13 October 2022

Providing Organisational Development support to networks

The Organisational Development (OD) Community of Practice, following the “Unconference” satellite event at the Philea Forum in Barcelona, hosted an event on the multifaceted topic of “networks” and, in particular, how grantmakers can provide support to these networks.

Providing OD support to an organisation already has some challenges, supporting a network of NGOs can multiply such challenges but also has different purposes and outcomes. This session aimed to provide room for participants to get familiarised with three different levels of support intervention given by a wide-ranging profile of speakers.

The first level of support aimed to lay the groundwork for the topic, especially for participants who may be unfamiliar with network support. Reinhard Millner, NGO Academy, went into further detail on the work of NGO Academy and the capacity building support that is given to NGOs, CSOs and Social Enterprises in Central and Southeast Europe and how this, in turn, strengthens the civil society space and fosters networks in these regions. It started as a cooperation between the ERSTE Stiftung and WU Vienna in 2013 and works in a region in which civil society faces multipronged threats. Reinhard further explained the programmes that are offered and the accompanying approach which is taken in the delivery of these programmes, including supporting participants to set up and deepen professional international networks and experts.

To explore the second level of support, which looked at providing OD support to strengthen a network of NGOs that have come together to achieve collective impact, Carole Frampton-de Tscharner, PeaceNexus Foundation, delved into this multifaceted level of support. She explained that while her foundation provides organisational strengthening support mostly to individual actors, it has increasingly supported networks too, as these play an important role in linking local actors to international fora. Networks are challenging to sustain, with a need to ensure members gain enough from their engagement to warrant the additional investment in time and resources, when their first responsibility is to their own organisation.

To illustrate these challenges, Carole interviewed a grantee, the Partners Network, represented by Blažo Nedić, Partners Serbia. Blažo provided a brief context of his organisation, but also how it sits within the wider Partners Global network. Blažo highlighted the neutral facilitation that PeaceNexus was able to provide as particularly helpful, as it brought a welcome third-party perspective to a network that had developed some difficult internal dynamics after 30 years of existence. An after effect of the support saw key decisions made with regard to the mission and governance of the network. Paradoxically, the toning down of ambitions led to an increase in collaboration and level of engagement in the network and gaining clarity on the coordination role of the founding member was also key to moving forward.  

The third and final level of support was explained by colleagues from the International Alumni Center, Vinzenz Himmighofen and Tobias Gerber. They looked at the wider level of networks and ecosystems and how organisational development can support the facilitation of systemic change. Based on the theoretical framework laid out in “Building Better Systems” by Jennie Winhall and Charles Leadbeater, two roles were picked to illustrate which shapes OD can take in systemic change processes in two cases: the “Convenor” and “Evaluator”. One case was the Bosch Alumni Network which brings together around 8000 members from about 100 programmes by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. The other, ANSTOSS DEMOKRATIE, is a process to facilitate cross-border and cross-sector collaboration in the field of democratic culture in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Applying the convenor role to Bosch Alumni Network, the IT support provided helped create a platform to connect the different members. The role played by iac Berlin was not that of instructing the members what to do, but rather enabling them to co-shape the network through technological tools. In addition, iac Berlin assisted with training members to take a more leading role in the network. When applied to the ANSTOSS DEMOKRATIE programme, iac Berlin acted as a neutral facilitator in the process.

When looking at the role of evaluator, the Bosch Alumni Network platform supported from the start the process of self-learning and observation. In the case of ANSTOSS DEMOKRATIE, the first step was to enhance an awareness within the network of the network and the process through various forms of communication. A learning journey helped to distil the outcomes of the pilot projects in the process, the results of which made it easier to clarify what the longer-term purpose, and the means of realising that purpose, shall be in the next iteration.

The next event will take place on 29 November exploring “Monitoring and Evaluation“.


Daniel Spiers
Programme Manager – Peer-Exchanges & Knowledge