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Practitioners recognise the increasing importance of networking and partnership working as part of their professional role. This interest led to a wide ranging discussion that encompassed themes around networking, social capital and partnership working.

Research on networking
Here you will find a range of entry points to the topic of networking, from student observations to a leading researcher in the field.

Here you will find a range of entry points to the topic of networking, from student observations to a leading researcher in the field.

The initial stimulus material for this section was generated through discussion facilitated by Deirdre Hughes between students on the Qualification in Careers Guidance (QCG) course at Magee College, University of Ulster.

It’s not what you know it’s who you know.’ For many the old adage rings true, but what is meant by the terms ‘networking’ and ‘partnership working’, how can individuals, or organisations, identify and join suitable networks, and whose interests might they serve? The development of Information, Advice and Guidance Partnerships in England has focused the minds of many on the significance of partnership working to move towards shared goals.

Student definitions of networking

Given below are some definitions of 'Networking' developed by QCG Students (2003) in Northern Ireland. It would be great if we could encourage others to add to and/or critique these ideas on networking generated by the QCG students.

Networking is:

A process of interaction and communication with individuals, organizations or agencies, professional or otherwise that can share knowledge, expertise and resources in order to enhance the service provided.
Coming together of people for common benefit to share knowledge, skills and expertise and investigate issues of common interest - continually growing and changing as different circumstances arise over time.
A process of developing effective relationships to achieve common goals, through mutual understanding, flexible approach and client centredness.
A process of various stages depending on the needs of the client utilizing the expertise of individuals and agencies.
Establishing and developing relationships with individuals, organizations and agencies to receive, share, utilize information knowledge and experience for the good of others.
Research on networking

Other relevant research on networking includes the work of Bonnie Nardi and colleagues.
It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know: Work in the Information Age by Bonnie Nardi, Steve Whittaker, and Heinrich Schwarz, in First Monday, volume 5, number 5 (May 2000)


‘We discuss our ethnographic research on personal social networks in the workplace, arguing that traditional institutional resources are being replaced by resources that workers mine from their own networks. Social networks are key sources of labor and information in a rapidly transforming economy characterized by less institutional stability and fewer reliable corporate resources. The personal social network is fast becoming the only sensible alternative to the traditional "org chart" for many everyday transactions in today's economy.’

Relevant Quotes

‘Under these conditions of rapid structural change, workers leverage their own personal networks, rather than relying on unstable, weakening "org charts." Workers are empowered only if they are successful at creating and maintaining personal social networks. The work of networking is a kind of "invisible work," not accounted for in workflow diagrams or performance evaluations. It is necessary background labor smart workers take on so they can do their jobs effectively (see Nardi and Engeström, 1999 and Nardi and O'Day, 1999 on invisible work).’

‘The idea of "networking" is, of course, not new. The term networking, as in cultivating useful others, has been in use since at least 1940 (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary). What is new, we will argue, is the intensity and absolute necessity of networking for practically everyone. We discuss how and why this happens.’

‘We chose the term intensional to reflect the effort and deliberateness with which people construct and manage personal networks. The spelling of the term is intended to suggest a kind of tension and stress in the network. We found that workers experience stresses such as remembering who is in the network, knowing what people in the network are currently doing and where they are located, making careful choices from among many media to communicate effectively with people, and being mindful to "keep in touch" with contacts who may prove useful in the near or distant future. At the same time, "intensional" also suggests a "tensile strength" in network activity; we found our informants endlessly resourceful and energetic in their everyday collaborative activities within their networks.’

‘NetWORK is our term for the work of establishing and managing personal relationships. These relationships can involve a rich variety of people including customers, clients, colleagues, vendors, outsourced service providers, venture capitalists, alliance partners in other companies, strategic peers, experts such as legal and human relations staff, and contractors, consultants, and temporary workers. These are fundamental business relationships in today's economy. As we have noted, studies that focus on narrowly scoped "teams" miss the vital work that goes into relationships that enmesh workers in a much wider, more complex social framework.’

