In early October I was invited to guide a series of training sessions on networking for Danish NGOs in development work, together with my colleague from MDF, Ger Roebeling. How to re-connect with the energy people initially felt when starting or joining those networks became the most important issue.

 

Particularly in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - or “civil society organisations” (CSOs) as the Danish prefer to call them - the pattern is very clear to see:

Initiators start out with beautiful ambitions, find each other, and acquire position and space (eg. funds). Then comes a coordinator or secretariat. Project plans must be made and followed, funds must be justified. Before you know it, an organisation has grown, chasing partners to deliver contributions, and trying to survive through prioritising fundraising.

 

Nothing special for Danish CSOs; this happens everywhere. But it is sad to see how the beautiful energy from the start slips away.

 

We spent time together on the “cold and the warm processes” in organising networks and bringing about change:

The cold processes (the “blue column”) refer to structure: formulating targets, logical frameworks, dividing tasks and developing procedures. The warm processes (the “red column”) are about people and their dreams, connecting with each other to find out what ambitions they share, and developing strategies to work on them together.

 

Ultimately, warm processes are ineffective without cold ones. But the financial regimes that are dominant at present push people to concentrate on the cold processes only, and ignore the warm side.

On Tuesday 2nd October, I travelled to Århus, to the CISU headquarters. The Civil Samfund I Udvikling (Civil Society Fund for Development) is a government agency supporting large and small CSOs active in developing countries, particularly in capacity building activities. Our host, Nina Lauritzen, had followed the Alliance and Networking Course at MDF in 2011, and found that the FAN approach could be very useful in the Danish development sector. She wanted me to meet her colleagues in a half-day workshop.

 

 

It was a quick introduction to the FAN approach and tools, but nevertheless quite involving, with interesting discussions. I was informed that the Danish Ministry of Development Cooperation was to give high priority to network development, strengthening “civil societies” in the South. In comparison, the Dutch government has put its faith in involving the private sector in development activities.

 

After this session, I joined Nina and a few colleagues to travel to Copenhagen by train, which is an almost three hour journey. I was impressed by the luxury in Danish trains: excellent seats, with coffee, tea and soft drinks for free in the first class! Ger joined us in Copehagen.

 

On Wednesday we worked with a group of 22 participants. We started by asking what factors they experienced as energising in the networks important to them, and which factors drained energy. Not surprisingly, most energising factors belonged to the warm processes and draining factors had to do with the cold processes of organisation.

 

Strange that there are so many tools for the cold processes and so little for the warm ones!

Since advocacy is an important part of the work of many CSOs, Ger introduced the “Advocacy Cycle,” as used in the MDF course on advocacy. It fits well with the FAN approach, which I introduced afterwards. We went through the Circle of Coherence and the Triangle of Co-Creation in an interactive way, which provoked many questions and discussions.

 

The following day was for peer consultations. The group was split: the morning for larger CSOs and the afternoon for smaller ones. We estimated that the kinds of issues arising would differ between the two types.

 

We used the FAN guidelines for peer consultations. The “network language” introduced the previous day came into use when reflecting on real life cases. We tried to understand what was going on in each case, and ended up with advising “If I were you, I would …” Sometimes the conclusions were surprising, but all participants who brought in a question went home with clear ideas to try out.

 

On Friday I worked alone again, with seven people from the “NGO Forum,” coordinators from different networks who meet regularly. We used the Peer Consultation method to work out two cases from participants, during which I introduced the Circle of Coherence and the Triangle of Co-Creation to aid the analysis (both of which seemed helpful).

 

As a third case we took the NGO Forum itself as a network. The participants became aware that the difficulties they encountered in their own networks repeated itself in the network they had formed together. Too many tasks lay on the shoulders of the coordinator, who had difficulties keeping others involved. Spontaneously some of the members started to propose ways to do it differently from that moment on. It was beautiful to see it happening.

 

I have observed this before. Once network members change focus from contents to their own process, something changes in the division of tasks. They tend to take more responsibility. A Timeline session is a powerful tool to this end.

 

It was a nice experience to work with these dedicated Danish colleagues, and it stimulated my own thoughts also. I went home with a notebook full of ideas to be worked out further.