Introducing the networkistas


*someone interested in finding ways to apply network thinking for social benefit


The idea of applying network thinking and theory for community and social benefit is not new. Some have been investigating and applying this for many years; others are newcomers to the idea. But we all think the time is right to spread understanding of network theory and network building more generally. We’re aware too that there’s a growing number of people who are interested in this and want to explore it further.

A small group have held some initial conversations, sparked by a paper written by Jonny Zander and some of the work done by Drew Mackie and David Wilcox. We know others have done much more – what we’re doing now is creating a space for collaboration and coordination.

Four of us – Drew, Jonny, Julian Dobson and Nicola Headlam – met in Manchester in April to get things moving. A larger group met in London on 18 May to discuss this further. We have also set up a LinkedIn group – Applied Network Thinking – that is open to anyone who shares our interests.


There are plenty of people thinking about networks for commercial or government purposes. What we want to do is find ways of applying network thinking for social benefit, and work with people at community or locality level to develop tools and approaches that enable them to use and apply the same approaches to knowledge as business and government.


  • to facilitate change
  • to create more equal power relationships
  • to develop local capacity
  • to deliver more effective projects

These ideas obviously raise a lot of questions – what is social benefit, what do we mean by community, and even what do we mean by network thinking? We have not attempted to answer those questions – rather we invite others to join us in an iterative process of conversation and development.


It is early days. But we have identified four stages that could (and probably should) be repeated and expanded:

1 Alpha

Initial conversations, such as the one held on 18 May. We have encouraged participants to suggest names of others they are in touch with who might be interested. Drew will begin to map this as a network. They too will know others who might want to join this conversation. At this stage we will develop and clarify the concept of what we are doing, the people who might be interested and the process we should follow. In this way we will start to build the network of networkistas, both within the UK and making links internationally.

2 Beta

We think there is a demand or need for a wider face-to-face event that brings network thinkers (for want of a better description) together. This could be a single unconference open to a wide range of people, a series of regional events, or an initial meetup of around 40 or 50 interested people who are prepared to help develop the idea.

3 Development

The aim of these conversations and events will be to create resources for network thinkers, especially within communities and localities. We’d like to create user-friendly guides, tools, or games that would be helpful in a community context, enabling people to build local networks and link up different networks in order to level the playing field between those who have power and influence and those who don’t.

4 Application

These resources should be tested within community contexts in order to start a reflective process of application and development. This should then spawn a series of conversations around particular topics and resources as the testing continues and the network itself grows and matures.

The process of testing should be to find out whether the resources we create are helpful in meeting the aims outlined above:

  • to facilitate change
  • to create more equal power relationships
  • to develop local capacity
  • to deliver more effective projects

Depending on the responses to stages 3 and 4, we would expect the cycle to be repeated and refined with further conversations and meetups. This could end up with the establishment of an organisation to continue and expand the process, or remain as a community of interest – the aim is to do whatever will be of most help to people.


3 Comments on “Introducing the networkistas”

  1. David wilcox says:

    Thanks Julian forgetting us started. The time is right. We need to join things up!

  2. networkmatt says:

    A very good, clear explanation of where Networkista is at the moment, with a focus for direction but one that isn’t set in stone or inflexible.

  3. Hi folks
    I’m interested! Can I join in? Fantastic thinking which links really well to development of asset based working in Dudley around health improvement/Wellbeing and Ageing Well.
    Let me know what I can do

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