‘In semi-structured interviews, we asked people about the work they did and how they communicated. We learned about their use of communication media including phone, cell phone, voice mail, conference calls, fax, Fed Ex, e-mail, e-mail attachments, videoconferencing, pagers, groupware, the Internet, FTP, the Web, chats, intranets, and extranets, as well as face to face. About 50 hours of interviews resulted in over 1,000 pages of transcripts which we analyzed for recurring patterns relating to the questions we asked about communication activities. In this paper, we quote extensively from the interviews. All names are pseudonyms and details have been changed to provide anonymity.’

‘When we listened to our informants talk, they mentioned friendships and bonding, which suggested something akin to strong ties. On the other hand, they also talked about such matters as the mechanics of refreshing lists, remembering their networks, and choosing their language carefully, suggesting a complex relationship to those they worked with that goes beyond notions of strong and weak ties. Bursts of intimacy could be followed by months of lack of communication, rendering networks highly dynamic.’

‘Although intensional networks are egocentric, portions of any individual network overlap with portions of others' networks, so they do not have the "one-off" character that the notion of an egocentric network might suggest. Within professions and activity systems, networks overlap, giving a sense of connection to workers even under the conditions of flux that characterize today's economy. Intensional networks are extended through the networks of others, as we saw with Jane recruiting partners through the networks of her colleagues. One of the most important resources we share with each other is access to those in our social networks.’


Nardi, B., Whittaker, S. and Schwarz, H. (2000) 'It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know: Work in the Information Age', First Monday, volume 5, number 5 (May 2000).
Nardi, B. and Engeström, Y. (1999) 'A Web on the Wind: The Structure of Invisible Work', in B. Nardi and Y. Engeström (guest editors). Computer Supported Cooperative Work, volume 8, numbers 1-2 (special issue).
Nardi, B. and O'Day, V. (1999) Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Research on social capital
For those interested in looking at this topic in more depth, this section includes pointers to a range of perspectives and resources from the academic community.

For those interested in looking at this topic in more depth, this section includes pointers to a range of perspectives and resources from the academic community.
Contribution from Alan Brown (2003)


There has been a lot written in the last ten years recently on social networks, especially as these are a core element of social capital – a concept that has been popularised by Robert Putnam. John Field (2003) provides a very helpful introduction to the literature on social networks in his book on social capital, where he examines empirical findings on the role of social capital networks in education, economic well-being, health, and crime. (The following link gives a review of this book by Robert Judge of the Canadian Policy Research Initiative. This book review is just one item in a whole issue of Horizons which is devoted to Social Capital).

Social Capital: connections and relationships

For Putnam (2000), 'social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms and reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them' (p.19). Reciprocity and trust are therefore seen as central to social networks. As well as the value of bridging or inclusive social capital, there can be a dark side to networks and Putnam (2000) refers to exclusive bonding social capital that can reinforce exclusive identities and homogenous groups. Therefore it may be that, in some circumstances, as Granovetter (1973) has noted weak ties that link individuals to more distant contacts can be of more value than strong ties.

Johnson (2003) looks at social capital formation in terms of individual actions to create or sever network links. Relationships can be both beneficial and costly, as being connected may benefit an individual, yet maintaining relationships has a cost. As a consequence, individuals limit the number of their active relationships. As network links are formed and maintained individuals begin to accumulate social capital.

Social network analysis

For those interested in these ideas for research purposes it is possible to use ‘social network analysis.’ This is an approach that focuses on investigating the relationships among individuals and groups, where social reality is conceptualised in terms of networks of social relationships occupying a wider social space. Social network analysis focuses upon information and communication flows and the role of information 'brokers.' Communication may move more quickly through established relationships, and information will circulate within a network before it moves from one network to another (Burt, 2000).


