Fragile Relationships: Networks and Support

I’ve been working with a large professional and technical network organisation for the past couple of days and, while I’m not going to go into too much detail, it’s an organisation that has been around for 28 years and, because of a major change in funding, is now having to look at what the future holds. What’s interesting about this organisation is that it doesn’t have a silo problem in terms of its membership across Australia and New Zealand, which makes it almost unique in terms of technology networks in this neck of the woods. There’s no division between academic and professional staff, there are representatives from both. Same for tech and non-tech, traditional and new Unis, big and small players. It’s a bizarrely egalitarian and functional organisation that has been developing for 28 pretty good years.

Now, for some quite understandable reasons, the original funds provider is withdrawing and we have to look at the future and decide what we’re going to do. I’ve been out talking to possible organisation sponsors or affiliates but, until we decide what form we’re going to take, I’m trying to sell a beast behind a curtain by offering a dowry. This is not a great foundation for a future direction. As it turns out, trying to find a parent organisation that will be a good host is challenging because there’s nothing quite like us in the region. So, we’re looking at other alternatives. I have, however, just moved on to the executive of the organisation to try and help steer it through the next couple of years and, with any luck, into a form that will be self-sustaining and continue to give the valuable contribution to the ANZ community that it has been making for so many years.

The problem is that it takes 28 years to produce a network this strong and, if we get it wrong, relationships are inherently fragile and the disintegration of a group is far easier (and requires zero effort) than the formation. I have one of those composite stone benches in my house and I often ponder the amount of work it took to produce it and get that particular shape up on my bench top.

And how easily it could be broken, irrevocably, with one strike of a sledgehammer.

Knock knock!

(This is why my wife won’t let me use the sledgehammer to cook with.)

Human networks don’t need a sledgehammer strike to fall apart, they just need neglect. There are many examples of good low-cost networks that manage to keep people linked up, regardless of their level of resource, and I often think of the computing education community in the US, made of the regional committees, the overarching groups like SIGCSE and how the regional groups provide sustenance and a focus point, with the large conference coming into town every so often to bring everyone together.

2012 is an interesting year in so many ways and, every time I turn around, there seems to be a new challenge, something to look at, something to review to see if it’s worth keeping and, in many cases, something new to steward or assist. But I suppose that it’s important to remember that all of these things take energy and, at some stage, I’m going to have to sit down and organise how all of these tasks will go together in a way that I can make this work effectively for 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s