Global Action Networks provides an outstanding framework for addressing today's complex social and environmental issues. It gives a comprehensive overview of current systemic, large-scale change methodologies and also describes how the complex problems we face globally are being addressed by a new type of entity, the global action network. Based on research of 80 networks, it's rife with grounded examples and concrete ways these networks have been successful.
Waddell cites trends of continuing globalization, diversity, complexity and the disruptive impact of new technology as contributing factors to our inability to address today's issues utilizing traditional strategies. These factors are an impetus for shifting our assumptions about the way the world works and the way we engage and innovate to address social and environmental problems. He posits that we need to address issues by utilizing systems thinking and including an array of stakeholders to craft solutions and envision emerging futures rather than breaking up a problem and analyzing its parts in a linear fashion. This leads to more effective, locally applicable, timely solutions that work, given the dynamic nature of our interdependent world.
Global Action Networks are basically multi-stakeholder networks that span geographical and institutional boundaries in order to effect systemic change. Because they involve systems thinking, developed by Peter Senge and others at MIT, and are designed to build connections and trust, Waddell argues that they lead to superior results. He says the networks help shift perspectives because they create a collective understanding of a problem, take into account impacts on multiple parties, and operate from a place of future possibilities. The solutions tend to be breakthroughs that change the rules of the game.
Examples of global action networks include the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has increased access to effective treatments, saving 3.5 million lives; the Forest Stewardship Council, which has certified 300 million acres of forests and engaged 16,000 retail businesses in 100 countries to sell certified products; and the Principles for Responsible Investment, which is changing the logic of the global finance system through a set of principles that has engaged 850 signatories representing $US 20 trillion in assets. These networks take a whole systems approach and a stance of emergence, where the relationships and power dynamics shift due to interactions of diverse players - and change can go viral by connecting local actions.
Waddell helps us understand characteristics of successful networks. While the speed and rapid growth of viral networks may be the most visible trait, he shows how crafting a set of principles, embracing diversity, building trust, and fostering entrepreneurial action are necessary components that help networks take global concerted action while responding to a wide range of local conditions. With their voluntary leadership, focus on levers for change, and advancement of best practice GAN's aim to reach a tipping point to shift the global system in their issue area. GAN's go beyond "scaling up" and beyond reform to "scaling across" geographies, applying "triple-loop learning" where the change is both meaningful and transformational. The depth of his approach is similar to Frieze's observations on building resilience and "scaling across" in Walk Out and Walk On (Barrett-Kohler, 2011).
The book includes chapters on "seeing the whole," "mastering change," and "formalizing connections" with some specific and very useful tools to develop effective networks. Mapping in many different forms is presented as a way to understand the complex and dynamic relationships of network players and to distinguish between types of complexity (spatial, cultural, knowledge, change, relational).
In the chapter on mastering change, Waddell starts with action learning as a basis for change and expands on that by proposing four change strategies that range from the individual to the collective to inter-personal to systemic, noting that in order for change to be transformational, it must include both individual and structural change - even bringing in spiritual aspects of change. He includes "leading from the future as it emerges" as seen in Otto Scharmer's Theory U (Society for Organizational Learning, 2007) as well as many forms of Dialogue (reflective, generative) including those in the comprehensive text Democratic Dialogue by Pruitt (UNDP/OAS, 2007).
In addressing formalizing connections, the book gets into some of the nuts and bolts of organizing, utilizing design principles and building structural components of the network.
One of the most helpful chapters outlines competencies required for success. This well thought out set of eight competencies not only applies to those in GAN's but also to any leader working with complex issues, uncertainty, and tumultuous change. They include knowledge, skills, and behaviors in leadership, network development, measuring impact, conflict and change, communications, learning systems, policy and advocacy, and resource mobilization. He brings in the concept of shared leadership seen in "Leadership, Excellence and the Soft Skills" by Bradford and Robin (Stanford GSB, 2004) and personal mastery and learning organizations in Senge's The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday, 1990).
Waddell's model is part of a growing body of work that addresses social issues with a level of depth and engagement that leads to impact on the global, local, and personal levels as it shifts the system within which it works. In the United States, The Interaction Institute for Social Change (IISC), with its eighteen-year track record, is probably the leading organization pioneering this transformational work. Waddell asserts that global action networks represent a 21st-century global governance model that stems from two main sources: the positive impact of technology on how work and society is organized; and the weaknesses in post-World War II international institutions. Global Action Networks contributes to this articulation of what's next in governance by showing how we can envision a future and work collaboratively to create a better world.
With solid examples and clear logic, Waddell articulately presents a concise, effective, and useful model for us to consider local and global approaches to the complex issues we face as a society. The book will help any social innovation practitioner look at his or her competencies, learn an emerging networked approaches, and find new ways to discern and navigate our most complex problems.
Appreciative Inquiry Consulting