Burt, R. S. (2000) 'The Network Structure of Social Capital.' In R. Sutton and B. Staw (eds) Research in Organizational Behaviour, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Field, J. (2003) Social Capital, London: Routledge.
Granovetter, M.S. (1973) 'The Strength of Weak Ties.' American Journal of Sociology 78: 1360-1380.
Johnson, C. (2003) A Model Of Social Capital Formation. SRDC Working Paper Series 03-01. Ottawa: Social Research and Demonstration Corporation.
Putnam, R. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Research on partnership working (and geese!)

Find out the connection between partnership working, networking and geese!IntroductionBesides pointing to research relevant to ideas about networking, there was also interesting contribution on partnership (and geese!).The following gives some further ideas about Partnership and Networking, before including an anecdotal and allegorical explanation, looking at the lessons we can learn from geese, regarding the benefits and strengths of networking and partnerships in human terms.What does Partnership involveThe IPA (Involvement and Participation Association) launched its industrial partnership initiative in 1992. On its website it has Towards Industrial Partnership published in 1997. This report identified three commitments to which all the parties should subscribe:the success of the enterprise
building trust through greater involvement
respect for the legitimacy of other partners
and four building blocks on which a partnership is builtrecognition of employees' desire for security and the company’s need to maximize flexibility
sharing success within the company
informing and consulting staff about issues at workplace and company level
effective representation of people's views within the organization
The following is an extract from: Local Authorities Partnerships and Best Value - An Overview of the First Year, Paper 7 in the ODPM / Newchurch Partnership Series (1999).A number of factors and conditions for developing and sustaining effective partnership relationships are:A shared understanding of the aims and objectives of the partnership
A sustained interest in and commitment to the development and success of the partnership
Open and trustworthy relationships to enable partners to share information
An overall driving force and leadership to ensure the partnership maintains momentum and focus
Regular, well organised communication between partners and within each partner organisation
Clearly understood objectives and responsibilities for each individual partner
The demonstration of progress and individuals contributions
Benefits realised during the initial and developmental stages of the Partnership Pilot Networks were reported to be:Improved knowledge of others' experiences and sharing best practice
Reduced duplication of effort
Improved access to resources (particularly specialist skills)
Increased ability to network
Improved understanding of the issues facing local authorities
Increased profile for the individual authorities and organisations involved.
What is a Network?A network involves the exchange of information or services between individuals, groups or institutions. Networks can be used for professional or social purposes or a combination of the two. The value of a network can come not only from the information we get from the network, but also from who we know. Knowing who can be as important as knowing what. Networking can involve the spread of the tacit knowledge that resides within practitioner communities. This links to the importance of finding ways to move from tacit to explicit forms of knowledge development and transfer (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995).
Combining who we know and what we know can have powerful effects. Networking offers opportunities to expand knowledge and contacts, through the development and maintenance of good personal relationships, active communication and the sharing of certain information, values and beliefs. Networks can also act as a source of support and encouragement.Lessons from Geese on Partnership and NetworkingThe ‘Lessons from Geese’ stories are on well over 100 web-sites with various attributions to speakers in Canada, South Africa and the US. The earliest attribution I could find was to: "Lessons from Geese" transcribed from a speech by Angeles Arrien at the 1991 Organizational Development Network and based on the work of Milton Olson. It was circulated to Outward Bound staff and has since been picked up by many training practitioners.Transcribed from a speech given by Angeles Arrien at the 1991 Organizational Development Network, based on the work of Milton Olson:Fact 1: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.
Fact 2: When a goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help, and give our help to others.
Fact 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies into the point position.
Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.
Fact 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those in front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement the production is greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.
Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help or protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Involvement and Participation Association (1992) Towards Industrial Partnership, London: IPA.
Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995) The knowledge creating company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ODPM / Newchurch Partnership (1999) Local Authorities Partnerships and Best Value - An Overview of the First Year, Paper 7, London: ODPM / Newchurch Partnership.