Networking means keeping in contact with individuals or organisations working in a similar field, to exchange ideas and experiences, and provide mutual support.
Networking is an important way for organisations and individuals to keep informed, and is therefore important for resource centre staff. Networking can help resource centre staff to solve problems, exchange professional advice, and experience, and even carry out joint activities, such as producing publications, assessing or translating materials, holding training workshops and arranging exchange visits.
Networks of resource centre and information staff are particularly useful for:
- sharing information about new resources
- responding to questions
- providing document supply services
- sharing catalogue/database records
- sharing experiences in managing the resource centre and its services
- collaborating on producing or adapting materials
- providing training
- developing funding proposals
- advocating for the importance of access to information.
8.3.1 Developing a network
Networking can be an informal activity, such as keeping in regular contact with other resource centre staff, passing on information about new resources, or asking for information on specific topics. Regular networking can lead to the development of a recognised network, with membership and a set of objectives.
Networks can develop informally, or they can be established as a formal group with an administrator. They may be local, national or international. The geographic divide is gradually being reduced by increasing access to electronic networks (see Section 6.9.4: Electronic conferences). Networks can be made up of organisations and individuals within a particular sector, or from a number of different sectors, and can aid intersectoral collaboration. Members of a community health network may include NGOs, aid agencies, government health departments, academic institutions, research centres, training centres, issue-based movements and journalists.
Exchanging information is one of the most useful activities of networks. Some networks are set up primarily to help link and inform information workers (such as AHILA-Net and the Health Information Forum). Some networks are formed for the sole purpose of exchanging information on specific health issues, such as drug policy, community health or participatory research. Networks are also important in bringing together enough voices to advocate for resource centres and the use of information, and to attract funding for development work.
Networks can be temporary - set up to exchange information about a particular topic for a specific period of time, or to campaign for a change in policy - or more permanent - dedicated to a long-term, comprehensive programme, such as a commitment to train and support information workers.
It is useful even for informal networks to have some form of objectives, as these determine their activities and the types of individuals and organisations likely to be active members. It is also useful to stand back occasionally and evaluate how well the network is achieving its objectives, and whether they need to be re-emphasised, or re-defined. It is useful to periodically analyse not just the actual activities and discussions, but also their usefulness and impact on the network members and their work. If there is no network administrator, one of the members could be identified to coordinate this analysis.
8.3.2 Successful networking
Factors that contribute to effective networking include:
- solidarity among all members of the network, including understanding the different levels of resources (time and financial) which each member or organisation is able to contribute
- mutual trust among members
- clearly defined objectives
- a committed core of active members, who are representative of the members
- clearly defined coordination roles and responsibilities (where appropriate)
- a willingness to delegate responsibilities to involve a variety of the membership
- spontaneity (the network has developed naturally)
- flexibility and awareness of the need to change or discontinue the network once the immediate goals have been achieved
- equal involvement at all levels.
TIP: Gaining from a network
If you participate in a network, it is useful to consider what you and your resource centre have gained from being part of the network. If you have not gained, it could be because you have not fully participated, or because it is not an appropriate network for your resource centre.