is a strong sustainable organization. The challenge is to create an environment in which organizations are challenged to work together, solve problems and achieve common goals – rather than compete.

Communication: A coalition is not just about the desires of one organization. It is also important to listen to what other organizations want and provide feedback on weaknesses and mistakes. Ultimately, everything is about trust and integrity: no conviction but looking for improvements, compassion and loyalty. “The biggest threat to cooperation is unresolved conflict, which may arise from different priorities, goals and strategies, no commitments, lack of facilities and benefits, inactivity of one of the partners, unclear roles, different behavioral styles, bad communication, a lack of To experience with joint programs and whether or not to conclude the agreement. When two cultures meet, this often results in friction. This is why we need intermediaries in collaborative projects; Organizational forms that provide guidance for communication between different and even contradictory ways of thinking … what we need, especially in collaborative projects, is to make communication processes an institutionalized part of project management ‘(Narayanan, 2001).

Language: allows people to share and integrate aspects of knowledge that are not yet common between them. Hinkel (2008) gives three key aspects of a developing a shared scientific language: 1) semantic ascent or speaking in a meta-language (for example using metaphors or analogies; concepts that bridge between different specializations) before a shared language actually develops, 2) formalization or the translation of statements made into a formal language, and 3) methods that organize problem-solving practices (e.g. mathematics).


Coleman and Burt explain that two opposite processes occur in groups: ‘closure’ and ‘structural holes’:

>1. Closure (group formation) is characterized by a strongly populated and connected networking which partners are bound by trust, and build strong and repeated ties (Nicolau and Birley, 2003). Coleman (1990) found that such dense networks of closely tied actors, homogenize behavior. Closure means that groups are closed for alternatives: actors focus on projects inside their own group because they cannot simultaneously be aware of all projects in other groups. Therefore knowledge also is more homogenous within than between groups. Actors in homgenous groups tend to form group norms. These norms ensure cooperative behavior and also facilitate the development of shared values. Both limit the knowledge sharing with other groups (Coleman, 1988). These groups can be biased (to the inside) but are, on the other hand, very suited for deep specialization.

> 2. Alternatively structural holes between (not connected) actors make up minimal structures of connectivity, strip away unproductive ties and shift the focus to sides where it can be more productive (Burt, 2004, 2005). Therefore networks rich in structural holes are more efficient in providing information about knowledge sharing opportunities, and provide flexibility as compared to being tied (or responsible) to others. Networks rich in structural holes may provide the information necessary to find out about new opportunities, but they may hinder the emergence and the enforcement of the norms that can secure cooperative behavior and protect individuals against the risk of defection (e.g., Podolny and Baron 1996). So these networks are more open to other knowledge but vulnerable to less deep knowledge sharing.

In summary, as the coalition grows, people need to be able to hold together the core of the group and at the same time people are needed who are able to keep links with external organizations flexible and efficient.

Reciprocators (regarding group formation)
Reciprocators are actors who have a fair balance between their incoming and outcoming ties, which they use for knowledge sharing (Gladwell, 2001).

Key Player
A key player (also called ‘central connector’) is an actor who is highly central in a network and who is the connection between a lot of actors (Borgatti, 2003).

Brokers (regarding structural holes)
Brokers are actors that connect two otherwise unconnected actors (individuals or groups), and thereby often span multiple knowledge domains (Cross, 2002).

• 2.3 Openess

-Triggerpoints: ‘People are more likely to act collectively when responding to strong emotions. Community organizers typically try to identify an emotional issue that will motivate people to participate’ (Dobson, C., 2001). Examples: Capitalist Crisis/Workers against Neoliberalism, Democratization of Knowledge and Right to Communication, Culture of Peace and Struggle for Justice and Demilitarization, Decolonization and Self-Determination of Peoples, Rights of Nature and Environmental Justice, International Solidarity, Human and Social Rights, Dignity and Fight against Inequalities, Struggles against Racism, Xenophobia, Patriarchy and Fundamentalism, Fight against the Dictatorship of Finance and for Resource Distribution, Migration, Refugees and Citizenship Without Borders (World Social Forum, 2016).

-Feedback: As a social movement grows, it is very important to keep learning, to measure results and to provide feedback. The diversity of subjects speeds up and broaden the awareness of the participants and organizations. ‘Be constantly open and aware of new, better, faster, cheaper ways to achieve the same result. If something is not working then be willing to try another approach. ‘(Tracy, B., Thompson, M., 2010). Positive change is not a given, your organization has to work hard to understand all that is changing and happening and making it an effort of continuous improvement..In other words, your organization should embrace diversity as it could discover hidden assets. Do not insist on a one-size-fits all package, diversity is based on the fundamental idea that not all humans and ideas are the same. Still, there are common goals in diversity: we all want to do meaningful work for a better world. Other stated goals will have to be formulated at a higher umbrella level (Metcalf and Gallagher, 2001).

-Open Knowledge Sharing: Participants often can not find the right knowledge within their organization and therefore need to import information and ideas from outside, ie across their own organization boundaries where multiple knowledge resources are available (Swan and Scarbrough, 2001; Carlile, 2002). The strength of these “weak” connections between people and organizations is that there is more chance of bridges between different types of people with new knowledge (Zhou et al., 2009). In general, openness between organizations leads to access to earlier and broader knowledge, earlier detection of new opportunities, opportunities and alternative solutions. (Soh, 2003). The bridging of various external knowledge sources contributes to the diversity of knowledge, knowledge accumulation, and an increase in structural diversity and individual performance (Dekker, Stokman and Franses, 2000; Cummings, 2004).


Openness is about actively involving all people of the own organizational network and outside people that are willing to join their network. Not everyone will suit the necessary profile (eg the chameleon).

Peripheral Specialists
Peripheral specialist work most of their time on their own and have a low connectivity to, and compared to, others in the network (Cross, 2002). They often have a lot of knowledge but need to be stimulated to actively share and interact with others. This can be done by a boundary spanner.

Boundary Spanners
Actors who specialize in building bridges across -especially cultural organizational boundaries are called boundary spanners (Robins and Pattison, 2006).

The Chameleon
A chameleon continuously shifts emphasis on other goals or values and can cause causes a misalignment among people and subgroups that need to work together. This slowly and invisibly drains momentum and effectiveness from project and initiatives (Cross, 2012). Chameleons must learn to understand this and to learn another approach.